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Presbyterianism  
 
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Presbyterianism, which sees itself as part of the "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church," came into being during the European Reformation movement of the sixteenth century and is regarded as a major branch of Protestant Christianity. There are approximately 75,000,000 Presbyterians world-wide, divided into numerous denominations, mainly in Scotland and other areas of the United Kingdom, North America, Mexico and other countries in Latin America, Kenya, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, and Vanuatu.

Attitudes toward homosexuality within Presbyterianism vary greatly from denomination to denomination, though there has recently been movement toward acceptance and inclusion by the largest and most influential church bodies of Presbyterianism.

Sponsor Message.

The name Presbyterian derives from a method of church government. Most Presbyterian denominations are governed by "presbyteries," or representative assemblies of elders selected by congregations, and by synods, which are regional governing bodies to which the presbyteries belong. In general, governing authority in Presbyterian churches resides in elected lay leaders (or presbyters), who work with the congregation's ordained minister, whom they choose according to guidelines issued by a denominational General Assembly.

The presbyterian form of government fosters a democratic spirit. Presbyterian belief is that God is the head of the Church. Hence, there is no equivalent in Presbyterianism to an authoritarian leader such as a Pope or Archbishop.

Much of the governance of Presbyterian denominations is centered in the presbyteries and synods, though in most denominations a General Assembly consisting of elected elders and ministers makes denominational policy. The position of Moderator of a General Assembly is honorific, and conveys little policy-making authority. The Moderator is considered the "first among equals" and performs largely ceremonial duties. Another elected officer in many denominations is that of "stated clerk," who serves as the presbytery's or assembly's executive secretary and parliamentarian.

While congregations, governed by councils called "sessions," enjoy some autonomy, Presbyterianism should not be confused with congregationalism, for the presbyteries and synods and assemblies establish a form of government that extends beyond the individual congregations.

The theology of Presbyterianism emphasizes the sovereignty of God, the authority of Scriptures as interpreted by reason, and the necessity of Grace through faith in Christ for salvation. The most influential thinkers in the development of Presbyterian theology are the sixteenth-century reformer John Calvin and his student, the Scotsman John Knox. Hence, most Presbyterian denominations may be described as Calvinist.

Presbyterianism is a "confessional religion," where individual confessions of faith are deemed very important, as opposed to the Roman Catholic tradition, where doctrine is determined by a hierarchical structure. Yet theology in Presbyterianism is not simply a matter of individual interpretation. While individuals are encouraged to study Scripture and even to challenge institutional interpretations, ultimately Presbyterian theology is a community understanding that is then expressed in confessions.

Different denominations within Presbyterianism have adopted different "Confessions of Faith." The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms of 1647, however, has been the most important confessional document historically, and most denominations adopt the Westminster Confession and add other statements of faith to it that may distinguish one denomination from another. For example, the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s Book of Confessions supplements the Westminster Confession with other documents, such as the Nicene Creed, the Apostles' Creed, the Reformed Confessions, and some twentieth-century documents.

Presbyterian denominations generally recognize only two sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper (or Holy Communion).

While most Presbyterian denominations permit some variance in theological interpretation, the order of worship and key doctrinal beliefs are usually enforced through required adherence to a Book of Order and Discipline. Moreover, Presbyterians have historically been both litigious and schismatic; disputes over matters of theology and discipline have regularly led to complex litigation and to splits and the proliferation of denominations.

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Rev. Jane Spahr has been an important proponent for glbtq inclusion in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
  
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