Numerous denominations identifying as “Presbyterian” comprise what may collectively be called the Presbyterian Church. Among the larger Protestant denominations found in the United States are the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Presbyterian Church in America, and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Although some differences in teaching and practice can be found between these different denominations, enough similarities exist that most of what applies to one applies to all. So is the Presbyterian Church from heaven, or of men?
The Presbyterian Doctrine…From Heaven, or of Men?
Presbyterian Churches adhere to the tenets of John Calvin, particularly as outlined in the Westminster Confession of Faith. As such, they affirm that every human being is born utterly depraved, incapable of taking any action toward salvation, or of even desiring salvation. But, they say, God has foreordained certain persons to salvation regardless of their actions or desires, and will directly force those persons to come to Him. This contradicts Biblical teachings that God will judge every human being based upon what he has done, not based upon some arbitrary whim of God (Rom. 2:6-11; 2 Cor. 5:10). God will not force anyone to come to Him, but anyone willing may come to Him (Matt. 11:28-30; Rev. 22:17).
And as far as the Presbyterian Church’s insistence on following man made creeds and upholding what they call their “confessional tradition”—any creed other than the Bible is not the Bible.
The Bible urges, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16). It is the doctrine—the New Testament teachings—to which men are exhorted to take heed. Presbyterian doctrine is other than the doctrine, it is of men rather than God, and it will save no one. As such, one should not give heed to the Presbyterian system of doctrine.
The Presbyterian Baptism…From Heaven, or of Men?
Presbyterian teachings on baptism are erratic. They claim that baptism is a “sacrament” by which adult Christians express their faithfulness, yet Presbyterian churches readily baptize infants. They teach that infant baptism express God’s choice of that infant, yet commonly explain at such events that infant baptism expresses the parents’ commitment to rear their child with a Christian upbringing. And with all these alternatives, none is biblical.
Baptism is not how a Christian expresses faithfulness. Baptism is how a sinner becomes a Christian. One repents and is baptized “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). One has done what is necessary to save himself only after he has been baptized (vv. 41-42).
Also, infants and young children are not Scriptural candidates for baptism. For one, they are innocent and undefiled by sin, even incapable of sin (Matt. 18:1-3; Rom. 7:9). Thus, the purpose of baptism, the remission of sins, does not apply to them. Also, infants are incapable of doing what must precede baptism. Consider the occasion when the Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” (Acts 8:36). Philip’s response was, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest” (v. 37). An infant is incapable of comprehending the truths of the Gospel, and thus incapable of believing with all his heart. So he may not be baptized.
Furthermore, the Presbyterian Church overwhelmingly teaches and practices sprinkling for baptism. Thus, their “baptism” is not truly baptism at all. The Biblical word translated baptize literally means “to plunge, dip, or immerse.” If a person has not been plunged, dipped, or immersed in water for the remission of his sins, he has not been Scripturally baptized (cf. Acts 8:38; Col. 2:12). The New Testament recognizes “one baptism” (Eph. 4:5), and Presbyterian baptism is not that.
The Presbyterian Origin…From Heaven, or of Men?
The Presbyterian Church was established in the 16th century by a Scot named John Knox. Knox studied with John Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland, and brought Calvin’s teachings back to his native Scotland. By 1560, Knox and his teachings had gained enough influence that the Scottish Parliament asked Knox to dictate a new official religion for the country. Knox wrote the Scots Confession along with five other men working under him. The Scottish Parliament adopted this as the official creed of the Church of Scotland and of the Scottish Kingdom. This was the beginning of the Presbyterian Church.
Over 1500 years before this, Jesus Christ promised, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). The church John Knox built is obviously not the church Jesus Christ built. And if it is not the church Jesus Christ built, then it is not the church He claims as His church.
The Presbyterian Worship…From Heaven, or of Men?
To their credit, the Presbyterian Church in its early centuries got much right pertaining to the worship. They understood that the church is not to observe special “holy days” other than the first day of every week (Gal. 4:9-11; Col. 2:16-17; Acts 20:7). They understood that mechanical instruments of music have no place in worship (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). They understood that what the Scriptures do not authorize in worship is forbidden (John 4:24; Col. 3:17). However, through the centuries the Presbyterian Church has reversed course in all these areas. The Presbyterian Church widely follows the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. Their use of instrumental music would greatly displease their spiritual father, John Calvin. Calvin correctly stated,
“Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists therefore, have foolishly borrowed, this, as well as many other things, from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostles is far more pleasing to him.”
Today’s Presbyterian Church violates New Testament teachings by regularly incorporating female leadership in the worship (cf. 1 Cor. 14:34; 1 Tim. 2:8, 11-12).
Even from the Presbyterian Church’s inception, one could find human innovations in the worship, such as the wearing of special clerical robes. And there can be little doubt that the Presbyterian worship today is not from heaven.
The Presbyterian Organization…From Heaven, or of Men?
Each Presbyterian congregation is governed by a group of elders, commonly referred to as a session. A group known as a presbytery then oversees all of the sessions of the congregations within an area. A General Assembly in turn oversees all the presbyteries of that particular Presbyterian denomination.
The only part of this organization that is Scriptural is having each congregation governed by a group of elders, and that governing only pertains to matters of expedience (Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:5). The New Testament knows nothing of any structure overseeing or controlling multiple congregations, much less any structure overseeing that structure. The New Testament teaches that each congregation is essentially autonomous, governed by the teachings of Scripture with Jesus Christ as its sole head (Col. 1:18).
Additionally, the clergy/laity separation seen in the Presbyterian Church is unscriptural. All Christians are priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6).
The Presbyterian Name…From Heaven, or of Men?
Presbyterian comes from presbuteros, the Greek word in the New Testament for “elder.” So the word is Scriptural. But search as one may, he will not read of anything called a “Presbyterian Church” in the Bible. One will read of “churches of God” (1 Cor. 1:2; 11:26). One will read of “churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16). One will read of “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27), “the kingdom of God’s dear Son” (Col. 1:13), and what Christ calls “My church” (Matt. 16:18). All these are different ways of referring to the same church. Yet they are all Scriptural, God-given, ways of referring to the same church. Referring to a church as the “Presbyterian Church” is neither Scriptural nor God-given, which is—in this case—fitting, since the Presbyterian Church is not the same church of which one reads in the New Testament. It is not from heaven, but of men.