John Calvin

Presbyterianism refers to a number of Christian churches adhering to the Calvinist theological tradition within Protestantism, which are organized according to a characteristic Presbyterian polity. Presbyterian theology typically emphasizes the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Scriptures, and the necessity of grace through faith in Christ. Presbyterianism originated primarily in Scotland. Scotland ensured Presbyterian "church government" in the Acts of Union in 1707 [1] which created "Great Britain". In fact, most Presbyterians found in England can trace a Scottish connection, and the Presbyterian denomination was also taken to North America mostly by Scots and Scots-Irish immigrants[citation needed]. The Presbyterian denominations in Scotland hold to the theology of Calvin and his immediate successors, although there is a range of theological views within contemporary Presbyterianism.

Modern Presbyterianism traces its institutional roots back to the Scottish Reformation. Local congregations are governed by Sessions made up of representatives of the congregation, a conciliar approach which is found at other levels of decision-making (Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly). Theoretically, there are no bishops in Presbyterianism; however, some groups in Eastern Europe, and in ecumenical groups, do have bishops. The office of elder is another distinctive mark of Presbyterianism: these are specially ordained non-clergy who take part in local pastoral care and decision-making at all levels. The office of deacon is geared toward the care of members, their families, and the surrounding community. In some congregations active elders and deacons serve a three-year term and then rotate off for at least a year. The offices of pastor, elder, and deacon all commence with ordination; once a person is ordained, he holds that title for the rest of his life. An individual may serve as both an elder and a deacon.

The roots of Presbyterianism lie in the European Reformation of the 16th century, with the example of John Calvin's Geneva being particularly influential. Most Reformed churches who trace their history back to Scotland are either Presbyterian or Congregationalist in government. In the twentieth century, some Presbyterians played an important role in the Ecumenical Movement, including the World Council of Churches. Many Presbyterian denominations have found ways of working together with other Reformed denominations and Christians of other traditions, especially in the World Communion of Reformed Churches. Some Presbyterian churches have entered into unions with other churches, such as Congregationalists, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists.



Presbyterian denominations derive their name from the Greek word presbýteros (πρεσβύτερος), "elder." (Presbyterian church in Acts 14:23, 20:17, Titus 1:5).

The earliest Christian church consisted of Jews in the first century who had known Jesus Christ and heard his teachings. It gradually grew and spread from the Middle East to other parts of the world, though not without controversy and hardship among its supporters.

During the 4th century, after more than 300 years of repression and sometimes fierce persecution under various Roman emperors, the church became established as a political as well as a spiritual power under the Emperor Constantine. Theological and political disagreements, however, served to widen the rift between members of the eastern (Greek-speaking) and western (Latin-speaking) branches of the church. Eventually the western portions of Europe came under the religious and political authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Eastern Europe and parts of Asia came under the authority of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

John Knox

In western Europe, the authority of the Roman Catholic Church remained largely unquestioned until the Renaissance in the 15th century. The invention of the printing press in Germany around 1440 made it possible for common people to have access to printed materials including the Bible. The public availability of the Bible encouraged private devotion away from the structure of the Roman Catholic Church. Printed materials also served to expose the populace to religious thinkers who had begun to question the authority and integrity of the Church. One such figure, Martin Luther, a German monk and professor, enumerated this dissent in his 95 Theses. In 1517, Martin Luther famously posted his grievances on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This moment is said to have marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, a theological movement intended to reform the Church.[2] As the Catholic Church resisted the reformers, the Church split and different theological movements bore different denominations. Presbyterianism was especially influenced by the French/Swiss theologian, John Calvin, who is credited with the development of Reformed theology and the work of John Knox, a Scotsman who studied with Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland and brought his teachings back to Scotland. The Presbyterian church traces its ancestry back primarily to England and Scotland. In August of 1560 the Scottish Parliament adopted the Protestant Confession of Faith as the creed of the Scottish Kingdom. In December of that year, the First Book of Discipline was published, outlining important doctrinal issues but also establishing regulations for church government, including the creation of ten ecclesiastical districts with pointed superintendents which later became known as presbyteries.[3]

Among the early church fathers, it was noted that the offices of elder and bishop were identical, and were not differentiated until later, and that plurality of elders was the norm for church government.[citation needed] St. Jerome (347-420) "In Epistle Titus", vol. iv, said, "Elder is identical with bishop; and before the urging of the devil gave rise to factionalism in religion, so much that it was being said among the people, 'I am of Paul, I of Apollos, I of Cephas', the churches were governed by a joint council of elders. After it was... decreed throughout the world that one chosen from among the presbyters should be placed over the others."[4] This observation was also made by Chrysostom (349-407) in "Homilia i, in Phil. i, 1" and Theodoret (393-457) in "Interpret ad. Phil. iii", 445.

Presbyterianism was first described in detail by Martin Bucer of Strasbourg, who believed that the early Christian church implemented presbyterian polity.[5] The first modern implementation was by the Geneva church under the leadership of John Calvin in 1541.[5]


Presbyterians distinguish themselves from other denominations by doctrine, institutional organization (or "church order") and worship; often using a "Book of Order" to regulate common practice and order. The origins of the Presbyterian churches were in Calvinism, which is no longer emphasized in some contemporary branches. Many branches of Presbyterianism are remnants of previous splits from larger groups. Some of the splits have been due to doctrinal controversy, while some have been caused by disagreement concerning the degree to which those ordained to church office should be required to agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith, which historically serves as an important confessional document - second only to the Bible, yet directing particularities in the standardization and translation of the Bible - in Presbyterian churches.

Presbyterians place great importance upon education and life-long learning. Continuous study of the scriptures, theological writings, and understanding and interpretation of church doctrine are embodied in several statements of faith and catechisms formally adopted by various branches of the church, often referred to as 'subordinate standards'. It is generally considered that the point of such learning is to enable one to put one's faith into practice; some Presbyterians generally exhibit their faith in action as well as words, by generosity, hospitality, and the constant pursuit of social justice and reform, as well as proclaiming the gospel of Christ.


Presbyterian government is by councils (known as courts) of elders. Teaching and ruling elders are ordained and convene in the lowest council known as a session or consistory responsible for the discipline, nurture, and mission of the local congregation. Teaching elders (pastors) have responsibility for teaching, worship, and performing sacraments. Pastors are called by individual congregations. A congregation issues a call for the pastor's service, but this call must be ratified by the local presbytery.

Ruling elders are usually laymen (and laywomen in some denominations) who are elected by the congregation and ordained to serve with the teaching elders, assuming responsibility for nurture and leadership of the congregation. Often, especially in larger congregations, the elders delegate the practicalities of buildings, finance, and temporal ministry to the needy in the congregation to a distinct group of officers (sometimes called deacons, which are ordained in some denominations). This group may variously be known as a 'Deacon Board', 'Board of Deacons' 'Diaconate', or 'Deacons' Court'. These are sometimes known as "presbyters" to the full congregation.

Above the sessions exist presbyteries, which have area responsibilities. These are composed of teaching elders and ruling elders from each of the constituent congregations. The presbytery sends representatives to a broader regional or national assembly, generally known as the General Assembly, although an intermediate level of a synod sometimes exists. This congregation / presbytery / synod / general assembly schema is based on the historical structure of the larger Presbyterian churches, such as the Church of Scotland or the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); some bodies, such as the Presbyterian Church in America and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, skip one of the steps between congregation and General Assembly, and usually the step skipped is the Synod. The Church of Scotland has now abolished the Synod.

Presbyterian governance is practised by Presbyterian denominations and also by many other Reformed churches.


Presbyterian Cross
An Irish version of the Presbyterian burning bush logo, first used in 1583.

Presbyterianism is historically a confessional tradition. This has two implications. The obvious one is that confessional churches express their faith in the form of "confessions of faith," which have some level of authoritative status. However this is based on a more subtle point: In confessional churches, theology is not solely an individual matter. While individuals are encouraged to understand Scripture, and may challenge the current institutional understanding, theology is carried out by the community as whole. It is this community understanding of theology that is expressed in confessions.[6]

However, there has arisen a spectrum of approaches to "confessionalism". The manner of subscription, or the degree to which the official standards establish the actual doctrine of the church, turns out to be a practical matter. That is, the decisions rendered in ordination and in the courts of the church largely determine what the church means, representing the whole, by its adherence to the doctrinal standard.

Some Presbyterian traditions adopt only the Westminster Confession of Faith as the doctrinal standard to which teaching elders are required to subscribe, in contrast to the Larger and Shorter catechisms, which are approved for use in instruction. Many Presbyterian denominations, especially in North America, have adopted all of the Westminster Standards as their standard of doctrine which is subordinate to the Bible. These documents are Calvinistic in their doctrinal orientation, although some versions of the Confession and the catechisms are more overtly Calvinist than some other, later American revisions. The Presbyterian Church in Canada retains the Westminster Confession of Faith in its original form, while admitting the historical period in which it was written should be understood when it is read.

The Westminster Confession is 'The principal subordinate standard of the Church of Scotland' (Articles Declaratory of the Constitution of the Church of Scotland II), but 'with due regard to liberty of opinion in points which do not enter into the substance of the Faith' (V). This formulation represents many years of struggle over the extent to which the confession reflects the Word of God and the struggle of conscience of those who came to believe it did not fully do so (e.g., William Robertson Smith). Some Presbyterian Churches, such as the Free Church of Scotland, have no such 'conscience clause'.

The Presbyterian Church USA has adopted the Book of Confessions, which reflects the inclusion of other Reformed confessions in addition to the Westminster documents. These other documents include ancient creedal statements (the Nicene Creed, the Apostles' Creed), 16th century Reformed confessions (the Scots Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Second Helvetic Confession, all of which were written before Calvinism had developed as a particular strand of Reformed doctrine), and 20th century documents (The Theological Declaration of Barmen and the Confession of 1967).

The Presbyterian Church in Canada developed the confessional document Living Faith [1984] and retains it as a subordinate standard of the denomination. It is confessional in format, yet like the Westminster Confession, draws attention back to original Bible text.

Presbyterians in Ireland who rejected Calvinism and the Westminster Confessions formed the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland.


Presbyterian Denominations who trace their heritage to the British Isles usually organise their church services inspired by the principles in the Directory of Public Worship, developed by the Westminster Assembly in the 1640s. This directory documented Reformed worship practices and theology adopted and developed over the preceding century by British Puritans, initially guided by John Calvin and John Knox. It was enacted as law by the Scottish Parliament, and became one of the foundational documents of Presbyterian church legislation elsewhere.

Historically, the driving principle in the development of the standards of Presbyterian worship is the Regulative principle of worship, which specifies that (in worship), what is not commanded is forbidden.[7]

Presbyterians traditionally have held the Worship position that there are only two sacraments:

Over subsequent centuries, many Presbyterian churches modified these prescriptions by introducing non-biblical hymns, instrumental accompaniment and ceremonial vestments in worship. Still, there is not one fixed "Presbyterian" worship style. Although there are set services for the "Lord's Day", one can find a service to be evangelical and even revivalist in tone (especially in some conservative denominations), or strongly liturgical, approximating the practices of Lutheranism or Anglicanism (especially where Scottish tradition is esteemed)[clarification needed], or semi-formal, allowing for a balance of hymns, preaching, and congregational participation (favored by probably most American Presbyterians).

Among the Paleo-orthodoxy and emerging church movements in protestant and evangelical churches, which includes many Presbyterians, clergy are moving away from the traditional black Geneva gown and reclaiming not only the more ancient Eucharist vestments of alb and chasuble, but also cassock and surplice (typically a full length Old English style surplice which resembles the Celtic alb, an ungirdled liturgical tunic of the old Gallican Rite).


Early Presbyterians were careful to distinguish between the "church" (a term which designated the members) and the "meeting-house" which was the building in which the church met.[8] Until the late 19th century, very few Presbyterians ever referred to their buildings as "churches." Presbyterians believed that meeting-houses (now called churches) are buildings to support the worship of God. The decor in some instances was austere so as not to detract from worship. Early Presbyterian meeting-houses were extremely plain. No stained glass, no elaborate furnishings, and no images were to be found in the meeting-house. The pulpit, often raised so as only to be accessible by a staircase, was the centerpiece of the building. In the late 19th century a gradual shift began to occur. Prosperous congregations built imposing churches, such as St Vincent Street Church, Glasgow, Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian in New York City, Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, First Presbyterian in Dallas, and many others. Usually a Presbyterian church will not have statues of saints, nor the ornate altar more typical of a Roman Catholic church. In a Presbyterian (Reformed Church) one will not usually find a Crucifix hanging behind the Chancel. However, one may find stained glass windows that depict the crucifixion, behind a chancel.



John Knox (1505–1572), a Scot who had spent time studying under Calvin in Geneva, returned to Scotland and led the Parliament of Scotland to embrace the Reformation in 1560 (see Scottish Reformation Parliament). The Church of Scotland was eventually reformed along Presbyterian lines, to become the national Church of Scotland.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the Acts of Union 1707 between Scotland and England guaranteed the Church of Scotland's form of government. However, legislation by the United Kingdom parliament allowing patronage led to splits in the Church, and finally the Disruption of 1843 led to the formation of the Free Church of Scotland. Further splits took place, especially over theological issues, but most Presbyterians in Scotland were reunited by 1929 union of the established Church of Scotland and the United Free Church of Scotland.

The Presbyterian denominations in Scotland today are the Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland, the United Free Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the Associated Presbyterian Church (Associated Presbyterian Churches), and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

Within Scotland the term kirk is usually used to refer to a local Presbyterian church. Informally the term 'The Kirk' refers to the Church of Scotland.


In England, Presbyterianism was established in secret in 1572. Thomas Cartwright is thought to be the first Presbyterian in England. Cartwright's controversial lectures at Cambridge University condemning the episcopal hierarchy of the Elizabethan Church led to his deprivation of his post by Archbishop John Whitgift and his emigration abroad. In 1647, by an act of the Long Parliament under the control of Puritans, the Church of England permitted Presbyterianism. The re-establishment of the monarchy in 1660 brought the return of Episcopal church government in England (and in Scotland for a short time); but the Presbyterian church in England continued in non-conformity, outside of the established church. In 1719 a major split, the Salter's Hall controversy, occurred; with the majority siding with nontrinitarian views. Thomas Bradbury published several sermons bearing on the controversy, and in 1719, "An answer to the reproaches cast on the dissenting ministers who subscribed their belief of the Eternal Trinity.". By the 18th century many English Presbyterian congregations had become Unitarian in doctrine.

A number of new Presbyterian Churches were founded by Scottish immigrants to England in the 19th century and later. Following the 'Disruption' in 1843 many of those linked to the Church of Scotland eventually joined what became the Presbyterian Church of England in 1876. Some, that is Crown Court (Covent Garden, London), St Andrew's (Stepney, London)) and Swallow Street (London), did not join the English denomination, which is why there are Church of Scotland congregations in England such as those at Crown Court, and St Columba's, Pont Street (Knightsbridge) in London.

In 1972, the Presbyterian Church of England (PCofE) united with the Congregational Church in England and Wales to form the United Reformed Church (URC). Among the congregations the PCofE brought to the URC were Tunley (Lancashire) , Aston Tirrold (Oxfordshire) and John Knox Presbyterian Church, Stepney, London (now part of Stepney Meeting House URC) - these are among the sole survivors today of the English Presbyterian churches of the 17th century. The URC also has a presence in Scotland, mostly of former Congregationalist Churches. Two former Presbyterian congregations, St Columba's, Cambridge (founded in 1879), and St Columba's, Oxford (founded as a chaplaincy by the PCofE and the Church of Scotland in 1908 and as a congregation of the PCofE in 1929), continue as congregations of the URC and university chaplaincies of the Church of Scotland.

In recent years a number of smaller denominations adopting Presbyterian forms of church government have organised in England, including the International Presbyterian Church planted by evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer of L'Abri Fellowship in the 1970s, and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales founded in the North of England in the late 1980s.


In Wales Presbyterianism is represented by the Presbyterian Church of Wales, which was originally composed largely of Calvinistic Methodists who accepted Calvinist theology rather than the Armininianism of the Wesleyan Methodists. They broke off from the Church of England in 1811, ordaining their own ministers. They were originally known as the Calvinist Methodist connexion and in the 1920s it became alternatively known as the Presbyterian Church of Wales.


Presbyterianism is the second largest Protestant denomination in the island of Ireland (after the Anglican Church of Ireland), and was brought by Scottish plantation settlers to Ulster who had been strongly encouraged to emigrate by James VI of Scotland, later James I of England. An estimated 100,000 Scottish Presbyterians moved to the northern counties of Ireland between 1607 and the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.[citation needed] The Presbytery of Ulster was formed in 1642 separately from the established Anglican Church. Presbyterians, along with Roman Catholics in Ulster and the rest of Ireland, suffered under the discriminatory Penal Laws until they were revoked in the early 19th century. Presbyterianism is represented in Ireland by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.


Huguenot Cross‎

In France, Presbyterianism is represented by the Eglise Reformée de France, and Presbyterianism is the largest Protestant denomination in France. There are also Lutherans and Evangelicals. In France, people usually say Protestant (which is a common term for all Reformed Christians). The word Calviniste may be used to differentiate from Lutherans, but the word Presbyterian is not used at all. The logo is a Huguenot Cross (Croix Huguenote) with the burning bush.

There is also an Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) in central Paris The Scots Kirk, Paris which is English-speaking, and is attended by many nationalities. It maintains close links with the Church of Scotland in Scotland itself, as well as with l'Eglise Reformée de France.


The origins of the Waldensian Evangelical Church lie in the medieval Waldensian movement for religious reform. The Waldensians adopted Calvinist theology during the Reformation and became the Italian branch of the Reformed churches. In 1975 the Waldensian Church joined with the Italian Methodist Church to form the Union of Waldensian and Methodist Churches, which is a member of the World Council of Churches, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the World Methodist Council.


In the Karpathian Basin, formerly known Greater-Hungary there is a massive three-million Hungarian speaking crowd belonging to the Hungarian Reformed Church, which is a Calvinist strand, established in 1567, Debrecen, Hungary. Their confessional documents are the following:The Heidelberg Catechism, The Second Helvetian Confession.

North America

Evolution of Presbyterianism in the United States. Courtesy of the Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, PA.

Even before Presbyterianism spread with immigrants abroad from Scotland, there were divisions in the larger Presbyterian family. Some later rejoined only to separate again. In what some interpret as rueful self-reproach, some Presbyterians refer to the divided Presbyterian churches as the "Split P's".

United States

In the United States, because of past or current doctrinal differences, Presbyterian churches often overlap, with congregations of many different Presbyterian groups in any one place. The largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) or PC(USA). Other Presbyterian bodies in the United States include the Presbyterian Church in America, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Bible Presbyterian Church, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP Synod), the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America, the Westminster Presbyterian Church in the United States (WPCUS), and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States (RPCUS).

The territory within about a 50-mile (80 km) radius of Charlotte, North Carolina, is historically the greatest concentration of Presbyterianism in the Southern United States, while an almost identical geographic area around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, contains probably the largest number of Presbyterians in the entire nation.

The PC (USA), beginning with its predecessor bodies, has, in common with other so-called "mainline" Protestant denominations, experienced a significant decline in members in recent years. Some estimates have placed that loss at nearly half in the last forty years.[9]

In August 2011, the American National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus (NMEPC) endorsed the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.[10]


In Canada, the largest Presbyterian denomination – and indeed the largest Protestant denomination – was the Presbyterian Church in Canada, formed in 1875 with the merger of four regional groups. In 1925, the United Church of Canada was formed with the Methodist Church, Canada, and the Congregational Union of Canada. A sizable minority of Canadian Presbyterians, primarily in southern Ontario but also throughout the entire nation, withdrew, and reconstituted themselves as a non-concurring continuing Presbyterian body. They regained use of the original name in 1939.

Latin America

Presbyterianism arrived in Latin America in the 19th century. The biggest Presbyterian church is the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico ("Iglesia Nacional Presbyteriana de México"), which has around 2,500,000 members and associates, but there are other small denominations. In Brazil, the Presbyterian Church of Brazil (Igreja Presbiteriana do Brasil) totals approximately 788.553 members; other presbyterian churches (Independents, United, Conservatives, Renovated - Charismatic, Free, Fundamentalist, Evangelical) in this nation have around 350,000 members. There are probably more than four million members of Presbyterian churches in all of Latin America. Presbyterian churches are also present in Peru, Bolivia, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Argentina and others, but with few members. Some Latin Americans in North America are active in the Presbyterian Cursillo Movement.


Presbyterianism arrived in Africa in the 19th century through the work of Scottish missionaries and founded churches such as St Michael and All Angels Church, Blantyre, Malawi. The church has grown extensively and now has a presence in at least 23 countries in the region.[11] The Presbyterian Church of East Africa, based in Kenya, is particularly strong, with 500 clergy and 4 million members.[12] African presbyterian churches often incorporate diaconal ministries, including social services, emergency relief, and the operation of mission hospitals. A number of partnerships exist between presbyteries in Africa and the PC(USA), including specific connections with Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, and Ghana. For example, the Lackawanna Presbytery, located in Northeastern Pennsylvania, has a partnership with a presbytery in Ghana. Also, Southminster Presbyterian Church, located near Pittsburgh, has partnerships with churches in Malawi and Kenya. In addition also there are a number of Presbyterian Churches in north Africa, the most known is the Nile Synod in Egypt and a recently founded synod for Sudan.


South Korea

Presbyterian Churches are the biggest and by far the most influential Protestant denominations in South Korea, with close to 20,000 churches affiliated with the two largest Presbyterian denominations in the country.[13]

All Korean Presbyterian denominations share the same name in Korean, 대한예수교장로회, tracing its roots to the United Presbyterian Assembly before its long history of disputes and schisms. All major seminaries associated with each denomination claim heritage from the Pyung Yang Theological Seminary, therefore, both Jangsin University and Chongsin University both celebrated the 100th class in 2007, 100 years from the first graduates of Pyung Yang Theological Seminary.[14]

Korean Presbyterian denominations are active in evangelism and many of its missionaries are being sent overseas, being the second biggest missionary sender in the world after the United States. GSM, the missionary body of the "Hapdong" General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches of Korea, is the single largest Presbyterian missionary organization in the Korea.[15]

In Oryu-dong, Pyungkang Cheil is one of the largest Christian churches in South Korea. Another congregation in Seoul, Myungsung Presbyterian Church, claims to be the largest Presbyterian Church in the world. In addition there are many Korean-American Presbyterians in the United States, either with their own church sites or sharing space in pre-existing churches as is the case in Australia, New Zealand and even Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia with Korean immigration.


In Taiwan, the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan has been an important supporter of the use of Taiwanese languages in services as a consequence of its advocacy of vernacular scriptures and worship services. (Mandarin Chinese has become dominant since the Nationalists fled to the island in 1949.)[16]


In the mainly Christian Indian state of Mizoram, the Presbyterian denomination is the largest denomination; it was brought to the region with missionaries from Wales in 1894. Prior to Mizoram, the Welsh Presbyterians (missionaries) started venturing into the north-east of India through the Khasi Hills (presently located within the state of Meghalaya in India) and established Presbyterian churches all over the Khasi Hills from 1840s onwards. Hence there is a strong presence of Presbyterians in Shillong (the present capital of Meghalaya) and the areas adjoining it. The Welsh missionaries built their first church in Cherrapunji (aka Sohra) in 1846. Presbyterians participated in the mergers that resulted in the Church of North India and the Church of South India.


New Zealand

In New Zealand, Presbyterian is the dominant denomination in Otago and Southland due largely to the rich Scottish and to a lesser extent Ulster-Scots heritage in the region. The area around Christchurch, Canterbury, is dominated philosophically by the Anglican (Episcopalian) denomination.

Originally there were two branches of Presbyterianism in New Zealand, the northern Presbyterian church which existed in the North Island and the parts of the South Island north of the Waitaki River, and the Synod of Otago and Southland, founded by Free Church settlers in southern South Island. The two churches merged in 1901, forming what is now the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand.


Timeline showing the Presbyterian denominations in Australia over the past 100 years, and the movement of congregations from one to another

In Australia, Presbyterianism is the fourth largest denomination of Christianity, with nearly 600,000 Australians claiming to be Presbyterian in the 2006 Commonwealth Census. Presbyterian churches were founded in each colony, some with links to the Church of Scotland and others to the Free Church, including a number founded by John Dunmore Lang. Some of these bodies merged in the 1860s. In 1901 the churches linked to the Church of Scotland in each state joined together forming the Presbyterian Church of Australia but retaining their state assemblies.

In 1977, two thirds of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, along with the Congregational Union of Australia and the Methodist Church of Australasia, combined to form the Uniting Church in Australia. The majority of the other third did not join due to disagreement with the Uniting Church's liberal views, though a portion remained due to cultural attachment. For example, although the Presbyterian Church of Australia reinstated the ban on the ordination of women to the ministry in 1991, one of the two women ordained prior to that date has kept her position in the denomination and is currently the Senior Minister of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Canberra.


The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu is the largest denomination in the country, with approximately one-third of the population of Vanuatu members of the church. The PCV was taken to Vanuatu by missionaries from Scotland. The PCV (Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu) is headed by a moderator with offices in Port Vila. The PCV is particularly strong in the provinces of Tafea, Shefa, and Malampa. The Province of Sanma is mainly Presbyterian with a strong Roman Catholic minority in the Francophone areas of the province. There are some Presbyterian people, but no organised Presbyterian churches in Penama and Torba, both of which are traditionally Anglican. Vanuatu is the only country in the South Pacific with a significant Presbyterian heritage and membership. The PCV is a founding member of the Vanuatu Christian Council (VCC). The PCV runs many primary schools and Onesua secondary school. Although the church has lost members to American fundamentalists, the church is still strong, especially in the rural villages.

Main features

See also

Confession of Faith



Colleges and seminaries

  • Presbyterian universities and colleges


Clergy, or theologians:


  • Stewart J Brown. The National Churches of England, Ireland, and Scotland, 1801-46 (2001)
  • William the Baptist by James M. Chaney (Reformed Presbyterian perspective on baptism and infant baptism)
  • Jay E. Adams. The Meaning and Mode of Baptism Thomas Shepard . (1975) (Reformed Presbyterian perspective on Aspersion and Affusion)
  • THE CHURCH MEMBERSHIP OF CHILDREN, AND THEIR RIGHT TO BAPTISM (1662) (Reformed Presbyterian perspective on infants' right to church membership)
  • William Henry Foote. Sketches of North Carolina, Historical and Biographical... (1846) - full-text history of early North Carolina and its Presbyterian churches
  • Andrew Lang. John Knox and the Reformation (1905)
  • William Klempa, ed. The Burning Bush and a Few Acres of Snow: The Presbyterian Contribution to Canadian Life and Culture (1994)
  • Marsden, George M. The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience (1970)
  • Mark A Noll. Princeton And The Republic, 1768-1822 (2004)
  • Frank Joseph Smith, The History of the Presbyterian Church in America, Reformation Education Foundation, Manassas, VA 1985
  • William Warren Sweet, Religion on the American Frontier, 1783—1840, vol. 2, The Presbyterians (1936), primary sources
  • Ernest Trice Thompson. Presbyterians in the South vol 1: to 1860; Vol 2: 1861-1890; Vol 3: 1890-1972. (1963–1973)
  • Leonard J. Trinterud, The Forming of an American Tradition: A Re-examination of Colonial Presbyterianism (1949)
  • Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (1884)
  • Articles Declaratory of the Constitution of the Church of Scotland
  • St.Andrews Prebystarian church in Lahore, Pakistan.Church Website
  • Presbyterian History " Presbyterian 101"[17]
  • Presbyterian architecture[18]


  1. ^ "Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Act 1707". The National Archives. United Kingdom. Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  2. ^ "The Cambridge Modern History. Vo l 2". The Reformation (1903). Retrieved 26 September 2010. 
  3. ^ "Established Church of Scotland". Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 26 September 2010. 
  4. ^ W.A. Jurgens, "The Faith of the Early Fathers." The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., 1979, pg. 194
  5. ^ a b "Presbyterianism, n." OED Online. Draft revision March 2007. Oxford University Press. Retrieved on February 8, 2008,
  6. ^ D. G. Hart, "The Lost Soul of American Protestantism." Rowman and Littlefield, 2004
  7. ^ Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXI, paragraph I
  8. ^ Quakers still insist upon this distinction
  9. ^ "Big Losses Projected"
  10. ^ National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus Supports and Endorses the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign Against the Israeli Occupation of Palestine
  11. ^ PC(USA) - Worldwide Ministries - Africa
  12. ^ PC(USA) - Worldwide Ministries: Kenya
  13. ^ The Presbytarian Church of Korea. Retrieved August 2011
  14. ^ "리폼드뉴스" (in (Korean)). Retrieved 2011-08-07. 
  15. ^ KCM search. Retrieved August 2011
  16. ^ "Presbyterian Church in Taiwan". Retrieved 2011-08-07. 
  17. ^ "Presbyterian 101 — Mission and Ministry — GAMC". Retrieved 2011-08-07. 
  18. ^ "History and Architecture :: East Liberty Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA :: “The Cathedral of Hope”". Retrieved 2011-08-07. 

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  • Presbyterianism — /prez bi tear ee euh niz euhm, pres /, n. 1. church government by presbyters or elders, equal in rank and organized into graded administrative courts. 2. the doctrines of Presbyterian churches. [1635 45; PRESBYTERIAN + ISM] * * * Form of church… …   Universalium

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  • PRESBYTERIANISM —    a GROUP of PROTESTANT CHURCHES arising out of the CALVINIST REFORMATION distinguished by their form of CHURCH GOVERNMENT based on PRESBYTERS or ELDERS and a series of Church courts. The lowest court is that of the local Congregation. Above it… …   Concise dictionary of Religion

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  • Presbyterianism — noun see Presbyterian II …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • presbyterianism — noun That form of church government which invests presbyters with all spiritual power, and admits no prelates over them; also, the faith and polity of the Presbyterian churches, taken collectively …   Wiktionary

  • Presbyterianism — noun A form of Protestant Christianity based on Calvinism See Also: Presbyterian …   Wiktionary

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