Presbyterian and Reformed

Word & Table is part of the Presbyterian Church in America. It is a Reformed and Presbyterian denomination of the Christian church. What does it mean to be Reformed and Presbyterian? People often mix up the terms Presbyterian and Reformed, so let’s clarify between the two. 

What is Presbyterian?

The system by which Word & Table is governed is Presbyterian, a term that comes from a Greek word meaning “elder.” Another way to say it is that we have Presbyterian polity (government). Presbyterianism is a system whereby a church is governed by having a group of elders lead who have been elected by the congregation and who represent the congregation’s interests. It also means that the elders act together (never as individuals) to represent Christ to the people of the congregation. The elders can never represent Christ as individuals because no single person could successfully represent Christ to the people who elected him. There is a team effort in Presbyterian leadership, but also checks and balances in this system. Does it sound a little bit like the ideals behind the United States government? You might not be surprised to find a Presbyterian pastor among the signors of the Declaration of Independence. His name is John Witherspoon. Presbyterians derive this form of church government from the practice of the early church described in the Bible.

What is biblical?

Every Evangelical church claims to be biblical, to base their Christian faith on Jesus Christ as he is found in the Bible. What does it mean when a church claims to be biblical, especially when the interpretation and practice of what is in the Bible can vary greatly from church to church. It’s never as simple as “just follow the Bible literally.” For example, some churches claim “No creed but Christ. No book but the Bible. No law but love.” Sounds pretty good? Even though it says, “No creed but Christ,” the statement itself is a creed – an expression of belief about something. Those three simple statements form a very short theology – a way of stating what someone means by “being biblical.” Everyone believes something about what they read in the Bible and how they are to live it out. In other words, everyone has a theology. Rather than denying it, it’s better to ask: what is my theology? What are its strengths and weaknesses?

What is Reformed?

The theology at Word & Table is Reformed theology. The way this church reads and interprets the Bible has its roots in the Protestant Reformation especially in how it unfolded in Geneva under the influence of John Calvin. The Reformation began in Germany with Martin Luther and spread across the different cultures and languages of Europe. Yet across these languages and cultures there was large agreement about what the Bible said about justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Roughly 100 years into the Reformation the most comprehensive English statement of biblical principles was laid out in the Westminster Standards. This is the confession of faith that describes what Word and Table claims when it claims to be a biblical church. 

The Presbyterian Church in America has a motto: “A Presbyterian church that is faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission.” Describing Presbyterian and Reformed in this post should help you know a little better what that motto means: A church governed by a representative body of elders, true to being biblical with the clarifying help of the Westminster Standards, and obedient to Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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