The history of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church begins with the Protestant Reformation in Europe. More specifically, the branch of the Reformation under the leadership of John Calvin in Geneva stressed several key doctrines which became the hallmarks of Reformed Theology.
- The Sovereignty of God
- Man's inability to save himself
- The Bible as the supreme authority for faith and practice
- Salvation by grace through faith
Meanwhile, in Scotland, a young man named John Knox came to faith and became involved in the Protestant movement. In a conflict between England and France, Knox was captured and made a galley slave in a French ship. He managed to escape and made his way to Geneva, where he met and studied under Calvin.
John Knox returned to Scotland, bringing the teachings of John Calvin with him. Out of a tumultuous period of conflict between Catholic and Protestant, King and Parliament, England and Scotland, arose the Presbyterian form of church government. Presbyteros is the Greek word for elder. In Presbyterian church government locally elected elders form a church session, the sessions in a region form a presbytery, and the presbyteries form a General Assembly.
In 1643, the English parliament summoned a group of church leaders to draw up a theological summary of faith. 1647 saw the publication of The Westminster Confession of Faith and a Larger and Shorter Catechism. A modern edition of these documents has been adopted by the Evangelical Presbyterian Church as a statement of belief.
Presbyterianism in America
Presbyterian immigrants have played an important role in shaping the church and the civil government in America. John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister and president of Princeton University, was the only clergyman who signed the Declaration of Independence, and Presbyterians were generally strong supporters of the American Revolution. Some commentators see the Presbyterian form of government, with its limits on authority and separation of powers, as playing a formative role in the development of American democracy.
The history of Presbyterian denominations in the U.S. is long and, frankly, convoluted. Disputes over slavery, theological conformity, qualifications for ordination, modernism, revivalism, and other issues gave rise to a variety of denominations which differ in theology and style of worship.
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church
The EPC is a recent arrival on the scene. In the early 1980's, as two major Presbyterian churches moved toward uniting as the Presbyterian Church, USA, a small but growing group of pastors began to meet to discuss the formation of a new Evangelical Presbyterian Church. As Evangelicals, these leaders were uncomfortable with the theological liberalism being expressed by church leaders. On the other hand, their theological differences with existing conservative Presbyterian groups effectively prevented them from joining those denominations.
In 1981, a new church was formed, taking the historic Westminster Confession of Faith as its statement of belief. Today, the EPC has over 70,000 active members in some 180 congregations.
You can visit the Evangelical Presbyterian Church website at www.epc.org.