In the last blog post, I wrote about why we are in a denomination. Today, I want to talk about the main distinctive of being our specific denomination--Presbyterian. Every denomination has a historic reason for existing, namely, why it broke off from the larger established church. For example, Baptists objected to infant baptism, thus their name. Presbyterians objected to the authoritarianism of the Church of England, believing that church power rightly belongs with ordained elders, not the king or a solitary archbishop. "Presbyter" is the Greek word for elder.
Presbyterians saw in the New Testament plentiful evidence that Christ entrusted the care of his church to elders. Elders are called "overseers" and "manage" the household of God (1 Timothy 3:1-5). And church members are called to "obey" and "submit" to elders (1 Peter 5:1-5, Hebrews 13:17). Elders are wise, godly shepherds who are tasked to love the congregation and even lay down their lives for the church. In the PCA, a gathering of local church elders is called a "session."
Presbyterians also see in the New Testament that elders from various churches meet together as a council to discuss and deliberate on matters pertaining to all churches. The PCA calls this regional gathering of elders a "presbytery." The biblical model for this is the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, which decided the matter of circumcision for all churches.
So the "session" and "presbytery" is the main distinctive of being Presbyterian. Our church is to be ruled by a session of godly elders. And over the session is a presbytery of regional elders.
Picture: Assembly of Westminster Divines drafting the founding document of Presbyterianism, The Westminster Confession of Faith, in 1646, during the height of the English Reformation.