Just What is a Presbyterian Church?

We look back on a long history.
Presbyterians are first and foremost followers of Jesus Christ. We trace our roots back to the those who walked with Jesus, believed in Him, and received the eternal life He promised. Presbyterians consider the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, our rule of faith and life. The Apostle's Creed is one of the foundational expressions of the faith of Presbyterians.

Presbyterians trace their denominational history to the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation. John Calvin (1509-1564), a French/Swiss theologian, formulated the distinctive Biblical insights that came to be known as Reformed theology. Key points of Reformed theology include the sovereignty of God, the universal sinfulness of all human beings, salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, and the call for individuals and the Church to grow in grace and to impact culture.

The term "Presbyterian" comes from the Greek word meaning "elders', and refers to the fact that each congregation is governed by a group of elders elected from the membership. There are numerous Presbyterian denominations within the United States and around the world.

Many of the early Presbyterians in America came from England, Scotland and Ireland. The first American Presbytery was organized at Philadelphia in 1706. The first General Assembly was held in the same city in 1789, convened by the Rev. John Witherspoon, the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence.

We are connected to a community.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has approximately 2.5 million members, 11,200 congregations and 21,000 ordained ministers.

Presbyterians are distinctive in several ways:

  • We adhere to Reformed theology
  • Our form of government stresses the active, representational leadership of both ministers and church members.
  • We hold a high regard for education, especially Christian education, as a way of knowing God's will.
  • We believe that the Church is called to transform society, leading it to conform more closely with God's Kingdom.

Linking individual churches together are larger groups, called presbyteries. Even larger regional groups, or synods, connect the presbyteries. And finally the General Assembly is the highest governing body of the church, bringing together the synods, presbyteries and congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Of course within such a large family there are many different opinions and points of view over contemporary issues. Presbyterians feel that God uses debate and deliberation to bring all of us closer to a complete understanding of God's will. We maintain that "God alone is Lord of the conscience".

We are founded on strong principles.
Presbyterians believe the church has six great ends, or goals. These are the chief principles that form the basis of every part of the church's life. They are:

  • Proclaiming the Gospel for the salvation of people everywhere
  • Providing shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship for the children of God
  • Maintaining the divine worship of God
  • Preserving the truth of God's word
  • Promoting social justice and righteousness in the world
  • Exhibiting the Kingdom of Heaven to the world