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Presbyterianism is an offshoot of the Reformed tradition, and has its roots in the teachings of Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland, although John Calvin is given prominence in the history of the movement, as he was a driving force in the development of Reformed churches. However, neither Zwingli or Calvin founded the Presbyterian churches. That honor goes to John Knox, a follower of Calvin.

Although Zwingli and Calvin laid the groundwork, the real founder of Presbyterianism was John Knox. Born in Scotland, Knox was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1530. He became part of the Protestant Reformation around 1545, after which he became a strong opponent of Catholicism.

Knox preached in England for a number of years, participating in the 39 Articles of the Church of England, fleeing England when "Bloody" Mary Tudor came to power. He made the acquaintance of John Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland.

Knox spent some time preaching in Scotland and is credited with being the driving force behind the Scottish Reformation. The Reformed Church of Scotland, with a Presbyterian style of government, was recognized by Parliament in 1567.

Presbyterianism found its way to North America in the late 17th century, and the first American presbytery was established in Philadelphia in 1706, and the first Presbyterian General Assembly was held there in 1789, convened by John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Today, there are several denominations within the Presbyterian camp, the largest being the Presbyterian Church (USA), which most Presbyterians are a member of.

A variety of smaller Presbyterian groups have separated, mostly over concerns over liberal theology in the larger body. These include the Presbyterian Church in America, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Korean American Presbyterian Church, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America, Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, Free Presbyterian Church, Bible Presbyterian Church, and perhaps some others worldwide.

Churches in the Presbyterian family are known for their allegiance to the Reformed theological tradition, and divisions within the family tend to be over doctrinal issues. Some of the smaller Presbyterian denominations are remnants of previous splits from larger groups, others over doctrinal controversies

Within Presbyterianism, local churches are ruled by presbyters, also known as elders. Conservative Presbyterian bodies hold to the five points of Calvinism, and have a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God.

The Westminster Confession of Faith is the primary summary of Presbyterian orthodoxy. Conservative Presbyterians also hold to the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, while the more liberal bodies relegate the authority of the Bible to being a witness to Christ couched infallible human words.

The focus of this category and its subcategories is on Presbyterianism. Where there are sufficient sites to warrant it, subcategories will be created for the various denominations and groups within the more general category of Presbyterianism. Appropriate sites may include denominational or purely informational sites, whether supportive or contrary to Presbyterian tradition. Affiliated ministries, organizations, or corporations may be included, although sites representing local congregations or churches should be submitted to the Local & Global category representing their geographical location.

Categories

Cumberland Presbyterian Church

ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians

Evangelical Presbyterian Church

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Presbyterian Church in America

 

 

Feature Article


Gilbert Tennent and the Great Awakening


Gilbert Tennent

Born in Ireland in 1703, it is doubtful that Gilbert Tennent had any idea of where his life would take him, or that his future would be in the United States, for that matter.

However, his family moved from Ireland to Pennsylvania when Gilbert was fifteen. His father, William Tennent, was a Presbyterian minister, and founded a school that became known as "Log College," to train ministers. Although Gilbert did receive an excellent education, he did not adopt the faith of his father, to become converted until he was twenty.

Gilbert received his Masters of Arts degree from Yale College in 1725, and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1726, and was called to pastor a church in New Brunswick, New Jersey. His early sermons were not particularly inspiring but, following an illness, he recovered and began to preach with a zeal that brought about several conversions.

Thomas Prince, founder of "Christian History," the first religious journal published in North America, wrote of Gilbert Tennent, "From the terrible and deep convictions he had passed through in his own soul, he seemed to have such a lively view of the Divine Majesty, the spirituality, purity, extensiveness, and strictness of His law; with His glorious holiness, and displeasure at sin, His justice, truth and power in punishing the damned, that he preached with a power lacking in others."

Gilbert became friends with the famed evangelist, George Whitefield, and participated in the work of promoting spiritual revival in New Jersey and all of New England. It wasn't long before some of his fellow clergymen, perhaps feeling threatened, began speaking out against him, opposing both his revival activities and his emphasis on personal conversions.

Tennent lashed back, referring to opposing ministers as Pharisees who lacked the experience of the Holy Spirit upon their own souls, and compared them to Satan transformed into an angel of light. He wrote, "For I am verily persuaded the generality of preachers talk of an unknown and unfelt Christ; and the reason why congregations have been so dead is because they have had dead men preaching to them."

While his zeal, combined with his high standards, were popular among Presbyterians in general, his comments outraged many of the church leaders, some of whom were, no doubt, personally offended, but others questioned the efficacy of encouraging the lay people to question the spirituality of the clergy.

The Presbyterian Synod of Philadelphia expelled him. In response, Tennent and other New Brunswick preachers withdrew from the association, and formed a new Synod of New York in 1745, through which they carried on their work. For nearly two decades, the Presbyterians were divided into New Lights and Old Lights.

In 1743, Tennent accepted the offer of a position as pastor of a nondenominational congregation that Whitefield's followers had organized in Philadelphia, albeit not with the wholehearted support of George Whitefield himself. Tennent had declared that, although he remained supportive of Whitefield, he believed that his Anglican colleague was insufficiently committed to orthodox Calvinism. Although tensions between Whitefield and Tennent continued, the latter greatly toned down his criticism of his fellow clergy in his latter years, and advocated for a reunion with the Old Side Presbyterians, as they were orthodox in doctrine and regular in life. Still, the reunification did not occur in his lifetime. Gilbert Tennent died on July 23, 1764.



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