Reformed/Presbyterian tradition

   The churches of the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition trace their shared history to the teachings and ministry of John Calvin (1509-64) and the 16th-century Protestant Reformation in Switzerland. Calvin, a Frenchman, assumed leadership of French-speaking Protestants following the publication of his systematic theology, the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536). He directed the Protestant cause in Geneva, Switzerland, where exiles from all across Europe imbibed the teachings they would later share in their own countries.
   Theologically, Calvin was close to Martin Luther, their major difference relating to Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper. Luther's approach, termed consubstantiation, was more mystical than Calvin's view, that Christ's presence is spiritual and apprehended by faith. Underlying this difference was a more fundamental divergence in the reform program of the two men and the movements they launched. Lutherans tended to start with the church as it exists and remove whatever practice seemed clearly opposed by the Bible. Calvinism took a more austere position, and tended to discard any practice not explicitly supported in the Bible. This had many ramification; for example, Reformed churches were more plain and unadorned than their Lutheran counterparts.
   The Reformed Church spread from Switzerland to become the dominant force in Holland and a strong presence in France (where Reformed adherents were known as Huguenots), Hungary, Transylvania, and some of the German states. As the Reformed movement spread to the British isles, first to Scotland and then to England, the issue of church polity came to the fore. In the context of the episcopal VIA MEDIA of Elizabeth I, British Calvinists set a goal of replacing bishops with presbyters or elders. Thus, Reformed churches in Scotland and England came to be called Presbyterian. English Congregationalists and Baptists, Calvinist by theology, dissented from the Presbyterian consensus by calling for a congregational form of church governance.
   Congregationalists and Presbyterians cooperated in their missionary endeavors in the 19th century, especially through the work of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and the London Missionary Society. In the 20th century, they formed several international cooperative agencies, especially the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (which includes Reformed, Presbyterian, and Congregational bodies).
   The Reformed/Presbyterian tradition defined its theological beliefs in a set of confessions issued in the course of the 16th and 17th centuries, the most important being the Gallican Confession (1559), Belgic Confession (1561), First and Second Helvetic Confessions (1536, 1566), Westminster Confession (1647-48), and Westminster (1647-48) and Heidelberg Cathechisms (1563). Reformed theology emphasized God's sovereignty; an important element was his election of his people to salvation through predestination. This element was challenged by Jacob Arminius (1560-1609), a Dutch theologian; in response, the Synod of Dort (1619) published a set of statements on predestination and related ideas that is now considered a core document of the tradition.
   in the 20th century in the United states, the Reformed tradition was challenged by the new historical and scientific approach to biblical criticism. American Presbyterians were forced to choose between Fundamentalism and Modernism in the 1920s and 1930s, as modernists took control of the larger bodies, especially those that merged to form the Presbyterian Church (USA). That church, like other contemporary Reformed and Presbyterian churches, now see their faith as located within a historical and still evolving tradition and view authority of the other confessions as relativized by their historical context. More conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches accept the authority of the older confessions as the valid interpretation of biblical teachings.
   See also Presbyterianism.
   Further reading:
   ■ James H. Amylie, A Brief History of the Presbyterians (Louisville, Ky.: Geneva Press, 1996)
   ■ 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)
   ■ Arthur C. Cochrane, Reformed Confessions of the Sixteenth Century (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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