What does it mean that we are Presbyterian?
In the book of Acts, as the early Church is getting established, and the days of the apostles are coming to an end as they were being persecuted, it becomes clear that the role of the Elder would take their place.
Acts 14:23, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
Acts 20:17 “Now from Miletus he (Paul) sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.” Acts 20:28, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
That word Elder in Acts 14 and Act 20 is “presbyterous”. So at the core, to be “Presbyterian” is to be led by Elders.
Using the analogy of a shepherd and sheep, as Jesus does in places like John 10, the Elder is a spiritual shepherd who looks out for the wellbeing of the souls of those under his care. He serves as an example to the flock, as well as to govern them. He uses God’s word to teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness. He knows the sheep, feeds the sheep, leads the sheep, and protects the sheep.
This Presbyterian form of church government can perhaps be better understood as you compare it to the other two main kinds, namely “Episcopal” and “congregational”. The Episcopal form of church government is sometimes called “hierarchical” because at its core is the concept of an “episkopos” which means overseer. In modern day language, we use the term Bishop. In this government, a bishop oversees a certain region of churches and rules over them. Power is in the hands of bishops. You find such a form of government in the Episcopal Church, Catholic Church and the Methodist Church. Congregational churches are lead by a congregational vote. Power is invested with the members themselves who make the ultimate determination on a host of matters. Baptist Churches usually hold to this form of government.
By contrast, in a Presbyterian form of government, power is not invested in a bishop over a local area or the members themselves, but instead in the Elders that the congregation elects to represent them. Those Elders are to care for and make decisions on behalf of those under their care.
We must add that to be Presbyterian is more than church government.
We are “Confessional” in that we hold to the doctrinal standards of the Westminster Confession of Faith, including the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechism.
We are “Covenantal” in that we affirm God has always dealt with mankind through covenants. Biblical passages like Romans 5:1-14 make this abundantly clear.
We are “Calvinistic”. That term speaks most particularly of a doctrine of salvation which puts God at the center of the work of redemption. God is the one who plans, accomplishes and applies redemption. God is the one who is sovereign over His great work of saving a people for His glory.
We are “Conservative” as opposed to liberal. We believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant infallible Word of God. We hold conservative positions on the authority of Scripture and issues such as abortion, divorce, sexuality and the role of women in ministry. As a result of those debates a group of Presbyterians broke away from the mainline, liberal Presbyterian Church USA in 1973 to form the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The First Presbyterian Church of Pooler is a PCA congregation.
In closing, we are unashamedly Presbyterian, but our heart is not to promote Presbyterianism. Instead, our heart is to promote the name and glory of Jesus Christ.