The development of protestant Christianity since its inception in the 16th Century led to the formation of many denominations, and Presbyterianism is among them. However, despite its status as one of the oldest and most well-known denominations, not many people know what it stands for, what makes it unique from other denominations, and what its congregants believe. This brings up the question: is Presbyterian Christian?
Yes, the Presbyterian Church is a Christian denomination. It has its roots in the Reformed Movement from John Calvin and John Knox, and its congregants believe in all the central teachings of Christianity, including the supremacy of the Bible and the Trinity.
This article aims to look into the Presbyterian Church, what Christian teachings it adheres to, its origins, and other issues around it, such as the differences between its denominations.
Where did Presbyterian come from?
To understand the answer to this question, it is helpful to examine two things: the history of the church and its structure.
Meaning of the term and the origins of the church
The term “Presbyterian” is a broad term that applies to a group of several churches that follow the teachings of reformed theology to varying degrees and also follow a democratic setup of church government led by elders.
The denomination’s beginnings trace back to the Reformation movement. The Reformation movement started about 20 years after Protestantism began, thanks to the Swiss theologian John Calvin, who promoted a new theological perspective known as Reformed theology or Calvinism.
Among John Calvin’s colleagues was John Knox, a Scottish preacher and former Catholic priest who befriended him in 1557 after fleeing Scotland due to the ongoing persecution of Protestants. He began to study Calvinism and took these teachings back home in 1559. He became famous for his support for Reformed theology, and some Scottish lords joined him in his efforts to promote religious reforms.
The church was initially organized in Scotland and was closely linked to the Roman Catholic Church. However, it kept an attitude of independence and opted for an eldership governmental system as opposed to the Catholic’s episcopal governmental style. This alignment changed in 1560 when the church, under Knox’s leadership, outlawed Catholic Mass and, in 1647, adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Later during the early 1700s, the Scots decided to move to America to escape the economic issues they were facing. These Scottish immigrants established the first American presbytery in 1706 in Philadelphia. From this point, the church grew exponentially through evangelism efforts and educational pursuits and spread to the rest of the world.
Structure of the church
The most important part of the Presbyterian church is the presbyter, a term derived from the Greek word “presbyteros,” which means “elder.” It is worth noting that “elder” in this context does not always mean an old man, but it means a person who holds an office in the Presbyterian church regardless of age.
Individual Presbyterian congregations elect presbyters (elders), who will then elect a board called the Session to oversee all affairs of the individual congregation. Several individual congregations in the same geographic region will form Presbyteries to oversee their meetings and affairs. These presbyteries then join to form Synods that oversee larger regions, and then various Synods will form the General Assembly.
What do Presbyterians believe about God?
Like most Protestant Christians, Presbyterians believe that God is one and exists in three beings – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. All three are eternal and share the same equality in their nature, glory, and will while remaining distinct from each other in function. This is supported in the scriptures, such as in John 1:1:
In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1
The Presbyterian Church also believes that Jesus Christ incarnated in human form, making him fully man and fully God simultaneously. They use verses such as John 1:14 as their basis:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
In terms of the Holy Spirit, Presbyterians believe he is a member of the Trinity and lives in all believers’ hearts to help them follow God. They also believe that he gives them spiritual gifts to strengthen the church in the Great Commission, although the miraculous gifts (speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing) were only operational during the early church.
Some of the Biblical verses they use to support their view include:
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:26
And hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:5
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:4
Sin and Salvation
The concepts of sin and salvation are common among all Christians. Presbyterians will believe that the work of Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection was to bridge the gap between human beings and God due to universal human sin, as evidenced in verses such as Romans 3:23 (For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.)
Their view is that Christ died in place of people and, through his death, allowed people to receive righteousness from God – also known as the doctrines of “sola Christo” (in Christ alone).
They also follow the teachings that salvation is the process of being saved by the grace of God alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide), all for the glory of God alone (Soli Deo Gloria). This is supported by various Bible verses such as Ephesians 2:8-9 and Acts 4:12.
For it is by grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12
The sovereignty of God
This belief relates to seeing God as the complete authority of life and that He exists outside of all creation, as talked about in scriptures such as Job 42:2 and Psalms 135:6. Presbyterians also believe that God’s sovereignty allows him to be the ultimate creator of all things, including the heavens and earth.
I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Job 42:2
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. Psalms 135:6
What Bible do Presbyterians follow?
While it is up to the individual Presbyterian congregant to prefer one version over another, since they all value the Bible greatly, the main translation they have used over the centuries is the King James Version (KJV). More recently, individual congregations will also use NIV (New International Version), the ESV (English Standard Version), or the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version).
It is worth noting that the denomination offers its members freedom on what to choose due to the principle of “sola scriptura,” which emphasizes the importance of the Bible being clear and simple enough for the average person to understand its truths. This also includes encouraging the translation of the Bible to various languages to allow the spreading of the gospel.
What are some denominations that follow Presbyterianism?
Some denominations that follow the Presbyterian doctrine and tradition are:
The PCA (Presbyterian Church USA)
This church was formed in 1983 to merge various congregations of the United Presbyterian Church with the Presbyterian Church in the USA. It is also the largest branch of the Presbyterian Church globally.
The Church of Scotland
This is the original Presbyterian Church formed by John Knox and is among the main congregations in the country. It is worth noting that the Church of Scotland is not a state church and experiences complete independence from the country’s political state.
The Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA)
This is headquartered in Kenya, and its establishment goes back to 1889 when Scottish missionaries established missions in Kibwezi and Kikuyu regions.
Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK)
This is the largest protestant denomination based in South Korea, and it is known for missionary work – especially in overseas missions, second only to the Presbyterian Church in the US.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.