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.
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.)
The Bible inspires and guides us in what we believe and how we live. Presbyterians think of the Bible as the written Word of God. They consider it the most authoritative source for faith and practice. The writers of the Bible were guided and inspired by God to record events and God’s instructions. By reading the Bible, succeeding generations know what God has done and what God requires.
Scripture is partly shaped by its particular historical and cultural circumstances. We are also conditioned by our own time and culture. We bring to Scripture our own presuppositions. The task of joining text with reader involves four major components that are constantly interrelated.
- 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.
In worship we celebrate two sacraments – Baptism and Communion. Baptisms happen at many points of the church year. Traditionally, Communion was celebrated four times a year, but more and more Canadian Presbyterian churches offer it more frequently – monthly or even every Sunday. Both Baptism and Communion are visible expressions of the gospel given as a way to enter and encourage Christian growth.
Baptism can occur at any age in The Presbyterian Church in Canada. It occurs in conjunction with a profession of faith and admission to church membership. Believing parents bring their child for Baptism and promise to raise their child to love and serve God. The entire congregation promises to support the child. Usually the minister pours or sprinkles water on the person’s head in Baptism. The waters of Baptism symbolize refreshment, cleansing, new life, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Because Baptism is seen as an act of the whole church and a sign of church membership, Baptism always happens in the presence of the worshipping congregation.
Communion, the breaking of bread and drinking of wine or grape juice, reminds us of Jesus. In Communion we are united with Jesus and with each other; we are strengthened to go out into the world as a “symbol of hope for a troubled age.” Communion is thanksgiving and a memorial of Christ’s life and death.
In 1987 the General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada invited each congregation’s session to study the place of children at Communion, recognizing that:
- Children are capable of the same childlike faith that Jesus required of adults
- The faith of children may be nurtured by participation in the Lord’s Supper
- The participation of children affirms their place in the fellowship we share as a spiritual family at the Lord’s Table
Approximately half the Presbyterian congregations in Canada invite children to be present at the Lord’s Table.
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.
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
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.)
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.
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 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 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 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.
- Declaration of Faith Concerning Church and Nation
- Ministers of Word and Sacrament – Relevant Sections from Living Faith
- Westminster Confession of Faith
The Presbyterian Church in Canada recognizes the following Confessions as standards parallel to ours: