Presbyterians share many beliefs with early Christians and with those in the Reformed Christianity Community which began in the 16th. century with John Calvin and others. Through history, new statements of belief have emerged and become part of the confessional heritage of our denomination.
Each of the eleven confessions retained in our Book of confessions speaks to a particular moment in history, often a time of crisis or change. For example, The Theological Declaration of Barmen was written in 1934 by a group of Lutheran, Reformed and United church leaders in Germany to help Christians withstand the challenges of the Nazi party.
Our most recent confession, A Brief Statement of Faith, emerged from the 1983 reunion of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (mostly in the North) and the Presbyterian Church of the United States (mostly in the South). It was approved in 1991 by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Our creeds are used in worship, study, and personal reflection as we seek to understand our faith and live what we believe.
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The Nicene Creed. The oldest creed, named for the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.), refuted the theology of Arius who had declared that Christ was only like God, and therefore, not true God. If this heresy had prevailed, then God himself was not fully present in Christ.
This creeds first century doctrine was probably a personal confession made at the time of baptism. It assumed its present form in the sixth or seventh century, A. D.
John Knox and five associates wrote this document in 1560 in four days. It remained the confession of the Church of Scotland until it was replaced a century later by the Westminster Confession of Faith.
In 1563, two young scholars, Ursinus and Olevianus, were brought to the University of Heidelberg by Frederick III to write a document which would resolve the difference between the Lutheran and Reformed branches of the church. This practical creed always asks what benefit is to be derived from the doctrine under consideration.
The Second Helvetic Confession
In 1561 Heinrich Bullinger, the Swiss reformer, wrote this document as his own confession and testament. It details the work of the parish minister.
The Westminster Confession of Faith
In 1643 the English Parliament convened an assembly of churchmen from England and Scotland to devise a new confessional statement for their recently united kingdoms. They met at Westminster and completed work in 1649. Brought to America by early settlers, this creed became the doctrinal statement of the Presbyterian Church in American in 1729 and was the sole confession until it was incorporated into the Book of confessions in 1967.
The Shorter Catechism
(One of the Westminster Catechisms )
The Shorter Catechism, primarily the work of the Reverend John Wallis, an eminent mathematician who later became professor of geometry at Oxford University, was written for the education of children. Both it and the Larger Catechism deal with questions of God, Christ, the Christian life, the Ten Commandments, the sacraments, and the Lord's Prayer; unlike most earlier catechisms, neither contains a section on the Apostles' Creed. Especially famous are the first question and answer of the Shorter Catechism. "What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."
The Larger Catechism
(One of the Westminster Catechisms )
The Larger Catechism, written primarily by Dr. Anthony Tuckney, professor of divinity and vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, was designed for public exposition from the pulpit.
The Theological Declaration of Barmen
Drawn up in Germany in 1934 by churchmen to combat the menace of Nazi tyranny, this creed asserts the primacy of Jesus Christ.
The central theme of this confession is reconciliation: Gods Work of Reconciliation and The Ministry of Reconciliation Today.
A Brief Statement of Faith
Added to the Book of confessions in 1991 following the 1983 formation of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and modeled on the Trinitarian Structure of the Apostles Creed. This statement addresses contemporary concerns such as caring for creation and the need for economic justice and racial reconciliation.
For more than a decade, the Persbyterians Today magazine has periodically published articles about "What Presbyterians Believe." Now all these articles on topics ranging from the atonement to predestination are available at the Presbyterians Today Web site. Simply click HERE to see the index of these articles. To view a given article, just click on the article's title in the index.
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Another good source of information on the beliefs of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can be found HERE.