- Presbyterians represent that wing of the Reformed Church (which evolved from the teachings of John Calvin) that developed in the English-speaking world. on the European continent, the Calvinist tradition retained the name "Reformed Church."in England, the primary issues faced by the primary Reformed Protestant group, the Puritans, were ecclesiastical with the single most important issue being the organization of the Church of England. The main body of Puritans argued or a Presbyterian polity with the church being led by presbyters (elders) rather than bishops.The first success for Reformed Protestants in the British Isles was the mid-16th-century transformation of the church in Scotland into a Presbyterian body. For a time, in the middle of the 17th century, when the Westminster Confession was issued by Puritan leaders during the Commonwealth, it appeared that England would also become dominated by a Presbyterian church. However, the process of Protestantizing the Church of England came to an end with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.The Westminster documents, especially the confession, remained the primary statement of Presbyterian faith. The earlier Scots Confession (1560) was also normative, while the Confession of 1967 (originally adopted by the United Presbyterians Church in the U.S.A.) and the Brief Statement of Faith (a liturgical statement adopted at the time of the merger that produced the Presbyterian Church [USA]) are seen as contemporary restatements of the Presbyterian tradition. The more conservative Presbyterian bodies totally reject the newer confessions in allegiance to the Westminster documents.The once solidly Presbyterian Puritans eventually divided over issues of polity, with Congrega-tionalists advocating a congregational state church and Baptists advocating a congregational polity and a separation of church and state. Presbyterians formed several churches in England, the majority of whom are now found in the United Reformed Church, which brought Presbyterians and Congregationalists together in 1972.In Scotland, the Church of Scotland suffered several schisms in the 18th century and one in 1843 that produced the Free Church of Scotland. Most of the schisms have been healed, but the Free Church is still separate from the Church of Scotland. The largest Presbyterian group in Wales emerged in the 18th century from the preaching of Calvinist Methodist George Whitefield.In the 17th century, British and Scottish Presbyterianism were both transferred to North America. In Canada, the majority of Presbyterians joined the Presbyterian Church of Canada, which in 1925 joined the merger that produced the United Church of Canada. In the United States, the various Scottish Presbyterian groups formed separate communities, the majority of which were consolidated into the United Presbyterian Church in 1858. British Presbyterians split into three prominent factions - the revivalist Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church in the United States (formed by the southern wing of the church at the time of the American Civil War), and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. In 1983, these three churches completed a process of consolidation as the Presbyterian Church (USA), though a minority of Cumberland Presbyterians continue as a separate body. In both Canada and the United States, a number of smaller Presbyterian bodies were created to represent conservatives unhappy with the perceived liberalism of the larger church; the largest is the Presbyterian Church in America. Several ethnic Presbyterian churches also exist, the largest ones serving Korean Americans.In the 19th century, the Church of Scotland, the various American Presbyterian Churches, and British Presbyterians were among the primary participants in the world missionary thrust of Protestantism. Originally backing the London Missionary Society and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the various churches later founded their own mission boards and seeded Presbyterians churches around the world. More than 25 Presbyterian churches are now members of the World Council of Churches, and that many more are members via united churches of which they are now a part. Many are also members of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. Some Presbyterian bodies are members of the World Evangelical Alliance, the International Council of Christian Churches, and the World Council of Biblical Churches. Among the largest Presbyterian bodies that have refused membership in the World Council of Churches is the very conservative 2-million-member Presbyterian Church of Korea (HapDong).See also Reformed/Presbyterian tradition.Further reading:■ Randall Balmer and John R. Fitzmier, The Presbyterians (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994)■ Jean-Jacques Bauswein and Lukas Vischer, eds., The Reformed Family Worldwide: A Survey of Reformed Churches, Theological Schools, and International Organizations (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1999)■ Nigel M. de S. Cameron, ed., Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1993)■ D. G. Hart and Mark A. Noll, eds., Dictionary of the Presbyterian and Reformed Tradition in America (Des Plaines, 1ll.: InterVarsity Press, 1999)■ James H. Smylie, A Brief History of the Presbyterians (Louisville, Ky.: Geneva Press, 1996).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.