The Beliefs of The Presbyterian Church
The word “Presbyterian” comes from a Greek word for elder, “presbuteros.” When John Calvin founded our denomination in the early 1500’s, he envisioned a non-hierarchical form of government. Not wishing to place the authority for decision-making in the hands of individuals, he rather envisioned a church governed by elder or elected representatives. This principle of representation became the basis for our American democracy. The American Revolution, in fact, nick-named “the Presbyterian Revolution” because it concerned “no taxation without representation.” Our commitment to representation means that we have no bishops or formal hierarchy. Rather elected representatives from each church together form a “corporate bishop” which makes decisions.
Presbyterians are a constitutional church, that is, we are governed by a Book of Order or church constitution that helps us do things “decently and in order.” We are a confessional church. Our specific beliefs, all Scripturally-based, are defined in 11 historic confessions or statements of faith. The most familiar are The Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and The Westminster Confession of Faith. And we are a connectional church, joined with other Presbyterian Churches in ministry and mission.
When John Calvin, Martin Luther and other great Reformers of the 16th century broke away from the existing church, they emphasized several deep theological convictions. These included:
- The centrality of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
- The authority of holy Scripture as the Word of God.
- The importance of grace and faith. We are saved or put right with God, not by our good works, but by entering into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ, trusting in God’s grace, His free, unmerited love.
These continue to be the central convictions of the Presbyterian Church. The time of Martin Luther, John Calvin and others was called “The Reformation.” Those “protesters” who joined this movement were called “Protestants.”
Calvin believed deeply in the sovereignty or overarching rule of God. For Calvin, God’s sovereignty means that there is nothing outside His concern. So Calvin was concerned not only for “spiritual” matters, but for secular and practical matters as well. His deacons established in Geneva, Switzerland one of the first hospitals. Refugees to Geneva received food, shelter, and warm clothing. Calvin even ordered landlords to install banisters, lest children fall and be injured. Presbyterians have continued such practical ministries – actively serving God by establishing hospitals, digging wells in third world countries to provide clean drinking water, and by feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and visiting the prisoner. We are a people who put our faith into practice.
- We believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- We believe that the Bible is the unique and authoritative word of God.
- We believe that the Holy Spirit imparts gifts for ministry and helps us bear fruit-love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control-the marks of Christ-like character.
- We believe that the church is the Body of Christ, called to continue our Lord’s ministry.
- We believe that every Christian is called to be a disciple, to serve Christ as Lord, seeking to be holy, compassionate and faithful, Honoring Christ by both word and deed.
- We believe that the purpose of life is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
- We believe that worship, prayer, meditation on God’s word, and fellowship are essential to spiritual growth, to the end that we more and more become “conformed to the image of Christ.”
For a more detailed, description of our beliefs, please request a copy of The Book of Confessions.
A History of First Presbyterian Church of Grand Haven
For over 170 years, First Presbyterian Church has been a telling presence in the Tri-Cities and beyond. The church was founded by the Rev. William Ferry in 1836, who settled here after floating down the Grand River on a canoe trip. Inspired by the natural beauty of the area and by the local need for spiritual leadership, he conducted the first worship service on November 2, 1834 in a local trading post. As interest grew, Grand Haven’s first church was formally established eighteen months later. William Ferry was also Grand Haven’s first mayor and post-master. Ferry Street in Grand Haven and the city of Ferrysburg are named for the Ferry family.
A window in our current sanctuary depicts the four buildings which have been home to our growing congregation. The window pictures the trading post in which the first worship service was held, the first building that was built on our current site in 1885, the “church house” that was built in 1911, and our current sanctuary which was built in 1955. Just as the Rev. Ferry’s first sermon was based on the text, “Do not despise small beginnings” (Zechariah 4:10), so the window pictures an acorn and an oak leaf. Great things can come from small beginnings.
A church is, of course, not a building, but the very Body of Christ. We are Christ’s mouth, hands, and feet called to be lights of the world. Jesus tells us, “In the same way, let your light shine before men and women, that they may see your good deeds, and give praise to your Father in heaven.” William Ferry offered some very specific challenges to his flock as he began his ministry:
- Do you regularly attend public worship?
- Are you training your children in the ways of the Lord?
- Do you regularly worship God in secret, pray fervently, and read the Bible?
- What are you doing for Christ and the souls of men and women?
We have sought to live up to that high spiritual calling, and to translate that spiritual depth into practical ministry and mission. Our members have helped transform this community. Our Ministry Committee had the inspiration for both the building of our local YMCA, and the establishment of Tri-Cities Ministries. One of the principle fund-raisers for Grand Valley State University belonged to our church, as does the visionary who conceived of our musical fountain.
More recently our members built a Habitat for Humanity house in Grand Haven, a community center in a impoverished Mexican Village, and are contributing to the building of an orphanage in India. Our Joyful Noise Preschool and Day Care Center, support of Boy Scouts, and strong Sunday School and youth groups show our determination to share “the good news” with our young.
One of the ordination questions asked of prospective Presbyterian officers is this, “Will you serve with energy, intelligence, imagination and love?” As our congregation grows, we seek to do exactly that. Building on the foundation of Jesus Christ, and the faithfulness of past generations, we seek to continually find new ways to do the work of Jesus Christ. We invite you to join our ministry!