When I became a pastor in the RPCNA, one of the vows I took went like this:
Do you believe it to be the teaching of Scripture...that the permanent form of church government is presbyterian?
So, yeah, I do. And I made a vow to that effect, so fat chance getting me to turn my back on it now. I'm presbyterian by conviction, because I really do believe it's how Scripture shows the church ought to be led. Presbyterianism strengthens the church's ability to submit to her leaders, trusting that when things go wrong (and they do), there is a higher authority ready to right the ship. As I've reminded my congregationalist friends, any church government works when everything's going well. But presbyterianism works when nothing is going well.
But this past weekend, I was reminded in a few powerful ways that the greatest benefit of being presbyterian isn't the structure of authority existing over individual sessions and the ability to work through discipline cases effectively. The greatest benefit of being presbyterian is being loved, pursuing Christ's kingdom-on-earth together in a community of true and mutual care.
This past weekend's presbytery meeting included hearing several exams of men preparing for the ministry. By carefully vetting these candidates, the presbytery is loving and caring for those under their future ministries. In the process, I was reminded of how much time the presbytery put into my examinations; although it didn't always feel like being loved at the time, that's definitely what it was.
Then on Friday evening, as Barry mentioned in a previous post, we had the great opportunity to participate in the organization of a new congregation in Marion, Indiana. And again I was reminded of how significant it was for our church family (Immanuel RPC in West Lafayette, Indiana) when the whole presbytery gathered for our organization. Those many fathers and brothers in the faith coming from great distances gave us a deep sense that our baby church family would be cared for, prayed for, and overseen with earnestness. The saints in the Marion RPC hopefully are convinced now that they aren't alone, that their presbytery is ready to support them in any way we can.
And then on Saturday, after presbytery finished, several of us gathered to pray over a dear friend and father in the faith who is ill. As we prayed for him, anointing him with oil, I was struck that our presbytery isn't simply a group of men who meet to do business, but men who have shared their lives and ministries with each other, often for many years. Being truly and lovingly presbyterian means that the lonely work of a pastor doesn't have to be all that lonely. It means that we have relationships beyond the local church which strengthen and teach us. It means knowing that I won't only be held accountable for my life and ministry, I will be loved the whole way.
I don't write any of this to start an argument with our congregationalist brothers, but only to correct a common misperception, at least on my part. Reformed presbyterianism is often seen as something necessary but not truly helpful. But when done well, when done with love, presbyterianism is a source of great strength to the church of Jesus Christ and all her members. I came away from last weekend encouraged, reminded of Paul's commending the Colossians not only for their faith, but also "the love that you have for all the saints."
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