Presbyterianism is probably one of the most popular names within the Protestant church. The Presbyterian Church today has a presence on five continents, and its influence throughout history is much deeper than meets the eye.
How Was Presbyterianism Born?
Presbyterian churches derive
The first thing we need to understand is what Presbyterian means. Presbyterian churches derive their name from the form of church government, in which the government of elders governs through representative assemblies. The word “presbyter” originates from the Greek word πρεσβύτερος ( presbyters ), which means ” elder ” and is a recurring word throughout the New Testament.
the system of church government
During the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, John Calvin (1509-1564) believed that the system of church government used by him and his followers in Geneva, Strasbourg, Zurich, and elsewhere was based on the Bible. However, he never claimed that was the only acceptable way to govern the church. Calvin thought that the church’s government should be guided by the community or body, in which Christ alone is the head and all members, including pastors, are equal.
rejection of pyramidal government
This conclusion of Calvin’s was easy to understand. First, the heavy structure of the Church of Rome, and its strong emphasis on accumulating authority above the pope, had created a rejection of pyramidal government within the churches of the reformers. Second, reading the New Testament biblical texts clearly expresses a much more horizontal government for the church.
the system of church government
To talk about the birth of the Presbyterian church, we have to talk about John Knox (1514-1572). Knox, who was born in 1514, just three years before Martin Luther (1483-1546) nailed the 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, was a Scottish Catholic priest who had had some contact with Reformed ideas and that, in the heat of the reform, he moved to Geneva, to learn directly from John Calvin.
the Protestant ideas and form of church government
Knox’s influence grew rapidly, and in 1560 the Parliament of Scotland adopted a Protestant confession of faith, known today as the Scottish Confession. By the end of that same year, the Presbyterian government had been established in the church throughout the country. The motto of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland was “For the crown of Christ and his covenant.” The covenantal aspect was the national pact signed by the Scots Presbyterians, who wanted a unified church with England. The crown aspect of the motto expressed a profound truth on which Presbyterians rested: Christ is king over his church. He has crown rights and is the highest authority as head and ruler over his people. No figure, whether pope, pastor or president, can usurp Christ’s place as king over the church.
To understand these and subsequent events, it is necessary to understand that the history of the Presbyterian Church would, in the future, intersect permanently with the history of the Anglican Church, each time the threads of power intertwined between England and Scotland.
For example, at the beginning of the 17th century, King James VI of Scotland (1566-1625) wanted to establish an episcopal government, of the Anglican type, in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. In 1637, James’s son, Charles I of England (1600-1649), attempted to force the Church of Scotland to use the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church, sparking riots. Then the Scots, followers of Presbyterianism, sent troops to support the English Civil War (1642-1651), siding with Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), who was a Puritan.
Over time, the Scots Confession would be supplanted by the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Smaller Catechisms, formulated by the Assembly between 1643 and 1649. In this regard, it is very important to mention the influence of the Westminster Confession of Faith on the Presbyterian Church.
In 1643, the English parliament summoned “pious, learned, and testifying divines” to meet in Westminster Abbey to give their opinion on questions of Church of England worship, doctrine, government, and discipline. Their meetings, which took place over five years, produced a confession of faith, a Larger Catechism, and a Smaller Catechism. For over three centuries, various branches of Protestantism worldwide have adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith and its catechisms as their standard of doctrine, subservient to the Bible.
Although it was made primarily for the Church of England, the Westminster Confession of Faith remains a “subordinate standard” of doctrine for the Church of Scotland. It has influenced Presbyterian churches throughout the world.
But this Confession did not prevent the tensions between the Anglican church and the dissidents that deepened more and more. English Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists all came to be known (along with others) as ” Nonconformists “since they did not conform to the 1662 Uniformity Act, which established the Church of England as the only legally sanctioned church, though all of these churches were linked together in some way through the Westminster Confession of Faith.
The differences would end in 1688 with the “ glorious revolution ” when the Church of Scotland was finally recognized. Presbyterianism would become the official Church of Scotland, while the Anglican Church would remain in England.
From there, Presbyterianism progressively expanded to other territories. In Ireland, it became the largest Protestant denomination in the country after Anglicanism, thanks to the immigration of Scots Presbyterians. During the 19th century, Presbyterianism was strongly expanded to Africa. The migration of the Scots brought Presbyterianism to Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada.
But Presbyterianism had long since arrived in Colonial America. In 1644 the first Presbyterian church was established in New York. During the following decades, Presbyterian churches continued to be founded throughout the entire territory of the British colonies in America. For the historian Paul Johnson (1928), Congregationalism and Presbyterianism were the formative currents of the North American Protestant character. The Presbyterian Church also has a strong presence in Asia, in countries such as India, the territory of Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
A case peculiar to the Presbyterian church in Asia is its particular popularity in South Korea. Horace Grant Underwood (1859-1916) was a Presbyterian missionary who was key in developing Presbyterianism in Korea. Today, Presbyterian churches are the largest and by far the most influential Protestant denomination in South Korea, with close to 20,000 affiliated churches. In the Asian country, 9 million Presbyteriansform the majority of the 15 million Korean Protestants.
What do Presbyterians believe, and why are they so relevant within Protestantism? The first thing to distinguish is the difference between the Presbyterian government and the Presbyterian church of Scottish origin. In general, the Presbyterian Church uses a Presbyterian type of government. We must also remember that this type of government is used by other denominations or as a base.
Presbyterian local churches base their government on representative assemblies of elders called presbyteries. By comparison, bishops govern the Episcopal Church, and the same congregation governs congregational churches. The councils of elders or presbyters are elected by the church itself and must be made up of men with wisdom, experience, and gifts to exercise government and teaching in the church. Some presbyters, called “ teachers ” or pastors, train in seminaries and receive support from the church to dedicate themselves to teaching, according to the instruction of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 5:17-18 (NIV):
“The elders who manage the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those who devote their efforts to preaching and teaching. The Scripture says: ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is threshing,’ and ‘The worker deserves to be paid his salary.
However, the pastors do not exercise government alone, but in council with the other presbyters, seeking with this that a pastor never, through his personality, authority, or charisma, rule over the flock that does not belong to him, as 1 Peter says. 5:1-4 (NASB):
“Therefore, to the elders among you, I encourage, an elder like them and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that is to be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God among you, watching over him, not the obligation, but voluntarily, as God wishes; not because of greed for money, but with sincere desire; neither as having dominion over those who have been entrusted to you, but proving to be examples of the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
The Presbyterian Church believes in a “denominational” type of tradition. This means that believers reaffirm their faith using “confessions,” such as the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed (325), or another statement of faith such as the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), or the Belgian Confession (1561).
But creeds or confessions do not replace or supersede the authority of the Bible. Presbyterians believe that the Scriptures are the main act of faith and life and that the confessions show the church as a community of believers and not just a “collection of individuals.” Presbyterians say confessions help guide them and remind them of what they believe.
Presbyterian ecclesiology seeks worship to be centered on faith in the sacrifice of Christ, having Him as the center at all times. It is also clear that those elements not commanded for worship in the Scriptures must be omitted or prohibited. This principle is known as the “ Regulatory Principle of Worship.”
The legacy of Presbyterianism reminds us that it is necessary to know our past and historical doctrine and that we must transmit and confess our faith openly. No Protestant church was born from nothing; they all have a historical background and a tacit confession, even if you are unaware of it.
Presbyterianism can also give us important lessons about avoiding pyramidal governments that concentrate the power of the churches on just one person or family. They remind us that the community should govern churches and that the community should guide the decisions of the church. The church is a community of believers, not private or multinational companies.
I love the spectacular. But this season, I am learning that God works through ordinary means. Perhaps the quarantine has forced me to see that God is not limited by what I perceive as small.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus walks as a stranger with two disciples. He does not perform any miracles. There are no angels or heavenly voices. He walks and talks with them. Then later, as they sit together at a table to enjoy a simple meal, in the ordinary act of breaking bread, these two disciples realize that they had spent the night with God himself. And one lesson we learn is that wherever and whenever we make room, Jesus comes. There is no need for a show. Although God works miraculously and supernaturally, he is not the only means he uses. Look at our passage for this Sunday in John 21: 1-14.
Juan paints a simple and beautiful portrait for us. Sunrise by the Sea of Galilee. Seven simple men who fish and their apparent chronic failure. On the shore of the beach, we see fish roasted over a charcoal fire, and it is because Jesus, to everyone’s surprise, has entered this daily scene. His words are simple: “Come to breakfast.” A simple but majestic image of the resurrection.
Perhaps the last place these fishermen expected to see Jesus was on the shore of this humble beach. Jesus could be anywhere. He could make a show of striking down those who killed him. But instead, he goes to the beach to have breakfast with his friends.
Not With Blind Faith
If you have been following us here on the blog or in the services, you know that we have been seeing the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection. This last Easter Sunday, we will see a little mentioned apparition. This appearance is not even mentioned in the gospels and is barely mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. And although he does not give us many details, the implication of this appearance is enormous. Read the following quote and pay attention to verse 6.
For, first of all, I transmitted to you what I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve. Later he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at a time, most of whom are still living, although some have died.
Perhaps you thought that the appearances and the resurrection of Jesus were something private or something that the first Christians believed with blind faith? But if we have learned anything this Easter, the first Christians were as skeptical as the modern person.
Juan tells us that when Maria discovered the empty tomb, she thought the body had been stolen. Luke tells us that the disciples treated the resurrection account as nonsense. The resurrection was hard to believe. This is perhaps why no apostle calls us to believe in it with blind faith.
The apostles encourage us to think and use our powers of logic. Look at what the verses that Paul writes imply: “I have seen the Lord, Cephas has seen him, the apostles have seen him, but if you want to investigate further, Jesus appeared to more than five hundred at the same time. He goes and asks them. Many still live.”
Remember that Paul writes this in a public document. This was a letter to the church in Corinth. It was not a private event. It was not something the apostles wanted Christians to accept on blind faith.
Once two zeros were arguing. One was tall and thin, the other short and thick. They argued about which of the two was worth more. Each tried to enhance their values. The tall and thin one presumed that he was the best, and so did the short and fat one. Someone listening to them reminded them that they were both “zero” and were worth the same, that is, nothing.
Sometimes people think that what they do is more important than others. Being a deacon, they say, is more important than being a teacher. Being a man is more important than being a woman, etc. Paul corrects us for that tendency by telling us in 1 Corinthians 3:6: “I planted, Apollos watered; but God has given the growth.” And in Romans 12:3, “I say then, by the grace that has been given to me, to everyone who is among you, that no one has a higher opinion of himself than he should have….” We are all earthen vessels, and our importance is that God notices us. Us and deigns to dwell in us.
Community prayer of confession of sins:
Min.: Kind Our Father, before your sovereign presence, we present ourselves, acknowledging your complete holiness and our total imperfection.
Con.: Hear us, good Lord.
Min.: Good God, You made us glorify Your name and enjoy You forever, but we have chosen to live seeking delight and joy in that which only produces temporary well-being. For that reason…
Con.: Have mercy on us.
Min.: You formed us to live in community and holy coexistence, but we have insisted on making competition our ideal of life. That’s why…
Con.: Have mercy on us.
Min.: You taught us, with the wonderful example of your Son, to be meek and humble of heart, but we have followed the example of those who impose themselves by force and with deceitful tricks. Thus…
Con.: Have mercy on us.
Min.: Today, we want to ask for your forgiveness, but along with it, we want to beg you to pour out your grace on us so that we can be guided to live in true humility.
All: We ask you for the merits of the One who humbled himself to teach us that true greatness lies in service. Amen!
Min.: Come all; the Lord summons us. Draw near before Him; the loving Father invites us with his outstretched hand.
Min.: Sovereign God and our Father, we come before you recognizing our fragility; that’s why…
Con.: We ask you to help us understand how futile our efforts are to understand each of your hidden mysteries.
Min.: Lord, we constantly and consistently draw lines of behavior more similar to our prejudices than your divine norms; that’s why…
Con.: We ask you to forgive and correct our bad behavior from its roots.
Min.: God and Father, we want you to transform our wills. For this reason, we need you to help us to know your perfect, holy, and wise will.
With.: Blessed Lord, embrace us with your grace, captivate us with your love and renew in our hearts your holy desires…
All: We ask this resting on the merits of our Redeemer, Lord, and Master, your loving Son, Jesus. Amen!
(Prayer of Personal Confession of Sins)
God has established a day in which he will judge the world with justice through Jesus Christ, to whom the Father gives all power and judgment. On that day, not only the apostate angels will be judged, but in the same way, all the people who have lived on earth will present themselves before the judgment seat of Christ to account for their thoughts, words, and deeds and to receive according to what they have received have done while in the body, whether good or bad.
The purpose for which God has established this day is to manifest the glory of his mercy in the eternal salvation of the elect and his justice in the condemnation of the reprobate who are wicked and disobedient. At that time, the righteous will enter into eternal life and receive that fullness of joy and rest, which proceeds from the presence of the Lord; but the wicked who do not know God, nor obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ, will be cast from the presence of the glory of the Lord. The glory of his power, into eternal torment, will be punished with everlasting perdition.
Just as Christ wanted us to be certainly persuaded that there will be a day of judgment, both to dissuade every human being from sin and for the greatest comfort of the pious in times of adversity; In the same way, he wanted to keep that day unknown, so that human beings leave all carnal security and are always vigilant, because they do not know at what time the Lord will come, and so that they are always ready to say: Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.
Where is the border?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and he loves your neighbor as yourself.”
Gospel according to Saint Luke 10:27
In his book The Republic, Plato exhorts the Greeks not to reduce Greek cities to servitude nor to have any Greek slaves, fearing to “stain the temples by adorning them with the spoils of our neighbor.” These “neighbors” were the Greeks since he considered the barbarians “foreign and strange.”
The Old Testament collects the divine commandment regarding how one should treat one’s neighbor. Thus, the book of Leviticus can be quoted as saying that one should love one’s neighbor as oneself. Now, what does the word neighbor mean? It means one who is close. And everyone with whom domestic life was shared was considered to be close. From this perspective, a neighbor is a person with whom one is related. And, what about those people with whom one is not related?
Here comes the focal point of the parable of the Good Samaritan. According to the story, the Master questions the expert of Jewish law who has come to Him to test Him. After the expert correctly cited the compendium of the law, including the commandment that contemplates love of neighbor, he went on to inquire as follows: And who is my neighbor? With this, he puts on the table in the form of a question that both Plato, the expert himself, and many others understood as vital to consider: Where is the border? That is to say: how far should I extend my obedience to the law? It is then when Jesus narrates the parable to make it clear that the Christian duty is not to establish borders but to go beyond those we and other human beings have established.