I understand the main differences with Evangelicals vs. protestants are the strong beliefs in being "born again" and Biblical fundamentalism.

However, what are some of the main differences in theology, personal belief, politics, structure of leadership and interpretation - specifically speaking between Evangelicals and Presbyterians?

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    I think Evangelicalism is a cross-denominational religious movement within Christianity. There are Evangelical Anglicans, Evangelical Lutherans, Evangelical Presbyterians, Evangelical Quakers, and many more.
    – Double U
    Oct 22, 2013 at 1:12

3 Answers 3


As you mention, evangelicalism refers to a movement that typically emphasizes salvation through faith in Christ, the authority of the Bible, evangelism, and a conversion experience.

On the other hand, presbyterianism refers primarily to a form of church government. In this system, elders rule the church – a session of elders is responsible for leading individual congregations, and send elders to regional presbyteries that oversee the churches in their respective areas. Presbyteries send representatives to the general assembly, which oversees and serves as the highest court of the denomination.

It should be clear, then, that evangelicalism and presbyterianism are, at root, independent of each other. That is, only some evangelicals are presbyterians, and only some presbyterians are evangelicals.

Historically, presbyterianism is closely associated with Reformed theology, but this link is not absolute. The Puritans, for example, preferred congregational church governance, though they shared beliefs in Reformed theology with their presbyterian friends. The same is true of many evangelical "Reformed Baptists" today.

Within Presbyterianism, not all would be considered evangelical. Though the borders of evangelicalism can be blurry, the more liberal members of the PCUSA, the mainline presbyterian denomination in the US, would usually be excluded from it due to their views on salvation and the Word of God. US denominations like the PCA, EPC, OPC, and RPCNA, being more conservative, would often be considered evangelical. Outside the US, many countries have "Evangelical Presbyterian" churches, such as Chile, Ghana, and the UK.

  • The technical details in this answer are great, but I definitely think you could talk about what is generally different between Evangelicals and Presbyterians.
    – Ian
    Jun 9, 2016 at 16:48
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    @Ian I'm not convinced that evangelicalism implies non-sacramentalism, as you argue in your answer. There is a distinction between confessional and revivalist evangelicals, with Presbyterian evangelicals typically falling squarely in the first of those two camps. Jun 9, 2016 at 16:52
  • I think you're trying to define Evangelical as being more conservative/fundamentalist while I'm defining them as being more historically liberal. It looks like we agree that the term essentially means that you emphasize faith beyond all else in salvation. I think anti-sacramentalism and non-confessionalism are the result of this attitude, because if faith is all the matters why not leave doctrine and the sacraments behind to facilitate the interdenominational crusades with the simple salvation messages that are the hallmark of modern Evangelicalism.
    – Ian
    Jun 9, 2016 at 18:13
  • Liberal vs. conservative is relevant primarily because of the importance of biblical authority in evangelicalism. I agree that anti-sacramentalism and revivalism are highly visible and frequent results of the emphasis on faith and personal experience, but I'd argue that they are not essential features of evangelicalism. The number of "Evangelical Presbyterian" churches seems like evidence that the two traditions are not opposed to each other. In the US, the EPC churches are largely PCUSA churches that left over biblical authority, not sacraments or too rigorous adherence to confessions. Jun 9, 2016 at 18:25
  • I think I agree. Maybe I should ask a new question then for you to answer regarding the difference between Evangelical Presbyterian churches and other ones. It seems difficult to characterize, because didn't the Evangelical Presbyterian churches start around the same time that many traditional ones were becoming very liberal? Are liberalism and evangelicalism opposing poles, or are they 2 separate liberal movements? I'm guessing that discussion is outside of the scope of a forum post.
    – Ian
    Jun 9, 2016 at 18:37

Nathaniel's answer above is the correct one, but I would like to give another perspective. I think it is worthwhile to contrast writings of Presbyterianism's biggest hero (John Calvin) with modern teachings from Evangelicalsism's biggest hero (Billy Graham, or at least his website) to draw some distinctions.

To get a good summary of the soteriology of the great Billy Graham I visited this page of his website: http://billygraham.org/story/have-you-heard-the-good-news-of-salvation/. I then clicked the link at the bottom that read "Follow the Steps to Peace now" and was redirected here http://peacewithgod.net/. At this site I was told how to obtain salvation:

We can’t earn salvation; we are saved by God’s grace when we have faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. All you have to do is believe you are a sinner, that Christ died for your sins, and ask His forgiveness. Then turn from your sins—that’s called repentance. Jesus Christ knows you and loves you. What matters to Him is the attitude of your heart, your honesty. We suggest praying the following prayer to accept Christ as your Savior: PRAY NOW

"Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I trust and follow you as my Lord and Savior. Guide my life and help me to do your will. In your name, amen."

This is step 4 of a 4 step process; after praying the prayer you are saved, born again. To me this prayer is the contemporary definition and litmus test of Evangelicalism. I think it unites Evangelical denominations like the Book of Common Prayer does Anglicans. By sincerely praying this prayer from your heart it is said that you receive the sacrifice of Christ and are saved. Although I will admit there is probably some variations on this in different denominations; it is the best way I can think of to define what the Evangelical movement is (although perhaps not what it always was).

I think it is easy to point out how this teaching omits certain things in the plan of salvation according to John Calvin.

First lets hear some words on sacraments from Institutes of the Christian Religion Book 4 Chapter 14 Part 7.

the Lord offers us his mercy, and a pledge of his grace, both in his sacred word and in the sacraments, but it is not apprehended save by those who receive the word and sacraments with firm faith

So one should not only receive and respond to the word, but also the sacraments. We also hear him talking about the church in Book 4 Chapter 1 Part 1

What God has thus joined, let not man put asunder (Mark 10:9): to those to whom he is a Father, the church must also be a mother.

We can also listen to his teachings on faith and works; in Book 3 Chapter 18 Part 5 Calvin states that

[faith] saves no man without works

So I think it is fair to say that Presbyterians who adhere to Calvin's teachings will have a broader view of the plan of salvation than many Evangelical Christians do. I would suggest that John Calvin views salvation more as a process, involving the sacraments and good works, whereas Evangelicals tend to emphasize the moment of conversion as the end-all-be-all of salvation. Billy Graham exhorted sinners to receive just the word, John Calvin would exhort them to receive the word and the sacraments. Calvin does strongly emphasize salvation by faith alone, but he doesn't confine the generation and perfecting of saving faith to a single moment or action. Although I will admit that I only really skim the Institutes in order to grab sections that are on topic, I am not a scholar.


First, the word evangelical means of the Gospel. Technically all Christians are evangelicals. Just like all Christians are born again in Christ. However, a group of Christian conservatives started using those words to define themselves and it caught on.

Second, as asked, your question makes no sense because evangelicals are not necessarily a denomination with their own established doctrine. Evangelicals exist across several denominations, Presbyterians included. So, I will your answer your question as to what is the difference between Evangelical Protestants and Mainline Protestants (with a focus on Presbyterianism).

The main difference between Evangelicals and Mainline Christians1 has to do with the sources for theological interpretation. The Catholic church defined two sources for theological interpretation Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. The Protestant reformation introduced the idea of Sola Scriptura: scripture alone.

Sola Scriptura is a part of Calvinist theology. However, scripture is not generally interpreted literally nor is it the only valued source. For example, there are Presbyterians who will use the Nicene creed since it is based on scripture while evangelical Presbyterians usually will not because it's not written in the Bible.

Evangelical Presbyterians carry sola scriptura much further. Their literal view of the Bible leads them to teach creation only, ordain men only, and follow other evangelical viewpoints. There are evangelical Presbyterians in all Presbyterian organizations, evidenced by the recent turmoil in the PCUSA over homosexuality. But there are at least two evangelical Presbyterian groups: the PCA and the EPC.

1I'm using this to mean the central or moderate Christian view not necessarily the correct or most popular view.

  • 1
    Can you please provide evidence that evangelicals don't use the Nicene creed? Furthermore there are many evangelical Prebyterians who don't teach creationism etc. While what you say may be true for some, it's not a valid generalisation.
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 1, 2014 at 22:49
  • I think this answer misses the point a bit. I think you can differentiate between classical Presbyterians and Evangelicals. The words exist for a reason and there are distinctions, even if the term Evangelical has different meanings in different contexts.
    – Ian
    Jun 9, 2016 at 16:40

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