Question and Answer

Presbyterianism

Question:

Can you tell me when the Presbyterian church was formed? Who formed it? Why was it formed? Who holds positions of authority in the church, how is it organized? How many sacraments are celebrated and at what age are they normally received? What happens in a Sunday service? How important are the Bible readings? How important is singing? How long does a service last? How often is the Eucharist received? What is the inside of the church like? What are the church's main furnishings?

Answer:

1. "Can you tell me when the Presbyterian Church was formed? Who formed it? And why was it formed?"

Presbyterians were in Scotland and Ireland the Calvinistic Protestants who led in reforming the church in the 1500's. In England it is similar, but they are also the Puritan branch of the established church. Presbyterianism is based on the biblical word "presbuteros" meaning elder. The very name of our form of government "Presbyterian" is a loan word coming from the Greek "presbuteros," meaning "elder". This word and its cognates appear almost 75 times in the New Testament. The principles of our government by a plurality of elders come from such key passages as the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, the appointment of elders in the mission churches of Acts 14; and the enumeration of qualifications for the office in 1 Timothy 3.

I assume you might be asking about the origin of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). The OPC originated when the General Assembly officers of the Presbyterian Church, USA, saw to it that Machen was brought to trial in the New Brunswick Presbytery in 1936. It was a trial, not over doctrinal error or moral misbehavior, but an administrative trial about unlimited authority over a man's conscience. Machen, a faithful seminary professor, was defrocked and about four other men in other presbyteries over the same issue.

The result was that those Bible-believers who were strongly irked at the modernist strong-armed tactics separated from the Modernist denomination and formed a new group in 1936. You can read more in Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, a reprint of the 1954 Eerdmans edition published by the Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

2. "Who holds positions of authority in the Church? How is it organized?"

Jesus Christ is the head of the church (1 Corinthians 11:2-3; Colossians 1:18). He is its only lawgiver; all other offices held by men are merely applying Christ's word. There are pastors and elders (the Session) who are charged with the conducting of weekly worship services, correct teaching of the Bible and its application to the people, right administration of the two sacraments, and church discipline of admitting, dismissing, and admonishing members. There are deacons who are charged with the ministry of mercy.

The church government is not hierarchical, nor independent. Presbyterians practice the peace, purity, and unity of the true church. They take the Bible teaching seriously that we are our brother's keeper, and that we are to serve one another.

There are regional assemblies that meet twice or so a year. And there is a nationwide assembly that meets once a year. They each have their assigned functions as directed by the Bible.

3. "How many sacraments are celebrated and at what age are they normally received?"

There are two sacraments celebrated: the Lord's Supper and baptism.

New believing adults are baptized when they make a credible profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior of sinners and as their covenant Lord. The infant children of believers are baptized because they too belong to the covenant and they too need to be regenerated, or washed. (Titus 3:5.)

The Lord's Supper is offered only to those who have made a credible profession of faith in Jesus and joined the church. Since neither Scripture nor our confession indicates an age for profession of faith, the children of believers, who are already baptized members of the church, may make a credible profession of faith in Jesus when their parents and the church session believe that the children are ready. This will vary with each child.

4. "What happens in a Sunday service? How important are the Bible readings? How important is singing?"

In a Sunday service the members and visitors come together to meet with the Lord and worship Him. The pastor leads the Worship Service. The Bible reading is a very important part of the Worship Service, for the Bible is what all members, from the richest to the poorest, must hold to be unique among books, as alone God's pure Word, and they must be in submission to it.

Singing is also important in the Worship Service for by it we engage our emotions and will to embrace the teachings, the doctrine and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Bible is the most important book. Next to it are the Hymnal/Psalter and the catechism. Skill in the use of all three of these books is the goal every family should set for itself.

5. "How long does a service last? How often is the Eucharist received?"

Most Worship Services last one hour. The Eucharist or the Lord's Supper is served at least four times a year. Some congregations have it more frequently—six or twelve times a year—and a few congregations celebrate it weekly.

6. "What is the inside of the church like? What are the church's main furnishings?"

We do not attach religious significance to the building or its furnishings. However, the interior design of our buildings does reflect our view of Biblical worship, which is governed by the "Regulative Principle." This means that in matters of church government and public worship only those elements expressly commanded by Scripture are to be used. So, for example, the centrality of the pulpit communicates the importance of the reading and preaching of Scripture.

There is a wide range of interior design among our churches nationwide. The Westminster Confession of Faith 21:1 teaches us: "But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture" (Deut. 12:32; Matt. 15:9,10; Deut. 15:1-20; Ex. 20:4,5,6; Col. 2:23).

The application of this to crosses may vary from church to church. Some buildings, purchased by OP churches, may have crosses built into their architecture. Pictures of Jesus in stained glass windows would present a problem, while crosses may or may not, although I suspect that in building new buildings the tendency not to have crosses would predominate.


About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

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