Saturday, September 23, 2006

Why Presbyterianism?

It is usually objected by the congre- gationalists that Acts 15 doesn't really prescribe a normative behavior. After all, if we are not to imitate the church in regard to having all things in common, then ought we to imitate them in regard to the Jerusalem council in Acts 15? To answer this challenge, we must go back to the lower levels of church government. First of all, we realize that elders are called by the church to serve. In the local church, then, the pastor must not be alone. This was true not only of the church in Acts, but also in the following generations, wherein Paul does instruct Timothy and Titus about the continuation of the church. In those epistles it is simply assumed that there will be elders to carry on the work of the church. This continues the wisdom principle found in Proverbs 11:14. There can be no objection, therefore, to the local church having a Presbyterian form of government, since elders and deacons are prescribed by the NT for the church. Presbyterians argue that it is good and necessary consequence that churches are connectional. There is, after all, one holy catholic and apostolic church. Therefore, the church is connectional by definition. Paul's discussion in 1 Corinthians 12 about the one body surely has this implication of connectedness. This is why the PCA, for instance, is part of NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Churches): we believe that we should unite as much as possible with other like-minded believers. There should be great evidence of the ultimate unity of the body. Furthermore, there are the passages in which we see that we ought to hold one another accountable. This is surely true of local churches as well. Churches ought to hold one another accountable. Finally, Acts 15 does lend support to the Presbyterian position, since there will always be issues that need to be addressed by the larger church. Who decides, for instance, who is going to be ordained? If it is a larger body than the local church, then you have Presbyterianism, if even in a smaller, more analogical form. I have seen this work in a Baptist setting. They have a larger body of pastors come together to examine a candidate for ministry. What is the real difference between that and what Presbyterians do? Furthermore, Presbyterianism allows for greater interchange of prayer for other local churches; it allows for greater inter-communication among pastors, and greater networking, such that churches can better exercise church discipline. At any rate, Presbyterianism cannot be called contrary to the Bible. It is in direct harmony with the principles laid out for the church in the NT. There is also the root of Presbyterianism, which can be found in the OT, in Exodus 18. There, the entire OT church is divided into sections, with men in charge of certain groups. There is always a higher court of appeal, if necessary. Now, certain objections must be answered. What about red tape? That is certainly a danger. However, the less centralized the power is, the better. Yes, there is a heiarchy of power. But the power never resides in just one person. You might object, "What about Moses?" Moses was a special case, since he was actually the mediator of the people, prefiguring Christ. We have our greater Moses even now, Jesus Christ, in whom is focused all wisdom and power. But, of course, in Jesus' case, centralization of power is a wonderful thing. The only reason it doesn't work so well here on earth, is because of Lord Acton's dictum: "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." That is why power must be decentralized, and in the hands of more than one person. Our civil government is set up along the lines of Presbyterianism. It is only as it has gotten away from that, the Supreme Court taking too much power for itself, the president doing things without approval of Congress, that things have gone bad. The original form of government worked very well. It was set up by Presbyterians, in fact. The British even called this war (besides calling it the Rebellion) "that Presbyterian war." In short, I would argue that Presbyterian Puritans are the people who have made our country great. They are the single greatest influence on our country's foundation and independence. It should be noted that Presbyterianism is a temporary arrangement. In heaven, as I hope all churches agree, the government there is a strict monarchy, the Monarch being Jesus Christ!

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