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Presbyterianism

PRESBYTERIANISM

PRESBYTERIANISM is a form of church government that locates church authority in pastors and elders who serve in the local congregation and in regional and national assemblies. It is also part of the Reformed branch of the Protestant Reformation as distinguished from Lutheranism and Anglicanism. As such, Presbyterianism is the Anglophone world's equivalent for Reformed and traces its roots back to the church reforms of John Calvin (1509–1564). Presbyterianism moreover is bound up with the peculiar character of the Church of England and the complicated relations between Crown, Parliament, and bishops. Although the Presbyterian creed, the Westminster Standards, originated at the instigation of Parliament during the English Civil War of the 1640s, Presbyterianism succeeded principally in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Old World breeding grounds for Presbyterianism in North America.

The Westminster Standards constitute arguably the most comprehensive and detailed creedal statement of Calvinism. Yet the institutional development of Presbyterianism in the New World depended on more than doctrine. Especially significant was the political situation out of which the varieties of Presbyterianism emerged. Three distinct expressions of Presbyterianism took root in the United States after the eighteenth century. Two, the Covenanters and the Seceders, reflect particular circumstances of Scottish Presbyterian history. The third and mainstream branch of American Presbyterianism developed independently of Scottish politics.

Mainstream Presbyterianism

The oldest Presbyterian body in North America, the mainstream branch, originated in 1706 with the founding of the Presbytery of Philadelphia under the leadership of Francis Makemie (1658–1708). Born and educated in Northern Ireland, he migrated to the mid-Atlantic colonies, pastoring Scotch-Irish immigrants in Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. At its founding, the first presbytery consisted of four Scotch-Irish pastors and three pastors from New England. The composition of this body was significant for two reasons. The first concerned a tension between Scotch-Irish Presbyterianism and New England Puritanism that eventually resulted in the division between Old Side and New Side Presbyterians from 1741 to 1758. The controversy focused largely on the revivals of George Whitefield, with the Scotch-Irish (Old Side) cautious and the New Englanders (New Side) supportive. The second notable feature of the first Presbytery was its formal autonomy from Scottish Presbyterianism, which thus made it a church that grew as American society developed.

The uniquely American attributes of mainstream Presbyterianism were readily evident at the time of American independence. The only clergyman who signed the Declaration of Independence was John Witherspoon, a Scottish American Presbyterian minister and the president of the College of New Jersey. Likewise, other mainstream Presbyterian clergy ardently supported the American Revolution. Furthermore, just after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the mainstream Presbyterian denomination held its first general assembly in 1789, calling itself the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA).

Covenanters and Seceders

If Old World norms imposed few constraints upon mainstream Presbyterianism, Scottish church history created some barriers for the other two streams of Presbyterianism in the New World. The chief religious ideal of the oldest of these groups, Covenanters, was to preserve the autonomy of the church from interference by the state. This outlook achieved notable expression in the National Covenant of 1638 and the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. The Covenanters' first congregation in North America took shape in 1742 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. By 1782 the Covenanters had established enough congregations to form a presbytery, and in 1809 they became the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA). Among this church's distinguishing features was the prohibition against members voting or holding office in American politics because Jesus Christ was not acknowledged as Lord by the Constitution.

A further development in Scotland contributed to a third branch of American Presbyterianism. In 1733 the Seceders withdrew from the Scottish Kirk to protest lay patronage, with debates about Enlightenment closely in the background, and formed the Associate Synod. Some of these Presbyterians migrated to the colonies in the first half of the eighteenth century and in 1753 formed an associate presbytery. By 1782 this body joined with Scotch-Irish Presbyterians from New York to form the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC), though some New York congregations remained separate. During the nineteenth century some Seceders were absorbed into the mainstream Presbyterian Church, while others joined with Associate Presbyterians to form the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA). This left the Synod of the Carolinas to carry on the Associate Reformed Presbyterian name alone. By the end of the nineteenth century, mainstream Presbyterianism accounted for 967,900 members (80 percent in the North, 20 percent in the South)and was the most American branch with respect to its worship and attitudes toward government. The Covenanters in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America were the smallest of the three branches with 4,600 members but were also the denomination most clearly stamped with Old World convictions. The Seceders accounted for two denominations, the UPCNA and the ARPC with 94,400 and 8,500 members respectively, and shared with the Covenanters the practice of exclusive psalmody while following the mainstream branch in attitudes toward government.

New Denominations

Because of its character as the most American of the Presbyterian groups, the mainstream church regularly experienced divisions and mergers based to some extent on the degree of the church's acculturation. In 1810 the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC), which had 164,900 members by 1900, emerged as a separate denomination when its leaders favored American notions of autonomy over Presbyterian teaching on predestination. Mainstream Presbyterians also divided in 1837 between the Old School and New School denominations over the issues of revivalism and social reform, with the former adopting a conservative stance. This division doubled in the aftermath of the Civil War, with Old School and New School bodies existing in the North and the South. After the war, both sides reunited in the South (1867) and the North (1869), but the PCUSA (northern) and PCUS (southern) remained separate.

Even so, the reunion of Old School and New School Presbyterians launched ecumenical activities that set the pattern for twentieth-century developments. To unify Christians and to pool resources against infidelity, mainstream Presbyterians led in forming the Pan Presbyterian Alliance (1880) and the Federal Council of Churches (1908). In 1906 the PCUSA also incorporated a majority of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, though a sizable minority remained separate. One exception to the trend of consolidation was the formation in 1874 of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church of America (CPCA), which had 12,900 members in 1900 and was an African American denomination that reflected the autonomy of blacks after emancipation. In 1936 the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)separated from the PCUSA in the aftermath of the fundamentalist controversy because of perceived compromises involved in ecumenical efforts. In turn, controversies among conservatives generated two other denominations, the Bible Presbyterian Synod (BPS) in 1937 and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) in 1961. A similar dispute about cooperation and the church's relationship to society occurred in the South in 1972, when the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) left the PCUS in opposition to the apparent softening of historic Presbyterianism. These conservative departures made possible the 1983 reunion of the northern and southern Presbyterian mainstream churches into the PCUSA. Not all in the mainstream welcomed the merger, and some concerned about theological pluralism formed the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) in 1981. A different denomination from the conservative one of the same name formed in 1961, which two decades later was called the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. By the end of the twentieth century, the mainstream branch of Presbyterianism accounted for 3,079,500 members spread over six denominations: PCUSA 2,631,400; PCA 267,000; CPC 87,800; EPC 56,500; OPC 21,000; CPCA 15,100; BPS 10,000.

The Covenanter and Seceder traditions were not immune to trends in the mainstream. The ARPC upheld the Seceder tradition and was strong in the South with 38,900 members. The UPCNA, however, merged in 1958 with the (northern) PCUSA. The Covenanter tradition of exclusive psalmody and insistence upon a constitutional amendment continued to find vigorous expression in the RPCNA, with 5,700 members by the end of the twentieth century; another wing of the Covenanters, the New Lights, who became a separate denomination in 1833, when they revoked prohibitions on participation in civil affairs, merged with the UPCNA in the late nineteenth century, and the rest joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in 1965 to form the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. In 1983 this body joined the Presbyterian Church in America to become the second largest Presbyterian denomination.

Presbyterian Influence

Although Presbyterianism maintains a reputation of respectability and social prominence, its influence on American culture has been limited. Presbyterianism's largest influence on American life has been through the institutions of higher education it founded, especially Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary. Several Presbyterians have been prominent in American politics, among them President Woodrow Wilson and John Foster Dulles, secretary of state under President Dwight Eisenhower. Presbyterianism was also a vital part of the Protestant establishment that flourished between 1880 and 1960. As much as the mainstream Presbyterian tradition has adapted to American realities, however, it has not competed well against evangelical and charismatic Protestants, whose forms of devotion dovetail with American individualism and egalitarianism. Since the decline of the Protestant establishment and the resurgence of evangelical Protestantism after 1960, Presbyterianism's role in American life has waned.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Fiske, William Lyons. The Scottish High Church Tradition in America: An Essay in Scotch-Irish Ethnoreligious History. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1995.

Hutchinson, George P. The History behind the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. Cherry Hill, N.J.: Mack Publishing, 1974.

Loetscher, Lefferts A. The Broadening Church: A Study of Theological Issues in the Presbyterian Church since 1869. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1954.

Longfield, Bradley J. The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Marsden, George M. The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience: A Case Study of Thought and Theology in Nineteenth-Century America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1970.

Thompson, Ernest Trice. Presbyterians in the South. 3 vols. Richmond, Va.: John Knox Press, 1963–1973.

Thompson, Robert Ellis. A History of the Presbyterian Churches in the United States. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1895.

Trinterud, Leonard J. The Forming of an American Tradition: A Re-Examination of Colonial Presbyterianism. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1949.

D. G.Hart

See alsoProtestantism ; Religion and Religious Affiliation ; Scotch-Irish .

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Presbyterianism

Presbyterianism (Gk., presbuteros, ‘elder’). Forms of Christian Church order and doctrine which emerged from the Reformation (although in their own estimate they are in direct continuity from the New Testament), relying on the ministry and governance of elders. When the Swiss reformation reached Scotland, the quest for a Church order which would be both scriptural and open to constant reformation (the principle of semper reformanda, ‘always to be reformed’) led to Presbyterianism (the government by presbyters, parity of ministers and the participation of all church members) and beyond Scotland to Congregationalism (the autonomy of congregations). Reformed/Presbyterian Christianity has been characterized by constant division, to such an extent that the myriad Churches cannot be listed here. In the opposite direction, various alliances have been made, culminating in the formation in 1970 of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (Presbyterian and Congregational).

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Presbyterianism

Presbyterianism Major form of Protestant Christianity that became the national Church of Scotland in 1690. It arose in the mid-16th century from the teachings of John Calvin in Switzerland, and was taken to Britain by the Scottish religious reformer John Knox. Ministers, occasionally called pastors, are elected by their congregations and confirmed in their office by the Presbytery, a group of ministers from the local area. Members of the Presbytery are responsible for ordaining and installing (and removing) Church ministers. Once ordained, the minister carries out his work assisted by elders and trustees. Each presbytery sends delegates to a annual synod and to a General Assembly. In 1972, the Presbyterian Church of England (formed 1876) united with the Congregational Church of England and Wales. There are Presbyterian Churches all over the world, particularly in North America, where the Presbyterian Church (USA) was formed in 1983 through the merger of several older groups.

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Presbyterianism

Presbyterianism a form of Protestant Church government in which the Church is administered locally by the minister with a group of elected elders of equal rank, and regionally and nationally by representative courts of ministers and elders. Presbyterianism was first introduced in Geneva in 1541 under John Calvin, on the principle that all believers are equal in Christ and in the belief that it best represented the pattern of the early church.

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