Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/297

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PRESBYTERIANISM

work (1883); Harnack, Die Lehre der zwölf Apostel (1884); Loening, Die Gemeindeverfassung des Urchristentums (1889); Sohm, Kirchenrecht (1892); an article by Loofs, in Studien und Kritiken, for 1890 (pp. 619-658); Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries (1902); Schmiedel, article “Ministry,” in Enc. Bib.

 (H. T. A.) 

PRESBYTERIANISM, a highly organized form of church government in which presbyters or elders occupy a prominent place. As one of the three principal systems of ecclesiastical polity known to the Christian Church, Presbyterianism occupies an intermediate position between episcopacy and congregationalism. A brief comparison with these will indicate its salient features. In episcopacy the supreme authority is a diocesan bishop; in congregationalism it is the members of the congregation assembled in church meeting; in Presbyterianism it is a church council composed of representative presbyters. In episcopacy the control of church affairs is almost entirely withdrawn from the people; in congregationalism it is almost entirely exercised by the people; in Presbyterianism it rests with a council composed of duly appointed office-bearers chosen by the people. The ecclesiastical unit in episcopacy is a diocese, comprising many churches and ruled by a prelate; in congregationalism it is a single church, self-governed and entirely independent of all others; in Presbyterianism it is a presbytery or council composed of ministers and elders representing all the churches within a specified district. It may be said broadly, therefore, that in episcopacy the government is monarchical; in congregationalism, democratic; and in Presbyterianism, aristocratic or representative.

I.-The System Described

As compared with the Church of England (Episcopal) in which there are three orders of clergy—bishops, priests and deacons, One Order. the Presbyterian Church recognizes but one spiritual order, viz. presbyters. These are ecclesiastically of equal rank, though differentiated, according to their duties, as ministers who preach and administer the sacraments, and as elders who are associated with the ministers in the oversight of the people. There are deacons in Presbyterianism inferior in rank to presbyters, their duties being regarded as non-spiritual.

The membership of a Presbyterian Church consists of all who are enrolled as communicants, together with their children. Membership. Others who worship regularly without becoming communicants are called adherents. Only communicants exercise the rights of membership. They elect the minister and other office-bearers. But, in contrast with Congregationalism, when they elect and “call” a minister their action has to be sustained by the presbytery, which judges of his fitness for that particular sphere, of the measure of the congregation's unanimity, and of the adequacy of financial support. When satisfied, the presbytery proceeds with the ordination and induction. The ordination and induction of ministers is always the act of a presbytery. The ordination and induction of elders in some branches of the Church is the act of the kirk-session; in others it is the act of the presbytery.

The kirk-session is the first of a series of councils or church courts which are an essential feature of Presbyterianism. It Kirk-Session. consists of the ministers and ruling elders. The minister is ex officio president or moderator. Without his presence or the presence of his duly-appointed deputy the meeting would not be in order nor its proceedings valid. The moderator has not a deliberative, but only a casting vote. (This is true of the moderator in all the church courts.) Neither the session nor the congregation has jurisdiction over the minister. He holds his office ad vitam aut culpam; he cannot demit it or be deprived of it without consent of the presbytery. In this way his independence among the people to whom he ministers is to a large extent secured. The kirk-session has oversight of the congregation in regard to such matters as the hours of public worship, the arrangements for administration of the sacraments, the admission of new members and the exercise of church discipline. New members are either catechumens or members transferred from other churches, The former are received after special instruction and profession of faith; the latter on presenting a certificate of church membership from the church which they have left. Though the admission of new members is, strictly speaking, the act of the session, this duty usually devolves upon the minister, who reports his procedure to the session for approval and confirmation. Matters about which there is any doubt or difficulty, or division of opinion in the session, may be carried for settlement to the next higher court, the presbytery.

The presbytery consists of all the ministers and a selection of the ruling elders from the congregations within a prescribed area. The Presbytery. The presbytery chooses its moderator periodically from among its ministerial members. His duty is to see that business is transacted according to Presbyterian principle and procedure. The moderator has no special power or supremacy over his brethren, but is honoured and obeyed as primus inter pares. The work of the presbytery is episcopal. It has oversight of all the congregations within its bounds; hears references from kirk-sessions or appeals from individual members; sanctions the formation of new congregations; superintends the education of students for the ministry; stimulates and guides pastoral and evangelistic work; and exercises discipline over all within its bounds, including the ministers. Three members, two of whom must be ministers, form a quorum; a small number compared with the important business they may have to transact, but the right of appeal to a higher court is perhaps sufficient safeguard against abuse. Presbytery meetings are either ordinary or occasional. The former are held at prearranged intervals. Occasional meetings are either in hunc effectum or pro re nata. The presbytery fixes the former for specific business; the latter is summoned by the moderator, either on his own initiative or on the requisition of two or more members of presbytery, for the transaction of business which has suddenly emerged. The first question considered at a pro re nata meeting is the action of the moderator in calling the meeting. If this is approved the meeting proceeds; if not, the meeting is dissolved. Appeals and complaints may be taken from the presbytery to the synod.

The synod is a provincial council which consists of the ministers and representative elders from all the congregations within a The Synod. specified number of presbyteries, in the same way as the presbytery is representative of a specified number of congregations. Though higher in rank and larger than most presbyteries it is practically of less importance, not being, like the presbytery, a court of first instance, nor yet, like the general assembly, a court of final appeal. The synod at its first meeting chooses a minister as its moderator whose duties, though somewhat more restricted, are similar to those of presbyterial moderators. The synod hears appeals and references from presbyteries; and by its discussions and decisions business of various kinds, if not settled, is ripened, for consideration and final settlement by the general assembly, the supreme court of the Church.

The general assembly is representative of the whole Church, either, as in the Irish General Assembly, by a minister and elder The General Assembly. sent direct to it from every congregation, or, as in the Scottish General Assemblies, by a proportion of delegates, ministers and elders from every presbytery. The general assembly annually at its first meeting chooses one of its ministerial members as moderator. He takes precedence, primus inter pares, of all the members, and is recognized as the official head of the Church during his term of office. His position is one of great honour and influence, but he remains a simple presbyter, without any special rule or jurisdiction. The general assembly reviews all the work of the Church; settles controversies; makes administrative laws; directs and stimulates missionary and other spiritual work; appoints professors of theology; admits to the ministry applicants from other churches; hears and decides complaints, references and appeals which have come up through the inferior courts; and takes cognizance of all matters connected with the Church's interests or with the general welfare of the people. As a judicatory it is the final court of appeal; and by it alone can the graver censures of church discipline be reviewed and removed. The general assembly meets once a year at the time and place agreed upon and appointed by its predecessor.

By means of this series of conciliar courts the unity of the Church is secured and made manifest; the combined, simultaneous effort Concillar Courts. of the whole is made possible; and disputes, instead of being fought out where they arise, are carried for settlement to a larger and higher judicatory, free from local feeling and prejudice. As access to the church courts is the right of all, and involves but slight expense, the liberty of even the humblest member of the Church is safeguarded, and local oppression or injustice is rendered difficult.

The weak point in the system is that episcopal superintendence being exercised in every case by a plurality of individuals there is no one, moderator or senior member, whose special duty it is to take initial action when the unpleasant work of judicial investigation or ecclesiastical discipline becomes necessary. This has led in some quarters to a desire that the moderator should be clothed with greater responsibility and have his period of office prolonged; should be made, in fact, more of a bishop in the Anglican sense of the word.

Though the jus divinum of presbytery is not now insisted upon as in some former times, Presbyterians claim that it is the church polity set forth in the New Testament. The case is usually stated somewhat as follows. With the sanction and under the