Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Presbyterians, a body of Christians, whose theory of Church government presupposes the identity of the "presbyters" (Greek presbuteroi, "elders") and "bishops" (episkopoi, "overseers," "guardians") mentioned in the Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles. They maintain that there was no distinction of office among the ministers commissioned by Christ to feed the flock of God, confute heretics, administer baptism and the Eucharist, and lead the prayers of the congregation; and that the elevation of bishops to a higher rank was a, gradual innovation which grew out of the choice of a permanent "moderator" or speaker of the presbytery. Modern Presbyterianism dates from the Reformation. The views of Luther and Calvin on this point were the same, but it is to the latter, who possessed a genius for organisation, that the Presbyterian form of government is due. In accordance with his scheme presbyters are chosen by the Council of State in consultation with the people, each receiving an allotted share of work. Calvin's views were adopted by the Reformed Churches of France and Scotland, the latter of which is now divided into three separate bodies, viz. the Established Church, the Free Church, and the United Presbyterians. The first presbytery formed in England was that opened at Wandsworth, in Surrey, in 1572. During the Civil War the great majority of the Puritans were Presbyterians, and looked for guidance to the Westminster Assembly (q.v.), but afterwards the Independents gained the ascendency, and Presbyterianism became discredited, although most of the Church livings were held by Presbyterian ministers up to the Restoration. Since that time the Presbyterians have not occupied a prominent position among English Nonconformists. On the Scottish disruption in 1843 the English presbyteries joined the English congregations of the "United Church." In 1876 they were all united under the title of the "Presbyterian Church of England." In Ireland Presbyterianism is the largest denomination in the province of Ulster. The number of Presbyterian communicants in the United States in 1889 was 1,424,042.