What is a Presbyterian?
Presbyterians are part of the Christian family who trace their roots back to John Calvin. Calvin was a Frenchman who lived in Geneva, Switzerland in the mid-1500's and he started what is called the Reformed Movement. One of Calvin's students was a Scotsman named John Knox and he started the Presbyterian Church in Scotland.
Presbyterians are similar to other Christians (especially Protestants) in our basic beliefs (see What We Believe). What makes Presbyterians distinctive in the Christian family is the way we govern ourselves. There are basically three styles of church government: episcopal where bishops have ultimate authority; congregational where members of a congregation have ultimate authority; and presbyterian where elders have ultimate authority. So to be Presbyterian is to be governed by elders. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)--our denomination--has two kinds of elder: teaching elders (also known as ministers or pastors) and ruling elders (lay people who have a special responsibility to govern the church). When Presbyterians gather for meetings, both teaching elders and ruling elders vote in equal numbers.
Presbyterians have a strong tradition of missionary work, both to improve every day living conditions (by building schools and hospitals and helping with economic development) and to evangelize (by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ). This work is carried out in the United States and around the world.
There is no one way that Presbyterians worship--Presbyterians worship in many different languages and in many different styles. What is consistent in all Presbyterian worship is that our praise is always directed to God and the Bible is at the center of our worship.