(A Study of the Churches of Men)







The Protestant Reformation which was sparked by Martin Luther in Germany, soon spread to other European countries, where similar protests against Catholicism arose. The efforts of John Calvin and Huldreich Zwingli in Switzerland to the formation of the Reformed branch of Protestantism. "In the narrow sense of the term, ‘Presbyterian’ refers only to the Reformed Churches of English or Scottish origin, and the term ‘Reformed’ is used for those of Continental (European - jrp) origin." (Merit Students Encyclopedia, XV:263).

Today, there are approximately 50 million Presbyterians in the world, with about 5 million in America.






-The history of the Presbyterian Church traces the growth and development of a group of churches that were founded on the ideals of the Protestant Reformation, and based upon the concept of democratic rule under the authority of God.

  A.  John Calvin. (1509-1564)

A Frenchman, Calvin was a Roman Catholic trained in law, who became the theological giant of the Reformation. His theological writings gave form and substance to much of Protestantism.

Calvin was converted to the principles of the Reformation about 1533, while still in France. But, when King Francis I began persecuting the Reformists, he fled to Switzerland, which had become a haven for Reform scholars. While there, he wrote the first edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536), which became a guidebook for Protestants and established Calvin as a religious leader. Also, he developed views on church structure and a representative form of government which were later incorporated into the organization of the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, as well as civil governments. From 1538-41, Calvin was exiled in Germany when he refused to accept the power of civil authorities over church liturgy. But, in 1541 he was invited back to Geneva, where he became the city magistrate and proceeded to establish an ecclesiastical government. Instead of the state ruling the church, Calvin believed in a theocratic government (the church ruling the state).

Calvin’s theology revolved around the concept of sovereignty:

"The sovereignty of God in his universe, the sovereignty of Christ in salvation, the sovereignty of the Scriptures in faith and conduct, the sovereignty of the individual conscience in the interpretation of the Will and Word of God." (Handbook of Denominations, 8th ed., p. 206)

Calvin’s system of theology, which had its roots in Augustinian thinking (St. Augustine, c., 400 A.D.), has been summarized into five main points, using the acronym, T-U-L-I-P: Total Hereditary Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints.

Because Calvin was magistrate of Geneva, the center of Reformation scholarship, his impact upon the Protestant Reformation was profound.

"Strictly speaking, John Calvin did not found Presbyterianism; he laid the foundations upon which it was constructed in Switzerland, Holland, France, England, Scotland, and Ireland." (Ibid.)


  B.  John Knox. (1505? - 1572)

One of the men influenced by Calvin was John Knox, a Scottish Catholic who was converted to Protestantism by about 1545. Because of persecution from England’s Queen Mary Tudor ("Bloody Mary"), he fled to Geneva, where he "adopted the Calvinist doctrine that salvation is by faith alone and is restricted to those who are predestined by God to be saved. He developed Calvin’s ideas on church government into Presbyterianism, in which religious authority is shared by a national assembly, regional synods, subregional prebyteries, and local congregations." (Merit Students Encyclopedia, X:432).

Knox, as much as anyone, must be credited with the actual formation of the Presbyterian Church.



As we have said, Calvin’s teachings laid a base for the Reformed Churches in Switzerland, Holland and Germany; the Huguenots in France; and the Presbyterian Church in England and Scotland.  Most Presbyterians in America trace their origin back to the British and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians which fled religious persecutions in the 17th and 18th centuries.



1533 - John Calvin converted from Catholicism to the Protestant Reformation.

1536 - First edition of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion was written.

1541 - Calvin became magistrate of Geneva, Switzerland, and implemented a Presbyterian form of civil government.

1555 - First Reformed congregation in France (Huguenots).

1559 - John Knox returned to Scotland from Geneva, where he established the Presbyterian faith.  Presbyterianism became the official religion of Scotland within about 10 years.

1611 - Presbyterian congregation in Virginia.

1643-49 - The "Westminster Assembly," consisting of 151 Presbyterians, met and wrote, among other documents, the Westminster Confession of Faith.

1706 - The first presbytery in America was formed in Philadelphia.

1861 - Presbyterian Church split into north and south. North: The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA). South: Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS).

1903 - A "Declaratory Statement" was added to the Westminster Confession, and the PCUSA invited all Presbyterians to reunite.

1958 - Merger between the United Presbyterian Church of America with the northern church (PCUSA).  This produced the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA).

1983 - Merger between UPCUSA and the southern church (PCUS). This produced the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). With this merger, the major branches of American Presbyterianism were united.






  A.  Subordinate, Changeable Standards, Which Are Used To Promote Unity.


    1.  "Confessions and declarations are subordinate standards in the church, subject to the authority of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as the Scriptures bear witness to him. No one type of confession is exclusively valid, no one statement is irreformable." ("The Confession of 1967," Preface; The Book of Confessions, 9.03)

    2.  "The purpose of the Confession of 1967 is to call the church to that unity in confession and mission which is required of disciples today." (Ibid., 9.05)



    1.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 - Scriptures are fully adequate as the standard of the church (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15).

    2.  Ephesians 4:1-3 - The Bible calls Christians to unity! Confessions are superfluous and infringe upon the work of the Bible.


  B.  Confessions Are Seen As Tools For Understanding The Gospel.



    1.  "The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America acknowledges itself aided in understanding the gospel by the testimony of the church from earlier ages and from many lands.  More especially it is guided by the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds from the time of the early church; the Scots Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Second Helvetic Confession from the era of the Reformation; the Westminster Confession and Shorter Catechism from the seventeenth century; and the Theological Declaration of Barmen from the twentieth century." (Ibid., 9.04)

    2.  However, consider this statement from the Westminster Confession:

"The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one) it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly."  ("The Westminster Confession of Faith," Chap. I, 9; The Book of Confessions, 6.009)


    1.  2 Timothy 2:15 - We can understand truth and properly apply it by studying it. Human confessions are not authorized to meet this need.

    2.  This makes it clear that one must accept more than the Bible in order to be a member of the Presbyterian Church!


  C.  The Confessions Accepted By The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):

    1.  The Nicene Creed. (325 A.D.)

    2.  The Apostles’ Creed.

    3.  The Scots Confession (1560).

    4.  The Heidelberg Catechism (1562).

    5.  The Second Helvetic Confession (1566).

    6.  The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647-48).

    7.  The Shorter and Larger Catechisms (1647-48).

    8.  The Theological Declaration of Barmen (1934).

    9.  The Confession of 1967 (1967).

      a.  In addition to these, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a Book of Order, which contains guidelines for its church government and rules of discipline.

      b.  "Likewise we reject human traditions, even if they be adorned with high sounding titles, as though they were divine and apostolic, delivered to the Church by the living voice of the apostles, and, as it were, through the hands of apostolic men to succeeding bishops which, when compared with the Scriptures, disagree with them; and by their disagreement show that they are not apostolic at all." ("The Second Helvetic Confession," Chap. II, Paragraph 4; The Book of Confessions, 5.014.



-1 Corinthians 4:6; Revelation 22:18-19 - We are not to go beyond what God has revealed to us in His word. (cf. 2 John 9)





  A.  Total Hereditary Depravity.


    1.  Original Sin.

"Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit....By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body." ("The Westminster Confession of Faith," Ch. VI, 1-2; The Book Of Confessions, 6.031- .032)

    2.  Hereditary Depravity.

"They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation." (Ibid., 3; 6.033)

    3.  Total Hereditary Depravity.

"From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions." (Ibid., 4; 6.034)


    1.  Original Sin.

      a.  Genesis 3:1-6 - Adam and Eve were the original (first) sinners.

      b.  Romans 5:12 - Through Adam, sin entered into the world. Note that sin is committed, not inherited (death passes to all because all sinned).

    2.  Hereditary Depravity.

      a.  Genesis 3:15-19 - From Adam, man has inherited the consequences of his sins, but not his actual sins nor the penalty of his sins.

        1)  Physical decay and death - v. 19; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22.

        2)  Struggle with Satan - v. 15; 1 Peter 5:8.

        3)  Pregnancy and childbirth attended by pain - v. 16.

        4)  Physical hardships and toil - v. 17-19.

        5)  Environmental influences and conditions for temptations - cf. Romans 5:19.

      b.  But, sin is committed, not inherited - Romans 5:12; Ezekiel 18:4, 20.

      c.  Must be like children to enter the kingdom of heaven - Matthew 18:1-3; 19:14.

    3.  Total Hereditary Depravity.

      a.  In the sense that the whole of man’s being has been affected by sin, depravity can be pervasive in an individual - Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Ephesians 2:1-3.

      b.  But it is not true that "from this original corruption.. we are disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil...."

      c.  What caused Adam and Eve to sin?

        1)  Not a sinful nature. All that they had and were came from God!

        2)  The appeal of the prohibition - Genesis 3:4-6.

      d.  People today sin in the same way Adam sinned!

        1)  James 1:14-15 - Sin begins in the mind of man, not in a "sinful nature" which makes him "wholly inclined to all evil."

        2)  Ecclesiastes 7:29 - Man has sought after sin - He is not born with it.


  B.  Unconditional Election.



    1.  "By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated and fore-ordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished." ("The Westminster Confession of Faith," III, 3-4; The Book of Confessions, 6.016-.017)

    2.  "First, with reference to Chapter III of the Confession of Faith: that concerning those who are saved in Christ, the doctrine of God’s eternal decree is held in harmony with the doctrine of his love to all mankind, his gift of his Son to be the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, and his readiness to bestow his saving grace on all who seek it; that concerning those who perish, the doctrine of God’s eternal decree is held in harmony with the doctrine that God desires not the death of any sinner, but has provided in Christ a salvation sufficient for all....that his decree hinders no man from accepting this offer; and that no man is condemned except on the ground of his sin." ("Declaratory Statement," 1903, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); The Book of Confessions, 6.191- .192)

    3.  Since man is totally depraved, only God’s action can save him. And since man cannot affect his salvation, God must choose who will be saved, and who will not.

    4.  Take note of the apparent attempt to lessen the impact of this doctrine in the "Declaratory Statement" above.



    1.  Ephesians 1:3-7 - God had an eternal plan to save men in Christ - (cf. Romans 9:11; 11:5).

      a.  "He predestined the plan, not the man."

      b.  God chose the kind of person He would save - Romans 8:28-30.

    2.  Joshua 24:15 - Man is a free moral agent to choose to serve God or evil.  (cf. Romans 10:12-13)

    3.  Acts 10:34-35 - God is not a respecter of persons.

    4.  1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9 - God desires all to be saved.


  C.  Limited Atonement.



    1.  "God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect; and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins and rise again for their justification:...." ("The Westminster Confession of Faith," XI, 4; The Book of Confessions, 6.071)

    2.  Since God chose certain individuals to save, then Christ’s blood was shed for just those few.



    1.  Christ’s blood is available to all - John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2.

    2.  The gospel is for all - Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 1:16.


  D.  Irresistible Grace.



    1.  "All those whom God has predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit,...." (Ibid., X, 1; 6.064)

    2.  "This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it."  (Ibid., X, 2; 6.065)

    3.  "Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word." ("The Westminster Confession of Faith," X, 3; The Book of Confessions, 6.066)

    4.  Since an act of God saves (without man’s action at all), the grace cannot be resisted. Salvation comes through a direct operation of the Holy Spirit.



    1.  God calls men to salvation through the gospel - 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; John 6:44-45; Romans 1:16.

    2.  This call to salvation (revealed by the Holy Spirit in the gospel) can be resisted - Acts 7:51; 13:44-46.

    3.  Man is active in his salvation - Matthew 11:28; Acts 2:40-41; Philippians 2:12.


  E.  Perseverance Of The Saints.



    1.  "They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace: but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved. This perseverance of the saints depends, not upon their own free-will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father;...." (Ibid., XVII, 1-2; 6.094- .095)

    2.  "Nevertheless they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and for a time continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure,...." (Ibid., XVII, 3; 6.096)

    3.  Since God saves men unconditionally and has predetermined that some will go to heaven, those He saves cannot totally fall from grace, no matter what they do.



    1.  Galatians 5:4 - Christians can fall from grace.

    2.  Hebrews 3:12-13 - A Christian can fall away from the living God.

    3.  Hebrews 10:36-39 - Christians can shrink back unto destruction.

    4.  John 10:27-29 - As we hear and follow Jesus, we have security of our souls. Therefore, our security is dependent upon our free-will choice to follow Jesus.

    5.  1 Corinthians 10:12 - Like Israel, God’s people today can fall.





    1.  "The Bible is an inspired record of God’s revelation of Himself to all. Of the men who wrote the Bible...Presbyterians do not believe that they were ‘pens of God’ as the pre-Christian writers believed but rather, that they were ‘inspired’ by God to reveal God to all people." ("What Is A Presbyterian?", p. 7)

    2.  "The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written." ("The Confession of 1967," Part I, Sec. C., 2; The Book of Confessions, 9.29)



    1.  Inspiration.

      a.  "God-breathed" - 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:21.

      b.  The Bible is verbally inspired - 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; cf. 2 Samuel 23:2; Jeremiah 1:9.

    2.  This is not mechanical - The Holy Spirit used the educational, social and cultural backgrounds of each writer, hence, the differences which are seen in the styles of writing. Yet, it is all the "word of God!"




  A.  The Imputation Of Righteousness.



    1.  "Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them,...." ("The Westminster Confession of Faith," XIII, 1; The Book of Confessions, 6.068)

    2.  "Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone."   ("The Shorter Catechism," # 33; The Book of Confessions, 7.033)



    1.  Jesus lived a sinless life to be a perfect sacrifice for sins - 1 Peter 1:18-19; Hebrews 5:8-9.

    2.  One’s own faith is imputed (counted) to him for righteousness - Romans 4:5-8.


  B.  Justification By Faith Alone.



-"Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification."  ("The Westminster Confession of Faith," XIII, 2; The Book of Confessions, 6.069)


    1.  James 2:24 - Not only by faith. Our faith must be an active, obedient faith.

    2.  The kind of faith which saves is faith which obeys God - Romans 6:17-18; Hebrews 5:8-9; Hebrews 10:39ff.




  A.  Its Purpose.


    1.  "Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life:...." ("The Westminster Confession of Faith," XXX, 1; The Book of Confessions, 6.154)

    2.  "Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated." (Ibid., XXX, 5; 6.158)

    3.  Baptism is a sign of salvation, but is not necessary in order to be saved. It places one into the Church.


  B.  Its Subjects.

    1.  "Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized." (Ibid., XXX, 4; 6.157)

    2.  Presbyterians baptize adults and infants.


  C.  Method Of Administration.

    1.  "Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person." (Ibid., XXX, 3; 6.156)

    2.  Presbyterians accept pouring and sprinkling as baptism.



    1.  Its Purpose.

      a.  To receive remission of sins - Acts 2:38; et al.

      b.  It is not a sign of being saved -- Without it, we are not saved!

      c.  See Lesson Three:   The Lutheran Church, for more on NT baptism.

    2.  Its Subjects.

      a.  Repentant believers - Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38.

      b.  Adults, not infants.

      c.  See Lesson Three:  The Lutheran Church, for more on NT baptism.

    3.  Its Method Of Administration.

      a.  Immersion - Acts 8:38; Colossians 2:12.

      b.  Baptizo is defined "to immerse, to dip, to plunge."

      c.  See Lesson Three:   The Lutheran Church, for more on NT baptism.





  A.  Government By Representation.



    1.  "The Presbyterian Church is a representative democracy governed by elders elected from or by the congregation." ("What Is A Presbyterian," p. 3)

    2.  "The Presbyterian form of government is that of delegated authority. This authority lodges in the members of the Church, but the people exercise this right by the election of representatives called ruling elders, who, in conjunction with ministers, make up the session, presbytery, synod, and General Assembly." ("The Christian Faith," p. 36)

    3.  "Authority resides with the duly elected representatives of the congregation in the appointed church courts." ("What Is A Presbyterian?," p. 3)



    1.  All authority belongs to Jesus - Matthew 28:18.

    2.  His body is ruled over by Him, through His divine word - Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 3:17; 1 Timothy 3:15.

    3.  His church is a monarchy, not a democracy!


  B.  Principle Offices.



    1.  Presbyters.

-"Presbyters are ministers and ruling elders, who are on an equality in the governing bodies of the Church." ("The Christian Faith," p. 36)

    2.  Ordained Officers.

-"The ordained officers in a local Presbyterian Church are ministers, ruling elders, and deacons."  (Ibid.)


    1.  Presbyters.

      a.  Elders - Acts 14:23.

      b.  Also called bishops, overseers and pastors - Acts 20:17,28; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 5:2.

    2.  Ordained Officers.

      a.  Ordained means "to set in place."

      b.  When a man meets the Scriptural qualifications, he is set into the office or work for which he is qualified.

      c.  Elders - 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9.

      d.  Deacons - 1 Timothy 3:8-13.




    1.  "The overall church structure consists of 4 courts." ("What Is A Presbyterian?", p. 3)

    2.  "The governing bodies of the Presbyterian Church are the session, the presbytery, the synod, and the General Assembly." ("The Christian Faith," p. 37)

      a.  Session - "Lowest court...teaching elders (ordained ministers and pastors) and ruling elders -- all elected by the congregation." ("What Is A Presbyterian?", p. 3)

      b.  Presbytery - "Elders and ministers from congregations who oversee the local churches." (Ibid.)

      c.  Synod - "Representatives elected from each Presbytery to oversee several Presbyteries." (Ibid.)

      d.  General Assembly - "The highest court made up of equal numbers of lay people and clergy chosen by the presbyteries." (Ibid.)



    1.  Congregational organization - Acts 14:23; Philippians 1:1.

    2.  Congregational autonomy - 1 Peter 5:2.

    3.  No Bible authority for any organization larger than the local congregation.



It is clear that the Presbyterian Church was organized and founded by men. Upon the basis of John Calvin’s theology, John Knox organized this religious body in the 16th century. When its history and its doctrines are compared to the Bible, Presbyterianism is found to be a departure from the revealed truth of the gospel. It relies heavily upon human doctrines and confessions to sustain its beliefs and practices.



1.  What is the distinction between the "Reformed" and "Presbyterian" Churches?

2.  Whose theology was the basis of the Reformation and Presbyterianism?

3.  What was the central concept around which Calvin developed his theology?

4.  For what does the acronym T-U-L-I-P stand?

5.  Did John Calvin found the Presbyterian Church? Who did?

6.  Most American Presbyterians trace their heritage from which immigrants?

7.  When was the Westminster Confession of Faith written?

8.  Discuss the major mergers within the Presbyterian Church.

9.  What purposes are given the confessions of the Presbyterian Church?

10. State the doctrine of Total Hereditary Depravity, and answer it.

11. How has Unconditional Election undergone modification in this century?

12. How does God elect men to salvation?

13. Define the doctrine of Limited Atonement. Prove Jesus died for all men.

14. According to the doctrine of Irresistible Grace, who acts upon the sinner in order to save him?

15. How does the Holy Spirit work in human salvation?

16. Give two passages which prove Christians can fall from grace.

17. What type of inspiration did the Bible writers have?

18. What did Jesus’ sinless life qualify Him to be?

19. What kind of faith justifies a person before God?

20. Describe the Presbyterian form of church government, its organization and its officers.