Presbyterians and Baptists are both protestants in the sense that they are offshoots of the Reformation movement. However, Presbyterians emerged earlier (in the 16th century) and are arguably more connected to the Reformation movement than the Baptists who emerged a century later. The presbyterian is derived from a Greek word that means elder and it speaks to the kind of leadership structure in the presbyterian church. On the other hand, the Baptist denomination focuses on water baptism hence the name.
Well, the two denominations differ in various ways including their forms of worship and liturgy, core beliefs, doctrinal tenets, and the structure of governance. But baptism is arguably the most noticeable difference. Baptists put a lot of emphasis on baptism and especially on the fact that only adults can be baptized. Presbyterians on the other hand baptize both infants and adults.
Let’s take a closer look at these differences and more below.
God and the Bible
While both Presbyterians and Baptists believe in one God manifested as three (The trinity), they may not agree on how to relate to God. For instance, unlike the Presbyterians, baptists emphasize the importance of having a personal relationship and experience with God. Presbyterians are more inclined to corporate faith.
Both Presbyterians and Baptists believe in the authority of scripture. However, they differ in how they interpret and apply the Bible. For Presbyterians, the Bible is the ultimate authority on faith and practice and they put emphasis on the reformed tradition. They subscribe to the Westminster confession of faith which severs as a guide in the interpretation of scripture. Baptists, on the other hand, focus on the priesthood of all believers and they therefore believe that every Christian has a right to read and interpret scripture as guided by the Holy Spirit. As such, baptists typically have diverse theological perspectives.
The Role of Christ
Presbyterians and Baptists agree on the role of Jesus the son of God in the Christian faith. However, the approach may differ slightly. For Presbyterians, Jesus is not only the savior but also the mediator between God and men. They do not just see him s their savior but also as the header of the church and his teachings in the Gospel help to inform most of the church dogma.
On the flip side, Baptists put emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They also believe that water Baptism is a surefire way of demonstrating outward obedience to the command of Christ which is often referred to as the great commission of Mathew 28. In this commission, Jesus commanded his disciples to make disciples of all nations and to baptize them while at it.
Sacraments of Baptism and Communion
Presbyterians view baptism as an outward sign of the seal of God on his people. To them, baptism is a way for man to initiate a covenant relationship with God. As such, Presbyterians baptize both infants and adults. Presbyterians also observe the Lord’s supper regularly and they believe that commemorating it is a means of obtaining the grace of God.
On the other hand, Baptists believe that water baptism is an outward sign of one’s inward obedience to the faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism is a symbol that shows that the believer identifies with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because Baptists believe that baptism is an expression of one’s faith in God, they do not baptize infants or children. They believe that one can only be baptized if they are of age to allow them to first make a decision to follow Christ and his teachings before they are baptized. Another difference between them and Presbyterians is that they baptize by immersion.
Baptists also observe the Holy Communion but unlike Presbyterians, they do not not believe that it can help in the attaining of God’s grace. Just like water baptism, they look at the eucharist as a symbol that reminds them of the work of the cross.
Salvation and Predestination
Presbyterian doctrine is informed by the teachings of John Calvin and as such, they believe in the doctrine of predestination. This doctrine teaches that God elects a finite number of people, based on his sovereign will, to be saved. They emphasize God’s grace and the belief that salvation is a gift that cannot be earned.
Most Baptists do not subscribe to the Calvinist view on salvation. Instead, they focus on salvation through faith and they believe that anyone that believes in and accepts Jesus Christ qualifies to be saved. For the most part, Baptists encourage everyone to develop a personal faith and relationship with Christ based on the response they have to the gospel.
Worship Practices and Liturgy
Presbyterians use a liturgical and structured approach in their services. The service order is typically spelled out in their liturgical books and will generally have the same elements. These include a call to worship, hymns and psalms, reading of scripture, delivery of the sermon, prayer, and administering of sacraments.
Baptists do not have a structured liturgical approach. Their services reflect their stand on personal salvation and relationship with God, for instance, they encourage congregational participation in their worship service. The lack of a structured liturgical format means that Baptist services will vary from church to church but there are some common elements. These include praise and worship, prayer, scripture reading, delivery of the sermon, and the invitation.
Church Governance and Structure
Presbyterians have an organized hierarchical structure that begins in the local church with the session. A session is made up of elders who watch over the church. A level above the session is the presbytery which consists of ministers dn elders from churches in a given geographical location. The presbytery oversees the individual congregations in the region. At the top level is the general assembly which brings together ministers from all Presbyteries. The General Assembly meets occasionally to deliberate on important issues on doctrine, worship, and church policy.
Baptists believe in congregational autonomy which means that each of the individual churches is a self-governing entity. Local churches have the power to make decisions on thor worship practices, church affairs, and even doctrine. The leaders of a local church are elected by the congregation and each congregation also determines its budget. The leadership roles in the local church are typically filled with the deacons and elders. Local churches can also elect to be part of Baptist associations and conventions but that will not impact on their autonomy.
To wrap things up, the main difference between Baptists and Presbertaians is the sacrament of baptism. As the name suggests, Baptists are big on baptism and they believe that only adults can be baptized. Presbyterians also uphold the sacrament of baptism but they view it as a way of introducing someone to the faith and that is why they also baptize infants.