The Presbyterian and Pentecostal traditions are two of the most important and influential branches of Protestant Christianity. While they agree on several important biblical doctrines, they have different opinions on certain theological ideas and Christian practices.
The Presbyterian tradition ascribes to Covenant Theology, the teachings of John Calvin, and practices an elder-led form of church government. The Pentecostal tradition is Arminian, believes all spiritual gifts are operational today, and employs a congregational-led form of church government.
What doctrines do Pentecostals and Presbyterians agree about? What do Presbyterians believe about speaking in tongues? Keep reading to learn more.
Pentecostalism and Presbyterianism: What’s the Difference?
There are certain beliefs (e.g. the Trinity) and practices (e.g. preaching the Bible) that make a tradition Christian. Within the Christian tradition, denominations and churches have distinct beliefs and practices that make them different than others.
Still, even though not all Christians are members of the same denomination or church, they are united in the primary tenets of the faith like the inspiration of Scripture and the deity of Jesus Christ.
Pentecostalism and Presbyterianism are two traditions within Christianity that have similar core beliefs about God, Scripture, and Christ.
They disagree about how the Holy Spirit equips people, the nature of the Lord’s Supper, how churches should be run, and how the world will end. (Also see Presbyterian USA vs Presbyterian Church in America: What’s the Difference?)
|What is their origin?||The modern expression was born in early 20th-century America. Charles Parham (1873-1929) and William Seymour (1870-1922) significantly influenced the early stages of the tradition.||Presbyterianism traces its history to the teachings of John Calvin (1509-1564) in 16th century France and John Knox (1514-1572) in 16th century Scotland.|
|What does their name mean?||“Pentecostal” refers to the first day of Pentecost (Acts 2) when the Holy Spirit came upon the early church in a unique way that enabled believers to speak in unknown languages.||The word “Presbyterian” comes from the Greek word presbyteros meaning “elder.” In broad use, it refers to the tradition rooted in Calvin and Knox. In narrow use, it refers to a form of church government that is elder-led.|
|Are they conservative or liberal?||Pentecostals are overwhelmingly conservative and evangelical. To date, there has not been a major liberal or progressive movement in the tradition’s largest denominations, such as the Assemblies of God.||Modern-day Presbyterianism has experienced significant division on theological and social issues. Conservatives desire to maintain 500-year-old doctrines and practices, while liberal and progressive thinkers want to mirror changes seen in society, especially on LGBTQ and gender issues.|
|What is their theology?||Pentecostals are Protestant, Arminian, and believe all gifts of the Holy Spirit, like speaking in tongues, are available today.||Presbyterians are Protestant, Calvinist (also known as Reformed), and believe certain gifts of the Holy Spirit, like speaking in tongues, were only for the establishment of the Church in the first century.|
|What are the largest denominations in the tradition?||Assemblies of God is by far the largest Pentecostal denomination. It is followed by the Church of God in Christ and the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee).||The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) is the largest denomination in the tradition, followed by the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). The PCUSA is liberal-moderate. The PCA is conservative.*|
*On the issue of same-sex relationships, the PCUSA supports gay and lesbian marriage.  The PCA doesn’t support same-sex marriage.  Like the PCA, Assemblies of God doesn’t support same-sex marriage,
“We believe, in light of biblical revelation, that the growing cultural acceptance of homosexual identity and behavior (male and female), same-sex marriage, and efforts to change one’s biological sexual identity are all symptomatic of a broader spiritual disorder that threatens the family, the government, and the church.” emphasis added
Presbyterian and Pentecostal theology and doctrine
The historic beliefs of Presbyterianism are articulated in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The historic beliefs of “Pentecostalism” aren’t found in confession or creed because the term refers to a broad tradition of like-minded churches and not any single denomination in particular. (Also see Presbyterian vs Methodist: What’s the Difference?)
Assemblies of God is by far the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world and so its beliefs are representative of most Pentecostals. The doctrinal statement of the Assemblies of God denomination is called The 16 Fundamental Truths.
Readers are encouraged to use the comparison chart below as a starting point for understanding the beliefs of each of these Christian traditions.
To learn more, please see The Westminster Confession of Faith (link below)  and The 16 Fundamental Truths (link below) .
|Scripture||Presbyterians 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).||Pentecostals hold to the inspiration, authority, inerrancy and infallibility.|
|God||Presbyterians believe there is one God who exists in three persons. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each fully divine.||Pentecostals believe in the Trinity and hold that each member is fully divine. So-called “Oneness Pentecostals” don’t believe in the Trinity and they don’t have fellowship with Trinitarian denominations like the Assemblies of God.|
|Christ||Jesus 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.||Jesus 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 resurrected on the third day.|
|People||God created people male and female in His own image. Because of humanity’s fall into sin, all people are born sinners and are in need of redemption.||God created people male and female in His own image. Because of humanity’s fall into sin, all people are born sinners and are in need of redemption.|
|Salvation||Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved. As Calvinists, Presbyterians believe in predestination, holding that God has selected some, but not others, to salvation.||Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved. As Arminians, Pentecostals emphasize people’s free will in choosing faith and repentance.|
|Baptism||Presbyterians practice infant baptism (and adult baptism) by means of sprinkling. Baptism signifies inclusion into the Covenant community.||Pentecostals hold to “believer’s baptism,” meaning that a person must be a professing Christian to be baptized. This rules out infants. Baptism is a declaration that a person has converted and is now a follower of Christ.|
|Communion||Presbyterians believe Christ is spiritually present in the bread and cup. The elements aren’t merely symbols or reminders.||Pentecostals believe the bread and cup are symbols that remind people of Christ’s death for sin and anticipate his return.|
|Holy Spirit||The 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.||Pentecostals believe that Holy Spirit is divine, applies Christ’s salvation, and distributes spiritual gifts. Unlike Presbyterianism, it holds that believers should seek and expect a second work of baptism in the Holy Spirit, which is a normal experience for all Christians.|
|Speaking in tongues||Presbyterians believe that certain spiritual gifts, like speaking in tongues, were only for the establishment of the Church in the first century and aren’t operational for today.||Pentecostals believe that all spiritual gifts, including speaking in tongues, are available to believers today. Speaking in tongues is “witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance.” |
|Sanctification||Sanctification refers to God’s continual work in the lives of Christians, through the Spirit, after they are justified in Christ. Sanctification isn’t perfected in this lifetime.||Sanctification “is an act of separation from that which is evil, and of dedication unto God.”  Some Pentecostals believe in “perfectionism,” which holds that believers can be separated from sin in this lifetime.|
|Church||The Church is the people of God, comprised of all believers. The “universal church” refers to all Christians, and the “local church” refers to individual bodies of believers. The Spirit leads churches to disciple, evangelize, participate in global missions work, and much more.||Same general belief as Presbyterianism, but emphasizes baptism in the Holy Spirit: “The Assemblies of God exists expressly to give continuing emphasis to this reason for being in the New Testament apostolic pattern by teaching and encouraging believers to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.” |
|Divine Healing||Presbyterianism teaches that God can heal people today, but that it isn’t an integral part of the gospel.||“Divine healing is an integral part of the gospel. Deliverance from sickness is provided for in the atonement, and is the privilege of all believers.” |
|The Return of Christ||Presbyterians believe in the Second Coming of Christ.||Pentecostals believe in the Second Coming of Christ.|
|Millennium||As Amillennialists, Presbyterians believe that the 1,000-year millennial reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1-6) is figurative and describes the time between Christ’s first and second coming.||As Premillennialists, Pentecostals believe that the 1,000-year reign of Christ is literal and will occur after the rapture and seven-year tribulation.|
|Judgment||A final judgment is inevitable. Those not found to be in Christ will go to hell for eternity. Those found in Christ will go to heaven for eternity.||A final judgment is inevitable. Those not found to be in Christ will go to hell for eternity. Those found in Christ will go to heaven for eternity.|
|Eternal State||Believers will live with God and each in a new heavens and new earth.||Same. “We, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.” |
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