Presbyterians – Who Are We?

Understanding the Presbyterian Church

The word “Presbyterian” comes from the Greek for “elder”, and refers to the governance of the church. Elders are church members elected for Christian service by their congregations to represent them and to serve God and the church. There are two kinds of elders who participate in the government of the church: ‘ruling elders’ are elected laypeople, and ‘teaching elders’ are ordained ministers.

The theology of the Presbyterian Church in Canada is founded on the teachings of the New Testament. Its theology is called “reformed”, meaning that it belongs to the body of churches that the Reformation gave rise to in seeking to recover the teachings of Scripture. Such beliefs include:

• The belief in the Trinity – God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – as central to the faith. God is the Father to whom we come, the Son through whom we come, and the Spirit by whom we come.

• The belief that the Bible – composed by writers understood to have been guided and inspired by God – is considered to be the written Word of God: the most authoritative source for faith and practice.

• The belief that the sacraments – communion and baptism – are visible expressions of the gospel, given as a way of entering and encouraging the Christian faith.

Our churches use various styles of worship, but we are all focused on the authority of scripture and on being Christ-centered. Living Faith is a statement of Christian belief arising from the Canadian Presbyterian experience.

Presbyterians work to bring the grace of God to all people at work and at home. This transformation begins in their own lives as they grow in Christian faith. Their hands have improved the lives of abandoned children, homeless men and women, communities shattered by war or environmental disasters, and refugees searching for a second chance.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada
The roots of the Presbyterian Church in Canada are Scottish (our mother Church was the Church of Scotland which is Presbyterian), but our Canadian heritage includes the work and witness of French Huguenots (Protestant) settlers who came to Canada in the 1600s. Of course, many people have come, and continue to come, into our denomination from other branches of the Christian Church.

Many Presbyterians in Canada have their churches named after Reformers, particularly John Calvin (a Frenchman) and John Knox (a Scot who was influenced by Calvin’s teachings). 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. In 1875, several groups of Presbyterians formed a union and called themselves The Presbyterian Church. Our church has been independent since then.

Today, The Presbyterian Church in Canada has about 1,000 congregations with members coming from many national and racial backgrounds. For example, there are now 20 Korean congregations. Within our denomination there are many different languages and styles of worship. There are congregations that worship in English, French, Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Hungarian, Spanish and Portuguese. In the 1990’s The Presbyterian Church in Canada welcomed new Korean and Ghanaian congregations.

The Presbyterian Church in Sapperton
On September 9th, 1890 St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, New Westminster (now Emmanuel Pentecostal Church) took steps toward the forming of 2 new congregations: one in the ‘west end’ of New Westminster, and a second in Sapperton.

With support from the church’s supervising bodies, the Rev. W.C. Mills arrived on January 13th, 1891 to serve as minister to the soon to be founded congregation in Sapperton.

The congregation was officially constituted on March 25, 1891, with services being held in ‘the old school house’ on Hospital Street (now the current site of a church itself) until the present sanctuary was ready for occupancy, later in that same year.

Knox Church Sapperton, Charter Members
Mrs. Thomas Allan, Mrs. C. McKenzie, Mr. F. Stewart, Mr. W. Fraser, Mrs. Thomas Kilby, Mrs. F. Stewart, Mrs. Dickinson, Mr. John Thompson, Mrs. Alex Stewart, Miss Dickinson, Mr. W. Scott, Mr. P. McDougall, Mr. J. Yorston, Mr. W. Sclater, Rev. Robert Jamieson, Mr. C. McKenzie, Mrs. W. Sclater (& 3 daughters)

The First Elected ‘Ruling Elders’
George McKenzie, Finlay Stewart, James Kennedy

First Session Report

“In all 51 members have been admitted to the Sapperton Church, 37 by certificate, 14 by confession of faith. Three members have withdrawn to join West Church. Nine infants have been baptised into the congregation during the last year and one Communion service has been held. The prayer meetings have been well attended throughout the whole year and it was a source of great encouragement to the Pastor.

The Sabbath School and Bible class have been kept under very favourable circumstances, the old school house building, being very much too small for the purpose as well as a shortage of teachers.

We are very much indebted to Mr. Goodwin of the Baptist Church for coming forward and teaching the bible class when none of our own members could see their way clear to do so. We hope that the school will now be properly organised and carried on. We have much reason to thank the Lord for HIS goodness toward us as a congregation and pray that HE may guide us in all we do in the future.”

Respectfully submitted,
J. B. Kennedy
Finlay Stewart
George McKenzie


Human Sexuality
Recently, The Rev. Brad Childs presented the history of Doctrine concerning human sexuality within the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the possible change upcoming in how the denomination deals with issues of same-sex marriage and ordination.

A letter from Rev. Brad Childs B.A., M.Div., Dip.Min., M.A.T.S.

Dear Knox,

Since 1994 discussion about human sexuality has been taking place in the highest courts of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. At that time, the General Assembly passed a motion affirming the traditional view on marriage as being “between one man and one woman.” Over the last 6 years however several bodies have brought forth motions of various kinds to ask the Church to change that definition (which is found in two of our denomination’s three major statements of faith; called Subordinate Standards. These are considered to be the Doctrine of the Church. And yet, the Doctrine of the Church is “Subordinate” to scripture itself. Because of this the Doctrine of the Church can be changed if our understanding of the scriptures has changed. This past summer at the 2019 meeting of the General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada which met in Waterloo, Ontario, June 2 – 6, 2019 two new motions passed the floor of assembly for approval. These two had the issue of human sexuality in mind. Because these proposed changes would mean a change in definition of a Doctrine of the Church, no one body can pass such a motion without further input from the wider Church body. After a process of prayerful discernment and a positive vote of around 60% of those in attendance, the following recommendations were adopted in this final form:

1. That the following be approved and remitted to presbyteries under the Barrier Act: The Presbyterian Church in Canada holds two parallel definitions of marriage and recognizes that faithful, Holy Spirit-filled, Christ centred, God, honouring people can understand marriage as a covenant relationship between a man and a woman or as a covenant relationship between two adult persons. That congregations, sessions, ruling and teaching elders be granted liberty of conscience and action on marriage.

2. That the following be approved and remitted to presbyteries under the Barrier Act: That congregations and presbyteries may call and ordain as ministers and elect and ordain as ruling elders LGBTQI persons (married or single) with the provision that liberty of conscience and action regarding participation in ordinations, inductions and installations be granted to ministers and ruling elders.

What this means is that one elder representative from each congregation and one minister from each congregation will gather at the Presbytery level to vote on these two recommendations known as “remits.” At the 2020 General Assembly to be held this summer, the results of the remits will be announced. If they have passed by 50%+1 of the Presbyteries and by 50%=1 of the total number of voting members the General Assembly will be allowed to either pass these two remits into the law and Doctrine of the Church or vote them down.

At Knox, we would like everyone to know that you have the right to be heard and to express your views to the National Offices of the Church as it seeks to share information before the vote is taken. Although voting is restricted only the Presbyteries and not congregations a jot form has been created where you can express your views and feeling. It can be found online here:

In addition, there are several other useful resources including the following letter from the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, Rev. Amanda Currie found here
and an absolutely splendid presentation on the subject by Dr. Clyde Irvine found here among many others.

Please, with respect and grace for everyone you meet, pray for The Presbyterian Church in Canada and her courts and people.

In Christ,

Rev. Brad Childs B.A., M.Div., Dip.Min., M.A.T.S