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the name in common usage for the Calvinist churches in Scotland (founded by J. Knox) and England that arose in the second half of the 16th century. Rejecting the Anglican Church, the English Presbyterians, or moderate Puritans, attained importance as a political party during the English Bourgeois Revolution of the 17th century and temporarily came to power. Also at that time, the Presbyterian creed, the Westminster Confession, was drawn up at the Westminster Assembly (1643–49).
Each national Presbyterian church represents all the congregations of believers within it. Every congregation is governed by a consistory, or session, made up of the pastor (minister) and the presbyters (from Greek presbyteros, “elder”), who are elected from among the laity. Several congregations form an association headed by a presbytery, or classis, of the pastors and presbyters from each congregation. Provincial and national synods exercise authority over the associations.
In addition to Scotland and England, Presbyterian churches are found in the USA (approximately 4.4 million members by the early 1970’s), Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In essence, the Presbyterian churches do not differ from the orthodox Calvinist churches of continental Europe, which have come to be known as Reformed churches, and which have united with the Presbyterian Church in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (founded in 1875; known by the present name since 1970).