February 23rd, 2007
Reformed or Presbyterian is a name used to describe our form of church government. It seeks to balance the concerns of the individual, the congregation, the leadership, and the broader church so that the headship of Christ is fully represented at all levels of the church.
Presbyterianism uses a team ministry in which men, ordained as elders, shepherd the church as equals. This avoids the problem of independency and congregationalism which can often lead to anarchy and the rule of the majority. By checks and balances this approach seeks to provide mutual accountability, and thus avoid an oppressive hierarchy that is found in various forms of prelacy.
Presbyterianism is a very old pattern of church government (similar to the form of government used in the United States Constitution, probably because much was taken from the Presbyterian system). Although church government, we admit, is not essential to salvation, principles of church order are a part of divine revelation, and therefore cannot be overlooked. How can the whole counsel of God be conserved if a scriptural government is not established and maintained?
An examination of the main principles of the early Church of the apostles shows that the form of Church government was Presbyterian. The central feature of this system of ecclesiastical government is that Christ is the only head of the church and he has given unique gifts to presbyters or elders to shepherd his flock.
The following six principles characterized the government of the early Christian Church (taken from Witherow’s Apostolic Church):
- The office-bearers were chosen by the people.
- The office of a bishop and an elder was identical.
- There was a plurality of elders in each Church.
- Ordination was the act of a presbytery—that is, of a plurality of elders.
- There was the privilege of appeal to the assembly of elders; and the power of government was exercised by them in their associate capacity.
- The only Head of the Church was the Lord Jesus Christ.
A comparison of the three forms of government of various Christian denominations—Prelacy, Independency, and Presbyterianisn—shows that Prelacy conforms to none of the above principles; Independency to only three; while Presbyterianism conforms to all six.