What Is a Presbyterian?

What is a Presbyterian? What comes to mind when you hear that word (other than a name that is difficult to spell!)? It might surprise you to know that it is a word that is both biblical and historical in nature.

Presbyterian is biblical in that it refers to a form of church government in which the overseeing (or the “shepherding”) is done by elders. In fact, “Presbyterian” comes from a Greek work that simply means “elder.” When the Council of Jerusalem is called in Acts 15, those who attend are apostles and elders (Acts 15:6). After spending considerable time in the city, Paul delivers a farewell address to the elders in Ephesus, warning them to watch over their flock, the church (Acts 20:17-31). Titus is instructed to appoint elders where there are churches (Titus 1:5). And Timothy was ordained to the ministry by a group of elders (literally, a “presbytery” or “body of elders”; see 1 Timothy 4:14). These elders are godly men who watch over the church and are concerned with the spiritual needs of the members, committing themselves to prayer and the word in order to lead God’s people. The name “Presbyterian” simply reflects the way God has established, through His word, the way He desires for His people to be watched, guarded, and feed.

Presbyterian is also an historical term. It is most closely associated with John Knox, the great Scottish Reformer. Knox was greatly influenced by John Calvin, including the theology which brought about the Protestant Reformation – the recovery of the gospel (“good news”) of salvation by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. When Knox returned to Scotland in 1559, he brought with him a biblical form of church government (which was dubbed “Presbyterianism”) derived from the teachings of Calvin. In 1560, with the adoption of the Scottish Confession of Faith, Presbyterianism became the official church (or “kirk”) of Scotland. Presbyterianism was further solidified nearly a century later with the Westminster Confession of Faith, completed in 1648. Presbyterians were among those who traveled to the New World and helped colonize what would become the United States. In fact, the Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church dates back to the beginning of the United States, having been established in 1782, after the end of the Revolutionary War.

So the next time someone asks you about Presbyterianism, be sure to tell them it is both biblical and historical. While it is important that a Christian denomination has its roots in history, it is even more important that it has its origin in the word of God. And Presbyterianism is the best of both worlds.

—Pastor Tim Phillips

Via: Tim Phillips