The earliest Christian
church consisted of Jews in the first century who had known Jesus and heard his
teachings. It gradually grew and spread from the Middle East to other parts of
the world, though not without controversy and hardship among its supporters.
During the 4th century,
after more than 300 years of persecution under various Roman emperors, the
church became established as a political as well as a spiritual power under the
Emperor Constantine. Theological and political disagreements, however, served to
widen the rift between members of the eastern (Greek-speaking) and western
(Latin-speaking) branches of the church. Eventually the western portions of
Europe, came under the religious and political authority of the Roman Catholic
Church. Eastern Europe and parts of Asia came under the authority of the Eastern
In western Europe, the
authority of the Roman Catholic Church remained largely unquestioned until the
Renaissance in the 15th century. The invention of the printing press in Germany
around 1440 made it possible for common people to have access to printed
materials including the Bible. This, in turn, enabled many to discover religious
thinkers who had begun to question the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.
One such figure, Martin Luther, a German priest and professor, started the
movement known as the Protestant Reformation when he posted a list of 95
grievances against the Roman Catholic Church on a church door in Wittenberg,
Germany in 1517. Some 20 years later, a French/Swiss theologian, John Calvin,
further refined the reformers' new way of thinking about the nature of God and
God's relationship with humanity in what came to be known as Reformed theology.
John Knox, a Scotsman who studied with Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland, took
Calvin's teachings back to Scotland. Other Reformed communities developed in
England, Holland and France. The Presbyterian church traces its ancestry back
primarily to Scotland and England.
featured prominently in United States history. The Rev. Francis Makemie, who
arrived in the U.S. from Ireland in 1683, helped to organize the first American
Presbytery at Philadelphia in 1706. In 1726, the Rev. William Tennent founded a
ministerial 'log college' in Pennsylvania. Twenty years later, the College of
New Jersey (now known as Princeton University) was established. Other
Presbyterian ministers, such as the Rev. Jonathan Edwards and the Rev. Gilbert
Tennent, were driving forces in the so-called "Great Awakening," a revivalist
movement in the early 18th century. One of the signers of the Declaration of
Independence, the Rev. John Witherspoon, was a Presbyterian minister and the
president of Princeton University from 1768-1793.
The Presbyterian church in
the United States has split and parts have reunited several times. Currently the
largest group is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which has its national
offices in Louisville, Ky. It was formed in 1983 as a result of reunion between
the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS), the so-called "southern branch," and
the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA), the so-called "northern
branch." Other Presbyterian churches in the United States include: the
Presbyterian Church in America, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the
Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
Roots of Presbyterianism in Pittsburgh go back to
1758 when the British defeated the French at Fort Duquesne at the point of
Pittsburgh's three rivers. Upon this defeat, the name was changed to Fort Pitt,
later to become "Pittsburg." In thanksgiving to God, a small group of
Presbyterians gathered with a young Presbyterian minister, Charles Beatty
(Chaplain to General Forbes), for a service of praise. This group of believers
continued meeting together in residents' homes, and on April 14, 1773 their
first "call" for a minister was delivered to Donegal Presbytery. Two young men,
David McClure and Levi Frisbie, were supplied to serve the area and, thus, the
First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh was born.