What is a Presbyterian?
The question is often asked of our members, or at least considered by many. In fact, I see it cross the minds of people when they hear I’m a Presbyterian Pastor. What is the question? It’s simply this, what is a Presbyterian? Is it some strange cult? Are they a weird group of people? Are Presbyterians Christian? My hope is that this rather brief response will serve to help put your minds at ease about “those Presbyterians”.
First, what is this strange word, Presbyterian? Presbyterian comes from the Greek word Πρεσβυτερος (which sounds like “Prezbiewteross”). That is the New Testament word for the office of Elder sometimes translated as an overseer. The Presbyterian church is convinced that the Bible teaches the primary spiritual leaders of the church are Elders (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Acts 14:23, Hebrews 13:17, and 1 Peter 5:1-4). Therefore, each local Presbyterian church has a delegation of Elders called a session. These are men set apart with authority to oversee the governing, operation, and worship of that local body. The regional gathering of these sessions forms a Presbytery, and the national gathering of these Presbyteries forms the General Assembly. Therefore, “Presbyterian” simply means led by Elders.
We do have Deacons as well. However, unlike in other denominations, they do not lead the church. Yet, they are in no way less important. The Deacon of a Presbyterian church is a man set apart for service to the church to maintain the facilities, aid the widows and those struggling in the church, care for the needy and poor, organize and present a budget to the Elders, and assist wherever requested by the Elders. We find their office and calling laid out in Scripture (Acts 6:1-3, 1 Timothy 3:8-13).
Now that we have the words themselves dealt with, what makes Presbyterians different? In summary the distinctions lay in the form of government, the confessions of faith, and the holding of Reformed theology. I have already spoken on the government and will now, as briefly as possible, address the other two topics.
What do we mean by “Confessions of Faith”? The Presbyterian church holds that the Westminster Confession of Faith along with both the Larger and Shorter Catechism, provide a faithful summary of the teachings of Scripture. It is very important to stress that although we hold to these documents, they do not equal nor supersede Scripture. Here is what the Westminster Confession itself states regarding Scripture from Chapter one:
- The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
- The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.
In fact, every Sunday I remind those in attendance with us that there is only one place where we can go to find absolute truth and that is the Bible. As you can see we hold a very high view of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. As such, everything we seek to do at First Presbyterian Church Crystal Springs and are constantly challenged to do in our life is whatsoever is taught by Scripture, not how we feel about it.
What then is meant by “Reformed Faith”? This subject alone would and in fact does fill volumes. To make the overview concise I will use what is famously known as the Five Points of Calvinism, (although these were developed many years after John Calvin’s death). These five points were issued as a response by the Dutch churches to five claims put forward by followers of Jacobus Arminius who came to be known as “Arminians”. The five fit an acrostic “T.U.L.I.P.” and in summary teach what is still held in Reformed Churches today. These five points are briefly covered as follows:
T: Total Depravity. Not that we are as wicked as we can be, but that every part of our nature is corrupted and fallen. Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 17:9
U: Unconditional Election. The elect are chosen by God according to His own free will, not according to our faith, works, foreseen faith, or other efforts, “not of ourselves lest any man should boast” Ephesians 2:8
L: Limited Atonement. The atoning work of Christ is powerful and effectual for all who were chosen “before the foundation of the world”. Ephesians 1:4
I: Irresistible Grace. All who God predestines, and calls will come. Once the Spirit regenerates our souls we will turn to Him. Just as Jesus stated, “all that the Father has given to me will come and none will be able to pluck them from my hand.” John 6:37
P: Perseverance of the Saints. Being called, justified, and sanctified, we will also be kept. “He who is able to keep us from falling will through His Spirit keep us to the very end.” Jude 24
So, what is a Presbyterian? They are individuals who have seen their need for a Savior. They have acknowledged that in every way they have broken God’s Law and place their faith fully in the completed work of redemption through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They believe that all people regardless of ethnicity, nationality, age, or gender are called to repent and turn to Him. That all are invited to worship together. And that every day they should make the most of telling others about Him and seeking to live obedient lives to His Word. In short, “What is a Presbyterian?” They are sinners, redeemed by Jesus, who are calling all to repent, believe, and follow!
I want to extend a personal invitation to you reading this response. If you have more questions about who we are or what we believe then come see me at the church, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact any of our Elders, Deacons, or members. We would love to talk and pray with you.
If you are a member of a Gospel preaching, Bible believing church then I challenge you to remain faithful to your congregation where God has placed you. We as Christians are all part of One Kingdom, so let’s live as such by showing love one for another. Lastly, if you do not have a church home, I am personally inviting you to come this, next, or any Sunday morning at 11 am or evening at 5pm. Introduce yourself and worship with us. I believe you’ll quickly see we’re not that weird! May the Peace of Christ and the Power of the Holy Spirit be with all who love Him!
In HIs Service,