For the next several weeks I am going to be focusing on why we are Presbyterian. There are faith groups in our world today that follow Christ and Scripture and there are many groups that don’t. This series of weekly thoughts is not an attempt to look at other groups and determine Orthodoxy or lack thereof. This is a study of some of the characteristics that make us who we are as Presbyterians. At our recent Presbytery meeting the candidate for licensure was asked, “Why are you a Presbyterian?” I think that is a question each one of us should be able to answer as well.
Why are we Presbyterians? Because we adhere to three marks of a true Church. What are those things that distinguish a true church from one that is not?
The first mark of the Church is a true proclamation of the Word of God. We believe, “The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.2) Matt. 19:4-5; Gen. 2:24; Luke 24:27, 44; 1 Cor. 2:13; 1 Cor. 14:37; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; 2 Pet. 3:2, 15-16; Deut. 4:2; Ps. 19:7-11; Isa. 8:20; John 15:11; Isa. 8:20; John 15:11; John 20:30-31; Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 1 John 1:4
As followers of Jesus Christ, we place a priority on the Word of God. Not only do we wish to study and read and learn from it in our personal lives, but we know the value in gathering together to hear the Word proclaimed. We see God’s Word as a means of grace whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption.
Gal. 1:8-9, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
We need to be careful who we listen to and what they are teaching. It was a blessing this past Saturday at our Presbytery meeting to listen to a theological floor exam, knowing that these brothers in Christ take such great care to make sure only truth is proclaimed from the pulpits of our Churches.
John 14:23, “Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
The second mark of the Church is a right administration of the sacraments. The two sacraments of the Church are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Like the Word of God, the sacraments are means of grace whereby we are strengthened and grow in our faith. Not only is it important for us to have a Biblical view of the sacraments, but they must only be administered by a minister of the Word. You can remember our recent history. At the beginning of my pulpit supply with Faith Bible OPC I was not allowed to administer the sacraments. However, during that year the Presbytery considered the even though I was going through the process of having my ministerial credentials transferred into the OPC, they acknowledged that I was an ordained minister of the Gospel and allowed me to administer the sacraments prior to my installation. This is another example of our brothers in Christ in the regional Church (presbytery) taking care to make sure the sacraments are rightly administered.
WSC Q #94. What is baptism? A. Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.
Matt. 18:19; Acts 2:38-42; Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; 1 Pet. 3:21
WSC Q #96. What is the Lord’s Supper? A. The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner; but by faith, make partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.
Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; 1 Cor. 10:16-17
The third mark of the church is the faithful exercise of Church discipline. This is a sticking point for a lot of people who claim to follow Christ. We love our independence. However, in being a part of a Church, a covenant community, we realize that we need accountability in our lives. We need those who love us enough to tell us the truth about our sin and to encourage us to repent. Always remember that the goal of Church discipline is repentance. As Presbyterians we praise God for a Biblical form of Church government that does not allow us to be our own authority on matters of faith. I have others around me to gently and lovingly help me when I am pulled aside from the truth either by the world, or by my own sinfulness. Some of the most loving words another person could say to you are, “Repent, turn from your sin.”
Matthew 18:15-17, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
1 Cor. 5:9-13, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler— not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.””
Titus 3:10, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing to do with him,”
A true Church will manifest these marks. Why are we Presbyterian? Because we adhere to these three marks of a true church. This is not to say others may or may not adhere to these as well, but this is one distinctive that makes us Presbyterians. I encourage you this week and in the weeks to come to learn these distinctives. Then if someone were to ask you, “Why are you a presbyterian?” or “What is a presbyterian?” or “Why do you attend a Presbyterian church?” you will have an answer to give.