About Knox Presbyterian
& About Presbyterians in the USA
Who Was John Knox?
Knox Presbyterian's namesake, John Knox (1514-1572), helped create the Church of Scotland (The European predecessor of the modern Presbyterian denomination) during the Reformation. He also and shaped the democratic form of church and congregation governance it adopted.
During his education, Knox left Scotland and studied with Reformation theologian John Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland. Knox took Calvin’s teachings back to Scotland.
Other "Reformed" church communities were breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church at the time in England, Holland, France and what is now Germany after a Roman Catholic priest named Martin Luther King nailed a list of 95 Grievances to a church door in 1517. Today's Presbyterian church traces its ancestry back primarily to Scotland and England.
In 1547, Knox became the spokesman for the Reformation in Scotland. After periods of imprisonment and exile -- in England and on the European continent -- Knox returned to Scotland in 1559. There he supervised the preparation of the constitution and liturgy of the Reformed Church. His most important literary work was his "History of the Reformation in Scotland."
What Does 'Presbyterian' Mean?
The name "Presbyterian" comes from the Greek term in the new testament for elder: presbuteros. It's a term used 72 times in the New Testament.
The Presbyterian movement grew out of a discussion among Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries about the appropriate form of church governance.
Some thought the church should be governed by bishops (Greek:episkopos) and were the Episcopalian party.
Some thought the church should be governed by elders and were the Presbyterian party.
And some thought the church should be governed directly by the congregation, the Congregationalist party.
Presbyterian church governance evolved to emphasize that the leadership of the church is shared between those called to be ministers (traditionally known as the clergy) and church members called to be elders within the congregation.
Pictured at right: Pastor J. Herbert Nelson, elected Stated Clerk -- the top theological leader and CAO of the Presbyterian Church USA -- in 2016. Nelson is the first African-American elected to the Clerkship in the PCUSA, a largely white denomination.
Why Be a Presbyterian?
Presbyterians are distinctive in two major ways. They adhere to a pattern of religious thought known as Reformed theology and a form of governance that stresses the active leadership of both ministers and church members.
Presbyterians today use the terms "Teaching Elder" to refer to ministers (the clergy) and "Ruling Elder" to refer to church members called to serve as elders.
This strong emphasis on Presbyterian (elder-led) church governance is our heritage from Scottish Presbyterians.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is Reformed in its theology and Presbyterian in its church government.
In North America, the first presbytery (an organization of congregations) was organized in 1706. Today’s Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was created by the 1983 reunion of the two main branches of American Presbyterians separated since the Civil War — the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) currently has a membership of 1.7 million in all 50 states and Puerto Rico with nearly ten thousand congregations and worshiping communities.