What Is Presbyterian Theology?

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  • Written By: A. Genes
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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Presbyterian theology derives from Protestantism and has its origins in the teachings of John Calvin. The main principle governing Presbyterian theology is that salvation comes by faith alone, not by venerating images and saints or praying for the dead. Some of the notable leaders of the Presbyterian Church were John Knox in Scotland and Ulrich Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger in Switzerland.

The term “Presbyterian” derives from presbyteros, which is the Greek word for “elder.” The organization of the Presbyterian Church is similar to that of the Protestant churches that adopted the ideas of the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland. Priests, who are democratically elected by local Christian communities from both men and women, administer the Presbyterian Church. They also are members of the councils of the Church, presbyteries, synods, the National Council and Supreme Council.

The theology of the Presbyterian Church accepts both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. Among the emphases of this type of theology are divine election, the sovereignty of God, the importance of sacraments and the perfect balance of piety and intellectual culture. Even if this theology is derived from Calvin’s teachings, it does not teach that God predestined some people to salvation and others to damnation. Presbyterians consider that although all human beings deserve punishment for their sinful nature, God decided to choose a number for salvation and let the others follow their own path.


Only two sacraments instituted by Jesus are accepted in Presbyterian theology: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Presbyterians believe that baptism is a sacrament instituted by Jesus, in which a person who enters the church is given a new birth and forgiveness of sins. Baptism is made in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and can be done only once in a lifetime. Water is used as the external element of baptism, but immersion is not necessary. The Lord’s Supper commemorates the sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross, and the external elements — bread and wine — symbolize the body and blood of Jesus, respectively.

In Presbyterian theology, the Bible is the means by which Christians learn about the presence of God in all aspects of human life, from the beginnings of time until present days. Presbyterians believe that God’s eternal goodness and constant love for his creation can be understood by studying the Bible. The Old Testament and the New Testament are both used by Presbyterians.

Presbyterian colleges exist in all countries where this church is present. Many of them offer children a traditional education according to the moral principles of Presbyterianism. For people who are interested in getting a theology degree, Presbyterian colleges offer courses related to Presbyterian theology, mission work and pastoral counseling.


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