Being Presbyterian and Reformed

Being Presbyterian and Reformed

Churches have all kinds of labels on the door. Some are traditional ones, like Baptist, Anglican or Presbyterian. Many now are simply called ‘community church’ or something like that, which says nothing about what kind of church it is. The church that I serve is called All Nations Presbyterian Church. Some have suggested that we remove the word ‘Presbyterian’, especially as many who come to us have English as a second language. I believe there is value in keeping the word, for it means something. It describes the kind of church we are and what is important to us. We are a Presbyterian church, part of the Reformed stream of Christianity.

In a series of blog posts, I am going to explore what that word means in practice. Why does it matter that our church is Presbyterian? What does it mean to be Reformed?

Let’s start with being Reformed. I grew up in a denomination with the word ‘Reformed’ in the title, and when I said what I church I attended I was often asked ‘reformed from what?’ The assumption was that we used to have a drinking problem or something, but now we were reformed from this! No, to be Reformed means that we stand with the principles of the Protestant Reformation. In essence, this means that we see the Bible as the ultimate authority, as being the very word of God. Everything we do needs to be based on the Bible. All traditions and practices are compared to what the Bible says, and our ministry is centred on the teaching of the Bible. All who come to our church are encouraged to read the Bible for themselves and not simply to reply on an expert or priest to explain it to them.

There are different streams within the Reformed tradition; one of them is Presbyterianism. The word is based on the Greek word for elder, so we are a church governed by elders. We’ll explore what that looks like in some detail in coming blog posts, but for now let’s cover some key principles. Presbyterian churches have elders, elected from the congregation, who are trained and examined and entrusted with leading God’s church. They care for the people God has given them. Each local church doesn’t see itself as independent but it connected to other like-minded churches in a region and a country. Leadership is something emphasized in Presbyterian churches, a leadership that doesn’t rest in the hands of one person but is shared by godly, mature men in each congregation.

Historically, Presbyterianism arose mainly from the English and Scottish Reformations. Our spiritual fathers were the Puritans. Although being called a Puritan can be a term of abuse, these were godly people who tried to have a simple, Biblical expression of their faith. In the same tradition of the Puritans, our worship services are simple and to the point. Presbyterian services contain singing, prayers, Bible readings and a sermon, with the aim of allowing the Bible to speak for itself. All is simple and order is highly valued.

A Presbyterian church, if true to the name, should have its agenda driven by the Bible. It might not be the funkiest of churches. It might not be flowery and cutting edge in what it does. What it should be is a place where the gospel is preached well and the congregation is well looked after and encouraged in their service of Jesus. A congregation where authority doesn’t rest in people but in the Word of God, where the group of elders aim to govern God’s people well.

Churches in the Presbyterian tradition do function a little differently to other churches both on the local and wider levels, and we’ll get to that in the next blog posts.