First, Presbyterians are Christians.
We are followers of Christ and we have many beliefs in common with other Christian denominations and churches:
God is creator of the universe: He "created the heavens and the earth and made human beings in God's image, charging them to care for all that lives."
Christ is the incarnation of God on earth—fully human and fully God.
The Holy Spirit is the presence of God in the world and in the believer.
The Trinity is God as three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Church is a universal company of Christ's followers.
The forgiveness of sin is made possible by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Life everlasting and the resurrection of the body is ours because Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.
The Bible is the inspired word of God.
Second, Presbyterians are Protestants.
We share beliefs in common with other denominations that split from the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century as well as those that were founded later:
Protestants believe in justification by faith. We are justified, or brought into a right relationship with God through grace. This does not happen by our own effort, but by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Because of God's love for us, Jesus Christ took sin upon himself and became the full and final sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Protestants also believe in the authority of scripture. Scripture is the written revelation of God and always points through the Holy Spirit, to the living revelation of God in Christ. The purpose of scripture is to bring persons to salvation and guide them in living a life of faith.
Central to this tradition is the affirmation of the majesty, holiness, and providence of God who creates, sustains, rules, and redeems the world in the freedom of sovereign righteousness and love.
Third, Presbyterian creeds and confessions emphasize:
The Sovereignty of God: We know the actions of God are intentional and directed toward the accomplishment of his purposes in his creation. God also uses human means in history to accomplish his purposes, yet such means do not involve coercion. We are still responsible for our decisions and actions. Scripture calls us to both concepts.
Election: Before we ever said yes to God, God said yes to us. The central point is that the initiative belongs to God, and we respond to Him. We cannot boast in the fact that we say yes to his salvation. Election is the Reformed way of saying "grace alone."
Covenant: God has made a covenant, or promise, with his people. This has always been a covenant of grace. God's promise is that he will be our God, and we will be his people if we believe and have faith.
Stewardship: Stewardship is an attitude toward all of creation. We are creatures given the responsibility as stewards, or servants, to care for all God has created. Grace motivates us to live in gratitude. Redemption calls us to respond in thankfulness by caring for all that God has given us. As we recognize that all life, faith, love, and every other gift comes from God, so we recognize our responsibility to render back a portion of what has been given us in these areas. This "rendering back" might include time, talent, and treasures. Stewardship is a spiritual matter, not a synonym for raising money.
Sin of Idolatry: "The Problem" according to Reformed theology, is not atheism, it's idolatry. Calvin argued that knowledge of God is implanted in every human heart, but is suppressed by human sin. People actively choose not to acknowledge God as their creator and instead create idols—defined as anything we create that we give our ultimate allegiance to.
Obedience: We are to be obedient to the Word of God, which directs us to work for justice in the transformation of society. All our life is a response to all that God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—has done and is doing.
Questions for Presbyterians
Some of the most commonly asked questions about what Presbyterians believe are about the following topics:
The Trinity: We believe God exists in the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Christ: Christ is the Son of God, the Revealer of God, and the Savior of humanity.
Heaven: The souls of the faithful are reunited with God in a warm and loving relationship for eternity.
Hell: Hell is separation from God and may exist now as well as in the hereafter.
The Virgin Birth: Presbyterians believe that Jesus' birth was miraculous.
Mary: Mary is honored as the mother of Jesus, the special person chosen to bear the Son of God.
Resurrection: The resurrection of the body refers to the reuniting of the spiritual body and physical body.
Confession: This is voluntary and made directly to God, although it may be made in the presence of another believer.
Salvation: God grants the gift of grace (unmerited favor), which enables us to gain the faith necessary for salvation. We are saved by grace rather than by good deeds, correct beliefs, or human ceremonies. It is not possible to earn salvation—it can only be accepted with thanksgiving and joy.
The Cross: The empty cross symbolizes the risen Christ who opened the kingdom of heaven.
The Sacredness of Marriage: Marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out lives of discipleship together before God. Presbyterians try to curb divorce by encouraging young people to prepare seriously for marriage.
Change: Presbyterians admit different understandings of the Confession of Faith. This is because they believe the church should be open to the reform of its standards of doctrine.
Parenthood: Parenthood is a gift, but there is nothing in the church’s teaching that discourages intelligent, unselfish family planning.
Education: Presbyterians place a great deal of stress on education, both for the ministry and for the laity.
The "Only" Church: No Christian church has exclusive possession of the church government authorized by Christ.
The Sacraments: Presbyterians recognize two sacraments as described in the Bible: baptism and communion.