In the 16th Century, there was a push for the reformation of the catholic church. This move was championed by a German theologian, Martin Luther, who voiced his dissent against the doctrinal and administrative issues that he believed were against scripture. His protestants eventually gave birth to a new segment of the church referred to as the protestants. Protestantism spread like wildfire resulting in the formation of lots of denominations including Presbyterianism. Presbyterianism emerged in Scotland and Switzerland and it was largely influenced by the teaching of John Calvin, a French Theologian, Calvinism emphasized predestination, the authority of scripture, and the sovereignty of God.
The differences between Presbyterians and Protestants
Presbyterians have a lot of commonalities with other protestants. However, the Presbyterian doctrine has some distinct characteristics that set it apart. These include the doctrine of God’s sovereignty (which teaches that God is in control of everything on earth) and the doctrine of predestination (which teaches that God elects those who will get saved). Protestants do not hold similar views as they emphasize personal choice and personal responsibility.
In order to understand the differences between Presbyterians and Protestants, let’s take a close look at their doctrines as well as their worship practices.
Presbyterian Beliefs and Doctrines
- The sovereignty of God – Presbyterians believe that God is sovereign and has supreme authority on all creation. They believe that God has absolute control over the universe including human life and destiny. The doctrine of sovereignty emphasizes that God is all-knowing and can therefore use his prerogative to do as he pleases.
- Predestination and Election: Presbyterians believe in predestination. The doctrine of predestination teaches that God chose the exact individuals that would be saved long before the foundation of the world was laid. This doctrine of election also insinuates that a person cannot turn away from the faith because God already chose them to be saved. A Christian who finds himself in sin is therefore considered just as one that is out of fellowship but not out of relationship with God since their position in God is predetermined.
- Sacraments: Presbyterians observe two sacraments – the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Baptism is observed as a seal of the grace of God. It demonstrates spiritual cleansing and incorporation into the fellowship of faith. The holy communion is administered as a way of nourishing the spirit.
- Salvation by Faith Alone: Protestants emphasize that salvation comes only by faith in Jesus Christ. An individual is justified not by how good they are or by how many good deeds they have but just by the grace of God. This doctrine emphasizes that salvation ig given as a free gift from God and it can therefore not be earned.
- Authority of Scripture: Protestants believe in the Bible as God’s inspired word. They uphold the word of God as the final authority on matters of doctrine and general Christian life. They reject the idea of catholicism that an individual (e.g. the pope) can have the authority to determine doctrine.
- Priesthood of All Believers: Protestsnst believe that all believers are called into the royal priesthood of God. As such, Christians are encouraged to develop a personal relationship with God through personal prayer and Bible study. This doctrine teaches that Christians do not need to go through a priest in order to access God.
- Sacraments: Baptism and holy communion are the main sacraments observed by protestants. According to protestants, Baptism is a symbolic act to signify an individual’s decision to follow Christ. Some protestants believe in infant baptism while others believe only in adult baptism.
Presbyterian Worship Practices
Presbyterian worship services have a structured liturgical format that they follow. Granted, the exact order of service may vary across the different congregations but the elements are primarily the same. These include a call to worship, praise and worship, prayer, scripture reading, sermon, sacraments, and the benediction.
There are a couple of liturgical elements that are characteristic of a Presbyterian worship service. These include the recitation of creeds (such as the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed), responsive readings, and the singing of traditional hymns. The liturgical elements are meant to reinforce a sense of shared belief and tradition in the community of believers.
The sacrament of communion and baptism may also be part and parcel of a Presbyterian worship service. Presbyterians believe in the baptism of both infants and adults because baptism is viewed as a means of incorporating Christians into the body of Christ.
Protestant Worship Practices
Protestant worship practices are diverse depending on the denomination and congregation. For instance, some have a formal liturgy while others use an informal and contemporary approach. Protestant worship styles include elements like prayers, singing of hymns and contemporary music, reading of scripture, sharing of testimonies, multimedia presentations, sermons, and administration of sacraments. The specific worship style often reflects the cultural context and preferences of the congregation.
Protestant worship services are centered around the sermon which is believed to be an important part of the service. The sermon is a means of instruction, exhortation, and spiritual nourishment for the believers. The delivery of the sermon is usually influenced by the doctrine of the respective denomination. However, most sermons are based on scriptural passages and lessons are drawn for application in day-to-day life.
The administration of sacraments (baptism and communion) are also an important part of the protestant worship service. The eucharist is observed as a way of remembering the death of Jesus on the cross. Baptism is also administered as a symbol of the new life in Christ. These sacraments are administered in different frequencies depending on the doctrine of the church. For instance, some denominations administer them weekly, others monthly, and others only on special occasions.
Presbyterianism is big on the doctrine of predestination which teaches that God elects the individuals who will be saved. This doctrine is largely what separates them from other protestants who tend to believe that salvation is a choice. Protestants believe that even though God’s gift of salvation has been freely given to all mankind, man has free will and can therefore choose to accept or reject God’s plan of salvation.