In the New Testament, Prebuteros, refers to the custom of choosing leaders and advisors from among the wisest members of the church. The Greek word “presbuteros” meaning “elder,” has provided the Presbyterian church with a name. (encyclopedia Presbyterianism The Presbyterian church, like all Christian churches, trace its roots back to the early church in Jerusalem. This is why some people consider Presbyterianism to be a rebirth of the early church of the New Testament. The history of the Presbyterian church begins with the Protestant Reformation in Europe. With the help of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, Francis Makene, the Westminster Assembly, the American Revolution, and along with several other people and events, Presbyterianism has developed. It has gone through rapid expansion and now has been well established on every continent. Much of the American Presbyterian history has been because of the American emphasizes and the Scotish-Irish influences. American Presbyterianism emphasized piety, experience, and experimentation, while the Scotish-Irish influence was of rationalism, order, and authority. These two impulses have characterized much of the Presbyterian history, which enables many churches like the CHRIST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, in New Haven Connecticut, to continue the long and sacred tradition while also continuing to make history.
In the beginning, western Europe was under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church until the Renaissance in the fifthteen century. This is when people began to discover the religious thinkers who bravely questioned the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther, a German priest, was one of those religious thinkers who questioned their authority. (About 1517) The Protestant Reformation moved forward when Luther nailed his Ninety five theses, which was in Latin, on the door of a castle church in Wittenberg Germany. (Luther encyclopedia) The Theses began with a attack on Rome, then stressed some doubts on the Pope’s rights, and also finished by saying how nothing but contrition could remit spiritual guilt and nothing else was necessary.” (Leffects pg. 26) Luther was an individual with a lot of will, which allowed him to change the world because of his ideas. Luther had implied an unusual way to salvation and had begun a reformation that helped divide Christianity into Protestantism and in the end another split into Presbyterianism.
About twenty years later, a French/Swiss theologian named John Calvin became known as the “Father of Presbyterianism.” (Calvin encyclopedia) The reformation under Calvin in Geneva stressed several key doctrines which became very important to the reformed theology. Calvin wanted to establish a church based on the New Testament concept of the office of elder but didn’t insist that Presbyterianism be the only form of church government. Calvin’s ” Institutes of the Christian Religion,” (Calvin encyclopedia) was an extremely influential piece of work that helped in the development of the Protestant churches of the Reformation. Calvin’s whole point of his doctrine was to remind people about God’s grace. At a Presbyterian website, it stated that Calvin wanted us to be aware that God is free and gracious. Also that there is nothing that we can do to earn God’s favor but rather that our salvation comes from god, so that we all are to chose God because God choose us first. (pcusa.com webpage) Calvin saw the Bible as a revelation of God. He stressed theology, worship, education, thrift, ethical behavior, and government for his followers. Like Luther, Calvin reduced the number of Christian sacraments to two. They were baptism of both infants and adults, along with the Lord’s Supper. Calvin differed from Luther and the other reforms by his theology. Because of John Calvin, Presbyterianism spread in Geneva throughout Europe. His influence was strongly seen in the Reform movements in France (Huguenots) Netherlands (Dutch) Germany, and most importantly in Scotland. In Scotland the movement was designated as Presbyterian.
Presbyterianism in Scotland, was founded by a Scottish religious reformer, named John Knox. Knox fled persecution in his homeland and went to Geneva, where he met and studied with John Calvin. Knox dealt with the Protestant nobles of Scotland, the lords of the Congregation, and also wrote a book called “The Blast of the Trumpet Against Monstrous Regiment of Women.” The writing was aimed directly towards Mary of Guise. In 1559, Knox returned to Scotland and aided in a Protestant revolt. Because of several factors, the Protestant party came into control of his return to Scotland, Knox established Presbyterianism in Scotland.
England also had its own piece of the reformation. A British reformed church was formed after King Henry VIII left the Roman church in 1543. Both the Forty-Two Articles and the Thirty-Nine Articles (Winfield, pg. 10) were two of the several doctrines that were similar to the Westminster Assembly. The Scottish Presbyterians and English Presbyterian joined forces during the English Revolution. A body of one hundred and fifty one English and Scottish clergyman, known as the Westminster Assembly, worked steadily between 1643 and 1649 to write the doctrinal guide which Presbyterians now recognize as the basic texts. This Assembly opened on Saturday July 1, 1645 in the Abbey Church in Westminster, with Dr. William Twisse. (Hill, pg. 295) Right after the sermon ended, the divines went to King Henry VII’s Chapel and around seventy delegates decided to began the convocation. Some time later twenty one commissioners were added as replacements or substitutes. The Westminster Assembly has effected the church, nations, individuals, and western civilization for the past three and a half centuries.
Presbyterians escaped Europe and settled in America. By the American Revolution, Presbyterians comprised of approximately one forth of the American population. Presbyterianism was so predominate in America that some British called the American Revolution the “Presbyterian Revolt.” Of all the signers of the Declaration of Independence, at least 14 signers were Presbyterians. Included in that list was John Witherspoon, who was the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence. He was a man whose writings and speeches helped promote the Continental Congress meetings. His works included Ecclesiastual Characteristic (1753), Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament (1774) (Witherspoon encyclopedia), as well as numerous essays, sermons, and pamphets. Witherspoon also influenced religious circles in two countries. (U.S. and Scotland) He served as a pastor in Scotland from 1745 until 1768, when he became president of a college in America. He then helped expand the college along with most importantly furthering the growth of the Presbyterian Church in America.
The ancestors of millions of people came to North America during the middle 17th century with such leaders as Francis Makemie, Jonathan Dickson, and William and Gilbert Tennet. The largest concentrations settled in Virginia and Maryland. The Philadelphia areas moved quickly into Greater New York. The first presbytery in America was established in Philadelphia in 1706. This is where the early leader of American Presbyterianism, Francis Makemie, joined in forming the first American Presbytery. (Miller, pg. 311) The Presbytery united the scattered dissenting churches in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. The first Synod was formed in 1717. On nearly every page of the Minutes of the first presbytery and Synod, there were Supplications that forces aid be to given in their support. (loelscher, pg. 306) The presbyterey and the old Synod ordered annual collections from all their churches to be used for support. The first recorded grant of money was made to the first Presbyterian Congregation of NY in 1719. This was to enable it to support gospel.
One of the leading preachers after Makemie, at the time of the Great Awakening revival movement was Gilbert Tennent. The son of the American Presbyterian minister William Tennent, who was educated like his three brothers, which were all taught at home by their father. Gilbert Tennent along with Jonathan Edward’s and George Whitefield, stimulated religious fire, produced conversions, and increased church membership. But not too long after the revival, their methods drew criticism and was seen as a threat to establishing order. As a consequence, many churches split and some Presbyterians divided into revival bodies that did not reunite until 1758.
The General Assembly was organized in 1789, out of the materials of the old Synod. Before that in 1785, the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, began to take those steps for revising the public standards of the church which led to their adoption of the complete system for their organization. The final result was in 1789 when the Synod completed the revision and the arrangement of the public standards of the church. This was finally adopted by them, and they had them printed and distributed for the government of several judicatures. As the boundaries of the country grew and its frontiers extended south, west, and north, the General Assembly appointed a Standing Committee of Mission, in 1802. The population increased and settlement extended very rapidly, after the War of 1812. In the end, other organizations were formed, but only to have the reunion of the two big organizations in 1870.(Brown, pg. 287)
During the eighteenth century, the church was challenged on one side by the Episcopolians and on the other side by the remains of extreme Presbyterianism. Presbyterianism was also the most prominent branch of the dissenting movement before Unitarians weakened it in the eighteenth century. Unitarians were the product of several influences whose roots went back to the very first Great Awakening. Unitarianism was the faith of urban New Englanders who rejected the notion of human depravity. (hudson, pg. 168) During the years, four major divisions have occurred in American Presbyterianism. The first was that of the revivalism of the first Great Awakening during the 1740’s. The second occurred during the 1830’s due to slavery, theological issues, and the conduct of missionary work. The third took place in 1861 because of the American Civil war. The last was during the 1920’s and 30’s, which was at the peak of the controversy between Fundamentalism and moderism. This trend of divisions all changed in the1900’s. this was when the merger of the southern-based Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) and the northern-based United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA).
The present day Presbyterian Church (USA) was created by the union in 1983. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a confessional and connectional church that is distinguished by the representation of elders, laymen, and laywomen in its government. The church today has a membership of around 3 million throughout every state in the nation. Even before this churches development, the Presbyterians Church sought to understand the Apostle faith as shown in the Westminster Standard. At each stage throughout American history, there were some who wanted to maintain the integrity of the Westminster Confession of Faith, while others wanted to adapt it to fit what they thought was a more modern way of the Apostolic tradition.( Symle, pg. 402) By continuing their commitment to the historic reformed clarification of the Apostolic faith, the denomination has been one of the fastest growing denominations in America. Their current Westminster Confession of Faith is approximately the same as it was when it was brought to America.
Around August of 1991, a couple of families, who were members of the Presbyterian Church of America, moved to the Greater New Haven area. They suprisingly discovered that their denomination was not in the area. By benifiting from the Presbyterian Church of America denomination so much, they discovered that they all shared a common dream for the Presbyterian Church of America to come to the Greater New Haven area. After making their wishes known to the denomination, it was discovered that Preston Graham,Jr., who was about to begin graduate work at Yale in American Religious History, was also a licensed minister with the Presbyterian Church. By October of 1992, Preston Graham, Jr., was commisioned by the regional Presbytery to be the full-time ” church planter” in New Haven. (phone interview by elder, Cliff Bogue) Enough money had been raised from various denominationed sources and individuals to provide for a small but adequate church budget and means for starting a Presbterian Church.
The stage of the development of the Christ Presbyterian Church in New Haven began in 1992, when they established a biblical foundation upon which to eventually grow. Their ideal was to develop the kind of organizational tracks that could handle a substantial growth. The next stage was in August of 1994, that consisted of the fornation of an Apostolic government by a election of elders. The establishment of a regional church located in the center of New Haven, allowed them to reach the surrounding cities. The establishment of the study center and relocating of the Sunday Worship were also positive things. On Novemeber 6 1994, at the special service of organization, church planter Preston Graham.,Jr. was installed as a pastor and Robert Hawkes, Cliff Bogue, and George Levesque were named as ruling elders.
There was a lot of evidence of spiritual growth that showed up in 1995. At first there were seven profession faith members that altogether showed many signs of growing maturity. As a result of the growing commitment to family worship in families, membership had grown to seventy seven and weekly worship attendence was averaging one hundred and forty people. Their next step will be to expand their middle leadership, training and election of deacons, and search for a larger facility for worship so they can be able to grow as a church. These goals certainly seem in reach because they have a great organization. The order of a Sunday worship service in the Presbyterian church is determined by the pastor and the church’s governing body. It generally includes prayer, music, bible reading, and a sermon based on scriptures. The Sacrements, a time of personal offering, and a sharing community concerns are also part of worship. Denominations often differ over what they recognize as sacrements, for example, some recognize as many as seven sacrements while others have no sacrements in the life of the church. The Christ Presbyterian Church has two sacrements, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Presbyterians are destructive in two major ways. They adhere to a pattern of religious thought known as Reformed theology and a form of government that stresses the active, representational leadership of both minsters and church members. (Walter, pg. 3) They are one of the places where the church has had the opportunity to live up to its proclamations for the equality of all persons, such as the status it has that gives women. Today, because of the growing commitment of the Christ Presbyterian Church worship in downtown New Haven, it is able to reach surrounding cities which allows it to continue to grow and make history in a wonderful city such as New Haven Connecticut.