What We Believe
Vision and Mission
Vision: The gospel of Jesus Christ compels us toward justice, hospitality, and compassion. Therefore, by God’s grace, we will embrace the way of the cross and claim our hope in the resurrection.
Mission: Through the power of the Holy Spirit and the disciplines of prayer, worship, learning, and service, we will:
- Cultivate a community of safety and inclusion that renews and liberates us for greater risk and a deeper commitment to Christ.
- Repent of our own complicity in the world’s injustice and live toward new, more equitable forms of common life, both locally and globally.
- Pursue our Christian identity through encountering the Word of God, delighting in the wonder of God’s creation, and sharing the stories of God’s grace in our lives.
By God’s grace, we will embrace the way of the cross and claim our hope in the resurrection. So long as any of God’s people still need liberation, Christ’s mission, and thus ours, has not been fulfilled.
Westminster Presbyterian Church is a congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA), but you will find a great diversity among the many congregations of our denomination. So, you may want to know what theological convictions are at the heart of this particular church. This brief section of our website is intended to serve as an introduction to what faith commitments we use to guide our living and as an invitation to further conversation.
Among the theological convictions we employ in our pursuit of faithfulness are these:
There is something close to the heart of this congregation in the welcome we offer on Sunday morning. It has become known as The Westminster Welcome. We say something to this effect:
This is a Christian service. And to our understanding, precisely because it is a Christian service, absolutely everyone is welcome. We do not assume or presume you to be Christian. Our hope is that we might be Christian toward you and welcome you into the heart of God, as we ourselves have felt welcomed.
We have experienced some kind of fundamental, core welcome, some acceptance and call to transformation that is expressed in the community (the Church), the heart (the Spirit), the language (Scripture) and other means surrounding and revealing the reality we call Jesus Christ. And all that, we sense, has connected us to God (If “God” seems too glib, it might be helpful to think “Ultimate Significance,” though that is a less than fully revealing term). That is, we believe that all the myriad gifts of God’s generous power have bound us to a Reality beyond ourselves. Our trust in Christ we consider a gift, a grace—that is, something given to us—and we believe we are to steward and employ that gift with both humility and confidence.
Something has grabbed us here among this people. That Something may have grabbed you in some other way—Praise God! At the same time we welcome you to taste and see what God is offering here among this people.
God alone is Lord of the conscience
Among the implications of this long-affirmed statement of our tradition is this: No one can come between you and God—not the preacher, not the leadership, not the church—no one. God alone is the master of your conscience. Your relationship to God is ultimately a matter for you and God alone. Even to presume to know whether you are right with God or not is not up to anyone else, save yourself… and God. (Although, of course, the community to which we are bound can be of incalculable support in that discernment.)
One of the consequences of that affirmation is that the people seated next to you on any given Sunday morning may believe many, many different things about God. We are not required to agree on every point of understanding God; we do agree that Jesus is at the center of our relationship to God (That is, this is a Christian community). Beyond that (even what it means to have Jesus at the center) is part of our ongoing conversation and discernment as a Christian community of faith.
Jesus Christ at the center
There are three questions asked of members of the church. It may seem silly to say, but the anticipated answer to each of the questions, by the way, is Yes. Joining the church is a way to say Yes to the life of faith, to the struggle to make and keep human life human, to pursue that which is of deep and abiding meaning in this world. It’s a beautiful thing.
The first question is the key: Do you trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? “Lord and Savior”—there’s a mouthful. There is a great deal to say about this affirmation. In brief: When I say Jesus is my Lord, I mean that Christ is the measure of my life. When I say that Jesus is my Savior, I mean that in the end Christ’s love and acceptance are what I rely on. Now, there is a LOT more to say about that, and that’s what the ongoing conversation of the Church is often about.
The second question spells out the consequences of that first affirmation a bit: Do you intend to be his disciple, obey his word and show his love? Joining the church means—I’ll try to follow Jesus; I’ll seek to remain attached to Jesus; I commit myself to Jesus Christ, to following his example and trusting his claim on my life.
The third reminds us that God asks us to love with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and that the Church is bigger than just Westminster: Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, giving of yourself in every way, and will you seek the fellowship of the church wherever you may be? You may note that nowhere here is someone asked to offer loyalty to the Presbyterian Church. In our view, joining a Presbyterian church is passing through one door into a larger Church that has many doors. Members make a Christian affirmation of faith not a Presbyterian affirmation. We pledge to follow Christ, not to be Presbyterian. “Presbyterian” is the means by which we hope to be faithful, and we trust that it is a faithful avenue for forming us and the community for God’s purposes, but do we assume that it is the only means by which to be faithful.
The Church matters
And as complicated and imperfect as religion is, nevertheless, religion can be an incalculable and, at points, essential help in forming us as a faithful people.
God is bigger, more gracious, more subtle and more winsome than we can discern on our own. And, as others have said, trying to be spiritual without employing the resources and wisdom of a particular religious tradition is like trying to talk without using a particular language. And the imperfect, utterly human community of faith is where we absorb the transcendent and incarnate reality of God.
Give it a try—Westminster is a pretty amazing place to seek the substance of faithful living and practice.
When we say “Church,” we mean more than the people you see around you on a Sunday morning. The Church has a history. All of the language you hear on Sunday and that you read here has a history. And, although we try with all our heart to contemporize the meaning and intent of that language, over time, learning the ins and outs, the nuances and historical referents of the language helps to form us faithfully.
In other words, we employ the historical and emerging resources of the Christian tradition to guide our formation in God’s grace.
We are connected to our history, the history of people who have sought to be faithful to God. We trace that history back to those who both wrote the Scripture of what we call the Old and New Testaments and whose stories are recorded there. And we are connected to those who have interpreted and struggled with those Scriptural witnesses over the millennia since they were written. Though we struggle with those witnesses, we are also keenly aware that we are not necessarily the most faithful nor the wisest human beings ever to walk the face of the earth.
It is a very Presbyterian affirmation to say that God is bigger than the church. Although we trust that God intends to work through the Church and does work through the Church, we believe that God is certainly free to work to great effect outside of the church. No doubt about it.
There is an old Latin phrase that is the motto of the Presbyterian Church (USA)—ecclesia reformata semper reformanda. It is worth understanding. In brief it means: The Church reformed, always reforming. That phrase reminds us that we are in the tradition of the Reformation (like Martin Luther) and in the “Reformed” tradition (like John Calvin). The phrase locates us in a particular historical stream of theological reflection and understanding. The phrase also reminds us that the work of reforming the Church is never done. “Semper reformanda” means always needing to be reformed, always appropriate to be reformed, always worthy of being reformed. We are a work in progress. Therefore all of our theological affirmations are either theory or idolatry—idolatry something that confuses a pointer to God with God in Godself, Herself, Himself.
Finally a word about the particular history of Westminster Presbyterian Church. In 1861, a few months after the beginning of the American Civil War, twenty-five Presbyterians asked Rev. Courtney Smith to become their first pastor and to help them found Westminster. Rev. Smith was known to them as an abolitionist, an intellectual and a revivalist, and intentionally called because of those attributes. Those three markers of his faith continue to serve as essential aspects of Westminster’s faith and witness.
Westminster places social justice as a primary emphasis of the gospel’s demand. At least twice in our history Westminster was offered the opportunity to move from downtown to the suburbs (once in the 1920’s and once in the 1980’s). On both occasions Westminster stayed downtown to be a part of the community in need.
Westminster deeply affirms that we are called to love with our minds. It is possible to find intellectual integrity and vibrant deep faith—and it is an important part of our identity as children of God.
Rev. Smith’s legacy as a revivalist preacher is lived out in a number of ways at Westminster. Faith is not merely an intellectual affirmation, but a claim upon our whole lives; God is always calling us to transformation, to changed lives. Camp Henry is a very tangible part of that legacy. Camping ministry for us is an opportunity for us to take time away to be reminded of the transforming love of God and of the way the world can be when God’s purposes are fulfilled.