The Presbyterian Church holds a place of respect in modern society, and it has succeeded in attracting a number of intelligent and illustrious adherents to its ranks. There are, however, several serious flaws in the structure of this denomination. And these weaknesses should be duly considered before anyone should think of becoming affiliated with it.
The Presbyterian system is defective in three areas: in theology, in polity, and in history.
a. Presbyterianism is the perpetrator of Calvinism, that is, the doctrine that God arbitrarily condemns certain persons to hell - even prior to their birth! This is the most hateful doctrine in religion. The enormity of this blasphemy, this sacrilege, this slander, this defamation of the good name of the Creator is horrendous. Attendant beliefs to this are the equally horrible ideas of: the capricious nature of Deity, God’s deterministic control of each individual’s actions and thoughts (“puppetry”), the inexoribility of fate (“fatalism”), the total lack of inherent human spirituality (“depravity”), and the ineffectivity of evangelical preaching to those not predestined to believe (“anti-missions”).
Note: The Bible is not consistent in its treatment of free will versus predestination. This is the reason for so much debate over this question, both sides finding scriptural support for their positions. The best way to resolve this dispute is to apply the principle of “theodicy,” that is, to reject any doctrine that would take away from the righteousness of God. This means that Paul, defending his old Pharisaic notions of fatalism in the ninth chapter of Romans, was wrong (just as he was wrong with his advice, “It is best not to marry”). In fact, the entire system of Calvinistic determinism falls to pieces in the light of John 3:16, which says that “whosoever” decides to accept Christ will be saved, not just the predestined.
b. Presbyterianism promotes creedalism. Not only does it require allegiance to man-made declarations about matters of faith, it even leads the way into bibliolatry (Bible-worship) by setting the article on “the Bible” before the article on “God” in its confession of faith. The Presbyterian school of theology at Princeton University is chiefly responsible for creating the issue of biblical “inerrancy” that has divided Christendom into warring camps. It is because of the legacy of Calvin’s severe theology that the Presbyterians have been the supreme proponents of hair-splitting, nit picking, dogmatic, closed-minded, rigorist, Fundamentalist religion. To the extent that other denominations have been afflicted with Calvinistic rigorism, the same degree of backwardness has invaded their systems as well.
c. Presbyterianism retains the taint of old Catholic sacramentalism in its teaching that infants can be saved by being ceremonially washed (sprinkled) by an ecclesiastical official. To sprinkle a baby and call that “salvation” is a great detriment to the actual experience of salvation in any person’s life.
a. Presbyterianism is, strictly speaking, a form of church government - as opposed to other forms such as congregationalism (democratic) or episcopal (hierarchical). In the Greek language, presbuteros means “elder,” and it has been contracted by the hierarchical churches to make the artificial word “priest.” Since it was formed in Geneva, Calvin’s Church placed its government in the hands of councils like those that ruled over the Swiss cities in that day. Presbyterianism promotes a double standard of membership by exalting an elite body of governing “elders” over the membership. Allowing some Christians to have lordship over other Christians compromises the Lordship of Christ, demeans human dignity, and runs counter to the enlightened principles of democratic government. Every church member should have the say in how his church is run - in open business meetings and with equal voice. The “church” is the people.
b. The term “The Presbyterian Church” connotes a centralized government of higher governing bodies that dictate decisions to local churches, thus compromising the rights of self-government of autonomous congregations.
a. Presbyterianism is one segment of the Reform Church movement that was inaugurated in Switzerland by Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, and Theodore Beza, and in Scotland by John Knox. When the group came into power in any location, it suppressed all dissent and imposed harsh laws on the citizenry.
b. The first death penalty meted out by one Protestant upon another was when the Reformed Church in Zurich drowned the Anabaptist preacher Felix Manz in 1527.
c. Another Anabaptist, Michael Servetus, was burned at the stake in Geneva in 1553. Calvin directed this execution with these heartless words: “We have sharpened the sword that they (the civil authorities) may accomplish their blood work.”
d. Robert Browne, an early dissenter from the Church of England, was imprisoned prior to 1585 in Scotland for criticizing Presbyterian discipline.
e. Presbyterianism is responsible for the failure of England to become a republic. During the period when the monarchy was abolished (1649-1660), the Presbyterians controlled Parliament. Their government proved to be so repressive, radical, and strife-ridden, that the English people welcomed the return to monarchy. During this period, when Oliver Cromwell was trying to establish a stable government in England, the Scotch Presbyterians invaded the land in order to force the adoption of their system of church-state government. Cromwell was forced to defeat this invasion, and this demonstrated to all citizens that the Parliamentary cause was severely divided. In modern times, the Ku Klux Klan is modeled after Presbyterian Covenanters, who burned crosses in the highlands and signed covenants in blood.
f. The Presbyterian Parliament adopted new articles of faith, the Westminster Confession, and attempted to force them upon all English citizens. Such coercive tactics were used that the anti-episcopal champion, John Milton condemned the new overlords with the words “New Presbyter is Old Priest writ Large.” Milton was saying that the new Presbyterian Church was just as oppressive as the previous Episcopal Church establishment had been.
g. The Westminster Confession was the first document in Christendom to give priority belief to the Bible before a belief in God. This was the first step toward bibliolatry and Fundamentalism. The official status of this document in England caused other groups, like the Baptists, to follow suit and format their articles of belief in the same misguided way. Now Fundamentalists shout, “Believe the Bible,” when they should be preaching belief in Christ.
h. Presbyterian radicalism was epitomized in the satirical poem “Hudibras,” which made them the laughingstock of England, and which gave ammunition to those who were loyal to the monarchy.
i. Abhorrence of the doctrine of predestination became one of the reasons for the formation of new cult groups in America: the Mormons and the Campbellites. Also, this doctrine was the cause of the anti-missionary movement among Baptists, which curtailed the spread of Christianity.
j. When Calvinists settled in America they brought with them a characteristic Old Testament disposition. They thought of themselves as old-time Israelites under a stern Deity, and they chose to name their children and their towns after old Hebrew heroes and places. This bias toward primitive Jewish ways kept them from catching the true spirit of New Testament freedom and love.
Summary: Those beliefs and practices that are most offensive are:
1. Predestination (making God the Evil Arbiter of Human Destiny).
2. Total Depravity (negating Human Dignity and Man’s Free Will).
3. Baptism of Babies (a magical ceremony bringing salvation).
4. Sacramental Ceremonies (having magical, saving powers).
5. Undemocratic Rule of Elders.
6. Creedalism (man-made mandatory doctrines).
7. Fundamentalism (being the Brainchild of Presbyterianism).
In the history of the Christian Church, Puritanism and Calvinism have often gone hand in hand. Today both of these philosophies are largely discredited, because they were too harsh, too inflexible, and too cold-blooded to meet the religious standards of normal human beings. Both Puritanism and Calvinism have dark histories of repression and outright persecution that do not invite either admiration or emulation, and they are attracting fewer and fewer aderents as time goes on.
Richard L. Atkins
THE DOCTRINE OF PREDESTINATION AS DEFINED IN
THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH, 1643
Chapter III. Of God’s Eternal Decree
3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.
4. These angels and men, thus predestined and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
5. Those of mankind that are predestined unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.
7. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.
Chapter X. Of Effectual Calling
1. All those whom God hath predestined unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ...
3. Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when and where, and how he pleaseth.
Chapter XI. Of Justification
4. God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect...
POETIC RIDICULE OF PRESBYTERIANISM
John Milton, the famous author of “Paradise Lost,” was a Puritan sympathizer from his youth. He used his pen in a mighty way to further the cause of the Puritan Independents, and at the conclusion of the English Civil War he was given a post in the government of the English Commonwealth. The following excerpt is taken from his poem “On the New Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament” (1646):
“When they shall read this clearly in your charge
New Presbyter is but Old Priest writ Large.”
These lines were written in protest of the attempt by Presbyterian leaders in Parliament to suppress all other denominations besides their own. He likens this action to that of the former Episcopalian leaders.
Samuel Butler wrote a lengthy satirical poem called “Hudibras” in 1663 to voice his contempt for Presbyterian leaders. King Charles II constantly quoted from the poem and rewarded its author with a gift of £300. Based loosely on the adventures of Don Quixote, the poem tells of Sir Hudibras, a Presbyterian justice of the Commonwealth, setting out on a quest attended by his squire Ralpho. Their adventures are mostly mishaps as they set about trying to reform English society by suppressing everything pleasurable in a Puritanical fashion. The name of the hero is derived from Spenser’s “Faerie Queen:”
“He that made love unto the eldest dame
Was height Sir Hudibras, an hardy man;
Yet not so good of deeds as great of name,
Which he by many rash adventures wan.
The following is an excerpt from “Hudibras,” starting at line 189:
“For his religion was fit
To match his learning and his wit;
‘Twas Presbyterianism true blue;
For he was of that stubborn crew
Of errant saints whom all men grant “Knight errant:”
To be the true church militant; vagabond adventurer.
Such as do build their faith upon
The holy text of pike and gun; Like John Brown at
Decide all controversies by Harper’s Ferry
Infallible artillery; “Artillary:” ready to kill
And prove their doctrine orthodox, over matters of faith,
By apostolic blows and knocks; using the “infallible”
Call fire and sword, and desolation, Bible or gun.
A godly, thorough reformation, “Desolation:” Fundamen-
Which always must be carried on, talists destroy people
And still be doing, never done; and institutions.
As if religion were intended “Never done:” religious
For nothing else but to be mended; nit-pickers.
A sect whose chief devotion lies
In odd perverse antipathies; “Antipathies:” foolish
A falling out with that or this, rules like considering it
And finding somewhat still amiss.” sinful to eat mince pies
A GLOSSARY OF CALVINISTIC TERMS
Sovereignty: God has the right to do as He pleases, and nobody has the right to criticize Him (Rom. 9:18-20).
Divine Hatred: God hates some people even before they are born (Rom. 9:13).
Election: God’s Decision to Save: the predestination of a chosen few to salvation.
Preterition or Reprobation: God’s Decision not to Save, predestination of the unelect to damnation.
Depravity: The sinner is entirely without spiritual merit or the capacity to do good; every good thought or act is entirely the doing of the Holy Spirit.
Salvation: The powerful act of God to change a sinner to a saint.
Sacrament: The magical ceremony that provides salvation or divine merit.
Grace: The free gift of salvation to the Elect.
Life Plan: God controls everything; every act in a person’s life is preordained: the times of his birth and death, who he will marry, his occupation, what sins he will commit, and the exact time of his salvation - if God has elected him to receive saving grace. This doctrine makes a man into a puppet and makes God responsible for both his good and evil deeds.
The “TULIP” Acrostic: the five points of Calvinism:
Total Depravity: No spark of divinity in the human soul.
Unconditional Election: Predestination of a select few.
Limited Atonement: Salvation of a particular group of persons.
Irresistible Calling: Inability to resist the Holy Spirit.
Perseverence of the Saints: Not possible to fall from grace.
Marks of the True Church (“Notes of the True Kirk” in the 1560 Scots Confession):
1. The True Preaching of the Word of God.
2. The Right Administration of the Sacraments of Christ.
3. Ecclesiastical Discipline uprightly administered.
PRESBYTERIANISM COST ENGLAND ITS REPUBLIC
During the time when Oliver Cromwell was at the Head of England’s Government, Presbyterians were the majority party in the Parliaments of both England and Scotland. This sect was bent on forcing its Articles of Faith, the Westminster Confession, upon all English citizens. Thus it turned out that the powerful, calvinistic Presbyterians were just as oppressive to freedom of religion as the episcopal Anglicans had been. This prompted John Milton to denounce the new overlords with these words: “New Presbyter is Old Priest writ Large.” When Cromwell died, the English people decided to restore the Monarchy and the established Church of England rather than retain a Presbyterian-controlled Republic.