In order to truly understand what Presbyterianism is all about, you must be familiarized with a much more basic level of the Christian Church and that is the teachings of Calvinism, a form of Protestant Church introduced by a famous French theologian and reformer named John Calvin during the Reformation era. His work was based mainly in Geneva but eventually it spread to other corners of the world too. An important thing to consider here is that while the believers of Presbyterianism have no fixed rules to define its boundaries, they seem to coincide and differ with Catholic Church quite a lot, all at the same time. There were several places where the Presbyterian Church clashed with the Catholic Church on all kinds of issues but the major difference that Calvin himself emphasized highly on was the belief in God’s sovereignty and the existence of a representational government in the church. The best thing to do perhaps to better understand this is to look into the details of the history and development of Presbyterianism.
History and background
The work of John Calvin started spreading in the 16th century Geneva when the Catholic Church started having clashes on theological aspects as they were rejecting and resisting the ideas of reformists. While Calvin fought this battle for religion, one of his fellow reformists, John Knox who was from Scotland also took on the teachings of the reformist ideology. He then took it with him to Scotland and this is why the ancestry of the Presbyterian Church goes back primarily to Scotland and England. A major reform that was introduced within the Presbyterian Church was the implementation of a complete governing doctrine name the First Book of Discipline. This clearly marked the governing process that was to be implemented for the Presbyterian Church and that each of the districts would have superintendants appointed to them that were later called presbyteries. The Scottish parliament also adopted this doctrine known as the Scots Confession in the year 1560 and later it was replaced by Westminster Confession of Faith which was formed by Westminster Assembly during a time between the years 1643 and 1649.
Introduction of Presbyterianism in America
The North American continent saw the first of Presbyterianism around the beginning of 18th century when the first ever Presbytery was formed in Philadelphia. It quickly spread from there and soon the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America was formed in the year 1789. However, there were a lot of divisions in the later years but there are several entities like the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church America, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and several other entities too. With their main focus on keeping the religious practice based on the confessional tradition, they encourage their followers to actually study and understand the teachings of the Bible and through that, they also make sure that the subject of theology remains strictly a personal matter.
As mentioned earlier, the confessional faith is the basic form of practice in Presbyterian Church and in addition to that, the believers of this faith are also open to questioning both the teachings and the implementation of these teachings in the society. That however has also led to the formation of a very broad spectrum of understanding among the followers and therefore, there is a limit to how much the official standards that have been set for the doctrine of Presbyterianism can be implemented.
The Presbyterian belief calls for two major sacraments as part of their worship beliefs and one of them is Baptism. Unlike the typical Catholic method that involved submerging the body, both the infants and adults are baptized by either Affusion (pouring) or Aspersion (sprinkling) of water over the person or baby.
The second belief is the Lord’s Supper which is also known as Communion and it is believed that in this act, Christ is present in a spiritual manner by being in the wine and bread instead of having a local presence.
One thing that must be noticed here is that unlike other Christian beliefs, baptism is carried out not to achieve a regeneration of the soul but to use as an identity of a covenant like the circumcision is done for Hebrew babies.
Nowadays, there is a lot of diversity in the beliefs of each sections of the Presbyterian Church and while most of the things that they believe in are one and the same, there are still traces of some very fundamental differences in beliefs among different governing bodies. The final word however, is the belief that this diversity should be there for the development of one’s own beliefs regarding religion.