Seen Around Church – Week of September 24, 2023September 27, 2023
Annual Loaves and Fishes Food Drive Kicks Off This SundayOctober 3, 2023
By Director of Spiritual Formation Rebecca Guzman
South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church is made up of members with very diverse religious backgrounds. Many people grew up in other denominations or did not grow up in church at all. When people visit, one of their first questions is often about what it means to be Presbyterian. SMPC is a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which was founded in 1983, but traces its roots in the United States back to 1706. The PC(USA) has three areas that differentiate it from other denominations: church polity, worship and sacraments, and theology.
Church polity refers to the way we govern ourselves. The United States government is actually based on the Presbyterian form of government! Each congregation is governed by the Session, a group of people who are chosen by the congregation through a yearly election. Each member of the Session is a church member who has gone through special training and been ordained by the congregation to be a Ruling Elder. We also ordain Deacons, church members who are called to the ministry of pastoral care. It is a distinctly Presbyterian practice to ordain congregation members, which reflects our belief in the priesthood of all believers. The Session sends two Elders and our ministers each quarter to a meeting of the presbytery. We are part of Charlotte Presbytery. Churches make up presbyteries, presbyteries make up synods, and all of the synods in the United States make up the General Assembly. Though we are a representative form of government, it is central to our understanding of the role of elders and ministers that “God alone is Lord of the conscience,” meaning that we always vote our conscience.
Worship and Sacraments
Another way that we are different from other denominations is our worship and sacraments. Presbyterians have two sacraments: baptism and communion. In Baptism, an infant, child, or adult is welcomed into the family of God. We believe that baptism is a sign and a seal of the grace that God has already bestowed upon the newly baptized. We don’t think that baptism is necessary for salvation, but it is a celebration of what God has already done and will continue to do in our lives. Baptism is normally only done in the context of congregational worship, because the congregation, on behalf of the universal church, makes promises to those being baptized to nurture them in the faith. Communion, sometimes called the Lord’s Supper, is the second sacrament. In the PC(USA), all are welcome to receive communion, because we believe that the table belongs to our Lord and Savior, Jesus, not to us, and that Jesus welcomes all. For Presbyterians, every worship service is ordered around Word of God, which is both our Scripture as well as Jesus Christ, the living word. At SMPC, you will see four headings in our worship bulletin that indicate this order. In the first part of the worship service, we prepare to receive the Word, then we hear the Word, respond to the Word, and follow the Word into the world.
Finally, Presbyterian theology is very distinct. It would be an oversimplification to try to distill our theology into one paragraph, but there are two theological concepts that are foundational to our identity: our understandings of salvation and of the Bible. The PC(USA) understands the Bible as the inspired Word of God. This does not mean that God whispered in the ear of each writer or pushed the pen on the parchment. The original writers were not concerned about the kind of historic, scientific accuracy that we now impose on written material. They were more concerned with telling the amazing news of God’s goodness, the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Because of this understanding, it is important for us to take our study of the Bible very seriously, and to understand it within its original context so that we can reinterpret it for our world today. Our understanding of salvation has earned us some notoriety as “those people who believe in predestination.” We do not understand predestination as most people probably assume—that God predestines some people to heaven and others to hell. Instead, we place the emphasis on the saving work of God, on, well, God! God always loves first, acts first, and saves first. We, in our human finiteness, cannot save ourselves, no matter what we do, but we can and do respond to God’s love by living our own lives as a joyful response to the love that has loved us since the beginning of time. When you look back on your life and your journey, do you see now where God was directing you? That’s a better understanding of predestination and one that is closer to what we believe.
Hopefully, this has helped you gain a better understanding of what it means to be a Presbyterian! If you still have questions, be sure to attend a “Believing and Belonging” Session. We offer these a few times a year for new members and those who are curious about the PC(USA). You can also visit the Opening Doors to Discipleship Reformed Theology Section or the PC(USA) website’s “What We Believe” section.
Note: If you would like to dive deeper into the conversation, we’d love to have you join us on Sunday, October 1, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. for Believing and Belonging, a one-time class led by Director of Spiritual Formation Rebecca Guzman and Director of Hospitality and Connection Nancy Metzler. We’ll explore the history and beliefs of the Presbyterian church and how God uses our gifts to create community. Meet in the McQueen Room. Lunch will be served and childcare will be available.
 PC(USA) Book of Order, 2019-2021, F-3.0101