The Presbyterian Church

Paul K. Williams
Indianapolis, Indiana

There are nine Presbyterian denominations in the United States, three of which are major denominations. The United Presbyterian Church in the USA has over 3,000,000 members; the Presbyterian Church in the United States (the Southern Presbyterian Church) almost 1,000,000 members; and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, about 80,000.


The Presbyterian Church had its beginning with John Calvin of Switzerland in the 1500's. Presbyterianism was, therefore, the purest form of Calvinism; although Calvinism has affected the doctrines of all the "reformed" churches, the Baptist churches, the Holiness churches, and others. Calvinism's basic assumption is: "God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass." (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III.) This meant that: "By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others fore-ordained to everlasting death, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished." (Ibid.) From this assumption of absolute and unchangeable predestination and foreordination to either everlasting life or death for every individual from before his birth have come other false doctrines: "once in grace, always in grace;" "pray through" in order that God may inform you that you are of His elect; and other like doctrines.


The Presbyterian Church receives its name from its form of government. Each congregation has its own elders. Authority, however, is in the presbytery. A certain number of churches belongs to the presbytery, and each church has its regularly installed pastor (or pastors) plus an equal number of presiding elders on the "board," which is the presbytery. These presbyteries decide things for the denomination. At present, they are in the process of ratifying or rejecting a new confession of faith.

Inherited Sin and Total Depravity

Calvin also taught the doctrines of inherited sin and total depravity. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way: "They (Adam and Eve, PKW) being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions." (Chapter VI)

This doctrine is flatly contrary to scripture. Ezekiel 18:20 says: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him; and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." If the guilt of sin were inherited, this statement could not be true. The fact that little children are guiltless is clearly shown by Jesus' words in Matthew 19:14: "Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for to such belongeth the kingdom of heaven."

In years past, gospel preachers have had to battle Presbyterianism on doctrinal grounds: Predestination, infant baptism, and like doctrines were issues over which mighty battles raged. But things have changed. To concentrate on these issues today is to fight a dead man; for Presbyterians are not concerned about these things any more.


Instead, the heart and soul of Presbyterianism today is modernism. Although the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is still nominally the "creed" of the Presbyterians, says: "The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God, (who is truth itself,) the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God" (Chapter D, the truth of the matter is that the Presbyterian Church left this creed (adopted in 1646) long ago. Two generations ago, Harry Emerson Fosdick was forced to leave the Presbyterian Church because of his modernism. (Among other things, he affirmed that it was not important whether Jesus w as raised from the dead or not.) But now he would find a spiritual home in the denomination he left. Today the vast majority of Presbyterian preachers do not believe that the Bible is verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit and is the word of God. And they are in the process of putting their new unbelief on record in a new "confession" for the denomination.

The Confession of 1967

This last May, the United Presbyterians' general assembly voted 643 to 110 to accept a new "Confession of 1967." It now needs to be approved by two-thirds of the Presbyteries, which is expected to take place in 1967. The new creed places emphasis upon contemporary problemspoverty and race problemsand downgrades the Bible with this statement: "The words of Scripture are the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought-forms and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written." "The variety of such views found is the Bible shows that God has communicated with men in diverse cultural conditions. This gives the church confidence that he will continue to speak to man in a changing world and in every form of human culture." This is modernism in its purest form.

In reference to the above, I phoned the local Presbyterians headquarters and talked with a Dr. Fox. He stated, in substance, "The Presbyterian Church has always believed that revelation does not end with the Bible. We believe that God can speak to us in each generation through men as important to each generation as Paul was to his.'' But Dr. Fox and the Westminster Confession of Faith do not agree. Though the creed asserts that "the inward illumination of the Spirit of God (is) necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the word;" (a false Calvinistic doctrine, PKW), it also states: "The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men." (Chapter I Section VI)

Modernists look upon the Bible as man's product, not God's. They believe that it represents man's efforts to find God and contains much that is "inspired" (like Shakespeare was "inspired.") They hold such men as Harry Emerson Fosdick and Albert Schweitzer to be as important in their utterances as Peter or Paul. It is outright infidelity and should be labeled such.

Modern Presbyterianism, then, is the same as modern Methodism or most other big denominationsit is unbelief. When working with people who are Presbyterians, we need to point out that modernism is the working principle of their denomination. We need to be prepared with evidences that the Bible is the word of Godthat it must be followed. The chances are that they do not believe the ancient Calvinistic doctrines of predestination, inherited sin, and total depravity. To talk to them about these doctrines will be to miss the mark. Where we must attack is where they arein the unbelief of modernism.


At the present time, the major modern denominations are working toward eventual merger. The United Church of Christ (itself a result of a merger between the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Church), the Methodist Church, the United Presbyterian Church, the Episcopalian Church, the Disciples of Christ, and the Evangelical United Brethren Church are working toward this merger. Although some of their doctrines and practices are different, their basic beliefs are notbecause they are all in the unbelief of modernism. No doubt they will eventually merge. The only way to deal with them is to meet them where they stand. We must attack unbelief in all its forms; intelligently, yet with great vigor. May God help us to join the battle.

TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 1, pp. 6-8 October 1965