Presbyterianism: For What?

Presbyterianism - For What?

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you..." (Matt 28: 19-20).

OK, so presbyterianism is the Biblical form of church government, but what exactly is this "governing" anyway?

Limited Functions 
As Christ is the King of the church, He appoints the functions of the church, that is the church in the sense of an organised body. There are many legitimate activities that Christians individually and as a group may engage in, but the instituted church has specific functions appointed by Christ.

Limited Authority 
The eldership of the church, whether we think of the local session or the higher presbyterial bodies, always has a limited authority. They are to act under Christ, the Chief Shepherd. "Whatsoever I have commanded you', is the circumference of church authority and f church authority and the church's governing bodies should take great care to go up to but not across that line. So the synod at Jerusalem could say, "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things." (Acts 15:28). The word "teach" in Matthew 28:19 means "to disciple" or "to make disciples of'. This is the great work of the church empowered by and under the authority of Christ.

Making New Disciples

A The Church's Job. 
Apart from the witness of the individual Christian, the only evangelistic or missionary agency mentioned in Scripture is the church. Other missionary organisations exist largely as a result of either the failure of the church to evangelise or as a stopgap because of the fragmented state of the church. We should not, however, lose sight of the Biblical ideal or give up working towards it.

B Local Evangelisation. 
The church should always be engaged in evangelism by those straightforward methods found in Scripture, avoiding underhand or entertainment methods of human invention (2 Corinthians 4:1-3). The role of the eldership should be more than simply approving what a few enthusiasts in the congregation want to do. They should lead.

C The Wider Mission. 
The wider missionary work of the church should also be lead by the eldership. Even when direct revelation was given of Paul and 
Barnabas' call to a particular missionary work, that revelation was received by what was essentially a presbytery at Antioch and they sent the missionaries out (Acts 13:1-3). Biblical presbyterianism is well designed to further co-ordinated missionary work, provided we depend on Christ the King to bless the work and build His church by adding new disciples to it. (Acts 2:47, 13:48, 16:14).

Recognising Disciples

A. The Impossible Not Expected. 
Baptism is the sign of church membership. Although administered by the minister, the whole eldership is responsible before the Lord for determining who shall be baptised on the basis of His Word. Those who give credible profession of faith are to be recognised by Baptism (unless previously baptised) as members of the professing church on earth, though this is not and cannot be an infallible declaration that they are born again. The session can only see the outward God knows the heart (Acts 5:1-11; 8:13, 20-23, 2 Corinthians 13:5 etc.). Faithfulness within the limits of our knowledge is what is required. If outward profession and practice indicate that a person is not converted he must not be admitted.

B Junior Members. 
Baptism replaces Old Testament circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12), however, whereas in the Old Testament the women were incorporated in the sign given to men, in the New Testament the sign given personally to male and female (Acts 8:12; 16:15). Beyond these Divinely revealed alterations, the administration of the sign of membership of God's covenant people must continue as in the Old Testament. What the Lord does not change, we must not change. Abraham was circumcised as a believer (Romans 4:11), but his children were to be circumcised as well (Genesis 17, Exodus 12:48). Therefore the children of professing Christians are to be baptised, but only admitted to the full active responsibilities of their church membership (including the Lord's Supper) when they give mature credible profession of faith in Christ or themselves. (Infants did not and could not have taken the passover, the Old Testament forerunner of the Lord's Supper, Exodus 12:26).

Perfect Church Purity in Heaven Only. 
The eldership is to seek to mark out the boundaries of the congregation of the Lord, the visible church, as required by the church's King. They must however, discourage a misplaced confidence in that outward membership, a sin of which the Jews of Christ's day were so often guilty only the genuine believer belongs to the perfected church of heaven.

Discipline Among Disciples

A. Suspension and Excommunication. 
All church members sin. When, however a church member pursues a course of defiance of God's Word after exhortation, the privileges of membership must be witheld, though at this stage he is still regarded as a brother (2 Thessalonians 3:14,15). If resistance to the Word continues must ultimately be regarded as "an heathen man and a publican" (Matthew 18:17) ie an unbeliever and an apostate.

B. Medicinal and Surgical. 
The purpose of such discipline is first of all to seek the cure of the offending member by his coming to repentance. It is also, if it goes the full length, to be surgical, preserving the purity of the whole body (1 Corinthians 5:4-7), though even then, repentance is not to be despaired of. The way back into all the privileges of membership is open when repentance is clearly evident (2 Corinthians 2:5-7).

C. Not Optional. 
Failure by the eldership to exercise discipline when Biblically required is not love but selfishness. To seek a quiet life by allowing sin to go unchecked or to allow someone the status of being counted a Christian, when he is evidently not a disciple of Christ, is to act unfaithfully to men's souls. No one should be encouraged in a false sense of security and the potential hostility at least in the short term if not more, to the exercise of discipline should not deflect the eldership from its duty. After all, Christ is not glorified by the church allowing itself to become indistinguishable form the world. The elders should love unselfishly by doing the necessary, though unpopular, thing though unpopular, thing, (2 Corinthians12:15).

Strengthening The Disciples

A. Teaching. 
The elders must ensure that the flock are taught the truth. (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1,2). The preaching and teaching of God's Word is a means of strengthening the people of God. The minister is to preach everything that God has revealed, (Acts 20:20, 25-27) so that they may be more consistent disciples of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). In counselling those with problems and troubles, sympathy should not be lacking, but the Word must also be brought to bear upon the situation. Indeed, the elders in all their dealings with the flock should not be afraid to lean upon the Word to guide and instruct the members.

B. Worship. 
The eldership have responsibility for the church's worship. Preaching of the Word is one part of that worship, but there are several other ordinances appointed by the Lord to strengthen his disciples. Sometimes impatience is expressed with our simple form of worship. But we should rejoice in the fact that the ministers and elders of our church have refused to impose on the flock of God anything that is not known to have Christ's authority. This is in line with our comments at the beginning about the limits of church authority. This is not a burdensome restriction but freedom from the commandments of men. The Lord's ordinances are best suited to teach us to love the Lord. "Whatsoever I have commanded" - this is the key! How much better this, than the form of worship being determined by whoever has the strongest will to impose his preferences. Freedom in Christ is freedom under Christ.