Church History: Presbyterian Church

By Aude McKee


1. Thus far in our studies we have gone into Germany and England.

A. Last week we traced the development of the Church of England.

1. Observed that it was produced more by political and social expediencies than by religious conviction.

2. We took note of the fact that the Episcopal Church is more closely allied to Roman Catholicism than any other Protestant body.

B. This week we turn our attention to Switzerland and Scotland.

II. In this study, we shall see varying degrees of respect for Bible authority being manifested.


I. The Work of Zwingli (1482-1531).

A. Born in German speaking Switzerland, village of Wildhaus.

1. Received a good education.

2. In 1506 appointed a parish priest at Glarus.

3. In 1518 appointed chief pastor in the Great Minister Church in Zurich.

B. By this time Zwingli had developed the idea that the Bible was sufficient for doctrinal guidance.

1. In January, 1519, he began a homiletical exposition of the New Testament in his sermons.

2. Preaching from the Scriptures was an unheard of innovation in his day.

3. Zwingli’s teaching was responsible for the Reformed Churches.

C. Difference in Luther and Zwingli.

1. Luther used the Bible as a corrective, retaining those rites and ceremonies of the Catholic Church which were not positively anti-scriptural.

2. Zwingli used the Bible as a code of laws, rejecting everything not expressly enjoined in Scripture. His teaching included:

a. Salvation by faith alone.

b. Denial of the sacrificial quality of the mass and saintly intercession.

c. Recognition of Christ as sole head of the church.

d. Right of the clergy to marry.

e. Abolishing images, relics and organs from places of worship.

f. The observance of the Lord’s Supper as a symbolic or memorial supper.

II. Work of John Calvin (1509-1564).

A. Early life.

1. Born in Nayon, France, 25 miles NE of Paris. His father was an attorney.

2. He first began the study of law but after two years, he changed to a study of religion.

3. He was a devout student of the Bible and was influenced by the writings of Luther.

4. He became a leader among Paris Protestants but because of opposition from the king, was forced to flee to Geneva, Switzerland.

B. Calvin soon rose to power in Geneva.

1. He became a virtual dictator.

2. He endeavored to build Geneva into an ideal city through a system of “Christian Government.”

3. A Theological Seminary was established in Geneva and from that institution young men went all over Europe preaching the doctrines of Calvin.

C. To people today, Calvin is best known for his “five tenets.”

1. Hereditary Total Depravity.

2. Predestination.

3. Limited Atonement.

4. Irresistibility of Grace.

5. Perseverance of the saints.

D. Calvin lives in history as a controversial figure.

1. A contemporary once spoke of him: “Some think on Calvin heaven’s own mantle fell, While others deemed him an instrument of hell.”

2. Today, about the same attitudes are held toward what is known as “Calvinism.” Some look on it as a blessing to man and some view it as one of the curses of religion.

E. Out of John Calvin’s work, the Presbyterian Church was established. A date is hard to give, but perhaps 1540 would be as good as any.

III. The Work of John Knox.

A. Much of his early life is obscure.

1. Born in Haddington, Scotland.

2. Ordained into the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church.

3. Later embraced reformation principles and became one of the Royal Chaplains under Edward VI.

4. After “Bloody Mary” came to power, he fled to Germany and then to Geneva.

5. He became an ardent disciple of Calvin.

B. In 1559, Knox returned to Scotland.

1. He carried Calvin’s doctrines with him.

2. Established the Presbyterian Church in Scotland.

IV. Some Facts About the Presbyterian Church.

A. There are nine divisions of Presbyterians in the United States. There are three major bodies.

1. Largest is United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

2. Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (Southern).

3. Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

B. Government.

1. The Presbyterian Church receives its name from its form of government. Each congregation has its own elders (presbuteros in Greek).

2. Authority, however, is in the Presbytery.

a. A certain number of churches belong to the Presbytery.

b. Each church has elders appointed to the board (Presbytery).

3. The highest judiciary of the church is the Annual General Assembly, made up of clerical and lay delegates elected by the Presbyteries.

C. Doctrines.

1. Predestination (Quote from Westminster Confession of Faith, pp. 25-26): “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. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished.” (See Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 2:11; Rev. 22:17; Matt. 11:28-30; John 3:16-17.)

2. Only the “elect” are saved (Ibid., pp. 27-29). “Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only. ” (See I John 2:2; Heb. 2:9; Tit. 2:11-12.)

3. Hereditary Total Depravity (Ibid., pp. 41-43,72). “Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his glory. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. They 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.” (See Matt. 18:3; 19:14; Ezek. 18:20.) “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.”

4. Direct operation of the Holy Spirit (Ibid., p. 45; 76). “Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit to make them willing and able to believe.” “This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.” (A study of the New Testament will reveal that not a single person converted was enabled, to obey by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit! The Spirit convicts and converts the sinner by means of the Word – Lk. 8:11; 1 Pet. 1:22-25; Jas. 1:21; Eph. 6:17. Note: that a person can resist the Spirit – Acts 7:51; 13:46; Lk. 8:11-15.)

5. Elect people can be saved without obedience (Ibid., p. 77). “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word. ” (See Heb. 5:8-9; Matt. 7:21-27; 1 Pet. 4:17; 2 Thess. 1:7-9.) It is interesting to further note that they believe that the non-elect cannot be saved even though they are called by the ministry of the word” (Ibid., p. 77). “Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved.”

6. Perseverence of the saints (Ibid., pp. 102-103). “They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace: but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.” (See 2 Pet. 2:20-22; Gal. 5:4; Heb. 6:4-6.)

7. Refer to the Lord’s Day as the “Christian Sabbath” (Ibid., pp. 130-131). “God hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which in Scripture is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath.”

a. First day of the week at no time in the N.T. is referred to as “the Christian Sabbath”!

b. No teaching anywhere that the Sabbath of the Old Testament was “changed into the first day of the week.”

c. The law that bound the Sabbath (Saturday) has been nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14-17).

d. Christians must worship on the first day of the week (I Cor. 16:1-2; Heb. 10:25; Acts 20:7).

8. Baptism (Ibid., pp. 157-159). “Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.” (See Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:3-4.) Thus they affirm three false doctrines: (1) that there are three baptisms, immersion, pouring, and sprinkling (Eph. 4:4); (2) that infants can be baptized; (3) that baptism is not necessary to salvation.


1. Our study of church history ought to generate within us a greater appreciation for the church Jesus built.

2. These facts stand out in contrast with what we have seen develop:

a. Jesus built the church; bought it with his blood (Matt. 16:18; Acts 20:28).

b. Membership in the church of Christ is brought about by being saved (Acts 2:37-47).

c. The organization, worship, and work of the church are all simple, and simply set forth in the pattern – the New Testament.

d. Every member of the church is bound only by the Word of God (I Cor. 4:6; 1 Pet. 4:11). Thus, the creeds of men have no power over Christians!

3. Why don’t you obey Christ today?

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 20, pp. 616-618
October 20, 1988