Presbyterianism: 2 Truths and a Lie, a series

Katie T. Kennedy

Contributing Writer
Published: Apr 25, 2022
Presbyterianism: 2 Truths and a Lie, a series

 Presbyterians believe the Holy Scriptures should be believed and obeyed because the author of the Bible is God, not man... There is no better tool to equip yourself for this world than understanding Scripture and knowing what God has done for you.

For more on this series, click here

What is Presbyterianism? 

Before I dive into the two truths and a lie, I want to define what Presbyterianism means. Presbyterianism is a form of church government where presbyters (elders) exercise rule. Interesting fact, eleven of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence were Presbyterians. 

Presbyterianism began in Scotland during the Reformation due to the work of John Calvin and John Knox. In the mid-17th century, Presbyterians adopted the Westminster Standards which include the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Larger Catechism, the Westminster Shorter Catechism and The Directory for the Worship of God.

Within the Presbyterian religion today, there are multiple denominations including the Presbyterian Church (USA), Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). These denominations all recognize that their American roots go back to a gathering of seven ministers assembled in Philadelphia in 1706. 

The different denominations of the Presbyterian church all contain elders as their governing authority and largely adhere to the Westminster Confessions of Faith (WCF). Besides those common factors, churches within the Presbyterian denomination can look quite different. 

The church I am a member of is part of the PCA so my answers will be representative of that group. Even within PCA churches, they execute things differently and would not all look similar. 

First Truth: Biblical Faith

Biblical, faithful Presbyterians are grounded on the rock of the Bible. They begin with the Word of God and believe all knowledge is found in the Bible. The Bible alone is the Word of God. 

The Bible is richly taught in Sunday School and church. I don’t mean just read, I mean scrutinized, broken apart, and explained. In our church, we hear a reading from the Old Testament and the New, each Sunday. The Gospel is proclaimed every week. 

Presbyterians use the Bible to answer the hard questions of life. As the world keeps changing, they rely on God’s revealed word as the one thing that remains steadfast. They believe all sixty-six books of the Bible are “given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life” (WCF1). The Westminster Confessions of Faith is used as a teaching tool, but each confession of faith points back to the Bible with supporting proof texts.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Presbyterians believe the Lord revealed Himself in the Bible, and disclosed His will, so the truth would be preserved and propagated. Left without the Bible, all truth God intended to pass along would be potentially changed and corrupted. Presbyterians believe the Holy Scriptures should be believed and obeyed because the author of the Bible is God, not man. 

You might think, of course, the Bible is taught in church. First, I would say there is a difference in reading a few verses in church compared with intently studying what the verses mean. Secondly, I was raised in a church (very different from Presbyterianism) that never opened up the Bible. The leader of the church may have referenced a few verses, but we were far from studying the Bible. Now, I hear biblical preaching every week. When we are taught the Bible, our understanding and knowledge of who God is grows. There is no better tool to equip yourself for this world than understanding Scripture and knowing what God has done for you.

Second Truth: God is Sovereign

God is sovereign over all things. Presbyterians believe there is but one living and true God who is infinite, perfect, eternal, wise, most holy, immutable, almighty, and working all things according to the counsel of His will (WCF2). Genesis 1:1 tells us, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” He is Lord and rules over all. Everything happens according to God’s plan and design.   

Romans 11:36 says, “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

“He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever himself pleaseth.” (WCF2)

The sovereignty of God is another truth I think most Christians would agree with; however, when you ponder the implications of what this means in your life, the impact is broad-reaching. God is in charge. In today’s world, this is an unpopular concept. Our sinful nature fights against this. Our modern society has evolved in such a way that we have the illusion of being in control. When I show up to church every Sunday, it’s a wonderful reminder of who is the ultimate authority in my life. I am humbled and driven towards repentance as I acknowledge His Lordship, and the way I fall short.  

Job understood God’s sovereign nature, especially when it comes to nation leaders. Job 12:23 states, “He makes nations great, and destroys them; he enlarges nations, and disperses them. He deprives the leaders of the earth of their reason; he makes them wander in a trackless waste.”

We can cast our prayers to God and hope our will aligns with His will, but God is the ultimate decision-maker. He is the divine One, knowing all things, creating all, and having authority over all. 

The Lie

The misperception about Presbyterians is that they are “the frozen chosen.” This is not referring to a new Disney movie; instead, it’s a term some people call Presbyterians. They are suggesting Presbyterians are less externally expressive in their worship, more stoic and reserved. They are also assuming that this reserved physical behavior might be a reflection on their overall worship service and the genuineness of their faith.  

Presbyterians hold to the Regulative Principle of Worship which means that what we do in worship is regulated by God Himself in the Bible. We read the Bible, sing the Bible, confess the Bible, and preach the Bible. In Presbyterian worship the audience is God Himself. We come together to do what He has told us to do to please Him.

I have been in a variety of churches and dominations. Some attendees are more serious; other people’s hands are raised or bodies prostrate on the floor. Even within a church that is more “expressive,” there is a mixed bag of reactions. Some may have their hands in the air, some may not. I would argue that what is being expressed on the outside isn’t as important as what is going on in the heart. Only God judges the heart.  

1 Samuel 16:7 says, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.” The Lord does not judge the way we judge. People look at the external, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Genuine faith manifests itself in the things we do and the words we say. Our physical actions in the service aren’t necessarily a reflection of the fruit we are bearing in our lives. (Matthew 12:36-37)

The Presbyterians I know take their faith and doctrine very seriously. Attending church is a time for us to worship the Lord, and we don’t take that responsibility lightly. They are concerned about doctrine and theology. They take the fear of the Lord seriously. (Isaiah 11:2-5)

Matthew 7:15–20 says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

As Jesus talks about in Matthew 7, genuine faith will manifest itself visibly in the life of the Christian. Church is only a small portion of our week. What Christians do when they are not at church displays more about the state of their heart than the short time on Sunday. 

To judge a group of people’s faith by their expressions in church seems like judging a book by its cover. 

We are not home yet. We are sinful people trying to figure out how best to live in a broken world. Psalm 130:5 gives us a beautiful picture, “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” 

We are waiting. While we wait, we put our faith in Jesus. Biblical, faithful Presbyterians rely on God’s revealed word as their grounding source to guide and direct them. They believe in God’s sovereignty. 

Photo Credit: ©Sparrow Stock

Katie Kennedy headshotKatie T. Kennedy lives in Richmond, VA. She is married to a wonderful husband Jonathan and they have three girls. She is a writer, blogger, and employee of the family business. After a mid-life spiritual transformation, she discovered her love of writing. She loves to travel, read, be in nature, cook, and dream.  She would love to connect with you online at www.katietkennedy.com, Instagram or Facebook.

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