Why do we sing psalms? Why does our pastor wear a robe? Why do our musicians play from the back of the worship hall? Why do we baptize children? Over the next few months, I’d like to answer some of these questions and explore many of the foundational beliefs and practices of Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Why do we call ourselves “Presbyterians”?
Shakespeare’s most famous play is one of forbidden and fatal love between a Capulet and a Montague; members of two warring families in 14th century Italy. In the iconic scene, Juliet calls down from her balcony to her beloved Romeo, “Tis but thy name that is mine enemy: What’s Montague? It is not hand nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part. What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”
“What’s in a name?” If the name in question were “Presbyterian” rather than “Montague,” the proper answer would be, “Very much indeed!” The word “Presbyterian” comes from the Greek word, “elder.” The Apostle Paul instructed the young pastors Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-7) & Titus (Titus 1:5-9) to appoint elders over their respective churches; men of proven godly character with gifts of teaching, leadership, and wisdom. Through these shepherd-leaders, elected from and by the congregation, the Lord Jesus would maintain the purity of the church’s worship, the orthodoxy of her doctrine, and the holiness of her members.
But Presbyterianism is not a novelty of the new Testament. No, it’s roots run down deep in the soil of redemptive history! In Exodus 18, Moses chose elders from among the people to share the burdens of pastoring the million-member church of freshly liberated Hebrews. That Presbyterian-pattern held fast through the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 27:1, Ruth 4:4, 2 Samuel 12:17, Ezra 6:7). When we come to the life of the Lord Jesus recorded in the four Gospels, we find the people of Israel still under the spiritual direction & care of elders (Mark 15:1). Thus, God’s design for the governance of his church has always been Presbyterian in nature.
But Presbyterianism is not only biblical, it’s also eminently practical. The Proverbs say that with an abundance of counselors there is safety & victory (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 25:6). The oversight of Christ’s church is not left to one lone-wolf pastor, but to a plurality of elders prayerfully and humbly striving together for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and the beauty of his bride, the Church.