Presbyterianism: It’s simply what the Bible teaches
“I’m just a Christian.” “I don’t belong to any denomination; I’m a Christian only.” I sympathize with these kinds of sentiments as expressed by fellow believers in Christ. The division of Christ’s visible church into different denominations and non-denominational entities can be very confusing, not only to those outside the church, but to Christians themselves. In the minds of some Christians, “denominations” and anything that smacks of organizational structures, official doctrinal standards, or a well-ordered worship practice (liturgy) in the church, appears to be nothing more than “man made traditions” and “mere human religion.” In certain cases (such as churches which have rejected the supreme authority of Holy Scripture over their beliefs, worship practices, and ethical & moral values) that perception is correct. But in other cases such a perception is neither correct nor fair to the denominational churches.
In an ideal world — one with perfectly sanctified Christians who have fully attained to “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, ESV) — denominations would not exist, and all believers would be perfectly united in doctrine, practice, worship, and fellowship in a perfectly united church. But, alas, we don’t live in such an ideal world. In this present age we who are followers of Jesus Christ are still “works in progress.” What is true of us as individual believers is also true of the church in its corporate, communal character. One day (when Jesus returns in glory to usher in the “new heavens and new earth” – Second Peter 3:11-13), this process will be complete. But in the meantime, in this present age we can only approximate in practice this perfect spiritual unity that we believers already have in principle because of our union with Christ.
But getting back to denominational churches in general, and Presbyterianism in particular, some may wonder: Why shouldn’t we be content with calling ourselves “just Christians,” or “Christians only”? Why the need to qualify the term “Christian” with a label like “Presbyterian” (or like the even more complicated label “Orthodox Presbyterian”)? Well, first of all, the fact is that the term “Christian” has become so broad and fuzzy and non-descript that it can mean many different things to many different people. In fact, many who call themselves “Christians” hold to beliefs and practices that are completely incompatible with what the Scriptures teach and with what has always been regarded as historic Christianity. In the early centuries of the church when Christianity was a persecuted minority religion, if you called yourself a “Christian” you were actually telling people something substantive about yourself. To call yourself a “Christian” and to confess “Jesus is Lord” was to take a clear stand for something substantive (something that could even get you into trouble with the authorities). But today to tell people you are a “Christian” is to tell them virtually nothing about yourself (other than perhaps to say you are not a Jew, or an Atheist, or a Muslim, or some other brand of non-Christian). But to call yourself a “confessional Presbyterian Christian” or something similar is to say that you are something more than a bland, non-descript “Christian” (whatever that happens to mean).
We confessional “Presbyterians” are what we are because we believe that Presbyterianism is the most consistent form of historic Christianity around. Mind you, we don’t believe we are the only Christians, or even necessarily the best Christians around; nor do we believe that confessional Presbyterian Churches (like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church) are the only true churches of Jesus Christ. Nor do we believe that our churches are perfect churches or that every confessional Presbyterian church is equally consistent or pure in its practice of the faith. At the same time, we confess the historic Christian Faith in its Presbyterian expression because we believe that historic, confessional Presbyterianism is simply what the Bible teaches. We don’t make this claim out of arrogance, or looking down our noses at our brothers and sisters in Christ who don’t share our Presbyterian distinctives. Rather, we make this claim because we have become convinced that God’s Word, the Bible, teaches the system of doctrine, church government and worship that has come to be called “Presbyterianism.” In saying this, we are not being sectarian. If you confess Christ as your Lord and Savior in accordance with the Scriptures and are in fellowship with a biblical church, then we embrace you as a brother or sister in Christ, even if you don’t accept our Presbyterian distinctives (as we hope you would embrace us as well in spite of our differences with you). At the same time, we would humbly challenge and cordially invite you to explore historic, confessional Presbyterianism (and we would be happy to help you in any way we can in your exploration of the Presbyterian Faith). After all, it is (we believe) simply what the Bible teaches.