Presbyterians trace their history to the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation. Our heritage, and much of what we believe, began with the French lawyer and theologian, John Calvin (1509-1564), whose writings crystallized much of the Reformed thought.
Calvin did much of his writing from Geneva, Switzerland. From there, the Reformed movement spread to other parts of Europe and the British Isles. Many of the early Presbyterians in America came from England, Scotland and Ireland. The first American Presbytery was organized at Philadelphia in 1706. The first General Assembly was held in the same city in 1789. The first Assembly was convened by the Rev. John Witherspoon, the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Presbyterian theological beliefs
Some of the principles articulated by John Calvin remain at the core of Presbyterian beliefs. These central tenets are the sovereignty of God, the authority of the scripture, justification by grace through faith and the priesthood of all believers. What they mean is that God is the supreme authority throughout the universe. The Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testaments are the ultimate source of our knowledge about God and His purpose for humanity as well as the Church's authority in all matters of faith and practice. Our salvation (justification) through Jesus Christ is God’s generous gift to us and not the result of our own accomplishments. It is everyone’s job – ministers and lay people alike – to share this Good News with the whole world. That is also why the Presbyterian church is governed at all levels by a combination of clergy and laity, men and women alike. As Christians we are to be transformed through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. Then we are to venture out of the safe confines of our church building and seek to bring God's light and love into a hurting and sometimes hostile world.