From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Webster's Dictionary [1]

(n.) That form of church government which invests presbyters with all spiritual power, and admits no prelates over them; also, the faith and polity of the Presbyterian churches, taken collectively.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [2]

in its narrowest sense, is commonly understood as the synonym of Anti- Prelacy. But, in truth, there are three systems of religious opinion, by no means necessarily affiliated, which are, with a noticeable uniformity, found in combination under this name. These are, a Calvinistic theology, the Parity of the Clergy, and Paedobaptism. (See Presbyterian Churches). All branches of Presbyterianism organized themselves into a Presbyterian Alliance in London in 1875 on the basis of the Consensus of Reformed Confessions and Presbyterian government, and held the first council at Edinburgh in 1877. The next will convene in Philadelphia in 1880.

I. Doctrines . The doctrines espoused by Presbyterians, in Great Britain and America, are found in the Confession of Faith of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, together with the Catechisms, Larger and Shorter, thereto appended. As a system, they are the doctrines generally known as Augustinian or Calvinistic. Presbyterians coincide with other orthodox bodies in the reception of the Apostles Creed, the Trinity, Redemption through Christ, Regeneration by the Holy Spirit, the Resurrection, and Eternal Judgment. They are distinguished specifically by opposition to Arminian, Pelagian, and semi-Pelagian tenets. The decisions of the Synod of Dort on the "five points" of Predestination, Particular Atonement, Original Sin, Special Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints, have usually been acknowledged as setting forth their views. But while there is a substantial unity on these points, there are shades of difference, from High or Hyper Calvinism to Moderate Calvinism; from Supralapsarianism to Sublapsarianism; from Hopkinsianism to Baxterianism; from the unbending Covenanters to the laxer Cumberlands; from the strict Old School with Scottish predilections to the more flexible New School with New England leanings. Though consenting to be called Calvinistic for purposes of convenience, Presbyterians do not receive all Calvin's views without qualification; neither do they admit that they owe their system to the Genevese reformer, for they claim for it a higher antiquity, reaching even beyond the great champion Augustine to no less an authority than St. Paul. They assert that the Reformers of the 16th century were agreed upon the points named, as appears from the harmony of the Augsburg Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, tile Helvetic Confession, the Scotch Confession, the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, the French Confession presented to Francis II, the Belgic Confession, and the Decrees of the Synod of Dort in 1618.

The Westminster Confession, rejecting the Apocrypha, recognizes Holy Scripture as the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Hence every position is supported by proof-texts. The Confession teaches that there are in the godhead three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. To God are ascribed the works of creation, providence, and redemption. Man having fallen, the Covenant of Works is replaced by the Covenant of Grace, of which Christ is the Mediator and Administrator for his elect people. Divine sovereignty and man's free agency are both fully and equally admitted, without attempting to explain this high mystery, but rather requiring it to be handled with special providence and care. The doctrine of the Divine Purpose, Decree, Predestination, or Fore-ordination, is guarded from fatalism or perversion in several ways: it is explicitly stated that neither is God the author or approver of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature; nor is the liberty or contingency" of second causes taken away, but rather established; and they who perish are punished for their sins. The Covenant of Works having been broken by the first man, who was the federal head, representative, and root of his race, a consequent corruption of nature, a disability of the will to spiritual good, and a liability to suffering and death, temporal and eternal, were conveyed to all his posterity. Effectual calling consists in the special grace of God operating on the minds and hearts of all those whom he has predestinated to eternal life, in the reception of which grace men are passive, yet submit most freely, being made willing by his power. Elect infants dying in infancy, and other elect persons who are incapable of the outward call, are nevertheless regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, where, and how he pleaseth. That all infants dying in infancy come under the above conditions and are saved is a general sentiment of Presbyterians, so far as can be collected from their published writings. (See Chalmers, Rom. lect. 14:26; Cumming, Infant Salv. p. 25; Smyth, Bereaved Parents, p. 13; Junkin, Justificatitio, p. 143; Hodge, System of Theology [see Index].) Justification consists, not in inherent righteousness, nor in imputing the act of faith or any other act as righteousness, but in the pardon of sin for Christ's sake, and the accepting as righteous by imputing the righteousness of Christ received by faith. Adoption and sanctification accompany justification. Saving faith is a fiducial belief of the truth, and is shown to be sincere and active by repentance and good works, as evidential of regenerating grace. The perseverance of the saints is not owing to anything in them, but to the grace of God, which will not suffer them finally to fall away. Personal assurance does not belong to the essence of faith, and may be dimmed or lost, but it is a high privilege, and every believer should strive to attain it. It does not lead to laxity of morals, for the law, though no longer a covenant of works, is still binding as a rule of life and conduct.

II. Worship . The Presbyterian forms of worship are extremely simple. The reading of a portion of Scripture, extemporaneous prayers, the singing of two or three psalms or hymns, a sermon or exhortation, and the pronouncing of the apostolic benediction at the close by the minister, comprise the entire service.

When no preacher is present, the people conduct the meeting themselves, an elder presiding and directing the several parts of reading, prayer, and praise. Nothing can be simpler or more flexible, capable of adapting itself to the necessities of the missionary or the street preacher, as well as to the wants of the most cultivated audiences. But while the Presbyterian Church neither uses nor condemns a liturgy, she provides for the dignity and propriety of divine service by means of a Directory for Public Worship as a guide, and by requiring ministers to qualify themselves for this duty, no less than for that of preaching, by reading, premeditation, and habitual communion with God in secret.

Presbyterians keep the Sabbath-day strictly as a day of rest and devotion; but they have conscientious scruples against the obligatory observance of such days as Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. The key to their practice in this and other respects (as declining to bow at the name of Jesus, avoiding the sign of the cross in baptism and its form in church architecture, refusing sponsors and confirmation, not marrying with a ring, discountenancing clerical vestments, etc.) is to be found in the adoption by the early Presbyterians of the principle that nothing is allowable in divine worship but what is divinely commanded, in opposition to the principle that everything is allowable except what is forbidden, and only two sacraments are recognized as of divine warrant-baptism and the Lord's Supper. Dipping or immersion is not in so many words forbidden, but is pronounced not necessary, and the ordinance is considered to be rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling -purification, not burial, being the idea symbolized thereby. The infant children of one or both believing parents have a right to baptism in virtue of the Abrahamic covenant, which, being anterior to Moses, was unaffected and unrepealed by the abrogation of the Mosaic law. Baptism being regarded as a public Church ordinance, private baptisms, except in cases of absolute necessity, are discouraged. The Lord's Supper is only a commemoration with bread and wine, and the idea of a sacrifice or of the real presence is carefully repudiated. At the same time, the spiritual presence of Christ, his special nearness to worthy receivers, and a peculiar blessing are as strongly maintained. To avoid the appearance of adoration of the elements, as well as better to conform to the supposed original posture of the apostles, this sacrament is taken sitting, either in the adjacent pews or around long tables provided for the purpose. To this ordinance such only are admitted as have on profession of their faith in Christ been received into the membership of the Church by the session, or such other persons as are known to be in good Church standing elsewhere. During the field preaching of the Scottish Reformation period and subsequently, several neighboring congregations often joined together to observe the communion. On such occasions there were several successive celebrations of the Supper, called the first, second, or third "table," and so on. A small pewter token bearing a certain number was given to each worshipper, and specified the table or service at which its bearer was expected to communicate. Settled congregations thus came to employ the token in their own services. Latterly the token has been replaced by a card on which the communicant writes his name and address, keeping in this manner the pastor aware of his residence. This using of a card at the same time exhibits the Presbyterian opposition to open or indiscriminate communion, while the welcome given to members of other evangelical churches shows equally opposition to close communion, so that the doctrine of the Church is that of restricted communion, restricting or confining this privilege to brethren of known Christian character.

III. Government . Presbyterianism is the government of elders, being derived from the Greek Πρεσβύτερος , presbyter, or elder. It is conceived to be analogous to the eldership of the Hebrews, the Δημογεγόντες of the Greeks, the Senatus of the Romans, and the aldermen or eldermen of the Anglo-Saxons, and, so, to be founded in the necessities, instincts, and common-sense of human nature as well as in Scripture itself. Presbyterians acknowledge no other head of the Church than Christ. Instead of recognizing, like episcopacy, a Bishop as different from and superior to Presbyter , and maintaining a distinction of ranks among the ministers of religion, it holds, on the contrary, that both in Scripture and the constitution of the Primitive Church Bishop and Presbyter are convertible terms and that there is complete equality in point of office and authority among those who preach and administer the sacraments, however they may differ in age, abilities, or acquirements. The argument as between the Presbyterians and Episcopalians is treated in the articles BISHOP (See Bishop) and PRESBYTER (See Presbyter) , and as between the Presbyterians and Congregationalists , or Independents , in the articles ELDER (See Elder) and ORDINATION (See Ordination) .

According to the views of Presbyterians, there ought to be three classes of officers in every completely organized Church -viz. at least one teaching elder, the bishop or pastor, a body of ruling elders, and deacons. The first is designed to minister in word and doctrine and to dispense the sacraments, the second to assist in the inspection and government of the congregation, and the third to manage its financial affairs. They disallow all jurisdiction or interference on the part of the civil magistrate, except for protection. They are no less jealous of ecclesiastical encroachments, and boldly assert that synods and councils may err, and have erred; that all Church power is only ministerial and declarative; that no Church judicatory has the right to make laws to bind the conscience by virtue of its own authority; that God alone is lord of the conscience; and that the right of private judgment is universal and inalienable. They maintain the parity of the clergy, and protest against prelacy or episcopacy, or the one-man power, as a usurpation finding no warrant in the writings of the apostles or of those of the early fathers nearest to their time. They no less disapprove of the opposite extreme of Independency, or the complete autonomy of each separate congregation. They view the whole collection of believers as one body, constituting the universal or catholic Church (meaning by "catholic" not confined to one nation, as before under the law), though distributed into particular congregations for the purpose of meeting together more conveniently.

Though Presbyterian churches hold the doctrine of a parity of ministers, they have, when fully organized, a gradation of Church courts for the exercise of government and discipline, and the Presbyterian system is thus further distinguished from others by this ascending series of appellate courts. The first or lowest court is the Church Session, consisting of the pastor and ruling elders chosen by a particular congregation. The elders are chosen and ordained for life, although, either of their own motion or that of the people, they may resign and cease to be acting elders. The next court above is the Presbytery, which is the only ordaining body, meeting twice or oftener in the year, and consisting of all the ministers and one elder from each Church session within a given district. The Synod, which meets but once a year, comprises a number of adjacent presbyteries (those within a state, for instance), and is composed of all the ministers, and one elder from each Church session, within those bounds. (For the peculiar authority and character of the synods in the state establishments of the Continent, see the article (See Synod).) The General Assembly, which meets annually, is the fourth and highest court in order, and embraces all the presbyteries in the connection. It is entirely a delegated body, composed of an equal proportion of ministers and ruling elders elected by the presbyteries to represent them, the ratio being determined by the size of the body, and care being taken to prevent its becoming unwieldy. Each superior court or judicatory has the constitutional right of reviewing and controlling, confirming or reversing, the doings and decisions of the court below. A mooted question or a judicial case may thus be removed successively from one court to another, till the collective wisdom of the whole Church, represented in the court of final resort, free from local prejudices or partialities, has an opportunity of deciding upon it. The General Assembly enjoys also, through its trustees, directors, boards, or committees, a general jurisdiction over the common finances, theological seminaries, foreign and domestic missions, education for the ministry, publication, church building, and correspondence with foreign churches.

It only remains to add that though Presbyterians maintain that truth is in order to goodness, and are tenacious of what they understand to be the teaching of Scripture, they are, at the same time, neither bigoted nor exclusive, and to represent them as such they consider unfair in the extreme. They do not unchurch other denominations, but are ready to extend the hand of fellowship wherever they discern substantial truth and the image of Christ. Their standards explicitly say, "We embrace in the spirit of charity those Christians who differ from us, in opinion or practice, on these subjects.... There are truths and forms with respect to which men of good character and principles may differ; and in all these they think it the duty, both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance towards each other" (Form of Gov. bk. 1, ch. 1, p. 8). See Hagenbach, Hist. of Doct. 2, 178; Schaff, Harm. of the Ref. Conf. (1877); Lewis, Presb. Manual, containing Forms for the Records of the Session Presbytery and Synod, and the Judicial and other Ecclesiastical Proceedings required by the Polity of the Presb. Church; Shedd, Hist. of Doctrines (see Index); Neander, Hist. of Dogmas (see Index); Hist. of the Westminster Assembly; Hist. of Confessions; Miller, on Presbyterianism; Smyth, Works and Tracts on Presbyterianism; Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3; and the Theol. Index by Malcom, p. 378-380. (E.H.G.)

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [3]

That form of Church government which, discarding prelacy, regards all ministers in conclave as on the same level in rank and function, and which is the prevailing form of Church government in Scotland; inherited from Geneva, as also prevailing extensively in the United States of America. The government is administered by a gradation of courts, called "Kirk-Sessions," of office-bearers in connection with a particular congregation; "Presbyteries," in connection with a small district; "Synods," in connection with a larger; and finally a General Assembly or a Synod of the whole Church, which, besides managing the affairs of the collective body, forms a court of final appeal in disputed matters or cases.