Monday, 28 January 2013

Church Government: Presbyterianism

To see the introduction and what I gathered from the Anglican view, see here.

Presbyterianism was presented by L. Roy Taylor. Here's what I got out of it:
1) A local Presbyterian church is governed by a group of elders, called the session, which consists of some teaching elders (generally ministers who preach on Sundays) and some ruling elders (who errmm... don't preach on Sundays usually).
2) A local Presbyterian church is connected with other Presbyterian churches in the region through Presbytery, which consists of members of sessions from those churches.
3) Then, at least one member from each Presbytery join together in a bigger region, possibly at the national level, to form the General Assembly.
4) Each of these are meant to be representative ruling body, which means the voices from both above and below are heard by the ruling body. Discipline is possible while tyranny is preventable. Also, because Elders from different churches get together to form Presbytery and the General Assembly, there is a natural cooperative connection amongst churches.
5) The reason for doing church this way, they claim, is from the bible, both the OT and NT. They trace the origin of plural elder-leadership in the community of God from the Moses's time in the OT and assumed and endorsed by the Apostles in the NT.
6) The strengths are mentioned already above, but the weakness is the fact that ministry decision making can be quite cumbersome and inefficient. This can, in my view, cut both ways. It sometimes is a good thing that decisions don't get made in haste when it comes to theology and doctrines. At the same time, overhead of convincing and getting approval from a number of elders can be a slow process and almost impractical at times. (I might point out here though, that the Presbyterian churches world wide are not free from liberalism or heresies. It's good to remember that there's no perfect church on earth!)
7) Deacons, differing from Anglicanism, are lay-positions.
8) Presbyterians also recognise that the bible is not prescribing a form of church structure. However, the Presbyterianism is, as in point 5 above, endorsed by the whole of the bible.
9) There is a distinction between a teaching elder and a ruling elder as seen in point 1 above, but, while I am ok with it, the biblical basis for it seems rather weak and almost arbitrary.

So, I am very much comfortable with the Presbyterian way of structuring churches. I don't think I am naive about it. I grew up in the Presbyterian church for over 30 years, and have seen its own abuse of authorities and I have tried to encourage the pastors who were given the difficult job of persuading a group of elders to get anything significant done. But I trust that God's wisdom is greater than ours and in His wisdom, the Presbyterianism is endorsed in the bible for a good reason and purpose.

I've just started reading the single-elder congregationalism. Where am I now in terms of church government persuasion so far?

I definitely prefer Presbyterianism. But having been pointed out by a Presbyterian that its way is not the one and true way of doing church that the bible prescribes but only endorsed (for me this distinction is crucial), I think I can be open to the Anglican way (a low church variety only please). The biggest hurdle for me, however, remains as the lack of plural eldership in a local church. I couldn't help imagining a merge of the Presbyterian way with the Anglican way where ministers are ordained by bishops as Anglicans do, but each church officially selects people from its own congregation to be the elders and lead together with the minister. Wouldn't that be chaotic? Inefficiency and bishops both maintained? I'm sure somebody would have thought of this before, no? Plural-elder church with bishops? No? Nobody?

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