Many Christians today see denominations as a necessary evil or something to avoid. It is more and more popular to change church names to hide one’s denominational association. I want to present another perspective – why I believe being part of a Bible practicing Presbyterian church has great benefits.
I am a pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. But the reasons listed below apply to any church with Presbyterian church government that takes it seriously.
Here are some benefits to being Presbyterian.
Protection from authoritative or tyrannical pastors
We would like to think that all pastors are godly, humble, and seek only that which is best for the flock. But reality and experience tell us that is not always the case. There are pastors who lack wisdom and plow ahead with no accountability. There are pastors who demand their way and will breech no one second guessing them. There are pastors who will drive out of the church anyone who appears to be opposed to them.
In independent or nondenominational churches there is often little that a member can do in those situations. If there is a board, it is made up of people the pastor may have hand selected. Or the board may be made of members who are convinced that the Pastor needs to have his way. The offended or hurt church member has a choice – get with the program or leave the church – often the church he has been a member of for many years.
In Presbyterian churches, the church is not pastor led but elder led. The governing board (Session) is made up of the pastor(s) and the ruling elders. Each member has a single vote on any issue. The pastor does not have veto power. The pastor is a man who must live in submission to the elders the church has elected. If a church has been careful to only elect godly men, church members will find the great blessing of being protected and cared for when a pastor gets out of hand.
Provides Courts of Appeal
But what if the pastor and the elders do get out of hand and act in ways that are contrary to Scripture or the Book of Church Order? In a nondenominational church the member is left with no place to appeal such a situation. Biblically you can’t take your church board to the civil courts. What options are left?
Presbyterianism provides courts of appeal for such situations. If a local church acts in a way that a member believes to be wrong or sinful, that member after receiving no satisfaction from her own elders has the right to appeal to the Presbytery. A Presbytery is a regional area made up of the churches of that same denomination in that particular region. In the OPC we have seventeen different presbyteries. The presbytery will hear your appeal and may overturn the Session’s decision.
If the Presbytery does not provide you with relief you can appeal that decision to the General Assembly, which is like the Supreme Court of a Presbyterian church. The General Assembly, which is made up of representatives from throughout the country, will hear your appeal and rule on the case.
But what is the likelihood that a group of elders and pastors are going to overturn the ruling of elders and pastors? In Presbyterian churches where this responsibility is taken seriously, it is very possible. In my own denomination there are many examples of presbyteries and the General Assembly ruling against actions of a local congregation because they overstepped their authority. If those appealing had been in a nondenominational church, that privilege would not have been afforded to them.
Makes Missions Possible for Even Small Churches
The purpose and mission of the church is to make disciples of the nations through the proclamation of the gospel. Every biblical church wants to be part of this great mission. But the median sized congregation in the United States has only 75 people in attendance on a Sunday morning. That means the median sized church is probably just trying to pay their utilities and pastor. They have little hope of ever making a significant contribution to the mission of the church.
In Presbyterian churches there is a unity that binds us together to do the Lord’s work, not merely as individual congregations but as a like-minded group of churches. That means that the small church can combine its resources with other Presbyterian churches to send missionaries to foreign fields and help start new churches in their community. Lone, independent congregations cannot accomplish a lot. But churches joined together can accomplish exponentially more than all of them could alone.
I don’t pretend that all Presbyterian churches practice their Presbyterian church government principles well all the time. But, by its very structure and nature, Presbyterianism provides protection and opportunity that other church governments do not.
Has there been a time in your life that you could have benefited from being Presbyterian?