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Presbyterian Church in the United States of America
Classification Protestant
Orientation Calvinist
Associations Merged with the United Presbyterian Church of North America in 1958 to form the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America
Founder John Witherspoon
Origin 1789
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Branched from Church of Scotland
Separations Cumberland Presbyterian Church (separated 1810; reunited in part 1906); divided into New School and Old School bodies 1836-1869; Presbyterian Church in the United States (separated 1861; reunited 1983); the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, separated 1936

The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) was a Presbyterian denomination in the United States. It was organized in 1789 under the leadership of John Witherspoon in the wake of the American Revolution and existed until 1958 when it merged with the United Presbyterian Church of North America to form the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.


The first Assembly of the PCUSA met in Philadelphia in 1789. It adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith, together with the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism, as the church's subordinate standard (to the Bible). The General Assembly modified the confession to bring its teaching on civil government in line with American practices and by removing references to the pope as an anti-christ. The new church was organized into four synods: New York and New Jersey, Philadelphia, Virginia, and the Carolinas. These synods included 17 presbyteries and 419 congregations.

During the Second Great Awakening, the PCUSA proved somewhat less adept at using revival techniques to attract new members than the newly-emergent Methodist and Baptist denominations. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC), which originated from revivals in Kentucky and Tennessee, separated from the PCUSA at the time of this revival. Nonetheless, growth progressed apace from east to west, covering most of the U.S.

In the Old School-New School Controversy, the church divided into a New School (favoring revivals and a less stringent Calvinism) and Old School (favoring traditional Calvinism and formal worship) in 1836; these factions would not reunite until 1869. In the meantime, in 1861, almost all the churches in the Southern U.S. separated from the PCUSA over the issue of slavery, forming what would come to be known as the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS). The PCUSA thus became known (sometimes pejoratively) as the "Northern church," although it maintained a presence in the Southern U.S. through its work among African-Americans and through some congregations in Appalachia that, in accordance with the region's political support for the Union, refused to leave for the PCUS.

Most of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church reunited with the PCUSA in 1906, at which time the Westminster Confession was revised again, in part to accommodate the more Wesleyan-Arminian views of the CPC. The CPC acquisition brought this group of Southern and border-state (e.g., Kentucky, Missouri) churches back into the historic fold.

Between 1922 and 1936, the PCUSA experienced a major controversy, the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy, concerning matters such as inspiration of the scriptures, the role of the confessional standards, and the temperance movement. This occasioned the formation of the first explicitly conservative schism in American Presbyterian history in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

In 1946, with cooperation of three other denominations, it formed the United Andean Indian Mission, an agency that sent missionaries to Ecuador.

In 1958, the PCUSA merged with the United Presbyterian Church of North America to form the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. It was this body that merged with the PCUS to form the present-day Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1983.

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