News & Updates
Reflections on Presbyterian Polity
by Rev. Frank Liu
Cornerstone Reformed Church, St. Paul, MN
the Missions Banner, August/September 2021
As I reflect on the fellowship and encouragement that I received at our recent gathering of our annual synod meeting earlier this month hosted by Grace BPC in Cape Canaveral, Florida, I’m reminded of God’s wisdom in His design and the blessing of our Presbyterian polity. The time of fellowship at synod this year was even sweeter, considering that we did not meet in 2020 due to the pandemic. Even as I have interacted with pastors and church planters of other denominations/polity, I’m all the more thankful for the system of church government that God has given us. Especially during the recent year or two of oddity in the life of the church, how much more do we need fellowship, prayer, exhortation, and guidance to lead Christ’s flock!
A key text in the scriptures regarding our Presbyterian church polity is the account of the Jerusalem council (and the events leading up to it and following it) found in Acts 15. In verse 1, a false teaching came into the local church, that circumcision according to the custom of Moses was a requirement for salvation. Paul and Barnabas responded with correction and debate, while the brethren saw the need to appeal the issue to a higher body (v. 2). And so it was the church that sent Paul, Barnabas, and others from the local body with them to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders (v. 2-3). Notice that it was not one or two disenfranchised individuals who decided on their own to seek a higher body to side with them, but rather the church that decided which men and then sent these men to the Jerusalem council. There, the council investigated the matter (v. 6) and had much debate over it (v. 7). Then Peter spoke regarding the immediate doctrinal issue at hand, that salvation is by grace, meaning that it is by means of faith apart from works (v. 7-11). In response to this, there was no debate (v. 12). Then James addressed the more practical matters of wisdom, that of the proper communication of guidance and instruction to the local body and the promotion of peace and unity between Jew and Gentile within Christ’s church (v. 13-21). Notice in verse 22 that the plan of action was the decision of the apostles and elders; it was not a decision merely left to the apostles, but that the elders were equally involved in the decision. By application for today, since there are no apostles remaining in the church, ministers and ruling elders together rule Christ’s church. The decision arrived at also represented the decision of the whole church (v. 6, 22). In this regard, when a presbytery meets and makes decisions, it represents the decisions of the regional church, just as the synod acts as the entire church body. The wisdom of the Jerusalem Council is seen in that they did not simply send Paul and Barnabas back to their local body to communicate their decision, but that they sent their own chosen men, Judas and Silas with them (v. 22), along with a written letter from the council with their decision (v. 23-27). The final part of the story was the local body’s response to the Jerusalem Council’s delegation and letter, specifically that they rejoiced because of the encouragement (v. 30-33). By this we may conclude that the local body did not merely hear the letter as pious advice, but that they submitted to the Council’s decision.
Fast forwarding two millennia, these same principles guide the work of Bible Presbyterian Church, from the synod to the presbyteries and to the local church. The local church is not and should not be left to the decision of merely one man but instead there is the rule by a plurality of elders. I’m thankful for God’s wisdom in providing the plurality of leadership to Christ church at all levels, for the need to give an account to God (Hebrews 13:17) must also entail giving an account to men (Acts 15:2). As Christians, we must not fall into the worldly mindset against authority, but in humility, we must be subject to one another in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:21).
Thank you so much for your love, encouragement, prayers, and support as we work to establish a local church in St. Paul within our rich Biblical and Presbyterian polity.