We jump the border from the Church of England this week, into the Church of Scotland: The Presbyterian Church. Which, if my ancestors had stayed put, would have been the Church I’d probably have grown up within. Either way, born in the Down Under antipodes, I still managed to be christened among my Scottish brethren.
That is a slightly poetic and cryptic way of saying that I had the watery fingers making the sign of the cross on my forehead as a baby in a Presbyterian Church.
Enough of the personal history, here’s the Presbyterian’s…
Even though John Calvin was influential in the Presbyterian Church, the roots should be traced back to John Knox, who was a Scottish Catholic Priest in the 1500s. 15 years after becoming a priest, his study of The Bible – along with the writings of Augustine and Jerome – led to his conversion to Protestantism.
By all accounts, he was somewhat blunt and was given the nickname “ruffian of the Reformation” as he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind to the Catholics. He assisted Cranmer in the composition of the 39 articles but then decided to exited stage right to Geneva when the bloodthirsty and very Catholic, Mary came to power.
After studying under John Calvin in Geneva (which he travelled back and forth from more than once) he returned to Scotland and is considered the main motivator behind the Scottish Reformation.
These Reformed Scottish Churches were recognised by the Scottish Parliament in 1567.
One of their key features was the governance of the local church, which was overseen by elders or presbyters, and still is today. Presbuteros is Greek for elder, which explains the denominational name. Unsurprisingly, the influence of Calvin on Knox means that Presbyterians who hold the traditional theology of their denomination, agree with the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) and have a strong belief in the sovereignty of God.
Just like Anglican’s have their 39 articles, the Presbyterians have their official theology document known as the “Westminster Confession of Faith”. Commissioned in 1643 and completed in 1646, this document was written by a group of Puritan ministers across the course of over 1000 meetings.
That is one lengthy action research project!
However, I do recall at least one person telling me that (in their opinion), there was no finer expression of the faith than what they penned at Westminster. I’ll leave you to judge for yourself, but perhaps their lengthy efforts were not in vain.
As is usual, those in the denomination holding to more conservative views, consider The Bible to be divine and infallible, whereas the more liberal Presbyterians consider the text fallible, as penned by humans.
Also, as is usual, even though leadership at first glance seems rather locally based with Church elders, there are synods and councils as within other Churches.
At any rate, the “Pressies” (as they are frequently shortened to) are a mainstream denomination across much of the world and certainly worthy of further exploration, despite the fact that I will be leaving it here.
Yours in a garden full of tulips,