Presbyterian Church

From Ohio History Central

The Presbyterian Church is a Protestant Christian religious denomination that was founded in the 1500s. Control of the Church is divided between the clergy and the congregants. Many of the religious movements that originated during the Protestant Reformation were more democratic in organization. Like other Protestant denominations, the Presbyterians were opposed to the hierarchy and religious teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. At first, the Presbyterians followed the teachings of John Calvin. Among these were the ideas that only God granted entrance to heaven and that human beings could not attain salvation simply by living in a Godly manner.

Presbyterians came to North America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They arrived in the Northwest Territory by the late 1700s. By 1803, they were one of the largest religious denominations in Ohio. While the Presbyterians were scattered throughout Ohio, they were strongest among New England settlers in the Connecticut Western Reserve and among Scots-Irish people who settled principally in southern and eastern Ohio. In the Western Reserve, the Presbyterians formed a Plan of Union with the Congregationalists. Due to the small number of church buildings, ministers, and schools in the region, these two groups shared their resources. By the 1820s, Columbus, Cincinnati, Marietta and most of the other towns in Ohio had Presbyterian churches. Many of the prominent political leaders of the state were members of the Presbyterian Church.

In Ohio, Presbyterians divided into a number of sects. Usually minor doctrinal issues divided these groups. Many of these factions established their own colleges to train ministers in their own version of the Presbyterianism. As a whole, Presbyterians followed strict rules and dedicated each Sabbath to worshipping God. The Presbyterians banned all frivolous activities on Sundays.

Beginning in the 1830s, the Presbyterian Church divided over the issue of slavery. Nationally, the Presbyterian Church divided into Northern and Southern branches. Both parts of the Presbyterian Church were present in Ohio. The Civil War and the subsequent end to slavery helped reunite the Presbyterians. The denomination remained strong throughout the twentieth century with almost four million Presbyterians residing in North America by the 1990s.

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