OPC 304 N Foothill Rd  •  Ojai  CA 93023  •  Phone (805) 646-1437    •  Fax (805) 646-5441

 

How did the Presbyterian Church originate?



The earliest Christian church consisted of Jews in the first century who had known Jesus and heard his teachings. It gradually grew and spread from the Middle East to other parts of the world, though not without controversy and hardship among its supporters.


During the 4th century, after more than 300 years of persecution under various Roman emperors, the church became established as a political as well as a spiritual power under the Emperor Constantine. Theological and political disagreements, however, served to widen the rift between members of the eastern (Greek-speaking) and western (Latin-speaking) branches of the church. Eventually the western portions of Europe, came under the religious and political authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Eastern Europe and parts of Asia came under the authority of the Eastern Orthodox Church.


In Western Europe, the authority of the Roman Catholic Church remained largely unquestioned until the Renaissance in the 15th century. The invention of the printing press in Germany around 1440 made it possible for common people to have access to printed materials including the Bible. This, in turn, enabled many to discover religious thinkers who had begun to question the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. One such figure, Martin Luther, a German priest and professor, started the movement known as the Protestant Reformation when he posted a list of 95 grievances against the Roman Catholic Church on a church door in Wittenburg, Germany in 1517. Some 20 years later, a French/Swiss theologian, John Calvin, further refined the reformers' new way of thinking about the nature of God and God's relationship with humanity in what came to be known as Reformed theology. John Knox, a Scotsman who studied with Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland, took Calvin's teachings back to Scotland. Other Reformed communities developed in England, Holland and France. The Presbyterian Church traces its ancestry back primarily to Scotland and England.


Presbyterians have featured prominently in United States history. The Rev. Francis Mackemie, who arrived in the U.S. from Ireland in 1683, helped to organize the first American Presbytery at Philadelphia in 1706. One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the Rev. John Witherspoon, was a Presbyterian minister. The Rev. William Tennent founded a ministerial "log college" in New Jersey that evolved into Princeton University. Other Presbyterian ministers, such as the Rev. Jonathan Edwards and the Rev. Gilbert Tennent, were driving forces in the so-called "Great Awakening," a revivalist movement in the early 18th century.


The Presbyterian Church in the United States has split and parts have reunited several times. Currently the largest group is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which has its national offices in Louisville, Ky. It was formed in 1983 as a result of reunion between Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS), the so-called "southern branch," and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA), the so-called "northern branch." Other Presbyterian churches in the United States include: the Presbyterian Church in America, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.


What do Presbyterians believe?


What do Presbyterians believe? This question usually tops the list among folks who want to know more about the Presbyterian Church. Fortunately, the Presbyterian Church is a confessional church. This means that while the Scriptures remain our final authority in matters of faith and practice, we affirm that the church of Jesus Christ has produced powerful, abbreviated statements of faith to guide and instruct the faithful over the past 2,000 years. Our earliest doctrinal statement, The Apostles' Creed, dates, in part, to the second century. Our most recent confessional statement, A Brief Statement of Faith, was written in the 1980's. Our Book of Confessions contains nine confessional statements in total. Some of our confessional statements reflect the faith of the entire church of Jesus Christ, while others reflect more the particular understanding of Christianity that is particular to the Reformed family churches, in which tradition the Presbyterian Church stands. Inasmuch as it is our most recent confessional statement, A Brief Statement of Faith will answer basic questions you may have concerning "what Presbyterians believe.


A Brief Statement of Faith

In life and in death we belong to God.

Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the love of God,

and the communion of the Holy Spirit,

we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel,

whom alone we worship and serve.


We trust in Jesus Christ,

fully human, fully God.

Jesus proclaimed the reign of God;

preaching good news to the poor

and release to the captives,

teaching by word and deed

and blessing the children,

healing the sick

and binding up the brokenhearted,

eating with outcasts,

forgiving sinners,

and calling all to repent and believe the gospel.

Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition,

Jesus was crucified,

suffering the depths of human pain

and giving his life for the sins of the world.

God raised this Jesus from the dead,

vindicating his sinless life,

breaking the power of sin and evil,

delivering us from death to life eternal.


We trust in God,

whom Jesus called Abba, Father.

In sovereign love God created the world good

and makes everyone equally in God's image,

male and female, of every race and people,

to live as one community.

But we rebel against God; we hide from our Creator.

Ignoring God's commandments,

we violate the image of God in others and ourselves,

accept lies as truth,

exploit neighbor and nature,

and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care.

We deserve God's condemnation.

Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation.

In everlasting love,

the God of Abraham and Sarah chose a covenant people to bless all families of the earth.

Hearing their cry,

God delivered the children of Israel

from the house of bondage.

Loving us still,

God makes us heirs with Christ of the covenant.

Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child,

like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home,

God is faithful still.


We trust in God the Holy Spirit,

everywhere the giver and renewer of life.

The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith,

sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor,

and binds us together with all believers

in the one body of Christ, the Church.

The same Spirit

who inspired the prophets and apostles

rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture,

engages us through the Word proclaimed,

claims us in the waters of baptism,

feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation,

and calls women and men to all ministries of the Church.

In a broken and fearful world

the Spirit gives us courage

to pray without ceasing,

to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,

to unmask idolatries in Church and culture,

to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,

and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.

In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit,

we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks

and to live holy and joyful lives,

even as we watch for God's new heaven and new earth,

praying, "Come, Lord Jesus!"


With believers in every time and place,

we rejoice that nothing in life or in death

can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Now at this point, you may or may not feel your question has been satisfactorily answered. To be sure, this Brief Statement of Faith speaks to the basic elements of Christian faith, from a Presbyterian perspective, but what do Presbyterians believe about many additional items not specifically mentioned in the statement? What do Presbyterians believe about abortion, euthanasia, violence in the media, human sexuality, and global economics? Well, when it comes to most of these issues, the simple truth is that Presbyterians believe many things. We are politically, economically, and theologically diverse. The diversity of the Presbyterian Church is quite remarkable, and it exists not by accident, but by design. There are two reasons for this breadth of conviction, and both are clearly articulated in our denomination's Book of Order.

First, we affirm that Jesus Christ alone is head of the church.


"All power in heaven and earth is given to Jesus Christ by Almighty God, who raised Christ from the dead and set him above all rule and authority, all power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. God has put all things under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and has made Christ Head of the church, which is his body.


In all things, it is Christ's will that we seek to guide and govern the church. In many cases, the will of Christ is quite clear to us, because we have so much of his teaching faithfully preserved in the pages of the New Testament. In some cases, however, the Bible can't provide the kind of unequivocal guidance we might want. Faithful Christians, in good conscience, will interpret the Scriptures in different ways. When this happens, the church has a profound choice. It can either be divided or it can be diverse. A divided church is one which polarizes over a 'hot' issue with each side claiming the Scriptures as supporting their side. The two factions will eventually divide, and go their respective ways. A diverse church is one which maintains the Lordship of Jesus over His church, and seeks to maintain open dialogue as both sides communicate their convictions and beliefs, subject to the authority of God's Word.


This brings us to the second reason for our tremendous diversity-the right of private judgment-which is also part of our Book of Order.

"God alone is lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.


What is unique about the Presbyterian Church?


Presbyterians are distinctive in two major ways: they adhere to a pattern of religious thought known as Reformed theology and a form of government that stresses the active, representational leadership of both ministers and church members.


Reformed Theology

Theology is a way of thinking about God and God's relation to the world. Reformed theology evolved during the 16th century religious movement known as the Protestant Reformation. It emphasizes God's supremacy over everything and humanity's chief purpose as being to glorify and enjoy God forever.


In its confessions, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) expresses the faith of the Reformed tradition. Central to this tradition is the affirmation of the majesty, holiness, and providence of God who creates, sustains, rules, and redeems the world in the freedom of sovereign righteousness and love. Related to this central affirmation of God's sovereignty are other great themes of the Reformed tradition:


   •    The election of the people of God for service as well as for salvation;

   •    Covenant life marked by a disciplined concern for order in the church according to the

   •    A faithful stewardship that shuns ostentation and seeks proper use of the gifts of God's creation;

   •    The recognition of the human tendency to idolatry and tyranny, which calls the people of God to work for the transformation of society by seeking Justice and living in obedience to the Word of God.

 

Church Government

A major contributor to Reformed theology was John Calvin, who converted from Roman Catholicism after training for the priesthood and in the law. In exile in Geneva, Switzerland, Calvin developed the Presbyterian pattern of church government, which vests governing authority primarily in elected laypersons known as elders. The word Presbyterian comes from the Greek word for elder.


Elders are chosen by the people. Together with ministers of the Word and Sacrament, they exercise leadership, government, and discipline and have responsibilities for the life of a particular church as well as the church at large, including ecumenical relationships. They shall serve faithfully as members of the session. When elected commissioners to higher governing bodies, elders participate and vote with the same authority as ministers of the Word and Sacrament, and they are eligible for any office.


The body of elders elected to govern a particular congregation is called a session. They are elected by the congregation and in one sense are representatives of the other members of the congregation. On the other hand, their primary charge is to seek to discover and represent the will of Christ as they govern. Presbyterian elders are both elected and ordained. Through ordination they are officially set apart for service. They retain their ordination beyond their term in office. Ministers who serve the congregation are also part of the session. The session is the smallest, most local governing body. The other governing bodies are presbyteries, which are composed of several churches; synods, which are composed of several presbyteries; and the General Assembly, which represents the entire denomination. Elders and ministers who serve on these governing bodies are also called presbyters.


What is the history of the Ojai Presbyterian Church?


The 1860's saw the first white settlers in the Ojai, and by the 1870's the pioneers were meeting for worship in the little wooden schoolhouse at the foot of the grade to the Upper Valley. There was no settled pastor at that time, but different ministers came and preached occasionally.

In 1877, the people of the community decided that they must organize a church and asked the Reverend Taylor to become their pastor. He preached three or four times a month and was paid a yearly salary of $600. This arrangement continued until 1883, when he was succeeded by the Reverend Eugene R. Mills.


It was during Mills' pastorate that the building which was to serve the Presbyterian church for 47 years was built on the south side of Ojai Avenue west of Gridley Road. Mr. and Mrs. Charles Nordhoff made a generous monetary donation and also retained an eastern architect, at their expense, who drew up plans for the church building. C.E. Sowles (the family later changed the spelling of their name to Soule) sold an acre lot to the church for $ 1.00. Construction continued through 188 3 and the building was dedicated on January 6, 1884. The beautiful new church had a belfry, but no bell. It wasn't until 1889 that a bell arrived as a gift to the congregation from a Church of Scotland congregation in a town named Biggar.


In 1899, the Presbyterian Church merged with the Congregational Church, then situated on the corner of Ojai Avenue and Ventura Street (now occupied by the Ojai Library). A lot was purchased on the corner of Ojai Avenue and Montgomery Street for $600, and the two church buildings were then moved to this lot; the Presbyterian building becoming the church proper, and the Congregational building a Sunday School.


On May 25, 1925, a committee of 15 was empowered to raise funds to build a new church, and in June of 1927 the property on the corner of Foothill and Aliso was purchased. Construction began in March of 1930, and the first meeting of the trustees in their new church was held in July of that same year.


Although the church was completed and in use by 1930, the old church building on Ojai Avenue remained idle for the next five years. At one time a group of Spanish-speaking Christians worshiped in it, but most of the time it was vacant and deteriorating. In April, 1935, the members of the Nazarene Church asked if they could use it. This plan was very satisfactory to both churches, for the Nazarenes kept the old building in good order and, because it was occupied, the insurance rates went down. The Presbyterian Church was glad to allow the Nazarenes use of the facility and, when the lot was eventually sold, the Nazarenes moved it to the corner of Montgomery and Aliso, where it now stands vacant. As the Presbyterian Church expanded, new additions were built in 1939, 1949 and 1960. 


What is the meaning of church membership?


What is the meaning of church membership? We Presbyterians take our understanding of church membership from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One becomes an active member of the church through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, and acceptance of his Lordship in all of life. Baptism and a public profession of faith in Jesus as Lord are the visible signs of entrance into the active membership of the church.


The church universal consists of every person in every nation, together with their children, who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and commit themselves to live in a fellowship under his rule. Since this whole company cannot meet together in one place to worship and serve, it is reasonable that it should be divided into smaller congregations. The Ojai Presbyterian Church is one such smaller congregation. We are part of the universal church of Jesus Christ, yet also unique due to our Reformed theology and Presbyterian government. A single church of Jesus Christ, the world over, yet separated into unique expressions of Christian faith and life. As Paul teaches us in Ephesians 4:5-6, we have "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all."


What responsibilities does one accept in joining the Presbyterian Church? As our Book of Order makes clear, "a faithful member accepts Christ's call to be involved responsibly in the ministry of his Church. Such involvement includes:


   •    proclaiming the good news,

   •    taking part in the common life and worship of a particular church,

   •    praying and studying Scripture and the faith of the Christian Church,

   •    supporting the work of the Church through the giving of money, time and talents,

   •    participating in the governing responsibilities of the Church,

   •    demonstrating a new quality of life within and through the Church,

   •    responding to God's activity in the world through service to others,

   •    living responsibly in the personal, family, vocational, political, cultural, and social relationships of life,

   •    working in the world for peace, justice, freedom, and human fulfillment."

 

When a person joins the church, they enter into a joyful covenant of faithfulness with God, and also this community of faith. We pledge to love and support each other as we grow together as Christ's disciples. The church's ministry is an expression of our collective witness to the work of Jesus Christ in the world today. In joining the church, you become part of God's work in our midst at this time. We encourage new members to become active in the life and ministry of our congregation, finding their special place in the Body of Christ, his church.


What is the purpose of the Ojai Presbyterian Church?


What is the purpose of the church? In a denomination as diverse as ours, one might suppose that there would be a lack of clarity concerning the mission and purpose of the church. To the contrary, our Book of Order lays out six specific ends of the church. This is our way of stating what the church is called to be and do in the world today.


"The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;

The shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;

The maintenance of divine worship,

The preservation of the truth;

The promotion of social righteousness;

The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world."


Beyond this statement, each congregation is encouraged to generate it's own Purpose Statement. A Purpose Statement is simply a concise explanation of why the church exists and what it hopes to do. Our congregation has its own, unique Purpose Statement which you will find below...


"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Lead people to faith in Christ

In his final words to his friends, Jesus gave the great commission to the church. At his command, we are called to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth and make disciples of all nations. Wherever our congregation is called to serve, we hold up this first principle of God's purpose for the church.

Offer a clear path of spiritual growth

Christians are offered a glorious life in the Spirit when Christ is confessed as Savior and Lord. This growth, however, does not occur automatically. Over many years, the church has discovered habits and practices which can help the believer develop their true potential in Jesus Christ. Our church is committed, through worship and program, to help men and women grow in faith, hope and love.

Validate a personal ministry for each member

The Apostle Paul wrote, "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord." By this, we understand that each believer is given unique gifts and abilities to use for the common good. We are committed to helping each person discern their special gifts so that they can find the joy of using those gifts in a personal ministry validated by the church.

Equip believers to serve God's purposes in the world

As a congregation of Christian men and women, we seek to serve the ongoing purposes of God in the world today. We worship and serve a living Lord who has called his children to join Him in a great plan of extending the Kingdom of God to the ends of the earth and the depths of the human heart. We set aside our own agenda and purpose as we seek to intentionally build up believers with a heart for God's will and work in the world.


What programs are there for children and youth at our church?


We honestly thought about listing all the programs and activities for children and youth here at the church, but opted against it for two compelling reasons. In the first place, we don't think there is enough room on our web server to contain all the activities. Secondly, the minute we got it all listed, it would be hopelessly out of date. Why? Here at OPC we try and focus on creative ministry which meets the needs of our children and youth rather than programs which merely keep them busy. We are in a state of constant flux as we try to meet the needs of our young people in various ways. If you want to know what the children are up to this week, check the church newsletter, or E-Mail our Children's Ministry Director, Shelley Cornish (Shelley@OjaiPC.org). The same goes for the youth, so please look for updates in our monthly newsletter, or E-mail our Associate Pastors of Student Ministries, Rev. Tyson Babayco (Tyson@OjaiPC.org) or Megan Babayco (Megan@OjaiPC.org) with any questions. If, for any reason, you do not receive a prompt response to any E-mail you send, please re-submit to Lynn Rastaetter (Lynn@OjaiPC.org), and she will ensure you receive an answer to your inquiry. Thanks!