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The term Presbyterianism pertains to a church of Calvinistic origin. In England and in Scotland it involved a system of church government by presbyteries of ministers and elders. No higher rank than that of presbyter or elder was recognized, and all elders were ecclesiastically of equal rank. Each Presbyterian congregation was governed by its session of elders, each session was subordinate to provincial presbyteries, and these were, in their turn, subordinate to the General Assembly of the Church. Episcopacy, abolished in Scotland after the Covenant in 1638, was re-established after the Restoration in 1662, and the result was open warfare between the Calvinist Covenanters and the government which was resolved in favor of the Covenanters only after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Church of Scotland ("the kirk") adopted a fully Presbyterian system of church government in 1690, but the government successfully avoided the imposition of a Presbyterian theocracy. During the eighteenth century the Church, less and less severely Calvinistic, was challenged on one side by the Episcopalians and on the other by the remnants of extreme Presbyterianism. Presbyterianism was also the most prominent branch of the English Nonconformist or Dissenting movement before Unitarianism weakened it in the eighteenth century.

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Entered Victorian Web 1987; last modified 26 April 2004