For those of you who would like a bit more Presbyterian history than what we’re running on our posts for the next few days, I would direct you to a very nice treatment on the Rev. John Witherspoon and the city of Washington D.C. The connection between Witherspoon and D.C. may seem surprising, but you’ll have to read the article, by my good friend Barry Waugh, to discover the explanation. Click the embedded link in the previous sentence, to read the article. I think you will enjoy it.
TEN REASONS FOR BEING A PRESBYTERIAN.
The season of General Assemblies and Synods is upon us, June being the month when most of the American Presbyterian denominations convene in their national meetings—and so this seemed a good time to look over a little tract from the late 1840’s titled “Ten Reasons for Being a Presbyterian. We will look at one reason each day, as offered by our anonymous author, working from an original copy of the tract, which is pictured below on the right. On the cover of the tract is this quote from the great Swiss historian, J.H. Merle d’Aubigne:—
“The great thing in the Church is CHRIST, the blood of Christ, the Spirit of Christ, the presence of Christ among us. The great thing is Christ, but there is also advantage in a certain government of the Church of Christ. I am a Presbyterian, not only of situation, but of conviction and choice. Our Presbyterian way is the good middle way between Episcopacy on the one side, and Congregationalism on the other. We combine the two great principles that must be maintained in the Church—Order and Liberty; the order of government, and the liberty of the people.”—Merle d’ Aubigne.
3. I AM A PRESBYTERIAN—because the form of Church Government, which we call Presbytery, is founded on the Word of God. The office-bearers in our Church are Scriptural in their offices and authority. In each of our congregations there is a Minister, whose special office it is to preach the Word and dispense the Sacraments. There is no difference of rank among these Ministers or Presbyters. All are equal as brethren, having one Master and King, even the Lord Jesus.—(Matt. xxiii. 8, 9, 10.) This is what we mean by Presbyterian parity. All our ministers are alike bishops or overseers, not of other ministers but of their own flocks; not prelates but pastors, as in apostolical times.
In our Presbyterian Churches, besides the minister, there are others whose office it is to aid in the oversight and government of the Church, in visiting the sick, and other spiritual superintendence of the people. These are usually termed “the Elders of the Church;” or sometimes Ruling Elders or Presbyters, (1 Tim. v. 17,) to distinguish them from the Pastors or preaching Presbyters, “who labour in word and doctrine.” And lastly, there are Deacons (Acts vi.), whose special office it is to care for the poor, and superintend those arrangements which promote the outward comfort of the congregation.
These three orders of office bearers are all that we believe to be permanent in the Church of Christ. That “Bishop” is only another name for “Presbyter,” and that there were not two distinct orders signified by these names, is proved by many parts of the Word of God. When Paul called the Elders (Presbyters) of the Ephesian Church, he charged them to take heed to the flock over which the Holy Ghost had made them overseers (Bishops).—(Acts xx. 17-28.) So also Peter, in his first Epistle, chapter v. 1.—”The Elders who are among you I exhort, who am also an Elder.” Having therefore no sanction of Divine authority, nor apostolic usage, whence some Diocesan Bishops, Archbishops, Deans, Archdeacons, Lords Spiritual, Cardinals, or Pope, in the Church of Christ? Are these successors of the men whom Jesus called unto Him and said, “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you.” “One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.”
4. I AM A PRESBYTERIAN—because there is no form of Church Government that so combines the two great principles, Order and Liberty—the Order of Government and the Liberty of the People.
The government is conducted by the office-bearers in individual churches, who constitute what we call Church Sessions; by the office-bearers of a number of churches, who form what we call Presbyteries; and by the office-bearers of a still greater number of churches, forming Synods or General Assemblies. A Church Session consists of the minister and the elders of a congregation; a Presbytery, of ministers and representative elders of several churches; and a Synod or Assembly, of ministers and elders of churches in a larger district or province.—(Acts xv.)
In countries where the number of Presbyterian churches is very great, the Assemblies are composed of representative ministers and elders chosen by each Presbytery. In all cases, Presbyteries and Synods consist of ministers and elders in equal numbers, deliberating and voting together. The Moderator or President of these Courts holds office only for a definite period, and is appointed sometimes by election, and sometimes by rotation. By these several and successive Church Courts, mature deliberation, impartial justice, and ecclesiastical order are secured. In cases of difficulty reference may be made and advice sought, and in dispute appeal may be taken from the Session to the Presbytery, and from the Presbytery to the Synod or Assembly of the Church.
Every congregation is free and independent in its local government and discipline, in the election of its office-bearers, in devising and executing its plans of Christian usefulness, and in the whole management of its affairs, so long as its acts are not inconsistent with the general rules and with the common weal of the Church. In all good government, civil or ecclesiastical, there is some central authority to confirm and regulate local liberty. This superintendence is exercised by each Presbytery over the several congregations within its bounds, and Presbyteries are under the control of Synods, and Synods are responsible to the General Assembly, in which the supreme power, legislative and executive, is vested. .