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Pelagius choked on the notion that a divine gift (grace) is essential to produce what God commands. He reasoned that if man has the moral responsibility to obey the law of God, then he must also have the moral capacity to perform it.

The New Testament Period

Presbyterian - The New Testament does not set up denominations. It establishes a body of faith, with some detail on practical matters (such as church government and the sacraments).

The Early Church

The greatest early intellect and champion of Biblical theology was Aurelius Augustine (354-430) bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Augustine battled and bested the heretic Pelagius - a British monk who denied the depravity of man and the great doctrines of grace. Pelagius taught that the human will is free to do good or evil, and that divine grace only facilitates what the will can do of itself.

Pelagius choked on the notion that a divine gift (grace) is essential to produce what God commands. He reasoned that if man has the moral responsibility to obey the law of God, then he must also have the moral capacity to perform it.

Augustine did not dispute that man has a will and is capable of making choices or that he has the moral responsibility to obey God. But he did argue that fallen humanity’s “will” has lost its moral liberty. Original sin, (inherited from Adam) puts us in the miserable situation of being unable to keep from sinning. We still choose what we want, but our “want” is straight jacketed by our evil nature. Augustine contended that mankind’s “free will” always leads to sin. It is an empty “freedom” because it is morally shackled. Authentic moral freedom comes from an outside work of God, totally dependent upon His grace.

The early church branded Pelagianism as heresy. "Several church councils condemned the Pelagians, and the Council of Orange (529) condemned the Semi-Pelagians as well. In spite of those actions, the later Roman Catholic Church did not follow Augustine in all points on grace, the will of man, and predestination. From the thirteenth century, Roman Catholics followed Thomas Aquinas, who modified the Augustinian position.”

To a large degree, Augustinianism is the theological system of Presbyterianism.

The Reformation

It might surprise you to know that the next name that surfaces in the study of Presbyterianism is a Lutheran, not a Presbyterian--the famed Martin Luther. Responding to a book written by Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) called "Diatribe on Free-Will"; Luther countered with "The Bondage of the Will". Erasmus' work was a defense of Pelagius and free will; Luther's work was a defense of Augustine and predestination. “Luther affirmed that man cannot will to turn to God or play any part in the process leading to his own salvation.”

After the death of Luther and under the influence of Philip Melanchthon, Lutheranism soon rejected the Augustinian theology of Luther and moved away from its “Reformed” origins, eventually into full-blown Arminianism.

At this point, another somewhat younger man took up the cause. John Calvin (1509-1564) is considered by many to be the greatest systematic theologian since Augustine. Following in the footsteps of Augustine and Luther, Calvin systematized the theology of the Scriptures and of the Reformation. Many within the Reformation church took their direction from him, referring to themselves as “Calvinists.” But because of the general agreement of the Reformation church on theology, this term has often been considered too narrow, and most prefer the term “Reformed.”

In Scotland

The next giant that strides across our path is the noted Scotsman, John Knox (1514-1572). During the turmoil of the early years of the Reformation in Scotland, Knox was forced to flee his homeland. Making his way to Geneva, he came under the tutelage of John Calvin, where he learned the nuances of Reformed theology. In time, Knox returned to Scotland taking with him a firm commitment to the Reformed faith.

The political scene in Scotland was considerably different than on the continent. The continental churches of the Reformation, like the Roman Church, developed into state churches. Approved and financed by the state, the church was a type of Department of Religion, continuing the 1200 year European tradition. But in Scotland, the political climate fostered a clash between the Reformation church and the state.

The Roman Church, and after it the Episcopal (Anglican) Church, held the reigns of government in Scotland. The Scottish people refused to embrace either the Roman or Episcopal (Anglican) church, preferring the church of the Reformation. But “Reformed” pertained more to theology than to polity (church government). This development created a crucial distinction of Presbyterianism -- a church government that did not require the approval or support of the state. The Presbyterians of Scotland often worked closely with the state, but only when the state did not attempt to manage the affairs of the church. Presbyterians stoutly defended their right to exist apart from the state, and at times resisted government that proved to be antagonistic.

In England

The personal whims of King Henry VIII (1509-1547) and his obsession for a male heir fanned the flames of Reformation in England. Furious with Rome for denying his divorce from Catherine, he declared himself head of England’s Church, persuaded Parliament to abolish payments to Rome, insisted on the right to appoint bishops without interference from the Vatican and shut down the monasteries. Yet he refused the doctrines of grace preached by Luther and Calvin, and pronounced as heretics all who dissented from Roman Catholic doctrine. Still, Henry’s defiance broke the vice-like grip Rome once held on Britain.

Under Henry’s son Edward, (1547-1553) Protestantism gained ground in England, with Reformed-minded people forming a significant element within the Church of England. Holding prominent positions in schools and churches, they were able to achieve some real doctrinal reform. These Calvinist/Presbyterians formed the core of the first “Puritans” who wanted less pageantry and ritual and more spiritual discipline in the church. Just when it seemed Calvinism would conquer England, the sixteen-year-old king died of tuberculosis.

Upon Edward’s death, his half-sister Mary (1553-1558) ascended the throne. A Roman Catholic zealot, she hoped to restore Rome’s dominance over England. Deposing hundreds of Protestant ministers, she jailed leading Puritans, condemning 286 courageous clergymen to be burned at the stake. Hundreds of oppressed believers fled to the continent.

Elizabeth (1558-1603) came to the throne when her sister Mary died. She greatly preferred the pomp and pageantry of Anglican ritual, but desperately needed the sympathies and support of the Puritan/Calvinists to hold her throne against the Catholic nations of Europe. She encouraged Calvinists to return to England from their asylum in Geneva, but stubbornly resisted their disciplined theology, engaging in substantial conflict with them once they gained a majority in the House of Commons. Because of their influence, Parliament recognized the right of the Presbyterian element to ordain elders, allowing them to ignore the “smells and bells” of high liturgy. As a result, the Presbyterian community remained within the Anglican Church until 1660.

King James VI of Scotland ascended the throne upon Elizabeth’s death - reigning as James I in England (1603-1625). Despite the fact that he was from Presbyterian Scotland, James was no friend to freedom-loving Presbyterians. Claiming the Divine Right of Kings, he assumed headship over both church and state after the death of Elizabeth. During his reign, Puritan ministers were removed from their pulpits and imprisoned. Many migrated to America. Others engaged in pamphleteering, setting forth powerful and persuasive arguments for religious toleration. Through their preaching they sowed the seeds of revolution, eventually resulting in the English Civil Wars (1639-1650).

Presbyterian Doctrine

The New Testament Period

Presbyterian - The New Testament does not set up denominations. It establishes a body of faith, with some detail on practical matters (such as church government and the sacraments).

The Early Church

The greatest early intellect and champion of Biblical theology was Aurelius Augustine (354-430) bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Augustine battled and bested the heretic Pelagius - a British monk who denied the depravity of man and the great doctrines of grace. Pelagius taught that the human will is free to do good or evil, and that divine grace only facilitates what the will can do of itself.

Church History - Pt 1

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