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“I am the vine, you are the branches.” —John 15:5

Presbyterian 101
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Presbyterian Church history

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 fourth 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 United States 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.

Presbyterian denominations in the United States have split and parts have reunited several times. Currently the largest Presbyterian denomination 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.

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Comments

  • Why do we have to follow man's religions? All religion are man made and consequently never agree. The Native Americans go directly to the source:the Great Spirit. Do we have so little faith in God's direction that we have to go to a man made religion? We will never know the truth as it pertains to every one of us until we go directly to God. If we were created in God's image, would God leave us as orphans? Never. by Madeleine on 03/20/2015 at 11:10 p.m.

  • i get upset when i read opinions on the similarities between the protestant churches and the roman Catholic church. yes catholic with a small c means universal but the the theology of the the protestant church and the Roman Catholic teachings are poles apart-the `theology' of the Roman Catholic faith is horrendous and totally humanist based under the pretense of Biblical eaching-the Catholic church does not follow Bible teaching and never did-hence the Reformation-i do not dislike catholic people-i dislike the teachings of the priesthood-who gave them the right to deny non catholics communion-Jesus instituted the Last Supper-NOT the pope Jesus himself warned about wolves in sheeps clothingperverting the gospels by robin on 03/01/2015 at 9:06 a.m.

  • Believe me the Presbyterian church and the Catholic church are like chalk and cheese. Both have very different beliefs on religion. Putting aside the indifference's what is most important is that we all believe in the one God our creator.Nothing else really matters. by Peter on 01/17/2015 at 11:11 p.m.

  • Dear brother; actually the holy catholic church never means the roman catholic chhurch; it is the universal church and the communion of saints is not the saints of the roman catholic church but it is the holy ones that is if you believe that you are baptized in the name of the father the son and the holy spirit. The it assures you that you are saved and you are making yourself holy to God. by Dougles on 09/20/2014 at 12:00 a.m.

  • On "The Holy Catholic Church." "Catholic" means comprehensive and universal. It is a statement that we believe in the church around the world across time. Churches in our tradition affirm that they are not affirming just their "brand" of Christianity, but Christ's church in all times and places. It is not a specific reference to the Roman Catholic Church, although we recognize the Roman Catholic Church as part of the One Holy Catholic Church. by Charles Wiley on 09/08/2014 at 9:42 a.m.

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