What does ‘Presbyterian’ mean?


The word "presbyter" is a  word used in the Greek New Testament and means "elder". As with many other churches an individual congregation is under the care of its elders but to be Presbyterian means that a particular church will be  linked with other like minded churches which enables mutual support, cooperation and  also accountability.

Although nowadays we tend to associate Presbyterians with Scotland - where it is still the main church - in fact, in these islands Presbyterianism started in England during the Reformation and there are many millions of Christians world-wide who are Presbyterian. All Presbyterian denominations have the structural characteristics described below. They also are what is called "confessional" churches, which means that while the bible is their dominant authority they accept some document (a confession) as embodying biblical teaching and useful as subsidiary statement. Nearly all Presbyterians accept the Westminster Confession of Faith and its associated catechisms as a subsidiary Statement of faith. It is called "Westminster" because it was created by the elders of the church in Westminster, London during several years from 1627 to about 1650 and was passed into law by the British parliament  during the Commonwealth (or interregnum) . To see the Westminster Documents

As a way of organising the way in which a church works it has the following characteristics - all of which we can find in the bible, thus we know that this is one of the ways of organising a church which is pleasing to God

  • Each individual church elects men to be its elders and charges them to oversee the congregation  - these are called the "session" of the church. These men are chosen by the congregation using biblical principles and criteria
  • A group of particular churches are associated.
    • The association may be based on geography or language etc. For instance there might be an English Presbytery and a European Presbytery; There might also be a Korean speaking Presbytery in England
  • When the elders of these associated churches meet together they are called a "presbytery" (the word 'presbyter" is the Greek word for 'elder')
    • Presbyteries have several functions, such as the examining of elders proposed by a particular church to ensure that they are suited and biblically qualified. Presbyteries also have an important part to play in supporting their elders at a personal and professional level and determining the rules of inter-church relationships and putting them into practice
  • All the presbyteries in a particular denomination also meet together maybe annually and constitute the "synod" of the denomination
    • Synods are concerned more with theological questions and inter-denominational issues
  • This structure also has the functions of an ecclesiastical court. If an individual has problems with another person then he or she attempts to sort it out with their own session. If the problem is not settled satisfactorily at this level - or maybe the problem is with the elders, then the individual may appeal to presbytery. Ultimately the case may go to the synod,
  • This church is under the care of British Presbytery of the IPC

Click here to see our relationships within the IPC