Roots and Growth of the “Presbyterian” Tradition
The Protestant Reformation took place in the 1500s as people in many countries began to claim:
- The freedom to read and respond to the Bible for themselves;
- The freedom to have a direct relationship with God, without the mediation of a priest or the church authority;
- The freedom to set their own consciences against the demands of religious institutions.
The influence of Martin Luther (in Germany) and particularly John Calvin’s theological and church reforms in Geneva (Switzerland) laid the foundations for the Scottish Reformation, led by John Knox (his likeness pictured on the right). During the 1600s the Presbyterian system of church governance developed, and this was brought to the American colonies by some of the earliest immigrants.
Today, through its worship, missions, and congregations, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seeks to be, in the words of the earliest reformers, “Reformed, and always being Reformed.”
What Does “Presbyterian” Mean?
Presbyterian describes the way the church is governed. Responsibility for oversight of the local congregation rests — not on individuals appointed by a distant authority or on the congregation by majority vote — but on elected bodies at the congregational, regional, and national levels. The ruling council in each congregation is called the Session — a body made up of men and women known as elders, who have been “set apart” by election and ordination into a supervisory role
“Elder” is the English equivalent of the Greek New Testament word presbuteros, from which we get the word Presbyterian.
What Do Presbyterians Believe?
In Life and Death we belong to God. Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve.
From the Brief Statement of Faith (1991)of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)