St. John is Presbyterian.
In some ways, denominational particulars are like the various interpretations of the musician. The object of our faith is shared by all: God, and his ways of dealing with us and our world. Our understanding, or perspective, of him does not change his essence in the slightest. Yet interpret we must. To see we must interpret. These various streams of understanding have produced different results in emphasis or in detail. Some of these details complement each other: they are degrees of emphasis or context that shed new and helpful light. Other times the details cause conflict.
Most of the disagreement today is over the non-essentials, or secondary points of doctrine. But to say they are secondary does not mean they are unimportant. They, in fact, will shape our understanding of God, his ways, and his world. The way forward is humble conviction built upon Biblical foundations.
IMPORTANT: You do not have to adhere to the particulars of Reformed theology to be a member of St. John, but you should be aware of what our church teaches.
What does it mean to be (graciously) “Reformed”?
The Protestant Reformation, which started in the 16th century, emphasized the importance of preaching in worship, the sovereignty of God in creation and redemption, the priesthood of all believers, and the centrality of the Gospel in all of life, and especially in the life of the church. As a Reformed Church, we believe that the sacraments of baptism and communion not only represent God’s grace, but also seal and apply that grace to our lives. As Reformed Christians, we are committed to living out the implications of God’s mercy and grace in every area of our lives, and believe that all of life—at home, at work, at play—is to be lived to the glory of God.
1. We aim to make much of God’s grace in salvation.
Some things we would hold to regarding salvation include:
- The Depravity (Sinfulness) of the Human Condition
- The Essential Grace of God
- Perseverance of the Saints
It may be most helpful to explain these points in terms of how we would answer the question,
2. We are “Covenantal” People
From Genesis to Revelation, God reveals a plan of salvation that comes by one means and one only: by grace (His undeserved favor) through faith (personal trust) in Jesus alone. Old Testament believers looked forward in time by faith in Jesus Christ as their promised Messiah and Savior. Since New Testament times, Christians have looked back in time by faith in Jesus: ‘Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, (Jesus) explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself’ (Luke 24:27). There has been one, and only one, plan of salvation since the fall of Adam and Eve.
3. We are a “Sacramental” People
a. What are Sacraments?
The Reformed tradition seeks to maintain a biblical balance between those who see the sacraments as merely symbolic or memorial and those who tend to view them as automatic or mechanical. These two sacraments – baptism and the Lord’s Supper – were instituted by Christ himself to serve as signs and seals for believers of the new covenant. A sign portrays and communicates to faith that which is signified. A seal authenticates and confirms to faith that which is promised.
We believe the sacraments are signs and seals through which God works in reality in our hearts to strengthen the confidence of our faith in his promises as well as to spur us on to acts of faith and love that signify the receiving of such good gifts.
“As the Word brings us Christ for our faith to grasp through hearing, so the sacraments bring us Christ for our faith to grasp through seeing and tasting and touching….Both word and sacrament bring Christ to our souls by faith through the Holy Spirit” (Leonard Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism & the Lord’s Supper, 62-63).
What does it mean to be “Presbyterian”? – Church Leadership & Government
Presbyterian (the Greek word for “elder” is presbuteros) most specifically refers to a connectional and representative system of church government (Acts 15). Presbyterian churches have two sets of leaders with differing responsibilities: Elders & Deacons. When Paul addresses the congregation in Philippi, he includes “the overseers and deacons.” When Paul is giving instructions for electing leaders in 1 Tim 3, he begins with the elder/overseer and then proceeds to the deacon. We think that it is important to structure the church as best we can according to the order we see in the Scriptures.
The NT uses the words elder (presbuteros) and overseer/bishop (episcopos) interchangeably. Ordained ministers/pastors are also called “teaching elders.” Elders nominated and elected from within the local church body are called “ruling elders.” The Scriptural qualifications for elders are found in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. The office of elder is open to qualified men and women.
Why the distinction between Teaching and Ruling Elders?
“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5:17);
Though all must have some ability to teach, there seem to be some whose labor is directed more intensely toward preaching and teaching. This is coupled with the emphasis in the Scriptures on Paul and others being ministers (special servants) of the Word.
Multiple Officers: Every congregation was governed by multiple officers, not just one person (Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-7; Acts 21:7,18). This plurality of leaders also have a parity of authority.