Presbyterians in Canada

The roots of The Presbyterian Church in Canada are Scottish (our mother Church was the Church of Scotland which is Presbyterian), but our Canadian heritage includes the work and witness of French Huguenots (Protestant) settlers who came to Canada in the 1600s. Of course, many people have come, and continue to come, into our denomination from other branches of the Christian Church.

Many Presbyterians in Canada have their churches named after Reformers, particularly John Calvin (a Frenchman) and John Knox (a Scot who was influenced by Calvin’s teachings). John Calvin (1509-1564) has often been called the “father” of Presbyterianism. Calvin lived in Geneva, Switzerland. From there, Presbyterianism spread through Europe. Calvin, like other reformers, worked hard to develop a church where everyone, not just the clergy, shared responsibilities. Schools were established to provide education for both clergy and laity. John Knox (1515-1572), after studying with Calvin in Geneva, returned to his native Scotland to establish Presbyterianism. It soon spread to northern Ireland, the United States and Canada. In 1875 several groups of Presbyterians formed a union and called themselves The Presbyterian Church. Our Church has been independent since then.

Today, The Presbyterian Church in Canada has about 1,000 congregations with members coming from many national and racial backgrounds. For example there are now 20 Korean congregations. Within our denomination there are many different languages and styles of worship. There are congregations that worship in English, French, Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Hungarian, Spanish and Portuguese. In the 1990s The Presbyterian Church in Canada has welcomed new Korean and Ghanaian congregations.

To learn more about our history, please visit our Archives and Museum websites.

What We Believe

Belief in the Trinity — God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — is central to the faith. God is the Father to whom we come, the Son through whom we come, and the Spirit by whom we come.

The doctrine of the Trinity teaches belief in one God who exists as three “persons” with the word “person” having a different meaning from common usage today. The word comes from the Latin “persona” meaning the mask through which actors spoke in Greek plays; and this word was derived from the Latin words “per” and “sonare” meaning to speak or sound through. The original meaning of the word shows we are concerned not with a mask that hides, but with a medium that reveals. The one God comes to us in three modes.

The doctrine of the Trinity arises from all that the Bible tells us about God as the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer. The New Testament writers portray Jesus through his words and actions as divine and the Son of God. (See John 1:1-3,14; Colossians 2:9, and Hebrews 1:1-3.)

Adapted from Being a Presbyterian in Canada Today by Stephen A. Hayes, pp. 5-9.

The Bible has been given to us by the inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life. It is the standard of all doctrine by which we must test any word that comes to us from church, world, or inner experience. We subject to its judgment all we believe and do. Through the Scriptures the church is bound only to Jesus Christ its King and Head. He is the living Word of God to whom the written word bears witness.

The Holy Spirit gives us inner testimony to the unique authority of the Bible and is the source of its power. The Bible, written by human hands, is nonetheless the word of God as no other word ever written. To it no other writings are to be added. The Scriptures are necessary, sufficient, and reliable, revealing Jesus Christ, the living Word.

Both Old and New Testaments were written within communities of faith and accepted as Scripture by them. Those who seek to understand the Bible need to stand within the church and listen to its teaching.

The Bible is to be understood in the light of the revelation of God’s work in Christ. The writing of the Bible was conditioned by the language, thought, and setting of its time. The Bible must be read in its historical context. We interpret Scripture as we compare passages, seeing the two Testaments in light of each other, and listening to commentators past and present. Relying on the Holy Spirit, we seek the application of God’s word for our time.

~ Living Faith

  • We are prompted by the Spirit working on our experience to listen afresh for God’s Word witnessed to in Scripture.
  • We seek to understand the Bible in its original historical setting, recognizing the variety of material it contains. For this, a wise use of historical-critical methods is essential.
  • We look at the biblical material as a canonical whole. The dangers of quoting isolated proof texts are well known. We look for the underlying unity and diversity, continuity and discontinuity in Scripture, paying particular attention to the relationships between the Old and New Testaments.
  • We bring the biblical materials to bear on our contemporary situation. The gift of discernment is especially needed here. We must pray for the guidance of the same Holy Spirit who inspired Scripture.

From 1994 Acts and Proceedings, The Church Doctrine Committee, pp. 252-253.

Worship

The church lives to praise God. We have no higher calling than to offer the worship that belongs to God day by day, Sunday by Sunday.

Through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments, in praise, prayer, teaching and fellowship, God sustains the life of the church. We worship God as Lord offering ourselves in the service of Christ, rejoicing that we have been brought from darkness to light.

Worship draws us into the work of Christ. Even now he intercedes for the world to which he came and for which he died. In union with him, the church prays for the healing and the salvation of the world.

Blessing and honour and glory and power be to our God for ever and ever!

Baptism

Baptism is a sign and seal of our union with Christ and with his church. Through it we share in the death and resurrection of Christ and are commissioned to his service.

In Baptism, water is administered in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The water signifies the washing away of sin, the start of new life in Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

By the power of the Holy Spirit God acts through Baptism. It is the sacrament not of what we do but of what God has done for us in Christ. God’s grace and our response to it are not tied to the moment of Baptism, but continue and deepen throughout life. It is a sacrament meant
for those who profess their faith and for their children. Together we are the family of God.

Baptism is also an act of discipleship that requires commitment and looks towards growth in Christ. Those baptized in infancy are called in later years to make personal profession of Christ. What is born may die. What is grafted may wither. Congregations and those baptized must strive to nurture life in Christ.

Baptism assures us that we belong to God. In life and in death our greatest comfort is that we belong to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

Holy Communion

In breaking bread and drinking wine Jesus told us to remember him. In this action called Holy Communion, Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, Christ offers himself to us and we present ourselves to him in worship and adoration.

In Holy Communion Christ places his table in this world to feed and bless his people. The Holy Spirit so unites us in Christ that in receiving the bread and wine in faith we share in his body and blood.

The Lord’s Supper is a joyful mystery whereby Jesus takes the bread and wine to represent his atoning sacrifice, deepening our union with himself and with each other, giving us of his life and strength. Here Christ is present in his world proclaiming salvation until he comes– a symbol of hope for a troubled age.

The Eucharist is thanksgiving to God. We pray for the world and with gratitude offer our lives to God. We celebrate his victory over death
and anticipate the joyous feast we shall have in his coming kingdom. We pledge allegiance to Christ as Lord, are fed as one church, receive these signs of his love, and are marked as his.

Those who belong to Christ come gladly to his table to make a memorial of his life and death, to celebrate his presence, and together as his church offer him thanks.

In every generation the church needs to confess its faith anew. That confession must at one and the same time be the ancient faith of the church and yet spoken into the mood and questions of its own time. Living Faith endeavours to do that. This Statement of Christian Belief was prepared under the direction of the Committee on Church Doctrine of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. It has been received by the General Assembly of that Church and commended as an acceptable statement and as useful in both worship and study.

While arising out of the Canadian Presbyterian experience, it is hoped that the statement speaks to a much wider circle than one denomination, and to people outside the church. Here, perhaps for the first time, a confessional statement acknowledges the difficulties of belief and the ambiguities of the life of faith. In writing this document the authors have tried to be in contact with people where they stand today. Thus the statement speaks not only of God’s work in Christ, but also of sex, war, the economy, the family and justice.

We believe that all this is fitting in a faith which has as its central affirmation the great truth that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” The living God became the person of Christ and walked in our midst in a world that to an astonishing extent shared many of the same problems we do now. If God could get involved with the grim fabric of life, then so can God’s church! So too, must the faith we confess.

Image of arrow pointing downLiving Faith
Image of arrow pointing downFoi vivante
Image of arrow pointing downLiving Faith (Korean)
The Christian church exists for others. We believe that our faith is alive through our actions of service (James 2:14-26). In Presbyterian churches we find evidence of activities that build community and reach out to serve others. Many congregations sponsor Girl Guide or Scouts Canada groups, encouraging the young people to get involved in Religion in Life Programs. On bulletin boards we see notices about coffee hours, potluck dinners, meetings of parents’ groups or CGIT. In church services we hear news of our church’s overseas staff or the work of Presbyterian World Service & Development (PWS&D). Many congregations have groups that support alternative trading organizations like Bridgehead or human right initiatives like those of Amnesty International. Our church bulletin might include an announcement about an intergenerational program for Pentecost or an upcoming youth event, an appeal for Meals-on-Wheels volunteers or for contributions for a food drive, or information about a petition or letter-writing campaign calling for justice in another country. Presbyterians are people involved in social action.

Presbyterians believe that Jesus came into the world to demonstrate God’s concern for the world and its people. We recognize Jesus’ challenge to follow him (Luke 9:23) and his final commission to us (Matthew 28:19). In congregations, people of all ages learn to heal and care for each other. They are active in mission and worship beyond their own congregation’s activities – in politics, economics, social structures, the environment, and the world of human needs. As Christians, we go into the world and try to make it more like God’s kingdom.

Presbyterians believe God interacts with all aspects of our lives. One of the clearest messages for us in our daily living is found in Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

“Many communities across Canada are… cooperating ecumenically for Ten Days for Global Justice, the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, reconciliation and healing with aboriginal peoples and with other programs. We must also recognize that Christians are working together shoulder-to-shoulder with people from other denominations in the Out of the Cold program, food banks, Meals on Wheels and other community projects… I believe we should celebrate, publicize and promote what is already happening ecumenically in our communities as we anticipate the dawning of the new millennium.”

From Working Together by Tamiko Corbett in the Presbyterian Record, March 1997

Creeds

The word “creed” comes from the Latin word credo, meaning “I believe.” The first Christians professed the simple creed, “Jesus is Lord.” With the death of witnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, many questions arose regarding God, Jesus, and the Christian life. These questions led to several centuries of intense debate, meetings of church councils, and the writing of many creeds, including the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed. (Despite its name, the Apostles’ Creed was actually a statement of faith developed over several centuries in Rome to teach new Christians the basic beliefs of the church. The text we use today can be traced back to the late 7th century.)

Newer Version

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. AMEN.

Older Version

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
he descended into hell;
the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic Church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting. AMEN.

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Official Documents

Official documents are those documents which were created by The Presbyterian Church in Canada and which are regularly used as references or for instruction.

Acts and Proceedings

The Acts and Proceedings of General Assembly is a book produced at the conclusion of each annual General Assembly which records the official acts of General Assembly.

Catechisms

Catechisms are summaries of doctrinal statements, usually in a question and answer format, and designed to be used as a teaching tool. Catechism For Today was produced by a committee of General Assembly using a question and answer format over 52 Sundays.

Subordinate Standards

Subordinate Standards are those creeds and confessions which were created over the centuries and adopted by the church.

Confessing the Faith Today: The Nature and Function of Subordinate Standards is a study document for sessions and presbyteries on the nature and function of a subordinate standard in the life of the courts and congregations of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. It was produced by the Church Doctrine Committee, from Acts and Proceedings of General Assembly (2003), pp. 247-72.

Parallel Standards

The Presbyterian Church in Canada recognizes the following Confessions as standards parallel to ours: