Presbyterian Cross

Why is the Presbyterian Cross so often adorned with the symbol of a burning bush?

Presbyterian Cross

Presbyterian Cross

Contrary to some people's ideas, Presbyterians do not follow the teachings of 'St. Presbyter', since no such saint has existed. The term presbyter is Late Latin for 'an elder'. (The prefix pre- means 'before' or 'leader', and the Vulgar Latin gave us prester, meaning 'priest'.) The name implies that the Presbyterian Church is governed by elders rather than bishops.

John Knox (1505-1572) is credited with starting the first Presbyterian Kirk in Scotland. The Church of Scotland itself was eventually reformed along Presbyterian lines and Presbyterianism spread throughout the world. This worldwide evangelism has had considerable success. Now 60% of Christians live in developing countries - more Presbyterians go to church in Ghana than in Scotland.

The national Presbyterian Churches in each country have their own logo or emblem, and often the main feature is a burning bush, sometimes with the motto: Ardens Sed Virens (Burning but not Consumed). These include:

  • Free Presbyterian Church (FPC) of Ulster
  • Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC)
  • Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI)
  • Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT)
  • Presbyterian Church of Brazil (PCB)
  • Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA)
  • United Church of Canada (UCC)
  • Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA)
Presbyterian Church of East Africa

Other national churches additionally feature something to identify the country. For example in France, the Église Réformée de France (ERF) uses the burning bush and dove symbols found in the Huguenot Cross.

The Church of Scotland (C of S) uses a Scottish St. Andrew's Cross as the background of their main emblem. Note that the overall shape is similar to warrior-shield shapes used for many African church logos. "Dr Livingstone, I presume?"

An offshoot of the C of S is the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP), which associates itself to the region through the Celtic Cross. In addition to the burning bush (lower left of the emblem) they also show an open Bible, the Alpha and Omega symbols (ΑΩ) and a dove.

The red/white/blue colours of the Presbyterian Church, USA (PCUSA) logo match those of the Flag of the United States and the flames at the base represent the burning bush.

Other churches have adopted similar logos; for example, the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan (PCP), which was started in 1854 by the United Presbyterian Church of North America.

The design is a clever composite of several elements:

The miraculous burning bush which was not consumed (Exod. 3) is a symbol repeated in Presbyterian Church emblems around the world and represents the bondage of the church in Egypt. Their emblems remind us that the church and its people, in every age and every culture, may suffer severe persecution. And yet God prevents His people from being destroyed.

An alternative interpretation is that the fire of the Holy Spirit can burn away sin and leave the soul pure.

Not all Presbyterian Church logos include the burning bush. For example:

  • Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian (CCAP) in Malawi
  • Church of Christ in Congo - Presbyterian Community of Congo (CCC)
  • Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Ghana, which incorporates a Celtic Cross in its logo and adopts the blue colour associated with Scotland. (See the flag of Scotland)
  • Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (PCC) logo includes an alpha and omega
  • Presbyterian Church of Africa (PCAf), whose logo has a tiny cross atop an outline of the continent within a heart
  • Presbyterian Church of Australia (PCAu), whose logo has a cross superimposed on the Southern Cross of the Australian national flag
  • Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK)
  • Presbyterian Church of Nigeria (PCoN)
  • United Church of Christ in Philippines (UCCP)
  • Uniting Church in Australia

See also Burning Cross.


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