The labels “Calvinist” or “Puritan” are often used as pejorative terms in today’s political rhetoric. For many Presbyterians, however, such descriptors are a point of pride.
This is because, unlike many branches of the Christian religion, the Presbyterian denomination of Christianity has certainly changed a bit with the times – but it has also continued to respect its long history, both within the United States and before the United States even came into being. Based primarily on the writings and theology of John Calvin, who took the theology of Martin Luther and further developed it during the 16th century, Presbyterianism is quite literally Calvinism, and also has strong ideological ties to the Puritans of both England and the early English colonies in North America.
Calvin began to teach his brand of Protestantism in the 1530s. A student of Calvin’s, John Knox, took Calvinism to Scotland shortly thereafter. Also known as Reformed theology, Calvinism caught hold in England as well, where it influenced both the development of the Church of England and the Puritans led by Oliver Cromwell in the English Civil War (1642-1651). Reformed theology was then brought to North America by settlers from England and Scotland; in 1706, the first Presbytery in America was formed in Philadelphia.
As one might guess, the Presbyterian denomination’s name stems from the word presbytery, the term used for a major form of organization within the denomination. Congregations elect elders of the church, some of whom form a presbytery, or governing body. While Calvin elaborated on Martin Luther’s original Protestant Reformation theology, one of his most lasting contributions to religion today is the system of organization currently used by the Presbyterian church.
While all Presbyterians share Calvin’s Reformed theology and his system of church organization, there are many branches of Presbyterianism active in the United States. The largest, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) , espouses some points of doctrine disputed by the others. Many of those others are more conservative, and split from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) because of dissatisfactions with updates being made to the Presbyterian denomination as a whole.
The main thing to remember, when considering a Presbyterian church, is that not all are alike, even in fundamentals. While much of the history and organization of the church continues to influence all branches of the denomination, Santa Barbara offers a variety of Presbyterian houses of worship, each of which with its own unique feel and philosophy.
Christ Presbyterian, 36 E. Victoria St., Santa Barbara. Call 957-4200 or visit cpcsb.org.
El Camino Orthodox Presbyterian, 7528 Calle Real, Santa Barbara. Call 968-0113 or visit opc.org.
El Montecito Presbyterian, 1455 East Valley Rd., Santa Barbara. Call 969-5041 or visit elmopres.org.
First Presbyterian, 21 E. Constance Ave., Santa Barbara. Call 687-0754 or visit fpcsb.org.
Goleta Presbyterian, 6067 Shirrell Way, Goleta. Call 967-2131 or visit goletapres.org.
St. Andrews Presbyterian, 4575 Auhay Dr., Santa Barbara. Call 967-6327 or visit standrewspcusa.org.
Summerland Presbyterian, 2400 Lillie Ave., Summerland. Call 969-9318 or visit summerlandchurch.org.