Canadian Presbyterians have a long history. We are:
- part of the Old Testament story of God’s covenant relationship with the world
- part of the 2,000 years of witness to Jesus Christ
- part of a distinctive Reformed and Presbyterian history
Presbyterians get their name from the Greek word “presbyteros” meaning “elder.” This word occurs many times in the New Testament and also in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. It refers to mature members of the community who are respected for their experience and faithfulness. The word may also designate a particular office of leadership. A Presbyterian church is one governed by elders. Today, Presbyterian churches in Canada are governed by elders who are elected by members of the congregation. Although elders are ordained for life, congregations may choose term service for elders.
Presbyterians also claim the names “Reformed,” and “Protestant.” Our denomination came out of the
Protestant Reformation, a major
religious movement that occurred in the early and middle years of the sixteenth century. At that point in history, the Christian Church had divided into two main branches – the Eastern Church (Greek and Russian Orthodox) and the Western Church (Roman Catholic). In the sixteenth century, church leaders began to protest the corruption of the Christian Church and seek its reform. They were called “Protestants” because they were bearing witness (Latin pro
: to bear witness) to what they regarded as New Testament Christianity.
The chief leaders in the reformation movement were Luther, Calvin, Knox, Zwingli and Cranmer. These leaders were intense, courageous, zealous, and assertive. They believed that people were put right in the sight of God by God’s grace alone. They said people received God’s grace by faith and not by anything that they had done. These Reformers believed that all people had access to God through prayer and the Bible. They believed that God’s forgiveness could be received directly without the intervention of a priest. The Reformers also claimed the “indwelling” of Christ in the believer and stressed the sovereignty of God. They will always be recognized for their hope and confidence in the power of a loving God and for recovering the concept of the “priesthood of all believers.”
Today Canadian Presbyterians consider themselves to be both “Reformed” and “reforming.”
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