6 week series on Sunday mornings from 9:30-10:15am


Presbyterians are in the news lately.  Donald Trump claims to be one.  We hear of church divisions over the question of how to approach religious pluralism and human sexuality (among others). Increasingly our Presbyterian Church communities are comprised of very few native, or life-long practicing Presbyterians.  It could be part of why some folks and churches have such trouble with the functioning and action of our larger church.

This class is intended to flesh out issues of history, identity, how we read the Bible, think about faith theologically, organize ourselves and act together.  Each week will have no more than 20 minutes of talking-head (lecturing) and at least half of the time for conversation and discussion.

Each week also will have some extra reading or video watching you can do on your own to deepen your experience.  These resources will be posted online each week on this page of our website and also on our church blog at

Class 1  Our Identity is shaped by our History 


Our church tradition – Presbyterian (USA) – comes from the Bible, the historic church universal and is also great shaped by the events we now call the Protestant Reformation of the 15th century in Europe.  Luther succeeds, where others failed, in calling for a reformation movement of the existing church.  This leads to a division and new church creation through much theological reflection and actualization.  Luther impacts John Calvin, a French lawyer who will go on to create the Reformed Church and what we call Calvinist Theology.  This goes to Scotland with John Knox, and eventually makes it ways to the American Colonies where the first Presbytery is set up in Philadelphia in 1706.

In the class, we’ll watch together three videos totaling approximately 25 minutes.  Then we’ll react and discuss them together. The videos introduce the great change occurring in the 15th century as Science asserted itself in philosophical understanding, humanism has thoroughly impacted Western Civilization and brought about the re-discovery of many ancient texts, a global-ized economy increased with colonization of the “New World”, literacy increased, the Catholic Church struggled to pay off the debts of its massive new cathedral in Rome, and the technological innovation of the printing press rocked the world.

Questions for reflection as you prepare.

1.    What strikes you as important from the values issued through the Protestant Reformation?  Where do they come from?
2.    How do you see them actualized in our way of being church together, and the ways in which you express your faith?

3.    How is our current time of dramatic change similar to the great change that was occurring in the world in the 15th century?

4.    What questions do you have that you’d like to talk further about in class?


ADDITIONAL READINGS you can do on your own to have a wider grasp on our history.

Class 2 :: April 17, 2016 :: How we talk about faith and approach the Bible.

Theology – means the study of (-ology in Greek) God (theos in Greek).  It’s how we think and talk about God – based upon scripture, life experience, Christian tradition and specific church cultures.  

Do you have any vocabulary about your personal theology?  How you understand God, approach the Bible and expect the Church to be?

In the Presbyterian Church USA we are issued from Reformed theology.   It’s generally considered synonymous with Calvinism and most often, in the U.S. and the UK, is specifically associated with the theology of the historic church confessions such as the Westminster Confession.


so what does it mean to be Reformed?

A summary of Reformed theology, or what it means to be Reformed, may be seen in the following 8 points  (adapted from

1.    It means to affirm the great "Solas" of the Reformation. 

  The Five Solas are five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged from the Protestant Reformation intended to summarize the Reformers' basic theological principles in contrast to certain teachings of the Roman Catholic Church of the day. "Sola" is Latin meaning "alone" or "only" and the corresponding phrases are: 

a.    Sola Fide, by faith alone.
b.    Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.
c.    Solus Christus, through Christ alone.
d.    Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
e.    Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.

2.    It means to affirm and promote a profoundly high view of the sovereignty of God.

3.    It means to affirm the doctrine of grace. . . to see God as the author of salvation from beginning to end. (See Calvinism)

4.    It means to be creedal. . . to affirm the great creeds of the historic, orthodox church. (See e.g. the Nicene Creed)

5.    It means to be confessional. . . to affirm one or more of the great confessions of the historic orthodox church. (see e.g. the Westminster Confession)

6.    It means to be covenantal. . . to affirm the great covenants of Scripture and see those covenants as the means by which God interacts with and accomplishes His purposes in His creation, with mankind. 

7.    It means to take seriously the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20. . . to affirm the primacy of mission and understand that mission.

8.    It means to have a distinctly Christian worldview that permeates all of life.


•    Looking at that summarized list, how is it similar and/or different than the ways in which you think about God, talk about faith? Or approach the Bible?  
•    What questions does it stir in you? 
•    In what ways would you like to grow your vocabulary to help you talk about faith in your own words?


If you want to go deeper in learning about Reformed Theology and reflecting upon the way you and we talk about faith you can do so with the following 2 readings:








Class 3 :: April 24, 2016 ::

"Who's the Boss?"


Polity is the system of rules, based upon collective beliefs and shared values that govern an association or group of people.


The way that we organize ourselves as a people following Jesus as his disciples is what we called the church. In Greek the word is ekklesia (like ecclesiastic). The first part “ek-“ is a prefix meaning “out from and to” indicating movement. The root word “klesia” comes from the word “kaleo” meaning “to call”. The word church thus means a community of people who are called out from the world/place in which they are; or a community of people called to a particular common task or way of being.


When we talk of Presbyterian Polity then we are talking about the way we live our faith together as this called people, called to new creation.


From our introduction to Reformed Theology (and the history of the emergence of the Reformation movement) the notion of God’s agency, that God alone acts through Grace is at the heart of our organizing, connection and polity. The church for us then is how we organize together to recognize, celebrate, nurture and sustain the calling of each person to follow Christ both individually and corporately. None of us alone is the Church, but together with disciples of all times and places, we are the Church. We’re thus connected by faith to those that have lived before us, as well as those that are church across the spectrum of human diversity, cultural specificity and geopolitical expanse.


Our polity is then how we live out the solas expressed by the reformers in their description of faith. It’s how we identify, live and act together as mutually interdependent people both saved and called by grace to a new way of life.


We understand there to be three basic types of polity: congregational, episcopal and presbyterian. In the first, the church is directly governed by the people who make up the congregation. There is little or no formal connection between congregations. In Episcopal polity the connection between the congregations flows from an understanding of apostolic succession of the clergy. While congregants have a say in this polity, the power is top down, from the highest ranking bishop (episcopos in Greek) down through the clergy to the laity. In Presbyterian polity, power if representative, constitutional and relational. Elders (teaching and ruling, derived from the Greek word for elder: presbyteros) are elected by the congregation to govern the church as the session. In our connections between congregations we structure our collaboration through the equal agency of elders from across the wider Church. Power within the church (local and national) is exercised by groups of officers, rather than individuals, rooted not in a hierarchy but in a common understanding and covenant of what it means to be church. In the PCUSA we call this covenant our constitution which is made up of the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions, containing both rules and creeds.


In our life together as church we affirm several key things in our constitution, including: 


I. Christ alone (not any person or group) is the head of the Church. From the Book of Order F-1.02


II. The great ends or purpose of the church, which provide guidance for the church as faithful expressions of the Christian gospel and as what God calls the church to be and do. From the Book of Order F-1.0304

  1. the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;
  2. the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;
  3. the maintenance of divine worship;
  4. the preservation of the truth;
  5. the promotion of social righteousness;
  6. and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

III. And “God alone is Lord of the conscience,” meaning that disciples have that in all matters we, as the church, respect the rights of private judgment of each disciple (knowing that human nature is broken and tends towards tyranny and manipulation). Book of Order F-3.0101




  1. What surprises you about the way in which we’re church (polity)? 
  2. How is our polity coherent/inconsistent with our theology? 
  3. What questions does this conversation stir up in you?


Class 4 :: May 1, 2016 :: "Worship"  

    WORSHIP.  It’s what we call our work together on Sunday morning.  And it’s also what we can call every moment of every day, no matter what we do or where we are.  It’s our response to God and God’s initial action.  

The word is Germanic in origin, meaning “to ascribe worth,” coming from the root word in old English the word of “woerth” meaning “worth”.  In Hebrew the word Kabad כָּבַד “to honor” (also related to worship) literally means “to give weight to.”  Etymologically then worship is all about give space, weight, honor and worth to the One that makes all things possible.

    Our Presbyterian constitution, the Book of Order, is divided into three parts: The Form of Government, the Directory of Worship and the Rules of Discipline.  The second, which begins each notation with a W- is all about worship what we understand it to be as Christians of the Presbyterian flavor.  It’s a vision issued from our history, theology, church practice and Biblical understanding.

It begins with the following affirmation:

"Christian worship joyfully ascribes all praise and honor, glory and power to the triune God. In worship the people of God acknowledge God present in the world and in their lives. As they
respond to God’s claim and redemptive action in Jesus Christ, believers are transformed and renewed. In worship the faithful offer themselves to God and are equipped for God’s service in the
world." W-1.1000.

    Flowing through discussions about when it’s appropriate:  “any time,
 for all time has been hallowed by God.”  “From earliest times, the church has gathered on the Lord’s Day for the proclamation and exposition of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments.” And so Sunday is a special day of regular gathering of the whole community for worship.  We also see that “in Israel’s worship, daily hours were set aside for sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.”  So “through the ages, the Church has maintained special hours for daily prayer, historically known
as the daily office.”

Appropriate Actions in this weekly service of the gathered community include: the reading  and proclamation of Scripture,  prayer, music, Baptism, the  Lord’s Supper, the gathering and receiving of tithes and offerings of the people and Special Times  [Times for gathering, greeting, and calling to worship; for sharing common concerns; and for blessing and sending forth into action/mission.

Any and all members of the Church are called and able to lead and participate in worship, as we together, as the Church – the called people of God, are equally Christ’s royal priesthood in all our unity and diversity.

Worship should be ordered, so that each person can participate.  It is rooted in the Old and New Testaments, and reflects the tradition of the universal Church and our Reformed heritage.  The order that follows is presented in terms of five major actions centered in the Word of God:

1.    gathering around the Word;
2.    proclaiming the Word;
3.    responding to the Word;
4.    the sealing of the Word;
5.    bearing and following the Word into the world.

We also affirm that the language and symbols used in worship should be rooted in scripture, as well as inclusive so that all may participate.


  • Check out the Directory for Worship in our Book of Order which defines worship, talks about who should help lead it and how we structure it.  Look for it (it's identified with W-....).  Chapter 1 to 3 (W1, W2, W3) offer a good, concise introductory overview.  BOOK OF ORDER LINK.  pps. 109-152 of the PDF, or pps. 75-118 (printed on the pages).

•    What surprises you about the way in which we “do” worship?
•    How do you see those elements in our weekly gatherings?
•    What questions does this conversation stir up in you?


Class 5 :: May 8, 2016 ::

"Discipline: Doing it Decently and in Order"


DISCIPLINE.  It’s the theological word we use to describe the community wide responsibility of the church for sharing faithful Christian life.  It’s not just an extraordinary action when someone steals from the church, commits an egregious sexual sin, or stubbornly remains unrepentant in a drastic relational division.  It’s first and foremost about holding each other mutually accountable to live out the faith we claim and to live into the new life to which Jesus resurrects us.  It’s individual and communal.  It’s for clergy and lay people.  It’s for all of us.

    In the New Testament the word “discipline” comes from παιδεύω or paideuó which is a verb meaning (a) to discipline, educate, train, (b) more severely: to chastise.  The root of the word is país, which means "a child under development with strict training”.  The verb thus carries the connotation of properly training up a child so that they mature and realize their full potential. From the Biblical beginnings of our faith, through the language of the Greco-Roman world, discipline means not so much to punish and castigate as to educate, shape and move towards greater maturity.  It’s more about who we are than what we do.

    In the First Testament, we hear of God’s anger and punishing justice, but we also hear repeatedly that “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever. The Lord does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” Psalm 103:8-10 (or  better yet read the whole Psalm).

    In the Second Testament, Jesus teaches that a muscular grace is the response to the sin of your brother (or sister).  Reconciliation is to be the goal, one which should be attempted several times first in private, and later with public witnesses to admonish and work towards peace, unity, spiritual maturation and deeper relationship.  Matthew 18:20-25

    Paul seems harsh in his serious discipline of sin (a son who hooks up with his father’s wife) in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13.  But he advocates first and foremost for the sinner to repent and be re-integrated into the community, and later when that is esteemed impossible, for the unity of the community to be protected.  Discipline is to be restorative and reconciling, but it must not come at the cost of the peace, purity and unity of the local church.


    For the Refomers John Calvin (France) and John Knox (Scotland), who together most shaped our Presbyterian tradition, the church is known by three things: 1) the preaching and hearing of the Word of God, 2) the administration of the sacraments according to Christ’s institution; and 3) ecclesiastical discipline uprightly done so as to nurture Christian life.


    As we’ve been learning, our Presbyterian constitution, The Book of Order does not have page numbers. Instead, the four parts of the Book of Order are abbreviated by the use of capital letters:

F - Foundations
G – Form of Government
W – Directory for Worship
D – Rules of Discipline

The Rules of Discipline provide the standards for church discipline concerning matters that the secular judicial system does not address.  It is local, relational and restorative with the goal of restoration and reconciliation.  It is a mutual ministry of submission and interdependence, not one of adversarial judgment and condemnation.  It aims to nurture and nourish, and in extraordinary circumstances to restore the unity of the church by removing the causes of discord and division, through just, speedy, and economical proceedings which honor for all participants involved, correcting or restraining wrongdoing, and upholding the dignity of those who have been harmed by disciplinary offenses.  It’s a vision issued from our history, theology and worship.




•    What surprises you about the way in which we “do” discipline?
•    How do they reflect or contradict the teachings of Jesus?
•    How do you see those elements in the way we are church?
•    What questions does this conversation stir up in you?

Presbyteri-What? Class 6 logo



Why are you Presbyterian?  What does it mean that we, as a church community, are?  Before we answer that question, let’s refresh our memory on what we’ve already covered in our Presbyteri-what-conversation:

In our first session,  we did a rapid review of the Reformation, our HISTORICAL EMERGENCE.  The Church already was, it has been since the experience of the resurrected Jesus.  What was different was a resistance to, rejection of and reformation of how the Catholic church had become in late Renaissance Europe.  Calls to reformation had occurred for centuries, prior the 16th century, but they’d been squashed or subverted.  The final star was the urgent papal fundraising effort to pay for the construction costs of  St Peter’s Cathedral in Rome) through the use of indulgences as a fundraising tool in the “dispensation” of God’s grace. It was a reaffirmation of the mystery, paradox and promise of God’s grace known as a gift, through Christ alone, via the Word of God and as the way that God saves/delivers/fulfills us.  There was a rejection of the ecclesiastical hierarchy as superior, the papacy as the ultimate discerning authority and religious iconography, the unquestioned authority of tradition, an affirmation of emerging vernacular languages  This return to the word and the word alone led to an explosive, iconoclastic, reversal of how church was lived out which tragically was often quite violent.  From this often clashing movement is also issued our historic importance upon the freedom of conscience of the minority.

    Our second session addressed THEOLOGY: Martin Luther, John Calvin (and countless others) shaped a theology that was based upon a rediscovery of God’s word and the message of Grace in Christ Jesus experienced therein and thereby. Grace as the means of salvation became key in the readings of scripture, with Jesus as the hermeneutical key or means of interpretation. 

    In the third class we discussed POLITY and our FORM OF GOVERNMENT:  the system of rules, based upon collective beliefs and shared values that govern an association or group of people.  The Church is a community of people, gathered by God, called to a particular common task or way of being.  Christ alone is the head of the Church.  Polity is how we identify, live and act together as mutually interdependent people both saved and called by grace to a new way of life.   It reflects our history and is built upon our theology.

    In the fourth class we discussed WORSHIP: what we call both our work together on Sunday morning and also what we can call every moment of every day, no matter what we do or where we are.  It’s our response to God and God’s initial action.  Our corporate or communal worship, is organized around the Word and our preparation to hear it as a community, its proclamation, our listening, our response to it and the sealing of it in our hearts and lives via the sacraments.

    In the fifth class we attacked the idea of DISCIPLINE: the theological word we use to describe the community wide responsibility of the church for sharing faithful Christian life.  Extraordinary and ordinary, individual and communal, for clergy and lay people - it’s how we all hold each other accountable, nourish our shared faith and live out the gospel in a mutually interdependent and missional way.

    And so we come to the end of our class, turning to look at the ways in which our Presbyterian Church (for us the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America [PC(USA)]) is struggling with our shared identity and common gospel witness today in our postmodern, post-Christian and increasingly post-denominational culture  Some of our sister congregations are leaving the PC(USA) over how we attempt to articulate and live out our historical background, theological affirmation of Jesus as Lord and polity (worship, discipline and form of government) in today’s world.  Some are leaving for other denominations, some reaffirm their Presbyterian identity by staying, revolving around questions of sexuality, marriage, pluralism, finances, property and the means and ends of Christian mission. 







•    Why are you a Presbyterian follower of Jesus?  

•    What does it mean that we, as a church community, are?