60 Jurist 3 (2000)
Church Law in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

handle is hein.journals/juristcu60 and id is 5 raw text is: THE JURIST 60 (2000) 3-24

CHURCH LAW IN THE
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (U.S.A.)
JAMES E. ANDREWS*
Sources of American Presbyterianism
English colonists who had dissented from the established religion in
their homeland were among the earliest settlers along the Atlantic
seaboard, especially in New England and later in New York. Calvinist
theological ideas common to the Reformed family of churches were
strong within the congregations they founded, and the Congregationalism
they developed included many features also shared by the Presbyterian
branch of the Reformed family of churches. As increasing numbers of
Presbyterian immigrants from Scotland and Northern Ireland began to
settle in the middle colonies early in the eighteenth century, there were
hopes that a single Reformed Church would develop, shaped by the Re-
formed theology of Calvinism.
But the two groups remained separate ecclesial bodies. While both
shared many religious concepts and were often allies in religious and po-
litical movements, they were kept apart by major differences in their
views of the nature of the Church. New England Congregationalists in-
sisted that . . the Church of Christ on earth existed only in its individ-
ual congregations. The Church Universal was but the totality of these
congregations. Presbyterians, predominantly Scotch-Irish, believed
with equal fervor that . . the Church Universal transcended all of its
many local manifestations, being an entity greater even than the sum of
its parts.' Different views of church membership and ministry grew out
of the basic conflict in ecclesiology.
With the issue of church government continually on the table, these
freshly transplanted religious bodies struggled to define such things as
ministerial status, the locus of authority to ordain clergy and organize
churches, and developing disciplinary process. The source of church law
for Presbyterians was the work of the Westminster Assembly of Divines,
which met from 1643 to 1649 by appointment of the English Parliament.
* Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA. Former Stated Clerk of the Presby-
terian Church (USA).
1 Leonard J. Trinterud, The Forming of American Tradition (Philadelphia: Westmin-
ster Press, 1944) 16.

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