About Being a Presbyterian 1

The Presbyterian Church has a rich and exciting history.  Like all Christian churches, we can trace our roots back to the early church in Jerusalem.  Modern Presbyterianism is considered by many to be a rebirth of the early church of the New Testament.

There are three central figures in the historical tapestry of Presbyterianism:

When, in 1517, Martin Luther opposed the Catholic church with a list of grievances (called Luther’s 95 Theses), he cemented his place in history as the man who moved the Protestant Reformation forward.  The Reformation sought to “reform” Christianity by returning it to original beliefs based solely on reference to the Bible.  It gave rise to the Protestant Church, which developed into several main branches as the years progressed.  

In 1533, John Calvin (often called the father of Presbyterianism) presented his interpretation of the Bible emphasizing theology (the study of religion), worship (ascribing all praise and glory to God), education, thrift, ethical behavior and representative government for his Christians.  From his home in Geneva, Calvin’s ideas spread throughout Europe.

John Knox, the Scottish Protestant, fled persecution in his homeland and studied with Calvin in Geneva.  He returned in 1559 and helped to establish Presbyterianism in Scotland.

Many Presbyterians escaped persecution (by the Catholic church) in Europe and settled in America.  Presbyterianism was so prevalent in America that some British called the American Revolution the “Presbyterian Revolt.”  At least 14 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Presbyterians (including clergyman John Witherspoon).

The first Presbytery in America was established in Philadelphia in 1706.  During the 1800s, disagreements over slavery and Evangelism (the telling of the life, death and return to life from death of Jesus Christ) broke the church into northern and southern branches.  The two branches were reunited in 1983 to form the Presbyterian Church (USA).

All that is required to be a Presbyterian is to:

  • Confess the Christian faith;

  • Trust in Christ;

  • Promise to follow Christ and Christ’s example for living:

  • Commit to attend church and to become involved in its work.

1 Footnote:  Some of this material is derived from About Being Presbyterian,  by the  Channing L. Bete, Co. Inc.