Our Beliefs

Big Spring Presbyterian Church was founded in 1737. It is one of the oldest Presbyterian Churches in Pennsylvannia and in the Presbytery of Carlisle. Big Spring is a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States. 


The Presbyterian Church was an unexpected offspring of a religious movement called “The Reformation.” The Reformers became known as “Protestants” because their requests for change sounded more and more like protests to Catholic Church at the time.

The leading Reformer was Martin Luther (1483-1546), a Catholic priest who decried the abuses of the Catholic Church. He wasn’t intending to start a new denomination but rather to reform the Church, to purge the Church of corruptions and set it more in line with the theology of Scripture and practices of the early church. Luther was eventually defrocked for his efforts.

Another Reformer would continue Luther’s work. John Calvin (1509-1564) was a French lawyer living in Switzerland. He wrote what became the hallmark of Presbyterian beliefs: The Institutes of Christian Religion - a document still used to this day - covering all the aspects of Christian discipleship and Church life.

The Presbyterian Church is one of several churches that can trace their origins to the Reformation. Presbyterians get their name from the Greek word “presbuteros” which means “elder.” The term refers to the system, in apostolic times, of choosing leaders from among the wisest members of the church. A prominent doctrine of the Reformation was “the priesthood of all believers.” Reformed churches designed themselves in ways that gave more power to the congregation. The Presbyterians established a representative system where elders, presbyters and commissioners were elected.

The French organized the first Presbyterian congregation in 1555 and the French Huguenots were one of the first Presbyterians to reach America, followed closely by the English, Dutch, German, Irish and Scottish. In 1706 the first American presbytery was formed in Philadelphia and soon after the Synod of Philadelphia in 1716. 1789 marked the First General Assembly in Philadelphia.

The Church grew and diversified as it headed westward. By 1800 there were 20,000 members. In another thirty-seven years, there were 220,000. With the growth in numbers came an increase of conflict, separation and sometimes reunion. “Old School” and “New School” divisions plagued Presbyterians for years. The most infamous of issues was slavery. The Civil War severely divided the Church.

The next 120 years saw movements toward reunification. In 1958 the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) and the United Presbyterian Church of North America merged to form the Presbyterian Church in the United States of American (UPCUSA). In 1983 the two largest Presbyterian Churches united at the Atlanta General Assembly (G.A.): the southern-based Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) and the northern-based (UPCUSA). In 1985 the G.A. approved a seal for the new Church.

Presbyterians rely on the Bible, Old and New Testaments because of what they tell us about Jesus of Nazareth.

Presbyterians believe this Jesus was a human being whose identity was so wrapped-up in the Divine that his spirit/soul/essence has been part of God since the very beginning of time as the Word of God. In the words of the first chapter of the Gospel of John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

…The true light that enlightens every man came into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.”

At the core of Presbyterian identity is a secure hope in the grace of God in Jesus Christ, a hope that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, empowers us to live lives of gratitude: “In affirming with the earliest Christians that Jesus is Lord, the Church confesses that he is its hope, and that the Church, as Christ’s body, is bound to his authority and thus free to live in the lively, joyous reality of the grace of God.” (Book of Order F-1.0204)

“Unexpected” may seem like a good way to describe the beginnings of the Presbyterian Church. But for Presbyterians it has always been the “providence of God.”

You may discover more about our beliefs by visiting the website of the Presbyterian Church (USA): PCUSA web link