Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Why you should be a Presbyterian

pbyBy Mark Jones

Despite what you may think, Presbyterian ecclesiology is not primarily defined by churches governed by elders, but by churches governed by presbyteries. Presbyteries can encompass the elders of a local church, a regional church, and what is termed a “general assembly.” This view is established from the oneness of the visible church. Based on the sufficiency of Scripture, Presbyterians hold that the church is governed jure divino (by divine right). There are certain fixed principles in the government of the church. We hold that Christ has blessed the church with the Scriptures, church officers, and sacraments. In doing so, Christ has “ordained therein his system of doctrine, government, discipline, and worship, all of which are either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary inference may be deduced therefrom” (Presbyterian Church in America Book of Church Order).

While there is much that Presbyterians and classic congregationalists can agree on, nevertheless, against the congregationalist view, Presbyterians affirm the authority of presbyteries beyond the local church. That’s the crux of the issue between Presbyterians and congregationalists: authority.

Primacy of the Universal Church

Presbyterianism holds to the idea of a universal visible church as the goal of ecclesiology. This principle arises from the scriptural idea of church unity. The Nicene Creed speaks of “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” The Scriptures are clear about the oneness of the visible church, for there “is one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:4-5; see also John 17:20-23).



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  1. Don says:

    My Presbyterian roots go back at least a half dozen generations, so I’m not about to argue with the author’s basic premise. The question, though, is just how much power presbyteries wield, and in what causes they wield it. The congregation of which I used to be a member, before leaving the PCUSA, called an associate pastor a couple years ago. She is liberal in her theology and her political and social views. So there was no question that she would be approved by Grace Presbytery. Had she been more conservative, I expect Grace would have vetoed her – even though most of the congregation is relatively conservative. So who is really calling the pastor? Not the congregation, but a general presbyter and maybe a very few other individuals at presbytery who are, effectively, acting as a bishop. And that’s not Presbyterian.

    • P. J. Southam says:

      There are always four parties involved in a call: The congregation, the pastor/candidate, the presbytery, and most importantly the Holy Spirit. In my opinion it is not good if we ignore any of the four parties. Also, thank you for using the word “call”. I often have to remind even life-long Presbyterians that we don’t “hire” pastors, they are “called”. But that is another discussion.

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