Difference between Presbyterian and Baptist Church

I’m trying to identify and understand the differences between these two churches. I get really confused by my non-Catholic friends who church-hop between the two - my question to them is that these two churches exist for a reason and there are obviously different beliefs/teachings within them, so how can they so casually go to one and then the other?

I get the feeling that they are happy to go to any Christian church but steer clear of JW, LDS, and CoC.

Can anyone explain to me if there are any major doctrinal differences between Presbyterian and Baptist churches?


Mostly water and ecclesiology.

Baptists do not baptize children, and otherwise use immersion.

Presbyterians will baptize children by pouring.

Baptists practice congregational polity; Presbyterians a presbyteral structure.

There are a number of differences between Presbyterians and Baptists. They will vary depending on which Baptist group you are considering since Baptists cover a wide variety of beliefs. Some Baptists are more strongly Calvinist than many Presbyterians, who started in his Reformed theology. Other Baptists are quite Arminean.

Presbyterians consider baptism and communion as sacraments, although they differ from Catholics in their view of them. Baptists consider these as ordinances and not sacraments.

Presbyterians practice infant baptism, although for some different reasons than Catholics. Baptists do not believe in infant baptism but practice believer’s baptism by full immersion.

These are some of the major differences.

I used to be a member of the Presbyterian Church (I wouldn’t go back know for quids, although I’m probably judging the whole church on the basis of a couple of Pharisees who caused me a fair bit of trouble. One of them is a pastor who’s quite prepared to lie and conspire, even against his own fellow pastors. Actually most of the people were OK.).

Fortunately my Presbyterian Pastor was actually Methodist by training, so his outlook was what is called Arminian, which is not so harsh. He was actually the one who told me the above pastor “tells a lot of lies” and “He’s damaged the lives of several people”.

My wife is Baptist. So I’ve had experience of both.

The Presbyterians are “Reformed” which means they are Calvinistic in their theology ie. Doctrine of the Elect etc. They were started by a hardine boy called John Knox, a Scot, who seemed to have a hard time showing forgiveness, and one of the Presbyterian faults is that they just don’t seem to have it. At least that’s how it struck me. They’re Scottish in origin if you go back far enough.

I didn’t study their theology in the formal sense, so I can’t give you a lot of that background. I don’t know about American Presbyterians, but the Australian variety, and particularly the Queensland variety, swear on the Westminster Confession of Faith. The trouble with that is that one of the paragraphs of that confesssion declares the Pope is the anti-Christ. That is heresy, so all of them are in fact heretics, whether they believe it or not.

Likewise I haven’t studied the Baptists’ theology either. I lifted this off the web.


There are several theories on the origin of the Baptists. The most convincing theory, and the one that most Baptist historians hold, is that Baptists originated from the English Separatist (Congregationalist) movement at the end of the Sixteenth Century. …The first English Baptists were General (Arminian) Baptists. 1644 is often viewed as the year of origin for the Baptist churches. It was in that year that the particular (Calvinist) Baptist churches authored the London Confession. This confession stated their faith and rejected the teachings of the Anabaptists and the General Baptists…It is usually held that the first Baptist congregations in the United States were in Newport, Rhode Island (1638) and Providence, Rhode Island (1639).

Baptist Distinctives

All Baptists believe in the supreme competency and autonomy of each individual Christian to interpret the Bible for himself. Neither creeds, clergy, confessions, councils nor any church organization has authority over the conscience of the individual Baptist. Understandably, this has led to a wide variety of theological views, …Because of their understanding of the full autonomy of individuals to interpret Scripture for themselves, Baptists are anticreedal and antidenominational. They refuse to force their members to subscribe to creeds or confessions of any kind. They also reject denominationalism, because of the danger of having a central authority. They refer to themselves as “associations,” “conventions,” or “conferences.”

The second Baptist distinctive is that the Bible is viewed as the sole source and authority for all Christian faith and life. … Following Calvinism, Baptists have tended to be very literalistic and legalistic in interpreting the Bible. Many of them have followed the principle that whatever is not specifically commanded in the Bible is sinful.

Most Baptists insist on Baptism by immersion. Baptists believe that individual congregations have complete and total authority. , Their polity is strongly congregational and individualistic. Most Baptists (including the SBC) heavily stress that personal evangelism is a duty that each Christian must do."


So in a nutshell, the Presbyterians are “Reformed”, the Baptists are generally “Arminian”, but refuse to force creeds, confessions, clergy etc. on their members.

I’ve noticed that Baptists “call” their pastors - it’s up to the congregation. The Presbyterians are appointeed by the hierarchy. In that respect the Baptists are more democratic I suppose.

Most Protestants don’t have much trouble going to each other’s churches. Hardline boys might steer clear of others they disagree with, but the majority of people have no real trouble going from one to the other, or even changing membership if it suits them. I was a member of the Wesleyan Methodists for a while, after being Presbyterian. I never joined the Baptists.

Most Protestants regard the Mormons and JW’s as cults, and not Christian. If they don’t go to CoC, it’s probably because they find it too charismatic, or maybe they just don’t like the worship style. I suspect your friends are reasonably conservative.

I will finish with a couple of footnotes. One is an anecdote to the business of pastors being replaced in the Presbyterian church. The other is a prediction my old pastor made.

Prior to his death my old ex-Methodist pastor, very prophetic, commented, “I think he (the Pharisee) will get hold of this church after I’m gone, and wreck it! But he can’t touch the people!” Now he died around 3am in the morning. I found out later the Pharisee organised an Assembly meeting at 6am and had himself sworn in as the new Pastor of the church. Sure enough he wrecked it, but within 6 months, 80% of the people left, most of them leaving the Presbyterian church altogether, as they were so disgusted with him. I’d gone previously as I happened to get married a few months before the pator’s death, and started attending a Baptist church for convenience. So Pharisees are still around.

THe other thing that is still an issue with me is that the old pastor commented “I think you might have trouble with the Baptists”. He said this because he thought I’d become Catholic, which he thought would be God’s will anyway. He commented, “They’re very much aware of being ‘Baptist’, much more so than Presbyterians are of being ‘Presbyterian’ for example./” So whenever I go to my wife’s church, that prediction of his is still ringing in my head.

This may not be a very clear explanation, but it’s about as good as you’ll get from me.

I have been a Presbyterian all my life and have never seen a lack of forgiveness. I guess it probably varies from congregation to congregation in the same way the Catholic Church has traditional and liberal perishes. As I mentioned previously there is a Reformed stream of Baptism. The much criticized James White falls into that category.

As far as I am aware, most North American Presbyterians, while retaining the Westminster Confession, have adopted the position that the Pope is not the anti-Christ. This has been done either deleting that section from their subordinate standards or by declaring through the General Assembly that they do not accept this part. This latter method was adopted in Canada rather than change the historic confession.

I cannot comment on the Baptist view but Presbyterians do acknowledge a place for tradition. It is subordinate to Scripture though and it is not a requirement to accept it.

Presbyterians also call our ministers. In Canada each congregation has a board of elders called session. Session will make a recommendation to the congregation with respect to a minister. The candidate will then preach for a call and the congregation will then decide whether to call the minister. Only then does it go to Presbytery for approval. Ministers must be properly ordained according to the requirements set by the General Assembly. Other than this, the only real function of the Presbytery in congregational-ministerial relations, is to deal with any disputes between Session and the ministers or, in congregations with more than minister, disputes between them that cannot be resolved locally. Presbytery can also appoint an interim minister, often retired ministers, until a vacancy is filled.

I don’t know how it is in Australia but this would not happen in Canada because Session cannot be summoned that quickly, the congregation must still vote, and Presbytery must still approve. If that many people opposed the minister it is likely that Session would remove him. If individuals don’t like the minister, they will likely transfer to another congregation in the area.

Thanks for your quick responses, I like hearing both factual and anecdotal to help get my mind around things.

Another thing I can’t understand is particularly with Baptists who only baptise adults, yet those that are not baptised are still identified as, and call themselves, Christians. I thought it was baptism that MADE you a Christian??? You wash away your sins and clothe yourself in the light of Christ and become a new being…a Christian!

I think my friends are much more casual about it all, they go for the bible study, they go to be challenged, they go for the social interaction - I don’t think they perhaps even know what the differences are! It’s this attitute that gets to me because I think you’ve got to pick one that you’re going to subscribe to and stick with it. I don’t understand how you can church-hop and be spiritually satisfied.

I am marrying a Baptist - is your wife supportive of your Catholic faith?

She tolerates it. I go to her church from time to time and sometimes her home group (Bible Study / Prayer Group). I came from a Protestant background anyway, so I know what they’re like.

But so far she hasn’t gone once to one of my masses, apart from a carols night which included a mass. However she gets on fairly well with some Catholics she’s met through the St. Vincent de Paul group I’m in, my Catholic psychiatrist (whom I only see a couple of times a year for depression - psychotherapy mainly, plus the psychiatrist and I both have shared spiritual experiences), and some other Catholic individuals she meets from time to time.

Her mother is also Baptist, and I think she’s more opposed, although it’s been a while since we’ve argued.

So there’s some tension, but it’s not severe. When we married we were both Protestant, but I jumped ship about five or six years later.

You’ll need to sort out your own arrangement though. My wife’s and your fiance’s attitudes could be completely different. We got married later in life so we don’t have kids. But you’re going to have to work out your policy on education for example ie. Catholic school or other, which Church your kids are going to, and so on.

And I think it’s something you need to discuss before you get married. I wouldn’t like to hear that you got married, and then hit rocky shoals of antagonism over these issues afterwards. Sort these things out first.

As a final comment when the old pastor predicted I’d become Catholic, I argued back, saying that in a sense my father had taken me out of it. My father was a Catholic who lost his faith, and had me baptised Presbyterian by way of rebellion. The pastor’s comment was “I think the Lord might want you to go back there. I think He might use you somehow to bring the churches together. It will probably destroy you though - there is still a lot ot antagonism between the churches.” I’m still waiting to see how this might happen.

He seemed to think that to some extent it might involve one of his own sons. I think humour will be a part of it - if you want to appeal to Australians, a sense of humour helps. About all I can do is wait. I have an idea what it might be, but I am not going to push. I find that if you try to “push”, God shoves back harder the other way. God can be very frustrating at times, believe me, and not much help either at other times.

Anyway all the best with your marriage. At least you’re not marrying a Moslem, like one of my former Protestant church buddies. I haven’t heard anything about him for a while, but they really would have had a few things to sort out. I remember my old pastor’s widow making a comment, “I wish them luck. I think they’ll need it.”

Thanks - yes we have talked A LOT about what we want for our children and how we will manage our faiths.

My fiance is pretty supportive (he comes to Mass with me fairly regularly and I go to Church with him too) and whilst we do have some challenging conversations he has admitted that what I put forward to him has really affected him - ie he has realised that he really knows nothing about his own or my faith. His father was Catholic so I’d like to think that hopefully God is using me as a peacemaker and one day they will come home - who knows.

I don’t think we will need luck…but we will need a lot of patience!

I grew up Southern Baptist (Pastor’s Kid) converted to Catholicism later on. Left the RCC and joined the Presbyterian Church in America. :slight_smile:

I guess I fit right into this thread.

Presbyterians acknowledge the history of the Church and are confessional and creedal. Baptists are no creed but Christ. Both are sola scriptura.

Presbyterians are Calvinist’s. Baptist’s are traditionally Calvinistic but have some Arminian influences in them as well. Presbyterians believe in the sacraments. Baptists do not. Presbyterians baptize infants into the visible membership of the Church Baptists only baptize confessed believers.

Presbyterians have a representitive Government Baptists have a Congregational govenment. Presbyterians are part of a larger governing group. Baptist’s are congregational only linked by very loose terms in their various branches.

I personally prefer the PCA Presbyterian Church and am an active member of it. I can worship in either a PCA, Reformed Baptist, or Southern Baptist Church in good conscience. :slight_smile:

I reject the PC-USA and all other liberal churches. I can only support conservative churches. The PC-USA is so liberal many consider it Presbyterian in name only.

Hi DD2007, thanks for your repsonse, it helps me understand…however…

Herein lies my question - how can one worship in both churches in good conscience when they clearly have such different beliefs - one in scaraments, the other not, differences on the meaning and candidates for baptism, one part of a umbrella, the other not.


I’m baffled - I can only imagine how the members must feel…


Well, What matters is that they both preach the gospel. The gospel is the truth that the church is the pillar and foundation of.

Both respect the Lord’s supper and prepare themselves before receiving it. Both agree that baptism does the same things they just disagree on timing etc. Such minor issues do not get in the way of the truth of the gospel that Christ died for sinners as a substitutionary atonement that paid the price for their sins and that whoever trusts him will be saved from sin and the wrath of God and have everlasting life.

Christ is the center of the church and true religion is helping widows and orphans and people in need.

Paul tells us that the CHURCH is the pillar and foundation of truth 1 Timothy 3:15

And I don’t think you’ll find many Catholics or other Christians who see the Lord’s supper and baptism as ‘minor issues’ - Christ himself tells us we need these things for eternal life!!!

John 3:5
Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, **no one **can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.

John 6:53-54
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

This is what I can’t get my head around, that churches are teaching different things about these ESSENTIALS and people are happy to chop and change between them.

EDIT: On re-reading your post I may have misunderstood you so I apologise if I’ve taken you out of context - are you saying that the disagreements are minor issues?

Here is the essentials:

John 3:16 ESV
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

This is the truth that the church holds up.

The church is the pillar and foundation of truth. It is built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles (the bible) with Jesus Christ himself as the cornerstone.

Ephesians 2:19-21 ESV
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

The church is the elect. Born again children of God.

Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV
2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ok - which Church?

no, it is not built on ‘the bible’, but on the teaching, both oral and written

Again, which church? - they are all teaching different things.

Tell me which church is ‘joined together’, and ‘holy’.

Amen to that!

Christ’s Church. The Elect. They are from all over the world and are members of many different denominations. They are the Church and they uphold the truth of the gospel as taught by the Apostles in scripture.

no, it is not built on ‘the bible’, but on the teaching, both oral and written

The bible is what makes the church apostolic in our day. The apostles have all passed on and their writings are the only way we can be sure we are hearing authentic apostolic teaching.

Tell me which church is ‘joined together’, and ‘holy’.

God’s people are joined together in spirit and truth in Christ.

Well, the same old Protestant pastor I referred to above once said to me in his office that he sometimes wondered if Protestants get to heaven. His reasoning had more to do with the violence of the Reformation and the resulting of the Church rather than specific issues such as the Eucharist, and that he felft God wasn’t as easy going about the division as we are. We tolerate a lot of stuff He wouldn’t.

Personally, I don’t think they do. I suspect there are millions of them hanging around the upper reaches of Purgatory, waiting for the church to reunify. I think the old joke about Cathollcs thinking they’re the only ones who get into heaven might have more ironic truth than we think.

I mean imagine the scene. A Catholic, hardline Presbyterian, Baptist etc. turn up at the Pearly Gates. The Presbyterian points to the Catholic. “What the hell’s he doing here? He can’t be one of the elect!”. The Baptist points to both of them. “What are they doing here? They weren’t baptised by immersion!” The Catholic points to both of them and says “They told quite a few lies about us. They didn’t have the Eucharist, didn’t have apostilic authority, and rubbished Christ’s mother on a number of occasions. When it comes to exorcisms, You didn’t even allow demons to do that!”

So what’s God going to say? “She’ll be right, boys, all your infighting didn’t really matter. I didn’t care your ancestors dividin MY church awith great violence nd killing millions of My people in the process. I didn’t care that you persecuted each other and couldn’t even agree on what you thought about My Son’s comment on His Body and Blood! I don’t care that you thought Peter’s office was garbage, despite what My Son said to Him. No problems, mateys”.

I don’t think so.

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