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spacer Martin Luther
Martin Luther

American Revolution
American Revolution

John Witherspoon
John Witherspoon


The earliest Christian church consisted of Jews in the first century who had known Jesus 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 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.

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. This, in turn, enabled many to discover religious thinkers who had begun to question the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. One such figure, Martin Luther, a German priest and professor, started the movement known as the Protestant Reformation when he posted a list of 95 grievances against the Roman Catholic Church on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. Some 20 years later, a French⁄Swiss theologian, John Calvin, further refined the reformers′ new way of thinking about the nature of God and God′s relationship with humanity in what came to be known as Reformed theology. John Knox, a Scotsman who studied with Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland, took Calvin's teachings back to Scotland. Other Reformed communities developed in England, Holland and France. The Presbyterian church traces its ancestry back primarily to Scotland and England.

Presbyterians have featured prominently in United States history. The Rev. Francis Makemie, who arrived in the U.S. from Ireland in 1683, helped to organize the first American Presbytery at Philadelphia in 1706. In 1726, the Rev. William Tennent founded a ministerial ‘log college’ in Pennsylvania. Twenty years later, the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University) was established. Other Presbyterian ministers, such as the Rev. Jonathan Edwards and the Rev. Gilbert Tennent, were driving forces in the so–called "Great Awakening," a revivalist movement in the early 18th century. One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the Rev. John Witherspoon was a Presbyterian minister and the president of Princeton University from 1768–1793.

The Presbyterian church in the United States has split and parts have reunited several times. Currently the largest group is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which has its national offices in Louisville, Ky. It was formed in 1983 as a result of reunion between the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS), the so-called "southern branch," and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA), the so-called "northern branch." Other Presbyterian churches in the United States include: the Presbyterian Church in America, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
spacer John Calvin
John Calvin

John Knox
John Knox

The Presbyterian Church, like all Christian Churches, traces its roots back to the early church in Jerusalem. Many people consider modern Presbyterianism to be a rebirth of the early church of the new testament.

The Protestant Reformation moved forward in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther fought against the pretensions of authority by the Pope and called for direct authority from God.

John Calvin, called the father of Presbyterianism, converted to Protestantism in 1553. He interpreted the Bible as the revelation of God, emphasizing theology, worship. education, thrift, ethical behavior, and representative government for his followers. From his home city, Geneva. Calvin′s ideas spread throughout Europe.

The Scottish Protestant John Knox fled persecution in his homeland and studied with Calvin in Geneva. He returned in 1559 and established Presbyterianism in Scotland.

In England. the Westminster Assembly of 151 Presbyterians worked steadily between 1643 and 1649 to write the doctrinal guides. Presbyterians now recognize these as some of their basic texts.

Presbyterians escaped persecution in Europe and settled in America. There were so many Presbyterians in America that some British people called the American Revolution the "Presbyterian Revolt." At least 14 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Presbyterians (including clergyman John Witherspoon who was a clergyman).
Bill of Rights
Bill of Rights

The first presbytery in America was established in Philadelphia in 1706. During the 1800′s, disagreement over slavery and evangelism broke the church into northern and southern branches. The two branches reunited in 1983 to form the Presbyterian Church (USA). The passing of Amendment 10 has resulted in continuing disagreement among its church members causing many churches worldwide to unite with other Presbyterian denominations.




Presbyterians recognize two sacraments as described in the Bible.

BAPTISM  This Sacrament unites us with Jesus Christ and makes us members of God′s family, the Church. Baptism is an initiation into the church community as ordered by Christ. It is a public confession; a statement of faith made in the presence of others. Baptism does not guarantee access to heaven. Un–baptized people are not denied salvation. Baptism can be performed in another church. There is no need to be re–baptized in a Presbyterian church unless the previous baptism was not done in the name of the Triune God.

HOLY COMMUNION  The Lord′s Supper is a time to renew faith and strengthen participants for the duties and privileges of Christian service. In Communion, the bread and wine represent the sacrificial body and blood of Christ and recall the last meal shared with the Apostles. Together they symbolize the New Covenant between God and of all people.





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