The History Of The Presbyterian Church

The History Of The Presbyterian Church

One of our Vanderbloemen Differences here at Vanderbloemen is  that we love the whole church. One way we live out this value is through our monthly Coffee and Conversations events that help us expand our knowledge about the big "C" church.

In February, our Senior Executive Search Consultant, Jay Mitchell, shared his knowledge and wisdom about the Presbyterian Church during our Coffee and Conversation meeting. From the history of the Presbyterian Church to the theology, Jay shared the ins and outs of the Presbyterian Church. Here are a few points he mentioned included below. 

The Most Common Branches of Presbyterian Churches in the U.S.

  • PCUSA - Presbyterian Church USA

  • PCA -Presbyterian Church of America

  • EPC - Evangelical Presbyterian Church

  • ECO - Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians

History of the Presbyterian Church

The history of the Presbyterian church traces its roots back to Scottish Presbyterianism and John Knox, the Scottish minister and theologian. The first Presbytery (association of Presbyterian Churches) in North America was established in 1706. The Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s divided the church into what’s known as the Old Side and New Side of Presbyterianism. The “Old Side” was considered to maintain the viewpoint and stance of being anti-awakening, whereas, the New Side were Pro-awakening. The Great Awakening was known as a time of spiritual renewal with an emphasis on personal conversion, a movement away from the institutional church, evangelism, and social engagement. 

Over time, the Presbyterian Church split in 1861 over the matter of slavery. As a result, it became The Presbyterian Church in the US (PCUS) and United Presbyterian Church in the USA (UPCUSA). These denominations operated separately until they reunited in 1983 to become what is known today as the PCUSA.

The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) was formed out of the PCUS churches that rejected the merge with the UPCUSA. This formation was primarily a result of the matters of the ordination of women and the movement toward theological liberalism. These churches are primarily found in the Southern region of the United States.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) split from the PCUSA in 1981 out of concerns of the continuous theological drift from evangelical orthodoxy. EPC Churches differ because they have the freedom to choose whether they will ordain women or not. The more recent formation is The Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO). It was created in 2012 and now adheres to reformed theology and Presbyterian polity. 

4 Major Distinctives of Presbyterian Churches

  1. Polity | Elders are elected from the congregation and serve as a representative democracy. They serve approximately three-year terms. Typically there are very few decisions that are made by the congregational vote.

  2. Theology | Tends to lean toward being Covenantal and Reformed in theology. Also, infant baptism and adult baptism are practiced throughout Presbyterian Churches.

  3. Confessional | The biblical interpretation is informed by historic confessions of the Church.

  4. High view of an educated clergy | Masters of Divinity (or the equivalent) is required for ordination.

Important Details and Definitions to Know

Two Types of Elders

  • Teaching Elder - Ordained Clergy and Pastors

  • Ruling Elder - Elders elected and ordained by the congregation. 

Two Committees to Know About

  • Preparation for Ministry Committee (PCUS) | This is made up of people who watch over those who are in the process of becoming ordained.

  • Committee on Ministry (PCUSA) or Ministerial Committee (PCA, EPC, and ECO) |They oversee bringing people into the denomination or the transition from one presbytery to another.

Words To Know

The Session – The board of elders of a church. The Pastor usually moderates The Session.

Presbytery - The collection of churches in a geographic region. Individual churches are represented by designated elders and clergy from their congregation. 

Synod - The collection of Presbyteries in a geographic region - primarily a judiciary body. The Synod is typically only used for disciplinary purposes around problems between presbyteries.

General Assembly - The annual gathering of representatives of all presbyteries where major denominational decisions are made.