What does “Presbyterian” mean and what is a Presbyterian Church anyway?
Most people just know it as a word that’s hard to spell correctly. The term refers to how our church is governed; that is, rule by presbyters or elders.
(Now you can see why we are called Presbyterian. Who ever heard of an elderian church?). Actually, there are two offices in the local church (see 1 Timothy. 3:1-13; 5:17-20). The deacons have a serving office intended to display humility before God’s people (the deacon’s service points to the serving activity all God’s people should show). This is needed because God’s people are prone to pride. The elders hold a ruling office intended to exercise control over God’s people. This is necessary because God’s people are prone to wandering (see 1 Peter 5:1-4, Hebrews 13:17). So a Presbyterian church is one in which there is rule by presbyters or elders. Elders are elected by members of the local congregation. Two kinds of elders exist: teaching elders and ruling elders (cf. 1 Timothy 5:17). Elders of the local church constitute the session. Elders from churches in a geographical region form a presbytery (our church is part of Mississippi Valley Presbytery). Elders from churches throughout the nation and the world form the General Assembly.
What does “Reformed” mean?
Lakeland, as a Presbyterian Church, is also a Reformed body. “Reformed” refers to our doctrine or teaching (whereas “Presbyterian” refers to the way the church is governed). Our doctrine flows primarily from the Bible as that biblical faith, which was rediscovered in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.
These doctrines are summarized in our standards, The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. What follows below is a summary of the foundational Truths of the Reformed Faith. Please note that every Truth comes directly from Jesus, our Savior, Lord, King, and Head of the Church. This is what we believe.
- THE BIBLE IS ENTIRELY TRUE. Jesus’ Scripture was the Old Testament. According to Jesus, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). For Him whatever Scripture says, God says (see Matthew 15:4). And what God says is Truth (John 17:17). Jesus wasn’t simply saying nice things about the scriptures; He lived under their authority. He repelled Satan’s temptations because He remained obedient to God’s word. Remember how three times He countered Satan with “it is written” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). Likewise, Jesus’ Apostles maintained a “high” view of Scriptures (see I Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).If we are to be faithful to Christ, our church must hold a very “high” view of the Bible. We are called to believe and obey what it says – even when it’s not to our liking. Some of us may have been in churches that have abandoned their belief in the entire trustworthiness of the Bible. When that is done, the church’s foundations will crumble (eventually if not sooner). If we can pick and choose what we will accept or reject from the Bible, then we have become the authority rather than holding the Bible as our authority. Then we have placed ourselves above the Word of God rather than under it.
- SINNERS ARE RADICALLY SINFUL. This does not mean that no one ever does anything decent, just, moral, or kind. Nor does it mean that every person is absolutely as evil in every way as he/she can possibly be (even society wouldn’t allow that). But we mean that every person is a sinner at the core of his/her being and that, apart from Christ, sin rules their perspectives, motives, desires, and purposes. We would like to believe that Jesus would think more positively. But He said in teaching His disciples: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…” (Matthew 7:11). And that is all the more powerful because Jesus was not directly teaching about our nature – He was teaching about another topic and He merely asks this aside. In doing so, He simply reveals the assumption He makes about human nature, as though He takes for granted our core sinfulness. Maybe we prefer something more direct. Another time Jesus taught: “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man unclean” (Mark 7:21-21). If we take Jesus seriously we will never be surprised at the ruck and the muck that we feel, think, and do. If we have a high view of the Bible, we should have a low view of ourselves as sinners apart from God’s grace.
- WE WORSHIP AND SERVE A BIG GOD. We believe – would that we really believed it as we should – that God is really big. (I should say that all Christians hold that there is one God who has revealed himself as triune, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is each fully and eternally God.) When we say God is really big, we mean that he is “sovereign,” that all things are under His sway – even falling sparrows (Matthew 10:29). But more. We also believe that God is so big that we would never come to Jesus in faith unless He brought us and made us able to come. You’d think we were helpless, wouldn’t you? True, says Jesus, for “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me to draws him” (John 6:44). It is those whom the Father gives to Jesus will come to Him (John 6:37). People do not come to Jesus because they think it is a good idea. If any of us ever trusts in Jesus it is only because the Father gives us to Jesus and brings us to Jesus. That offends many people. They fight the very idea that even our faith must be a gift of God (cf. Philippians 1:29, Ephesians 2:8,9). We can only say: Argue with Jesus – He’s the one who said it.
- THE CROSS IS ABSOLUTELY CENTRAL. Here we are at the heart of the gospel. Jesus said that His death was the reason He came: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). We are held captives of sin and Jesus’ death was the ransom-price that bought our release from that bondage. You have a physical picture of what Jesus’ death did spiritually for every Christian in Matthew 27:15-26 (it has been called “The Barabbas theory of the atonement”). Barabbas was the one who should have died, raunchy villain and vicious criminal that he was. Yet Barabbas is released and Jesus is crucified. Physically speaking, Jesus took his place, Jesus died for him. Spiritually, that is what every Christian says about his Savior: I should have died; but Jesus took my place – Jesus died for me. “Christ died for your sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (I Peter 3:18).
- GRACE IS UTTERLY INCREDIBLE. Ask a Christian why God would send Christ to die for him, why God would draw him to believe in Jesus, why God would even care a wink about someone who is evil at the core of his being, not to mention his outward acts. Ask a Christian that, and if he’s got his head screwed on straight that Wednesday, he’ll simply smile and exclaim “I haven’t the foggiest idea! It just doesn’t make sense, does it?” That a holy God would give a moment’s thought to sleazy sinners (I am not putting it too strongly) is beyond belief. This is God’s biggest surprise. Why would anyone care about a woman of the streets having forgiveness of sins (Luke 7:36-50)? What father in his just and holy mind would wrap his arms around a stinking prodigal (Luke 15)? Who would dare teach that a cheating tax collector stood uncondemned before heaven (Luke 18:9-14)? Who would assure a condemned criminal within a gasp of his death that he would be in paradise that very day (Luke 23:39-43)? There is no explanation, except: that’s just the way God is; that’s just the way Jesus delights to be! We hope that in our fellowship we can help people to be repeatedly flabbergasted at the grace of God. (Note: definition of grace = something for nothing, when we don’t deserve anything).
- CHRISTIANS ARE CONTINUALLY SECURE. We believe that once God brings a sinner to Jesus, Jesus will keep him to the end. This doesn’t mean the disciple will never sin or that he will never have temptations or endure hard afflictions or that he will never doubt his faith. But it does mean “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do My own will but to do the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given Me, but raise them up at the last day” (John 6:37-39). Or to put it in sheep language: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). Jesus wants His people to know that they are secure in the grip of the strong Son of God. And we believe that.
- LIFE IS COMPLETELY HOLY. Once when Jesus had cast demons out of a man and made him completely whole, that man wanted to go with Jesus. But Jesus had other plans for him: “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19). It may have been more glorious to accompany Jesus, doubtless it would have seemed more “holy,” but Jesus knew there was something he could do for Christ among his own family. And that matters to Jesus too, even though to us it seems routine and ordinary. This is good news for the believer. Christ’s way engulfs even the routine and ordinary; Jesus rules and cares about all of life. Everywhere, we are on sacred ground. God rules over all of life. Nothing is outside his dominion – whether business and politics, economics and education, science and sex, history and harvests, art and affliction, music and marriage. All of life is holy and must be submitted to his reign.
All the activity of life, then, is holy ground. And we don’t believe you have to be smashingly “successful” to be “in God’s will.” When you play with your two-year-old, wash dishes, or change the oil, you are doing holy work, namely, the will of Christ.