Major World Religions Christianity Presbyterian

About the Presbyterian denomination of Christianity, some of the history of the church, beliefs and meanings behind the Christian religious tradition.


Presbyterianism was inspired by the teachings of the Swiss Protestant reformer John Calvin (1509-1564), who started a movement that spread to France, Germany, and other parts of Europe. On the Continent, the Reformed Church came into being in response to his message. The fiery John Knox (1505?-1572), a friend of Calvin's, brought his doctrines to Scotland. When Puritanism took power in 17th-century England, the Presbyterians were the largest faction within it.

Presbyterianism was 1st introduced to America by the Dutch Reformed in New Amsterdam and by the English Puritans in New England. Large numbers of Scottish immigrants spread the faith throughout the Colonies; by the time of the Revolution, Presbyterians were an important element in America.

The Westminster Confession (1645-1647), the most famous statement of English Calvinism, is the basis of the Presbyterian creed. Presbyterians believe that the Scriptures are "the only infallible rule of faith and practice." They also believe in the Trinity and the existence of heaven and hell. A once important Calvinist tenet, predestination (holding that God, not the individual, determines the individual's fate) is no longer emphasized. Church rule is democratic. The individual church is governed by the "session," consisting of a "teaching elder" (an ordained minister) and "ruling elders" (members elected from the congregation). The world membership of the Presbyterian Church has been estimated at 40 million, including over 4 million members in the U.S. In Scotland, Presbyterianism is the established religion.

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