From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Presbyterianism refers to a number of different Christian churches adhering to the Calvinist theological tradition within Protestantism, and organized according to a characteristic Presbyterian polity. Presbyterian theology typically emphasizes the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Bible and the necessity of grace through faith in Christ.
Presbyterianism evolved primarily in Scotland before the Act of Union in 1707. Most of the few Presbyteries found in England can trace a Scottish connection. Although some adherents hold to the theology of Calvin and his immediate successors, there are a range of theological views within contemporary Presbyterianism.
Modern Presbyterianism traces its institutional roots back to the Scottish Reformation. Local congregations are governed by Sessions made up of representatives of the congregation, a conciliar approach which is found at other levels of decision-making (Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly). Theoretically, there are no bishops in Presbyterianism; however, some groups in Eastern Europe, and in ecumenical groups, do have bishops. The office of elder is another distinctive mark of Presbyterianism: these are specially commissioned non-clergy who take part in local pastoral care and decision-making at all levels.
The roots of Presbyterianism lie in the European Reformation of the 16th century, with the example of John Calvin's Geneva being particularly influential. Most Reformed churches who trace their history back to Scotland are either Presbyterian or Congregationalist in government.
In the twentieth century, some Presbyterians have played an important role in the Ecumenical Movement, including the World Council of Churches. Many Presbyterian denominations have found ways of working together with other Reformed denominations and Christians of other traditions, especially in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. Some Presbyterian churches have entered into unions with other churches, such as Congregationalists, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists.