We are part of a Reformed Movement

Presbyterians also claim the names “Reformed” and “Protestant.” Our denomination came out of the Protestant Reformation, a major religious movement that occurred in the early and middle years of the 16th century. At that point in history, the Christian church had divided into two main branches – the Eastern church (Greek and Russian Orthodox) and the Western church (Roman Catholic). In the 16th century, church leaders began to protest the corruption of the Christian church and to seek its reform. They were called Protestants because they were bearing witness(in Latin, pro plus testare: to bear witness) to what they regarded as New Testament Christianity.

The chief leaders in the Reformation movement were Luther, Calvin, Knox, Zwingli and Cranmer. These leaders were intense, courageous, zealous and assertive. They believed that people were put right in the sight of God by God’s grace alone. They said people received God’s grace by faith and not by anything that they had done. These Reformers believed that all people had access to God through prayer and the Bible (use of the vernacular). They also believed that God’s forgiveness could be received directly, without the intervention of a priest. The Reformers claimed the indwelling of Christ in the believer and stressed the sovereignty of God. They will always be recognized for their hope and confidence in the power of a loving God and for recovering the priesthood of all believers.

Two important Reformers

Many Presbyterian churches in Canada are named after Reformers, particularly John Calvin (a Frenchman) and John Knox (a Scot who was influenced by Calvin’s teachings).

John Calvin

John Knox

John Calvin (1509–1564) has often been called the “father of Presbyterianism.” Calvin lived in Geneva, Switzerland. From there, Presbyterianism spread throughout Europe. Calvin, like other Reformers, worked hard to develop a church where everyone, not just the clergy, shared responsibilities. Schools were established to provide education for both clergy and laity.

John Knox (1515–1572), after studying with Calvin in Geneva, returned to his native Scotland to establish Presbyterianism. It soon spread to northern Ireland, the United States and Canada.

When we use the word Reformed we must do it with care. It doesn’t mean something new, necessarily, but refers to going back, a turning or even a repentance. The key motto for the Reformed church is simper reformatis. Reformed and reforming. We are called to constantly be returning to our roots in Jesus and the Bible, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

We are Canadian Presbyterians

The roots of The Presbyterian Church in Canada are Scottish (our mother church was the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian). Our Canadian heritage also includes the work and witness of French Huguenots (Protestants) who came to Canada in the 1600s. 

In 1875, various groups of Presbyterians in Canada formed a union and called themselves The Presbyterian Church in Canada. In 1925, some Presbyterian congregations joined with the Methodists and Congregationalists to form the United Church of Canada. The remaining Presbyterians were called The Continuing Presbyterian Church in Canada until the courts, and eventually Parliament, gave them their former name, The Presbyterian Church in Canada.

In 2009, there are almost 940 congregations in The Presbyterian Church in Canada, with members coming from many national and racial backgrounds. There are congregations that worship in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Ghanaian, Hungarian, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish and Taiwanese. There are also many members who come from other branches of the Christian church. Congregations today represent a variety of languages and also a variety of worship styles.

Henderson, McLean. (2010). Equipping Elders. The Presbyterian Church in Canada.