The Presbyterian Church in Westfield belongs to the Christian denomination called the “Presbyterian Church of the United States of America” (PCUSA). The following explains a little about our denomination.
We strongly affirm that “God alone is head of the conscience”; and has left it free from the doctrine and commandments of individuals, who are in anything contrary to God’s Word, or beside it in matters of faith and worship.
We Presbyterians see ourselves a part of the “one body in Christ”. This body includes all the churches, or union or associations of particular churches who embrace Christ as Lord and Savior. (Romans 12:4,5)
The command of Matthew 28:19-20, to “go into all the world” and I Peter 5:1-3 to “tend the flock of God” require that form be established.
- “Where the Spirit of Christ is present it is in search of a form that adequately expresses it.” -Avery Dulles
- “The Presbyterian “form” of government is by no means static, but it’s a product of growth, expressing itself in rapid and extensive change at certain periods, and an almost constant adaptation throughout our history.
The word “Presbyterian” came from the Greek word presbuteros, and means elder. (Acts 20:17-28; Titus 1:5).
The word “Presbyterian” refers not to a special system of doctrine or worship, but to a representative form of church government. Presbyterians wanted to minimize the risk of hierarchy from the top through the bishop and minimize the weakness of independent acts by congregationalism from the bottom, therefore leading to a representative form in the middle. (Acts 15:1-2)
JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564) was born in France and was slated for the Roman priesthood. But from the influence of the Reformation of 1517 he was converted at age 24 and allied himself with the Protestant movement. Many have called Luther the “heart” of the Reformation and Calvin the “mind” of the Reformation. He wrote the famous book, Institutes of the Christian Religion, which contains the great doctrines of grace, redemption, and sovereignty of God. These became the central piece outlining the beliefs of Protestantism. He established himself in Geneva, Switzerland and from there played a significant role in the establishment and growth of the Reformation.
JOHN KNOX (1513-1572) studied Calvin’s teaching in Geneva while in exile from Britain. Beginning in 1559 he helped establish Presbyterianism in Scotland. Many historians have called him the father of the Presbyterian Church.
ENGLAND was a battleground for the struggle between Roman Catholicism and the growing strength of the Reformation. In 1643, the parliament of England appointed a number of church leaders and scholars (121 Puritan ministers, 20 members of the House of Commons, 10 members of the House of Lords) to draw up a system of doctrine and government. After 5 ? years and 1163 meetings the product they produced became known as the “Westminster Confession of Faith,” which was recognized as the creed of English-speaking Presbyterians.
NORTH AMERICA became the haven for numbers of persecuted European Protestants and many that came to the New World were Presbyterian. In 1706, with the help of church organizer Francis Makemie, a Scot/Irishman from Europe, along with seven ministers and other elders, organized the first Presbytery in Philadelphia.
Many Presbyterians were members of the Continental Congress and signers of the Declaration of Independence. In fact, the only clergyman to sign the Declaration was John Wetherspoon, a Presbyterian. The Reverend John Rodgers, the minister of the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, was a personal advisor to General George Washington. Because of this influence many in the Parliament of Great Britain called the American Revolution a Presbyterian rebellion.
Many splits and mergers have occurred since these early years. The most recent came in 1983 when the United Presbyterian Church USA came together with the Presbyterian Church in the US to form the Presbyterian Church USA, numbering some 2.7 million people and becoming the fifth largest protestant denomination in the United States.
Presbyterian representative governing bodies (judiciaries) are reflected in the following:
1. Session: The Session is composed of the pastors, often referred to as “teaching elders” and lay people who are elected from the membership of the congregation, often called “ruling elders.
- Both teaching and ruling elders are ordained for life.
- Ruling elders serve for a period of three years on the Session and may be re-elected to serve after being off the Session for one year.
- The Session has supreme authority in all matters in the local church such as:
- Receiving, disciplining and dismissing members.
- Overseeing the worship services.
- Supervising all activities of the congregation including the deacons and trustees.
The Presbytery of Elizabeth is a governing body of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which has the responsibility to tell everyone it can that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that through his life, death, and resurrection God has acted decisively to bring peace and reconciliation to all humankind. It fulfills this responsibility primarily through the life and work of the Presbyterian churches within its geographic boundaries. The Presbyterian Church is a representative democracy, with each area-wide Presbytery functioning as the collective bishop: All the ministers serving its churches are members of the Presbytery; each congregation nominates one or more elders to represent it, with full voting rights, at a Presbytery meeting. In addition to its work of preaching, teaching, healing, and compassionate acting through congregations, the Presbytery of Elizabeth shares its financial and human resources with a regional body called the Synod and a national body called the General Assembly. Locally, it also witnesses to Jesus as Lord and Savior by working with and through other organizations and missions.
2. Synod: The Synod consists of a geographical group of Presbyteries. The Presbytery of the Elizabeth is a part of the Synod of the Northeast.
3. General Assembly: The General Assembly is a representative body composed of an equal number of ruling elders and teaching elders who have been elected by the various Presbyteries.
- The General Assembly meets every other year.
- It is the final authority in all matters affecting the interests of the entire church.
The governing constitution of the Presbyterian Church consists of two parts: the Book of Confessions and the Book of Order.
The Book of Order has three parts:
- The Directory for the Worship of God.
- The Form of Government.
- The Book of Church Discipline.
The Book of Confessions contains historical statements of what we as a church believe.