Presbyterian vs Baptist: What’s the Difference? | Christianity FAQ (2023)

The Presbyterian and Baptist traditions are influential Protestant denominations that have left their mark in Europe, America, and around the world. The traditions agree on many important matters of faith and practice, but they have important differences, too.

Presbyterians and Baptists agree on doctrines like the Trinity, the inspiration of Scripture, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They disagree about baptism, the nature of the bread and cup at the Lord’s Supper, and church government. Presbyterians are Calvinists. Some Baptists are Calvinist, some aren’t.

Why do Presbyterians and Baptists believe the way they do? What are the largest Presbyterian and Baptist denominations? The comparison charts below offer readers valuable information for the purpose of understanding these important Christian denominations better. Keep reading to learn more.

Also see Presbyterian vs Pentecostal: What’s the Difference? to learn more.

Presbyterian vs Baptist: What’s the Difference? | Christianity FAQ (1)

Presbyterian and Baptist Comparison: Overview

Unless otherwise noted, the chart below reflects the historic convictions of the Presbyterian and Baptist traditions. In the second half of the 20th century, some denominations and churches in each tradition began questioning and abandoning the historic teachings of their movement. As a result, some “Presbyterian” and “Baptist” churches no longer believe or teach the doctrines and practices that have defined their respective traditions for centuries.

(Video) Independent Baptist vs Presbyterian - What's the Difference?

NameThe term “Presbyterian” is derived from the Greek word presbyteros, meaning “elder.” In New Testament context, the word refers to a form of church government that is elder led.The word “Baptist” comes from the practice of “believer’s baptism,” i.e. only professing Christians are baptized, not infants.
OriginJohn Calvin (1509-1564), 16th century FranceThe Baptist tradition has roots in English Puritanism and the Anabaptist tradition in Europe.
Early influencer(s)John Knox (1514-1572), 16th century ScotlandJohn Smyth (1554-1612) in England, Roger Williams in America (1603-1683)
Significant writing outside the BibleThe Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)The London Confession of Faith (1689), the New Hampshire State Baptist Convention (1832)
What are the largest denominations in the tradition today?The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA); the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA)*
see charts below
Southern Baptist Convention (SBC); National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (NBCUSA)*
see charts below
Primary doctrineThe Trinity, the fallenness of humanity, the death of Christ as an atonement for sin, the physical resurrection of Christ, salvation is by grace through faith, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the Second Comingsame
TheologyPresbyterian churches are Reformed; historically, the teachings of John Calvin shape the tradition’s doctrine; Covenant Theology undergirds their faith and practiceThe Baptist tradition is one of the most doctrinally diverse denominations in Protestantism (e.g. Baptists may be Calvinist or Arminian); Baptists generally agree on Believer’s Baptism, the autonomy of the local church, and the separation of church and state
Theological and social worldviewIt depends on the denomination; the PCUSA welcomes liberal and progressive theological positions and social causes; the PCA maintains conservative positions on theological and social mattersIt depends on the denomination; the Southern Baptist Convention is theologically and socially conservative; others like American Baptists Churches (USA) welcome liberal and progressive ideas and practices

*The PCUSA, the largest Presbyterian denomination, is more liberal than the second largest, the PCU. The SBC, the largest Baptist denomination (and the largest Protestant denomination in America), is more conservative than the NBCUSA. Social issues that divide denominations and churches include, but aren’t limited to: ordaining women, same-sex marriage, ordaining gay and lesbian ministers, Black Lives Matter, Critical Race Theory, and much more.

What are the theological differences between Presbyterians and Baptists?

Please see “Primary doctrine” and “Theology” in the table above as a starting point to understand the theological similarities and differences in the Presbyterian and Baptist traditions. (Also see Presbyterian vs Reformed: What’s the Difference?)

The table below reflects the historic convictions of each tradition. Conservative denominations and churches maintain strong convictions about these doctrines, while liberal and progressive bodies within the traditions hold them loosely or have replaced them with modern convictions.

Presbyterian traditionBaptist Tradition
ScripturePresbyterians believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Many conservatives accept and defend the terms “inerrancy” (i.e. Scripture has no errors) and “infallibility” (i.e. Scripture can’t lead astray in belief or practice). Moderate-liberal churches read and teach Scripture selectively.same
GodPresbyterians believe in the Trinity; there is one God who exists in three persons. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each fully divine.same
ChristJesus is the second person of the Trinity. He is God in human flesh. He is 100% God and 100% man. Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died as an atonement for sin, and physically resurrection on the third day.same
Holy SpiritThe Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is fully divine. The Spirit applies the salvation that the Father planned and that the Son earned for sinners. He bestows spiritual gifts on believers that they are to use for the edification of the Church.same
SalvationPresbyterians are Calvinists and have robust doctrines on election and predestination.Baptists can be Calvinist, Arminian, or something else.
There are two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper or communion; Presbyterians describe baptism as a sign and seal of the covenant of grace made by God through Jesus and extended to usThere are two: Believer’s Baptism (but not infant baptism) and the Lord’s Supper; Baptists don’t believe sacraments are channels of grace.
BaptismPresbyterians practice “paedobaptism” (paedo = “child”) also known as infant baptism by means of sprinkling. Baptism signifies inclusion into the Covenant community. Adults can be baptized if they never were as a child.Sometimes referred to as “credobaptism” (credo = “I believe”), the sacrament is for professing believers who have trusted Christ for salvation.
The Lord’s SupperPresbyterians believe Christ is spiritually present in the bread and cup. The elements aren’t merely symbols or reminders. They reject the teaching of the Catholic church on transubstantiation.Also called “communion,” most Baptists believe consuming the bread and cup is a memorial of the atonement of Christ. They reject the teaching of the Catholic church on transubstantiation.
Church organizationCalvin taught that there are elders who preach and teach and others elders who help rule over the church. Elders in a local church comprise a session. Elders in the same geographical location form a presbytery. Groups of presbyteries form a synod.The autonomy of the local church is an important Baptist doctrine. Local churches often belong to denominations, associations, or networks, but their relationship is cooperative.
View of the end timesAmillennial; Presbyterians believe the 1,000-year period described in Revelation 20:1-6 occurs between Christ’s first and second coming.Baptists may be amillennial. Some are premillennial, so they believe the 1,000-year period is literal and will occur after the Rapture, seven-year tribulation, and the return of Christ

Also see Presbyterian vs Pentecostal: What’s the Difference?

Presbyterian and Baptist Denominations

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has experienced attendance declines in recent decades, but it’s still the largest Presbyterian denomination in America by a significant amount. The Presbyterian Church in America has seen slight increases in recent years, due in part to conservatives leaving the Presbyterian Church (USA). (Also see Presbyterian Church USA vs Presbyterian Church in America: What’s the Difference?)

(Video) Baptist and Presbyterian, What's the Difference?

Presbyterian DenominationsMembership
Presbyterian Church (USA)1.7 million
Presbyterian Church in America370,000
Evangelical Presbyterian Church150,000

The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in America. It’s over twice the size as the second-largest, the United Method Church. The division between the Southern Baptist and Northern Baptist denomination is rooted in conflict at the time of the Civil War. In recent years, the Convention has confessed and sought forgiveness for unbiblical beliefs and practices in relation to African-Americans. [3]

Baptist DenominationsMembership
Southern Baptist Convention16 million
National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.5 million
National Missionary Baptist Convention of America2.5 million
Baptist General Conference of Texas2.4 million
American Baptist Churches in the USA1.2 million
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship1 million
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.1 million

Also see Presbyterian vs Puritan: What’s the Difference?

Please see related articles below

[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

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Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.

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What do Presbyterians believe differently? ›

Presbyterians are distinctive in two major ways: they adhere to a pattern of religious thought known as Reformed theology and a form of government that stresses the active, representational leadership of both ministers and church members.

What is the difference between Protestants and Baptists? ›

Baptist, member of a group of Protestant Christians who share the basic beliefs of most Protestants but who insist that only believers should be baptized and that it should be done by immersion rather than by the sprinkling or pouring of water.

Do Presbyterians believe you have to be saved? ›

LOUISVILLE, Ky. —The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)' s statement of faith says God through Jesus Christ delivers followers "from death to life eternal."

What do Baptists believe differently? ›

They believe that a person can attain salvation through faith in God and Jesus Christ. Baptists also believe in the sanctity of the Bible. They practice baptism but believe that the person must be wholly immersed in water. This is a major difference between the Baptists and many other Christian denominations.

What makes Presbyterians different from other denominations? ›

Characteristics. Presbyterians distinguish themselves from other denominations by doctrine, institutional organisation (or "church order") and worship; often using a "Book of Order" to regulate common practice and order. The origins of the Presbyterian churches are in Calvinism.

What do Presbyterians believe about going to heaven? ›

While different churches have varying views, Presbyterians commonly believe that when a person dies they will either be rewarded with eternal life in Heaven or punished with eternal life in Hell, based on the goodness of the life they led and the quality of their relationship with God.

What Baptists dont believe? ›

Baptists do not believe that a loving God condemns anyone for a sin they did not commit. Baptists do not view baptism as a remedy for original sin. Baptists do not baptize infants.

What does the Baptist church not believe? ›

Baptists do not believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. Therefore, for Baptists, baptism is an ordinance, not a sacrament, since, in their view, it imparts no saving grace.

What religion is Baptist similar to? ›

Methodists and Baptists are both Christian faiths that have a lot of similarities but in many ways, also have different views and doctrines. Both Methodist and Baptist believe in God, the Bible and the works and teaching of Jesus who they accept as  Christ, the savior of humanity.

What makes Baptists different from other Christians? ›

Baptism of believers by full immersion

This is perhaps the most obvious difference between Baptists and other denominations. Baptists reject infant baptism, thinking instead that baptism is for believers only - those who can personally declare Jesus as Lord.

Why can't Baptists dance? ›

Various Christian groups believe that dancing is either inherently sinful or that certain forms of dancing could lead to sinful thoughts or activities, and thus proscribe it either in general or during religious services, particularly in the Anabaptist (chiefly Conservative Anabaptist and Old Order Anabaptist ...

What is unique about Presbyterians? ›

Presbyterians are distinctive in two major ways. They adhere to a pattern of religious thought known as Reformed theology and a form of government that stresses the active, representational leadership of both ministers and church members. Theology is a way of thinking about God and God's relation to the world.

Do Presbyterians believe in tithing? ›

God has entrusted us to be good stewards and tithing is one of the important ways that we give thanks to God. It is not meant to be a legalistic computation. It should be a joy to give, not a chore. For God loves a cheerful giver!

Do Presbyterians believe in the Holy Spirit? ›

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is encouraging its members to use new wordings to reflect the Trinity, in addition to “Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.” A church report suggests how to phrase prayers, such as “The triune God is known to us as 'Speaker, Word, and Breath. ' ”

What faith is Presbyterian? ›

Presbyterian churches share much doctrine in common with other true churches: God as the independent, triune God who made the heavens and earth; the Bible as the infallible word of God; all people as sinners; justification not by works, but by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; the second coming of Christ in glory; the ...

Is the Presbyterian Church conservative or liberal? ›

The Presbyterian Church (USA), abbreviated PC(USA), is a mainline Protestant denomination in the United States. It is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the US, and known for its liberal stance on doctrine and its ordaining of women and members of the LGBT community as elders and ministers.

What are the core beliefs of the Presbyterian Church? ›

Some of the principles articulated by John Calvin are still at the core of Presbyterian beliefs. Among these are the sovereignty of God, the authority of Scripture, justification by grace through faith and the priesthood of all believers.

Do Presbyterians believe in forgiveness? ›

Presbyterians believe it is through the action of God working in us that we become aware of our sinfulness and our need for God's mercy and forgiveness.

Do Presbyterians pray for the dead? ›

However the Presbyterian church USA has a "commemoration of those who have died in the faith", they are not petitions for the dead but reminders that the church on earth is a part of a larger company of saints with the church in heaven, other prayers combine thanksgivings for the dead with petitions for the living.

What do Presbyterians call a funeral? ›

There are a few different forms of a Presbyterian funeral: Graveside burial service, where the funeral and interment both take place. Memorial service, which is held either before or after the interment, at which no body is present. Traditional funeral, where the body is present in a casket or in a cremation urn.

What is the difference between Presbyterian and Christianity? ›

Presbyterianism is a form of Protestant Christianity, primarily in the Reformed branch of Christendom, as well as a particular form of church government. Its primary tenets include the Five solas: Scripture alone, faith alone, Christ alone, grace alone, glory to God alone.

Is the Presbyterian Church Liberal or conservative? ›

The Presbyterian Church (USA), abbreviated PC(USA), is a mainline Protestant denomination in the United States. It is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the US, and known for its liberal stance on doctrine and its ordaining of women and members of the LGBT community as elders and ministers.

What type of Christianity is Presbyterian? ›

Presbyterians are a group of Protestants whose church is founded on the concept of democratic rule under the Word of God. The Presbyterian denomination is a form of Christianity democratically organized to embrace the faith common to all Christians.

What religion is similar to Presbyterian? ›

Two such denominations are Lutheran and Presbyterian that have many similarities like praise of Christ and belief in his teachings. Both churches believe in Christ being the savior of mankind and his sacrifice for the salvation of us humans.


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