Monday, March 1, 2010


It's great that we've now got Herman Bavinck's "Reformed Dogmatics" translated from the Dutch into English after a hundred years! I'm now up to Volume Four and am a third of the way through it. Brilliant stuff!

I've just finished reading the section: "The Church's Spiritual Essence" which is excellent. It got me to thinking of some of my notes for a lecture I gave in Tasmania called "The Function of Presbyterianism."

The following is an excerpt from the Introduction. A fuller version of my lecture notes can be found at:


“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatever ye do,
do all to the glory of God.”
1 Corinthians 10:31.

Presbyterianism is simply Presbyter-ism or Elder-ism. For the word “Presbyterian” is simply the Anglicization of the New Testament Greek word presbuteros, meaning presbyter or elder.

The function of Presbyterianism is to glorify God. Therefore if the glory of God is its chief end the church must follow God’s Word if she is to function the way God intended. This Presbyterianism seeks to do in every aspect of its ecclesiastical life, including its system of church-government.

Presbyterianism does not claim the Scriptures reveal every minute detail of church government. However, it does hold that its general principles, and general structure of function, are clearly set forth.

The Beginning of Presbyterianism

“Where no counsel is, the people fall:
but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.”
Proverbs 11:14.

Presbyterianism begins with the Triune God. It has been said that God is a Presbytery, i.e., ‘a multitude of counsellors.’ God is three Persons, yet one God. The Trinity is the original One and Many. His Church reflects His oneness and manyness. For the one universal church is made up of many regional and local churches.

By its system of local and regional ‘counsels’, which are sometimes called Sessions, Presbyteries, and Assemblies, (though sometimes also called Consistories, Classis, and Synods), Presbyterianism seeks the safety of the multitude of counsellors. These various ‘counsels’ are the ‘checks and balances’ of Presbyterianism.

The Structure of Presbyterianism

“But now are they many members, but yet one body.” 1 Corinthians 12:20.
“Let all things be done decently and in order.” 1 Corinthians 14:40.

As there are many members in the Godhead, so there are many members in His Church. And as the many members of the Godhead function as one in unity, so Presbyterianism by its church structure seeks to function as one in unity. There is equal ultimacy in the Trinity, which is to say, that the rights of the many do not negate or overrule the rights of the one, or vice versa. Thus, in Presbyterianism, the rights of the individual members of the church are protected by the counsel of the many.

No one person or body of persons is permitted to “lord it over” any other person or body of persons. Thus, unlike those hierarchical systems of church-government such as Romanism and Anglicanism, or those of the Independents’ systems of church-government, such as the Baptists and Congregationalists, the Presbyterial form of church-government reflects the ontological nature of the Triune God.

The Scriptures are the final authority in any dispute that may arise. And if any person or body of persons is unhappy with a particular person or body of person’s ruling on the disputed matter, they may appeal that decision in the appropriate ‘court of appeal.’ The first ‘court of appeal’ is the local Session, then secondly the Presbytery. The Assembly may also be appealed to.

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