Who We Are
Historically, we Presbyterians belong to a family of faith that can be described in two ways. If you talk about how we govern ourselves, we are called "Presbyterian" which means "rule by elders." Our form of government is different from the episcopal form with a hierarchy, or the congregational form where government is by the congregation, for we have a representative form of church government. If you talk about what we believe, we are called "Reformed." This means that our belief grows out of the Christian faith as it was "reformed" during the Protestant Reformation, particularly through John Calvin and John Knox.
The Presbyterian "family" has within it members which are unique and distinctive. In particular, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church has some features that set it apart from the rest of the Reformed and Presbyterian denominations.
1. Distinctive: The Essentials
While adhering to the Westminster Confession of Faith, along with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms as containing the system of doctrine taught by the Bible, we have developed a document called "The Essentials of Our Faith." While we believe all of our faith is important, some elements of that faith are absolutes. For example, it is essential that we agree on the meaning of the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. However, we do not believe it is essential to agree upon the timing of Christ's second coming. The EPC, therefore, has set forth these core beliefs of the Christian faith upon which there must be agreement, but permits latitude and differences of opinion on those matters not considered essential to be a Christian.
2. Distinctive: The Westminster Confession
The Westminster Confession of Faith has had a number of revisions over the years. Not only has the Evangelical Presbyterian Church adopted some important revisions that bring it up to date, but in addition, it has adopted a modern language version that has carefully maintained the integrity of the document while providing greater readability to our modern world.
3. Distinctive: Work of the Holy Spirit
In a unique way among Presbyterians today, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church is fully Trinitarian. We believe strongly in all three persons in the Godhead. As a consequence, there is a balanced emphasis on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. While affirming the priority of the fruit of the Spirit over the gifts of the Spirit in the Christian life, we also affirm those who believe that all the gifts of God's Spirit are biblically valid for today. While we are not Pentecostal, neither do we believe that the work of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, should be ignored or forbidden.
4. Distinctive: The Ruling Elder
Part of the genius of Presbyterianism has been the role of the Ruling Elder, the layman, in the government of the church. When a denomination becomes clergy dominated, it tends to lose touch with the grassroots of the church. To maintain that important balance, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church provides for each congregation to send two Ruling Elders for each minister to Presbytery and General Assembly. Presbyteries have means available to maintain this distinctive regardless of the number of ministers belonging to Presbytery.
5. Distinctive: Women in Ordained Office
The understanding of the role of women in the life of the church differs widely. For example, one Presbyterian denomination may require that women be elected as Elders and Deacons, another may forbid their election. Equally sincere Christians differ on this issue. In the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the decision to elect women as Ruling Elders or Deacons is left to the discretion of the local congregation. We believe that under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, God's people should be free to follow His leading on this important issue.
6. Distinctive: Rights in Perpetuity
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church recognizes that many things change over time. However, there are certain features of our government that are unique and distinctive, and should never change. Among these are the rights of a church over its own property and to elect its own officers. To insure that such features are not the victims of time or circumstance, there is written into our Book of Government, a section called, "Limitations in perpetuity." Here are identified certain rights held in perpetuity by Christians, both individually and in congregations. These rights must always be guaranteed by the Church. Additions to this section may be made, but nothing can be taken away.
7. Distinctive: Mission of the Church
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church spells out specifically the first duty of the Church. Our Book of Government reads, "The first duty of the Church is to evangelize by extending the Gospel both at home and abroad, leading others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior." It makes clear that "good works" are not the Gospel, but the fruit of the gospel. The statement concludes, "... The Church must never confuse its primary task of evangelism (the Gospel) with the fruit of faith (good works)." This affirmation settles for us a dispute that has caused much division in our day when churches have become preoccupied with social change to the neglect of true spiritual change.
8. Distinctive: Congregational Rights
In our Book of Government, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church spells out rights reserved to a particular church. These rights include many things also guaranteed in perpetuity, but additionally, the right is included for a particular church to own its property as well as to withdraw with its property if it so decides. It outlines other rights, such as the right to call its own pastor. This means no pastor can ever be placed over a congregation without its consent.
9. Distinctive: Voluntary Giving
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church has no "per capita tax." We do not believe that one court of the Church has the right to put a "tax" with obligation on another lower court. The Presbytery or General Assembly does have a per member asking which is a voluntary contribution of the particular congregation to support the administrative and benevolence work of the Church. Gifts may always be designated.
10. Distinctive: Position Papers
In the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, we have developed a system whereby the denomination can speak clearly and decisively to member congregations on issues facing our society. We do not believe in political positions, but we do believe the Church has an obligation to speak its mind to congregations on important issues. To do this, we have instituted a method whereby "position papers" are developed. Initially set forth as "preliminary," the paper is given to the denomination for response and input. Then a committee studies it and makes final recommendations to the General Assembly. Among the subjects on which the EPC has position papers are the Holy Spirit, the ordination of women, the value of and respect for human life, the problem of suffering, death and dying and divorce and remarriage.
Conclusion: Truth in Love
Perhaps the finest distinctive of all in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church is the spirit of love that characterizes our denomination. With the historic marks of the true church -- the practice of scriptural discipline, the right preaching of the Word and proper observation of the sacraments -- we have included loving fellowship (John 13:35). Our motto is "In Essentials, Unity; In Non-Essentials, Liberty; In All Things, Charity." And underneath this motto, the seal of our Church adds "truth in love." Veritas in caritate" so states the Latin translation of Paul's words in Ephesians 4:15. Indeed, the most distinguishing characteristic of all is "truth in love."
While Reformed and Presbyterian, we believe these distinctives set us apart as true to both our biblical Christian faith and our heritage. We were formed out of a desire to be a biblical denomination which was not diverted by unnecessary doctrinal arguments or sociopolitical issues. Our primary task remains to lift up the cross of Jesus to a lost and dying world.