What’s a Protestant?
After its first 1500 years, the Christian church had somehow lost its focus on the good news of Jesus. The leaders of the church started teaching ideas that simply aren’t in the Bible, and they seemed to focus most on accumulating wealth and power for the church in general, and for themselves in particular. All over Europe, people who were still faithful to the Bible started speaking up about the mistakes that the church was making. At that time, the official language of the church was Latin, so those outspoken people came to be called protestantes — people who “publicly bear witness to the truth.” Five hundred years later, we still use the word Protestant to describe churches that base all of their beliefs and practices on the Bible.
All Protestants have the same basic beliefs. We all believe that God is the ruler of the whole universe. We all believe that God has given us the Bible as our final authority on what we should believe and what we should do. And we all believe that the only way to reconnect with God after we’ve disobeyed him is to accept that restoration as a free gift from Jesus. But as different Protestant groups developed, there were some relatively minor differences that emerged. Some of the differences are in how churches are organized. For example, some Protestant groups have strong central authorities, while others let local congregations make all of their own decisions. Among various Protestant groups, there are also some differences in points of doctrine. For example, some Protestants would say that we’ve been reunited with God only because he’s reached out to us individually, while others would say that we’ve been reunited with God because we decided to reach out to him. At North Church, we’re quick to defend the basic beliefs that all Protestants hold in common. But while we do favor our own little distinctives, we refuse to fight over them.
What’s a Presbyterian?
In the mid 1500s, one of the most well known Protestant leaders in Europe was a man named John Calvin who lived in Geneva, Switzerland. Calvin understood that Jesus himself is the only head of the church, and Calvin noticed that in Bible stories about the early church, each congregation chose some people to be “elders” who were assigned the job of keeping the church faithful to the instructions that God has given us in the Bible. That practice of choosing elders is called the Presbyterian form of church organization, from the Greek word presbyteros, which simply means “elder.”
By 1560, a man named John Knox had traveled from Scotland to Switzerland to study under Calvin, and when he went home, he took the Presbyterian form of church organization with him. A hundred years later, when people from the British Isles started coming to the New World, the Presbyterian Church spread to America also. In the United States today, there’s nothing particularly Scottish about most Presbyterian churches. People of every race and national origin worship together as Presbyterians.
Where Does NorthChurch Fit In?
Within the Presbyterian tradition, there are quite a few different subdivisions, each one a little bit different. At North Church, we’re part of the biggest Presbyterian group in America — the one that’s known as the Presbyterian Church (USA). That group includes 11,000 congregations that are spread through all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Click here to read more about the Presbyterian Church (USA).
The Presbyterian Church (USA) sometimes deals with controversial issues in its national meetings, and one issue in particular keeps coming up: What should be the requirements for moral purity among our leaders? Naturally, that moral issue is the one that’s most likely to be written up in newspapers, usually in badly distorted reports. Frankly, we at NorthChurch haven’t always agreed with the decisions that have been made at the national level, but it’s important to understand that although the Presbyterian Church (USA) has eliminated some of its requirements for leaders, it hasn’t tried to force local congregations to change their own standards. So at NorthChurch, while we think these issues are serious, we don’t think we need to break fellowship with the denomination over them.