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What We Believe

First Presbyterian Church is connected to the Reformed tradition, which means our doctrine or teaching flows from the Bible and was recovered during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. It is important to note however, that the leaders of the Protestant movement believed that their teachings were nothing new. They were simply restating what the church, as it is seen in the Old and New Testament, clearly believed.

Below, you will find seven of our core doctrines. Hopefully, this will best explain our beliefs. Notice that everything you are about to read comes directly from Christ himself, the author and perfecter of the Christian faith.

For Christ, whatever the Bible says, God says (see Matthew 15:4). And what God says is absolute Truth (John 17:17). Jesus wasn't simply saying nice things about God’s Word; He lived under their authority. He was able to overcome temptation because He remained obedient to the Bible. A good example is how He countered Satan three times with "it is written" (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). Likewise, Jesus' Apostles maintained a "high" view of Scripture (see I Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

If we are to be faithful to Christ, our church must also hold a very "high" view of the Bible. We are called to believe and obey what it says -- even when it's not to our liking. Some of us may have been in churches that have abandoned their belief in the entire trustworthiness of the Bible. When that is done, the church's foundations will crumble (eventually if not sooner). If we can pick and choose what we will accept or reject from the Bible, then we have become the authority rather than holding the Bible as our authority. Then, we have placed ourselves above the Word of God rather than under it.

This does not mean that no one ever does anything decent, just, moral, or kind. Nor does it mean that every person is absolutely as evil in every way as he/she can possibly be (even society wouldn't allow that). But, we mean that every person is a sinner at the core of his/her being and that, apart from Christ, sin rules their perspectives, motives, desires, and purposes. We would like to believe that Jesus would think more positively, but he said in teaching his disciples: "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children..." (Matthew 7:11). This statement is quite powerful because Jesus was not directly teaching about our sin nature -- he was teaching about another topic and merely says this as an aside. In doing so, Christ simply reveals that human nature, at its very core, is sinful. Maybe we prefer something more direct. Another time, Jesus taught: "For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man unclean" (Mark 7:21-21). If we take Jesus seriously, we will never be surprised at the corruptness of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. If we have a high view of the Bible, we should have a low view of ourselves as sinners apart from God's grace.

We believe that God is really big. When we say this, we mean that He is "sovereign," that all things are under His control -- even falling sparrows (Matthew 10:29). Moreover, we also believe that God is so big that we would never come to Jesus in faith unless He enabled us to come. You'd think we were helpless, wouldn't you? True, says Jesus, for "no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44). It is those whom the Father gives to Jesus that will come to Him in faith (John 6:37). People do not seek Christ because they think it is a good idea. If any of us ever place our faith in God’s Son, it is only because the Father has brought and given us to Jesus. Unfortunately, this offends many people. They fight the very idea that our faith must be a gift of God (cf. Philippians 1:29, Ephesians 2:8,9). But, when you remember that God is big and we are sinful, the words of Christ (Matthew 11:27, 22:14, John 6:44, John 6:37) make perfect sense!

Here we are at the heart of the Gospel. Jesus said that His death was the reason He came: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). We are held captives of sin and Jesus' death was the ransom-price that bought our release from that bondage. You have a physical picture of what Jesus' death did spiritually for every Christian in Matthew 27:15-26 (it has been called "The Barabbas theory of the atonement"). Barabbas was the one who should have died, raunchy villain and vicious criminal that he was. Yet Barabbas is released and Jesus is crucified. Physically speaking, Jesus took his place, Jesus died for him. Spiritually, that is what every Christian says about his Savior: I should have died; but Jesus took my place -- Jesus died for me. "Christ died for your sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God" (I Peter 3:18).

Here is an incredible question. Why would a holy God give a moment's thought to sleazy sinners (I am not putting it too strongly)? This is God's biggest surprise. Why would anyone care about a woman of the streets having forgiveness of sins (Luke 7:36-50)? What father in his just and holy mind would wrap his arms around a stinking prodigal (Luke 15)? Who would dare teach that a cheating tax collector stood uncondemned before Heaven (Luke 18:9-14)? Who would assure a guilty criminal within a gasp of his death that he would be in paradise that very day (Luke 23:39-43)? There is no explanation, except: that's just the way God is; that's just the way Jesus delights to be! We hope that in our fellowship we can help people to be repeatedly flabbergasted at the grace of God. (Note: definition of grace = something for nothing, when we don't deserve anything). What an incredible answer!

We believe that once God brings a sinner to Jesus he is secure always. This doesn't mean he will never sin or that he will never have temptations or endure hard afflictions or that he will never doubt his faith. But it does mean "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but to do the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given me, but raise them up at the last day" (John 6:37-39). Or to put it in sheep language: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27-28). Jesus wants His people to know that they are secure in the grip of the strong Son of God. And we believe that.

Once when Jesus had cast demons out of a man and made him completely whole, that man wanted to go with Jesus. But Christ had other plans for him: "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you" (Mark 5:19). It may have been more glorious to accompany Jesus, doubtless it would have seemed more "holy," but Jesus knew there was something important he could do among his own family and community. And that matters also, even though to us it seems routine and ordinary. This is good news for the believer. Christ's way engulfs even the routine and ordinary; Jesus rules and cares about all of life. Everywhere, we are on sacred ground. God rules over all of life. Nothing is outside his dominion -- whether business and politics, economics and education, science and sex, history and harvests, art and affliction, music and marriage. All of life is holy and must be submitted to his reign. All the activity of life, then, is holy ground. And we don't believe you have to be smashingly "successful" to be "in God's will." When you play with your two-year-old, wash dishes, or change the oil, you are doing holy work, namely, the will of Christ.

By Dr. Steve Jussely, Senior Minister
Lakeland Presbyterian Church, Flowood, Mississippi