Presbyterian Church Government?

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TKarrer

Puritan Board Freshman
I am having a hard time seeing the Scriptural warrant for the Presbyterian form of church government. Acts 14(?) seems clearly to be an assembly of elders, all being from the same city, with other apostles present. I believe in a plurality of elders, but don't see where Scripture warrants for assemblies of elders leading churches; or various church elders, from different congregrations, joining to establish doctrinal and practical guidelines for multiple churches.

I'll admit it seems wise, but I don't see it in the Bible yet.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Check out the London Provincial Assembly's Jus Divinum Regiminis: The Divine Right of Church Government and Thomas Witherow's The Apostolic Church: Which is it? Both defend Presbyterianism. The Witherow is pithy; jus divinum is sort of, for a 17th century work. The Naphtali Press edition of Jus Divinum is out of print (write David Hall for a copy; he bought all that were left). Witherow may be online.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Witherow is online:
The Apostolic Church - Which is it? or on Google Books

Jus Divinum Regiminis however, is not yet available online.

:up: Both are outstanding. I own both and hope to see the latter as a digital download eventually. It is an extremely important work.

In a nutshell:

1. Elders were appointed in every Church arguing against a single Pastor model for a Church.
2. Elder and Bishop are used interchangeably in the Epistles arguing against a monarchical Bishop model.
3. Church councils are evidenced in Acts arguing against an independent model.

It's a bit more complicated than that but those are some of the major pieces.
 

TKarrer

Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks for the recommendations. I did find Witherow's work, and found his handling of Acts 15 to be pretty compelling. I look forward to getting both of those and disecting them, Scripture in hand.

Are there any other references to a convening church council, outside of Acts 15?
 

Josiah

Puritan Board Senior
Hi Thomas,

Its always good to see a native Washingtonian represented on the board :).
I wanted to share with you the book Biblical Church Government Written by Kevin Reed. It was one of those books that help introduce the Presbyterian form of government to me. Hope you find the answers you are looking for :book2:
 

TKarrer

Puritan Board Freshman
So... after reading Acts 15 more carefully, and with help, I am seeing a central board of leaders that made a Church decision. It seems it is only the Jerusalem elders which are present, along with the apostles. If that is so, wouldn't that mean the Church should only have one governing body of leaders?


Josiah,
Thanks you kindly!
 

lynnie

Puritan Board Graduate
What was the origin of the current situation ( PCA) where the pastor is not a member of the church but is a member of the Presbytery, and when they get together it is considered a church meeting like a Sunday meeting even if it is another day? I understand the reasons to have a presbytery, but I don't understand why a pastor is not a member of his own local church.
 

Nathan Riese

Puritan Board Freshman
What was the origin of the current situation ( PCA) where the pastor is not a member of the church but is a member of the Presbytery, and when they get together it is considered a church meeting like a Sunday meeting even if it is another day? I understand the reasons to have a presbytery, but I don't understand why a pastor is not a member of his own local church.

Not really OP related necessarily. Different question=Different thread
 

Rev. Todd Ruddell

Puritan Board Junior
Thanks for the recommendations. I did find Witherow's work, and found his handling of Acts 15 to be pretty compelling. I look forward to getting both of those and disecting them, Scripture in hand.

Are there any other references to a convening church council, outside of Acts 15?

Note especially Acts 16.4 where the Synod at Jerusalem issued "decrees for to keep" to other churches. This speaks of an authority beyond that of the local church.
 

A.J.

Puritan Board Junior
Witherow is online:
The Apostolic Church - Which is it? or on Google Books

Jus Divinum Regiminis however, is not yet available online.

http://media.sermonaudio.com/mediapdf/81907645464.pdf

Is the book in the link above the same as the Jus Divinum Regiminis?

-----Added 12/9/2009 at 03:56:44 EST-----

In The Biblical Origins of the Presbytery (available from the OPC website), Ross Graham explains Thomas Witherow's conclusions and provides practical applications too. It can be read in one sitting. Highly recommended!
 
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Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
What was the origin of the current situation ( PCA) where the pastor is not a member of the church but is a member of the Presbytery, and when they get together it is considered a church meeting like a Sunday meeting even if it is another day? I understand the reasons to have a presbytery, but I don't understand why a pastor is not a member of his own local church.

I'm sure you will get some detailed answers here.

The idea is the senior teaching elder (pastor) is subject to a "jury of his peers" for discipline and accountability- others called and confirmed to carefully handle God's Word. So, if discipline (morals or doctrine) had to be done, it would be removed from the group that might be most influenced by him, his parishioners.

In PCA polity, the congregation confirms by calling and approving his support, so they do approve their pastor. (That aspect is procedure, can't say it is directly from scripture, only an equitable kind of choice).

The idea of a presbytery being like a church meeting is that it is- a time of particularized worship and focus. While local procedure varies, you might be surprised that prayer and devotionals are done, church discipline discussed, many other matters.

Some of the presbytery meetings are open for members to observe.

Even General Assembly is this way- it is considered a "court" of the church and its business has a lot of worship with it.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Yes that is the 19th century edition based on the third edition. The Naphtali edition is a critical edition showing the changes made between the first and third editions, and also has a valuable introduction by David W. Hall. But the 19th century will do in a pinch. Beware any SWRB propaganda however.

Witherow is online:
The Apostolic Church - Which is it? or on Google Books

Jus Divinum Regiminis however, is not yet available online.

http://media.sermonaudio.com/mediapdf/81907645464.pdf

Is the book in the link above the same as the Jus Divinum Regiminis?

-----Added 12/9/2009 at 03:56:44 EST-----

In The Biblical Origins of the Presbytery (available from the OPC website), Ross Graham explains Thomas Witherow's conclusions and provides practical applications too. It can be read in one sitting. Highly recommended!
 

lynnie

Puritan Board Graduate
The idea is the senior teaching elder (pastor) is subject to a "jury of his peers" for discipline and accountability- others called and confirmed to carefully handle God's Word. So, if discipline (morals or doctrine) had to be done, it would be removed from the group that might be most influenced by him, his parishioners.

That is so interesting and I can see the logic. I appreciate you answering me. I guess I should have asked my pastor but I didn't want to be critical, and I knew my facial expression would be in the "what is this wierdness" category if I asked. I should give those old dead Presbyterian guys more credit :)
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
There's also the anti-catholic (small "c"! pay attention!) attitude of much of our society.

We have elevated the notion of individualism to the level of an absolute good. This translates into a definition of "local" that ends up meaning "whatever we can fit under one roof."

A moment's reflection should disabuse this notion. How "local" are the mega-churches, really, according to a typical definiton? They've managed to get everyone under a single roof, for a single teaching episode, and its all run by one set of managers (usually with a CEO). But the pyramid is not always (is it ever?) the best model for church-government.

The megachurch--and indeed I would argue virtually all forms of independency--is hardly different in principle from the hierarchical, imperial model. Only the scope of asserted control varies.


Actually, "local" is a relative term. "Locality" can be under one roof, or it can be together in a city, or expand that to region, or country. Furthermore, different denominations of the church of Christ can be present side by side on the same street; but the multiplicity of jurisdictions, the overlapping of "locality" from which membership is drawn, and they may together or separately be recognized as "local".

Problems arise when catholicity is denied, as much as when locality is denied. You have the problem of "we're the church, you aren't," based on some distinctive other than the gospel. You have the problem of "we're local, you're a denomination". Independency, in its quest for autonomy and don't-tell-me-what-to-do, escapes practically all forms of accountability to the wider church.

The only accountability it has (either in terms of leadership or membership) is whether folks can freely walk away, or the overall wealth and social-standing of the church. These are forms of accountability that are actually far more succeptible to abuse than a well-ordered denominational affiliation.

If you flatten out church government so much that unity is practically illusion, that Christ is "Head" simply on top of every "molecule" (separate church) instead of a "body" (multiples of people, of churches, of ministers, of elders, of deacons), you aren't necessarily eliminating the principle of catholicity, nor is this necessarily a "deformed" church structure; but you are absolutizing one expression of "locality" to the exclusion of all others, and reducing accountability on earth to a binary switch.


So far as I know, we will still have church-government in heaven. We will still have lines of accountability in heaven, organization, and integrated mission between all Christ's branches of service. The Twelve apostles along with Israel's Twelve sons are still circled in heaven, and the first church (with many additions) still gathered together "in one accord."

The many synagogues of Christians in Jerusalem made one large church. Time and tide have both dispersed and reorganized this church on earth many times since, but we should not despise the "unities", both great and small, that we still find on earth.
 

BertMulder

Puritan Board Junior
What was the origin of the current situation ( PCA) where the pastor is not a member of the church but is a member of the Presbytery, and when they get together it is considered a church meeting like a Sunday meeting even if it is another day? I understand the reasons to have a presbytery, but I don't understand why a pastor is not a member of his own local church.


This is one of the differences between the presbyterian churches and the reformed churches. In the reformed tradition, the pastor IS a member of the local church...
 

A.J.

Puritan Board Junior
Correct me if I'm wrong. I think remember Dr. R. Scott Clark as saying that in Presbyterian churches, ministers are delegated by the presbytery to the local church. In Reformed (i.e., 3FU) churches, however, ministers are delegated by the local church to the classis. I'll try to find where he said this.

-----Added 12/9/2009 at 05:42:22 EST-----

Dr. Clark says here,

There are differences in polity. In Dutch churches the relations between classis and consistory (the local adjudicating body) are described as broader not "higher." In Presbyterian polity, the presbytery is "higher" than the session etc. In Dutch polity, ministers are not members of classis, only of their local congregation. Classis only exists as a delegated body. When it closes business it doesn't exist. In Presbyterian polity, the Presbytery is a body that always exists and frequently meets (again, esp. in the OPC! - I say with affection and reverence). The minister is a member of Presbytery on loan to a local congregation.

-----Added 12/9/2009 at 06:05:43 EST-----

So... after reading Acts 15 more carefully, and with help, I am seeing a central board of leaders that made a Church decision. It seems it is only the Jerusalem elders which are present, along with the apostles. If that is so, wouldn't that mean the Church should only have one governing body of leaders?


Josiah,
Thanks you kindly!

Brother, as I read the arguments in The Divine Right of Church Government (see above for an online pdf copy of the book), I notice that central to the Presbyterian case for church government is the way Presbyterians understand and read the word "church" especially in the Book of Acts.

When most people today read the word "church" in Acts (e.g. Acts 8:1), they usually and immediately assume that the word refers to a single congregation only. Presbyterians do not hold to this interpretation. They rather affirm that the word "church" can be used to refer to a single local congregation or to multiple congregations within a city.

The Divine Right of Church Government argues that the Church in Jerusalem and the Church in Antioch each had multiple congregations. The Acts 15 Council, therefore, was made up of delegates from the congregations of the Church in Jerusalem and delegates (i.e. Paul and Barnabas - they were participants in the Council too!) from the congregations of the Church in Antioch (and probably other delegates too from the congregations of other churches. Observe the other places mentioned in 15:23 and 16:1-4). Confessional Presbyterians today simply imitate the apostolic example provided in this text of the Bible. See Chapter XIII (entitled Of the Divine Right of Presbyteries...for the Government of the Church) of the book for a detailed treatment of this.

I remember Rev. Buchanan (pastor, I'm quoting you again :)) explaining this elsewhere. He writes,

1Cor.15:9 "For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God."
Gal.1:13 "For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:"

Was this a specific "church" reference? Because not only did Paul waste the Jerusalem church, but certainly outside of it, as far as heading to Damascus. He actually attacked physical people in physical, discrete places. But to him, it was all one attack on Christ and his church, singular.

I think Paul is speaking of the whole, universal church. It is a "body", and he may have been bloodying the nose, but the whole "church" even unto Damascus was being attacked.

I think it is artificial to say all faithful churches in a city can't be known as "the church" of that place, in some sense at least. For Presbyterians, it's even simpler because all our congregations in one Presbytery (perhaps it is in a city or region) constitute the church of that place. We are one body. But we can happily refer to them individually as particular manifestations of the church (i.e. "churches") too.

The "church which is at Corinth" referred to at the beginning of both letters. Was there only one church-congregation in the whole city? The Romans had this thing about large, unauthorized gatherings of people... it made them nervous. And there was this persecution too.

1Co 16:19 "The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house." Was their church the only church in Ephesus? Paul had a major-ministry there, even starting a "seminary" of sorts. And yet a letter is sent to the Ephesian church, and John still wrote to that church in Rev.2:1, implying something about its prominence and stength. Why wouldn't this letter be shared among many meeting-places of the church in Ephesus?

Php.4:15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. Is there only one church-congregation in Philippi?

The "church of the Thessalonians" referred to at the beginning of both letters. Is there only one church-congregation in Thessalonica? These were very early letters, so maybe so.

Col 4:15 "Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house." Was there only one church-congregation in Laodicea? Again, it was a lesser metropolis than Ephesus, but a significant town on a main route. But Paul tells them to share their letter with the Laodiciean church (4:16) and their letter with the Colossian church (which was a smaller city).

Phm.1:2 "And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:" Paul was treating two churches (of Colosse and Laodicea) as one body in some sense. They may have been served by the one minister, Epaphras, and in his absence, Archippus. But why the repeated references to homes with churches, if there was only one of these homes in a city? They are never referred to at the beginning of the letter, only the city.

In Rev.2&3, there are seven references to "the church" in seven cities--some of which had been growing strong for decades. There must have been thousands of Christians in the "church in Ephesus." Where were they going to meet all at once, as "the church"? Were the city fathers going to offer them the public arena once a week?

This is the unbelievable thing about the original article, ref. Jerusalem. The church thousands all got together at the Temple--the first mega-church was in Jerusalem! Only in 20th/21st century America could this be believed.
 
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