Being a Presbyterian church means we not only recognise our links with churches in our own network of churches and other Presbyterian groupings, but also with all churches through the ages that have remained faithful to God’s word, the Bible. Historically the focus of that faithfulness has been found in the ancient creeds of the church, notably the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. These are carefully worded summaries of the core teachings of the Bible that define what it means to be ‘Christian’. We use these ancient statements of faith on a regular basis in our worship as a way of declaring our shared beliefs and commitment to them.
We are also committed to the summary of Bible teaching found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism. These documents were drawn up, at the request of Parliament, during the 1640’s by a representative body of pastor-theologians from throughout the British Isles. These men were asked to produce a summary of Bible teaching that would lead to greater unity of worship and practice among the churches of Britain and Ireland. Although the goal of achieving the cross-church unity desired by Parliament was never realised, these documents went on to play an extraordinary role, not just among the various groupings of Presbyterian churches around the world, but also in many other churches that used the Westminster documents as the basis for their own statements of faith,
The purpose behind the church’s practice through the ages of drawing up such summaries of Bible teaching is twofold. On the one hand it is meant to provide a foundation of clear teaching on which to build the church and on the other to provide a ‘fence’ to draw a line between teachings that are faithful to Scripture and those that are not. Every generation in the church finds itself having to wrestle with new ideas and novel interpretations of the Bible that need to be weighed to judge their merits and demerits. Being a ‘confessional church’, that is, a church that has clearly stated beliefs that we promise to uphold, helps us to remain true to the message of the Bible as well as stand in line with the generations of Christians who have gone before us.