The highest standard by which the Church's belief and practice is to be measured is the Word of God; the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. So that others can clearly understand what the Presbyterian Church of Australia believes is taught in the Bible, the Church has adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith (with two minor amendments) as a statement of its key doctrines. While the Church believes the Confession sets forth Biblical doctrines accurately and reliably, the Confession is always referred to as the subordinate standard, and the Bible is the supreme standard. You will find the Church's doctrine of the Bible defined in Chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Confession of Faith is quite detailed, and explains the Bible's teaching on God, Creation, the wonder of being human and the awfulness of sin, and the whole work of God in salvation. The Confession is careful to emphasise that this salvation is by the sovereign Grace of God. It also sets out clear positions on living the Christian Life, and worshipping as a part of the Church in society. The Confession ends with a simple statement on the expectation that Christ will one day return.
Copies of the Westminster Confession of Faith (as amended by the Presbyterian Church of Australia) can normally be obtained from the Church Office in your State. Copies of the original form of the Confession are generally available from most Christian bookshops, and various editions of the Confession in a more modern English are also available.
At the time the Presbyterian Church of Australia was formed, it also adopted a Declaratory Statement. The Declaratory Statement does not replace the Bible or the Westminster Confession of Faith, but was designed to show how the Westminster Confession of Faith is to be interpreted and used by this Church. The introductory wording from the 1901 Scheme of Union is given below, and shows how these are all related.
The Supreme Standard of the united church shall be the Word of God contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments:
The Subordinate Standard in the united church shall be the Westminster Confession of Faith, read in the light of the following declaratory statement:
The Declaratory Statement has six clauses. Among other things, these clauses require the Church to be grounded on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation, to accept the events of the incarnation, life, death resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the events at Pentecost as real supernatural events, to be eager to preach the gospel to all, to hold out the moral law of God as binding on all people, to affirm the freedom of the Church from all civil headship and control, and to allow liberty of opinion on matters in the subordinate standard not essential to the doctrine it teaches so long as this liberty is not abused to the injury of the unity and peace of the Church.
When a minister or elder is first ordained (specially set apart for their work in the Church) they make a solemn declaration that they personally accept these doctrines, and they promise to keep on teaching and supporting these beliefs throughout their ministry. They also promise to fulfil their duties as set down in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church. The promises are repeated each time they take up work as a minister or elder in another congregation. These promises are summarized in what is called a Formula which all ministers and elders sign. [see appendix]
The worship of the Presbyterian Church has always been marked by simplicity and reverence. It consists of praise, prayer, the expounding and preaching of the Word of God, and the sacraments. In the Presbyterian Church, the minister has the privilege and special calling to arrange the worship service and to preach, and this will naturally lead to some variations from congregation to congregation. The central purpose of worship is always to bring glory to God, and this must always control what happens in a worship service. Occasionally someone approved by the minister may be invited to preach, but the minister is always answerable to other ministers and elders (i.e. the Presbytery, see below) for what happens.
The Church believes that there are only two sacraments; Baptism and the Lord's Supper. These ought to be observed properly and carefully. Christian baptism is only to be administered to those who become Christians as adults, or to the children of at least one Christian parent. It is not a social or community ritual, and will almost always be administered as part of a regular worship service. Baptism is rightly administered by sprinkling or pouring of water, but those who have received baptism by immersion in other Christian Churches are also recognised as baptised. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is administered in all our congregations, more or less frequently, as the minister and elders may determine.