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1. of, relating to, or designating Church government by presbyters or lay elders
2. an upholder of this type of Church government


of or relating to any of various Protestant Churches governed by presbyters or lay elders and adhering to various modified forms of Calvinism
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Presbyterian Church, although divided into many denominations, traces its ancestry back to the Protestant Reformation (see Christianity, Development of). It began with Martin Luther, but some twenty years after he posted his famous Ninetyfive Theses, John Calvin (see Calvin, John, and Jacobus Arminius) laid the basis for the theology that shapes the various Presbyterian churches existing today. John Knox studied with Calvin and took his theology first to Geneva and then, after a political exile, back to Scotland, where the first Presbyterian Church was formed.

Presbyterian doesn't refer to theology as much as it does to church polity. There isn't a lot of theological difference, for instance, between Presbyterians and Congregationalists (see Congregationalism). But there is a world of difference in the way the political hierarchy of the two churches work. Presbyterians are set up, politically, much the same way as the representative government of the United States. Individual churches elect representatives (presbyters) who represent them at a higher level (the presbytery). The presbytery owns the church buildings and has a say in who ministers to the local congregations. It, in turn, is responsible to the synod, elected from the various presbyteries. The presbytery does not go so far as to appoint bishops or individual ministers. The local church session has a lot of say in those matters. The highest elected body is the assembly, which serves the same kind of function as the U.S. Congress. So the Presbyterian political organization of representative government is somewhere in between an Episcopal system and a Congregationalist system.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is the largest denomination in the United States. But theological differences, mostly involving biblical interpretation, have led to other denominations, such as the Presbyterian Church in America, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

The Presbyterian Church is perhaps best known for its use of the Westminster Catechism, still widely used in confirmation classes.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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