Presbyterian Church

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The Presbyterian Church is a branch of Protestantism that traces its origins to Martin Luther, a German priest and scholar who posted a list of 95 grievances against the Roman Catholic Church on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral in 1517. Twenty years later, a French theologian living in Switzerland named John Calvin further refined this criticism into what became known as Reformed theology, which was brought to Scotland by John Knox, a Scotsman who studied with Calvin in Geneva, and then spread to England. This new theology, eventually codified in the Westminster Confession of Faith, emphasized literacy, education, and lifelong study and interpretation of the scriptures. It also advocated an ascending order of church governance beginning on the local level with the congregation, led by ministers and elders; they were ratified by the next level of governance called a presbytery (from the Greek for “elder”), which was a district court made up of representatives from individual churches. Presbyteries were governed by a synod. This system distinguished Presbyterianism from congregationalism, in which power lies with the local churches, and episcopacy, in which power lies with bishops. In 1640, a congregation in Southampton, Long Island, organized what is considered the oldest Presbyterian church in America. The eastern portion of Long Island, where Occom lived and was ordained, was largely Presbyterian and was culturally more a part of southern New England than New York, an important religious and kinship connection for both Indians and English. The Saybrook Platform, adopted by Connecticut Congregationalists in 1708, acknowledged Presbyterian polity in its creation of “consociations” of regional supervision, an influence that spread through central and western Massachusetts, and later New Hampshire, due to the trade and travel along the Connecticut River. The College of New Jersey (now Princeton), though non-denominational, was founded by a Presbyterian and disseminated those beliefs. In 1741, the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge sent the Presbyterian missionary Azariah Horton to eastern Long Island where he met with some success until Occom arrived, and Samuel Buell, the Presbyterian minister who presided over Occom’s ordination in 1759, led the church at East Hampton, the closest English church to the Montauketts. For teaching and missionary purposes, Occom used the standard Calvinist Presbyterian and Congregational catechism, dating back to 1647. He preached at many Presbyterian churches across New England throughout his career, and in 1791 reported that the new church in New Stockbridge, near Brothertown, which he helped found, “willingly and Cheerfully adopted The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church of the United States in America” (manuscript 791676).

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"Presbyterianism." www.oxfordreference.com/view10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100343526; Fisher, Linford. The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.