The beliefs explaining the core identity of the Scots-Irish Presbyterians, helps us to understand what drove this community of believers with such zeal. It also helps us to understand many of the records they left behind. In this worldview, the Reformation is always reforming itself, with true reform never really being finished. This blog is best read with my “What is T.U.L.I.P.?” posted on 26 August 2012. Historic Presbyterian identity markers are:
Scripture. The Bible provides a perspective from which every question in life could be viewed. Historically, Presbyterians would view the Bible as verbally inspired and inerrant. In contemporary Presbyterianism, tensions exist over whether the Bible is verbally inspired, being the very autography of God; or thought inspired, conveying the meaning and not the words of God.
Divine Sovereignty. God continues to be supreme and rules the creation in an active manner; termed Providence. It is tied to election and predestination. Both the Sovereignty of God and the Providence of God are key Calvinist principles.
The Covenant. The Bible is viewed as a whole, with Old and New Testaments revealing God’s unified plan. This is the Covenant of Grace, with a chosen people, and God has an active relationship with them. Key themes such as salvation by grace alone, the necessity of blood atonement, and the church as a gathering of redeemed people (including children) are all Old Testament concepts brought forward in the work of Christ. Most Calvinist distinctives hinge on Covenant Theology.
The Law of God. The Law of God is revealed in the 10 Commandments. Believers are active participants in the political and social arena as the application of the Law of God is beneficial to everybody, believers and non-believers, in building a just society. This has prompted Presbyterians to be active participants in the political and social arena in many countries.
The Church. The church is in both the Old and New Testament; a living body, with Christ as its head. There are two sacraments; baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is an initiation into the community of believers, and the whole family, including children, becomes part of a Covenant community. Communion or the Lord’s Supper is a means of spiritual renewal.
The Kingdom of God. God will come to earth to reverse sins’ effects so that justice and righteousness prevail. Christ established the Kingdom on earth in the form of the church. However, the fullness of the Kingdom is when Christ comes again. The Christian must not retreat from it, but to engage it with actions, helping to bring peace and reconciliation to the world.
In depth studies of these principles can be found in: Joel R. Beeke, Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism (2008); James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith: A Comprehensive and Readable Theology (1986); Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (2011); Dr. Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith 2nd ed. (1998).