Presbyteries and Presbyterianism

Lewis L. Wilkins, The American Presbytery in the 20th century

Andrew Melville

Book of Order Chapter 8 Presbytery

Candour February 2008.

List of Presbyteries

Presbyteries and Renewal 

Reform of Presbyteries General Assembly 2008 August 2009 News

Joseph Small The travail of the presbytery

Writing a Presbytery Profile

Towards a general theory of Presbytery

Presbyteries are sociological, political, theology and pastoral and all these dimensions need to be considered.

These dimensions are in tension. They can also reinforce one another. If presbyteries are seen as primarily missional, then the weight given to other values may need to change. A danger in being missional can be that presbyteries take to themselves mission functions that belong more appropriately to parishes, the national church or to para-church organisations. A presbytery that facilitates, values and encourages mission is the only necessary demand of a missional theology.

A common element in Presbyterianism is a belief that the governance of the church properly includes representatives of the whole people of God, both those who are ordained to a ministry of word and sacrament, and those called to be elders. Even though there are two views of the nature of eldership, one stressing their commonalities with ministers since both are ordained and both are leaders, and the other stressing the differences in their roles, this still holds.

With this has gone an historical aversion to concentrating ecclesiastical power in the hands of one person - an issue coloured by the particular history of the church in Scotland and its relationship to the British crown and attitude towards the English. These were serious issues with understandable sensitivities, but that does not make them universal.

Presbyterianism contributed to and learnt from democratic institutions in the United States and Britain, despite their differences, generally known as the Westminster parliamentary system. Although never fully democratic, presbyterianism had parallels to democracy and both valued political freedom, distrusted monarchs, and placed their faith in a complex of courts with a balance of powers to avoid corruption.

The general theory of presbytery is that by developing a theology to support this polity, presbyterian churches developed courts where it was also inevitable that parties would form around common views and common interests and that in the pursuit of those interests they would function in ways which may have come to be tolerated in democratic politics but which are of doubtful compatibility to Christian values.

Saving Presbytery will look for ways which identify core biblical and Christian values and more appropriate governance models for our cultures and society today. 

John Roxborogh 11 March 2008

 Just exactly what is a presbytery?

Several New Zealand Presbyteries have looked hard at ways of being more inspiring and effective groups. The Book of Order rewrite group considered that "A presbytery’s primary function is to facilitate and resource the worship, life, and mission of the congregations for which it has responsibility." The wording in the old Book of Order was more about process than purpose.

The 2008 General Assembly has mandated that Presbyteries work towards rationalisation including transferring some current functions to the national church and this is to begin in 2009.

In the PCUSA where presbyteries function as leadership and executive bodies with mission responsibility there is the feeling that while this may be impressive it was an unfortunate application of theology to structure which resulted in presbyteries developing mission programmes which have had the same difficulty attracting support from congregations as national programmes. It has resulted in increased bureaucracy, and occasion for conflict.

From the United States, the Mission Presbytery notes that a presbytery is many things:

Are we unique?

Although the use of the word Presbytery for its regional governance body is peculiar to Presbyterians, most traditions have some form of regional administration, even if there is a hierarchy of bishops (as in Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran and some Methodist traditions), or a gathering of relatively independent congregations (as in some but not all Pentecostal churches).

There is a growing body of research and theological reflection about judicatories which is relevant to Presbyteries and comparable bodies in other Christian traditions. See Judicatories, Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

Developing Presbytery Profiles

The stories of how our presbyteries planted churches and facilitated mission are often unknown, yet are powerful stories of identity and inspiration.

Who we are today and how we connect to the emerging story of the regions we live in are stories which help place ourselves and our parishes in a larger picture where our contribution makes a difference.

See also How to write a profile