The earliest Christian church consisted of Jews in the first century who had known Jesus and heard his teachings. It gradually grew and spread from the Middle East to other parts of the world, though not without controversy and hardship among its supporters.
During the 4th century, after more than 300 years of persecution under various Roman emperors, the church became established as a political as well as a spiritual power under the Emperor Constantine. Theological and political disagreements, however, served to widen the rift between members of the eastern (Greek-speaking) and western (Latin-speaking) branches of the church. Eventually the western portions of Europe, came under the religious and political authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Eastern Europe and parts of Asia came under the authority of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
In Western Europe, the authority of the Roman Catholic Church remained largely unquestioned until the Renaissance in the 15th century. The invention of the printing press in Germany around 1440 made it possible for common people to have access to printed materials including the Bible. This, in turn, enabled many to discover religious thinkers who had begun to question the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. One such figure, Martin Luther, a German priest and professor, started the movement known as the Protestant Reformation when he posted a list of 95 grievances against the Roman Catholic Church on a church door in Wittenburg, Germany in 1517. Some 20 years later, a French/Swiss theologian, John Calvin, further refined the reformers' new way of thinking about the nature of God and God's relationship with humanity in what came to be known as Reformed theology. John Knox, a Scotsman who studied with Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland, took Calvin's teachings back to Scotland. Other Reformed communities developed in England, Holland and France. The Presbyterian Church traces its ancestry back primarily to Scotland and England.
Presbyterians have featured prominently in United States history. The Rev. Francis Mackemie, who arrived in the U.S. from Ireland in 1683, helped to organize the first American Presbytery at Philadelphia in 1706. One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the Rev. John Witherspoon, was a Presbyterian minister. The Rev. William Tennent founded a ministerial "log college" in New Jersey that evolved into Princeton University. Other Presbyterian ministers, such as the Rev. Jonathan Edwards and the Rev. Gilbert Tennent, were driving forces in the so-called "Great Awakening," a revivalist movement in the early 18th century.
The Presbyterian Church in the United States has split and parts have reunited several times. Currently the largest group is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which has its national offices in Louisville, Ky. It was formed in 1983 as a result of reunion between Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS), the so-called "southern branch," and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA), the so-called "northern branch." Other Presbyterian churches in the United States include: the Presbyterian Church in America, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
What do Presbyterians believe? This question usually tops the list among folks who want to know more about the Presbyterian Church. Fortunately, the Presbyterian Church is a confessional church. This means that while the Scriptures remain our final authority in matters of faith and practice, we affirm that the church of Jesus Christ has produced powerful, abbreviated statements of faith to guide and instruct the faithful over the past 2,000 years. Our earliest doctrinal statement, The Apostles' Creed, dates, in part, to the second century. Our most recent confessional statement, A Brief Statement of Faith, was written in the 1980's. Our Book of Confessions contains nine confessional statements in total. Some of our confessional statements reflect the faith of the entire church of Jesus Christ, while others reflect more the particular understanding of Christianity that is particular to the Reformed family churches, in which tradition the Presbyterian Church stands. Inasmuch as it is our most recent confessional statement, A Brief Statement of Faith will answer basic questions you may have concerning "what Presbyterians believe."
In life and in death we belong to God. Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve. We trust in Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God. Jesus proclaimed the reign of God; preaching good news to the poor and release to the captives, teaching by word and deed and blessing the children, healing the sick and binding up the brokenhearted, eating with outcasts, forgiving sinners, and calling all to repent and believe the gospel. Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition, Jesus was crucified, suffering the depths of human pain and giving his life for the sins of the world. God raised this Jesus from the dead, vindicating his sinless life, breaking the power of sin and evil, delivering us from death to life eternal. We trust in God, whom Jesus called Abba, Father. In sovereign love God created the world good and makes everyone equally in God's image, male and female, of every race and people, to live as one community. But we rebel against God; we hide from our Creator. Ignoring God's commandments, we violate the image of God in others and ourselves, accept lies as truth, exploit neighbor and nature, and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care. We deserve God's condemnation. Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation. In everlasting love, the God of Abraham and Sarah chose a covenant people to bless all families of the earth. Hearing their cry, God delivered the children of Israel from the house of bondage. Loving us still, God makes us heirs with Christ of the covenant. Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child, like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home, God is faithful still. We trust in God the Holy Spirit, everywhere the giver and renewer of life. The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith, sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor, and binds us together with all believers in the one body of Christ, the Church. The same Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture, engages us through the Word proclaimed, claims us in the waters of baptism, feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation, and calls women and men to all ministries of the Church. In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace. In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives, even as we watch for God's new heaven and new earth, praying, "Come, Lord Jesus!" With believers in every time and place, we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Now at this point, you may or may not feel your question has been satisfactorily answered. To be sure, this Brief Statement of Faith speaks to the basic elements of Christian faith, from a Presbyterian perspective, but what do Presbyterians believe about many additional items not specifically mentioned in the statement? What do Presbyterians believe about abortion, euthanasia, violence in the media, human sexuality, and global economics? Well, when it comes to most of these issues, the simple truth is that Presbyterians believe many things. We are politically, economically, and theologically diverse. The diversity of the Presbyterian Church is quite remarkable, and it exists not by accident, but by design. There are two reasons for this breadth of conviction, and both are clearly articulated in our denomination's Book of Order.
First, we affirm that Jesus Christ alone is head of the church.
"All power in heaven and earth is given to Jesus Christ by Almighty God, who raised Christ from the dead and set him above all rule and authority, all power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. God has put all things under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and has made Christ Head of the church, which is his body.
In all things, it is Christ's will that we seek to guide and govern the church. In many cases, the will of Christ is quite clear to us, because we have so much of his teaching faithfully preserved in the pages of the New Testament. In some cases, however, the Bible can't provide the kind of unequivocal guidance we might want. Faithful Christians, in good conscience, will interpret the Scriptures in different ways. When this happens, the church has a profound choice. It can either be divided or it can be diverse. A divided church is one which polarizes over a 'hot' issue with each side claiming the Scriptures as supporting their side. The two factions will eventually divide, and go their respective ways. A diverse church is one which maintains the Lordship of Jesus over His church, and seeks to maintain open dialogue as both sides communicate their convictions and beliefs, subject to the authority of God's Word.
This brings us to the second reason for our tremendous diversity-the right of private judgment-which is also part of our Book of Order.
"God alone is lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.
Presbyterians are distinctive in two major ways: they adhere to a pattern of religious thought known as Reformed theology and a form of government that stresses the active, representational leadership of both ministers and church members.
Theology is a way of thinking about God and God's relation to the world. Reformed theology evolved during the 16th century religious movement known as the Protestant Reformation. It emphasizes God's supremacy over everything and humanity's chief purpose as being to glorify and enjoy God forever.
In its confessions, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) expresses the faith of the Reformed tradition. 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. Related to this central affirmation of God's sovereignty are other great themes of the Reformed tradition:
- The election of the people of God for service as well as for salvation;
- Covenant life marked by a disciplined concern for order in the church according to the
- A faithful stewardship that shuns ostentation and seeks proper use of the gifts of God's creation;
- The recognition of the human tendency to idolatry and tyranny, which calls the people of God to work for the transformation of society by seeking Justice and living in obedience to the Word of God.
A major contributor to Reformed theology was John Calvin, who converted from Roman Catholicism after training for the priesthood and in the law. In exile in Geneva, Switzerland, Calvin developed the Presbyterian pattern of church government, which vests governing authority primarily in elected laypersons known as elders. The word Presbyterian comes from the Greek word for elder.
Elders are chosen by the people. Together with ministers of the Word and Sacrament, they exercise leadership, government, and discipline and have responsibilities for the life of a particular church as well as the church at large, including ecumenical relationships. They shall serve faithfully as members of the session. When elected commissioners to higher governing bodies, elders participate and vote with the same authority as ministers of the Word and Sacrament, and they are eligible for any office.
The body of elders elected to govern a particular congregation is called a session. They are elected by the congregation and in one sense are representatives of the other members of the congregation. On the other hand, their primary charge is to seek to discover and represent the will of Christ as they govern. Presbyterian elders are both elected and ordained. Through ordination they are officially set apart for service. They retain their ordination beyond their term in office. Ministers who serve the congregation are also part of the session. The session is the smallest, most local governing body. The other governing bodies are presbyteries, which are composed of several churches; synods, which are composed of several presbyteries; and the General Assembly, which represents the entire denomination. Elders and ministers who serve on these governing bodies are also called presbyters.
Before North Dakota was a state, before the city of Jamestown was incorporated, the First Presbyterian Church of Jamestown was preaching the Word of God, was administering the Sacraments, and was bringing spiritual guidance and comfort to its members and to the entire community. It was a Presbyterian minister, the Reverend D. C. Lyon of St. Paul, MN, who held the first church service of any kind on record in Jamestown. The First Presbyterian Church was the first formally recognized church in Jamestown and was organized on December 5, 1879.
Presbyterians are a group of Protestants whose church is founded on the concept of democratic rule under the Word of God. The Presbyterian denomination is a form of Christianity democratically organized to embrace the faith common to all Christians.
According to church records, a petition was presented to representatives of the Presbytery of Red River at a meeting held at the courthouse in Jamestown; it read as follows: “We (ten charter members) the undersigned, for the purpose of the better worship of God and our own growth in Divine Life, do hereby request the Presbytery of Red River through the Committee on Missions to organize us and others uniting with us into a district as the First Presbyterian Church of Jamestown.”
The newly-organized church’s first pastor was the Reverend Neville D. Fanning who was installed in 1880. It was during his ministry that the congregation completed its first building in 1881; it was replaced by the current structure in 1914 and additional rooms for Sunday school and a chapel were completed in 1958. An elevator and office renovation project was completed in May, 1998. The beautiful stained glass windows were completely restored with new protective glass glazing on the exterior in 2005.
The United Presbyterian Church serves to be a “Christ-centered, Bible-based community drawn together to worship God, to learn about the saving grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and to celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit as we share the Good News” (Current mission statement adopted in 2003).
Staff members currently include the Rev. Dave Thompson, Pastor; Sharon Watson and Diane Witzig, Secretaries; Doreen Larson, Director of Christian Education; Elizabeth Sherfy, Director of Children's and Youth Ministry; Tania Falk, Financial Secretary; and David Morlock, Organist/Choir Director.
What is the meaning of church membership? We Presbyterians take our understanding of church membership from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One becomes an active member of the church through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, and acceptance of his Lordship in all of life. Baptism and a public profession of faith in Jesus as Lord are the visible signs of entrance into the active membership of the church.
The church universal consists of every person in every nation, together with their children, who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and commit themselves to live in a fellowship under his rule. Since this whole company cannot meet together in one place to worship and serve, it is reasonable that it should be divided into smaller congregations. The Ojai Presbyterian Church is one such smaller congregation. We are part of the universal church of Jesus Christ, yet also unique due to our Reformed theology and Presbyterian government. A single church of Jesus Christ, the world over, yet separated into unique expressions of Christian faith and life. As Paul teaches us in Ephesians 4:5-6, we have "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all."
What responsibilities does one accept in joining the Presbyterian Church? As our Book of Order makes clear, "a faithful member accepts Christ's call to be involved responsibly in the ministry of his Church. Such involvement includes:
- proclaiming the good news,
- taking part in the common life and worship of a particular church,
- praying and studying Scripture and the faith of the Christian Church,
- supporting the work of the Church through the giving of money, time and talents,
- participating in the governing responsibilities of the Church,
- demonstrating a new quality of life within and through the Church,
- responding to God's activity in the world through service to others,
- living responsibly in the personal, family, vocational, political, cultural, and social relationships of life,
- working in the world for peace, justice, freedom, and human fulfillment."
When a person joins the church, they enter into a joyful covenant of faithfulness with God, and also this community of faith. We pledge to love and support each other as we grow together as Christ's disciples. The church's ministry is an expression of our collective witness to the work of Jesus Christ in the world today. In joining the church, you become part of God's work in our midst at this time. We encourage new members to become active in the life and ministry of our congregation, finding their special place in the Body of Christ, his church.