Talk:Presbyterian polity

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Article split[edit]

The Presbyterian Church is a fuller entry on the subject previously treated under this topic. Without taking too much of a dictionary approach to Presbyterian, I think that it can be distinguished from the church, and developed in an independent direction. So, the entry is completely revised, with links directing to material that more than covers what was here.

The following text, though, has ideas that aren't really represented elsewhere. It doesn't really fit under "Presbyterian", but might go somewhere appropriate:

The basic premise is that human beings are not capable of true goodness, and can only be saved from their sins by divine intervention. However many good works a person does, they have to be selected by God ("the elect") in order to enjoy everlasting life. This is a belief which some other Christian sects find hard to comprehend.

Total depravity, Predestination, and Calvinism cover most of it. How can they believe THAT might be a candidate for a new entry, to include the remaining bit.

Mkmcconn 06:19 Oct 18, 2002 (UTC)

While I don't wish to take over custodianship of this article, I would strongly suggest that someone complete the process of the sorting out of what are, in essence, at least two separate topics which have been mixed here, a task which imo clearly remains unfinished. I have added a small amount at the beginning to help distinguish between Presbyterianism (capital 'P') as a movement or group of denominations -- which I would assert, this article is not about (else its title should not include the word polity) -- and presbyterian polity (small 'p' on "presbyterian"), which as a form of church governance has nothing specific to do with the family of denominations which fall under the rubric of Presbyterianism. It appears to me that someone is perhaps not clear for him- or herself on this important distinction, as I can see that the article continues, here and there, along a path of referring to historical denomination- or movement-specific traits which do not relate to polity, i.e. the presbyterian style of church governance, but are actually about a or the Presbyterian Church(es). So, I'm just putting in a request here that someone with more of a personal stake in this article than I have go through it and relocate references to the Presbyterian Churches proper under Presbyterianism. Happy Editing!  :~) DThrax (talk) 20:04, 12 March 2008 (UTC)
DThrax, there is no custodianship here - people have chipped in with text and sources where they saw necessary. So, I am glad you have been bold and posted some changes. Why not? After all, this article has a lot of growing to do. I have two thoughts as to why plenty of presentation about specific denominations might not be a bad thing:
  1. The reading I have done so far suggests that a full expression of presbyterian polity is confined to the Presbyterian and Reformed denominations, and some of those descended from them, so I suspect the polity is an essential part of the movement, and vice versa. Is the Church of the Nazarene the exception that proves this rule, or are there many more non-Reformed denominations that can help readers understand presbyterian polity?
  2. The article seems to present the topic by referring to concrete examples, which seems quite a helpful approach to me. Therefore examples will necessarily be pulled from well-known mainstream implementations of the polity, such as by the early Geneva Reformed church, the PCUSA and the Church of Scotland of the 17th century. Do you think previous editors gone too far down this path, and thus caused confusion for the reader?
--Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 18:28, 13 March 2008 (UTC)

Kirk sessions[edit]

Kirk Session redirects here, but it's not mentioned once in the article! Silverhelm 12:16, 3 February 2006 (UTC).

"Kirk Session" means the same as "Church Session", ("Kirk" being Scots for "Church"). The article has a whole section entitled Church Sessions, which refers to this body simply as "Sessions." I guess this could be clarified in the article itself. Blarneytherinosaur 00:39, 4 February 2006 (UTC)
now mentioned in bold in the lead section --Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 15:03, 23 August 2006 (UTC)

There is an assertion in the section on Sessions that the Pastor does not have a vote. This is not true in PC(USA). The Book of Order, in G-10.0101, says "The session of a particular church consists of the pastor or co-pastors, the associate pastors, and the elders in active service. All members of the session, including the pastor, co-pastors, and associate pastors, are entitled to vote." I looked at the PCA Book of Church Order too. While it does not explicitly say that pastors and associate pastors have a vote, it does say that they are members of the session, whereas it says that assistant pastors are not and therefore do not have a vote. I have not yet checked other Presbyterian denominations? Does anyone know of any Presbyterian denomination in which the Pastor does not have a vote in the session? Sterrettc (talk) 23:22, 14 June 2010 (UTC)

More information: The Evangelical Presbyterian Church has in their Book of Government, in 16-9, "The Pastor(s) elected by the particular church is a full member of the Church Session and has the privilege of voting."
In the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Pastor, other ministers, and all ruling elders are members of the session, which elects its moderator annually. There is no mention of the moderator not getting a vote.
In the Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Moderator "shall direct the business in accord with the law and order of the church and may vote." Sterrettc (talk) 23:47, 14 June 2010 (UTC)
Yes, mine. I'm a minister in the Presbyterian Church of Australia, and I don't get a vote. I would be reasonably certain it would be the same in the Church of Scotland. So it seems it is just the American denominations where the minister can vote. I had no idea about the OPC having an annual election of moderator, that would be quite different from the historic Presbyterian practice, I imagine. StAnselm (talk) 00:49, 15 June 2010 (UTC)
I've been looking for the Church of Scotland Form of Government online, but have not found it. Thanks for the input regard the other PCA (Australia). I didn't know that about OPC before I saw it today either. Sterrettc (talk) 01:34, 15 June 2010 (UTC)
I just managed to find it for the Church of Scotland: The moderator is a member of the session and does have a vote. Sterrettc (talk) 01:41, 15 June 2010 (UTC)

Ordination of Ministers[edit]

Please, someone add something about the ordination of ministers in presbyterian polity. This is needed for discussions of church polity elsewhere. I understand that ministers are ordained by ministers in this system. Not by bishops, as in episcopal polity; not by congregations, as in congregational polity. Or are there members of the Presbytery who are NOT ordained ministers, but merely ordained "elders"...? Forgive me if I am muddled so that my question is bad... Please set me straight. Thanks Emyth 01:21, 2 April 2006 (UTC)

Yes, ministers are ordained by a presbytery. Ordained ministers and ordained elders may both be members of a presbytery. I'm no expert on the ordination process as such, but I'll see if I can write something. Anyone else? Blarneytherinosaur 08:00, 2 April 2006 (UTC)
In the Church of Scotland, although ordination is an act of the Presbytery (ie by decision of Presbytery) and the Presbytery assembles for the service, only ministerial members of Presbytery lay hands on the candidate. I believe that in the PC (USA) elder members also lay hands Slackbuie 14:21, 14 January 2007 (UTC)

Yes. In the PCUSA, teaching elders (ministers) are ordained by a commission of the Presbytery. Typically the commission is half teaching elders and half ruling elders, though there's no requirement. In Presbytery and above there is little distinction between teaching and ruling elder. Both can do pretty much anything, except preach and administer sacraments. Hedrick (talk) 22:56, 7 June 2009 (UTC)

There is supposed to be little distinction between ministers of word and sacrament (teaching elders) and elders (ruling elders) except that the presbytery must consist of at least as many elders as ministers, and the synod and general assembly consist of exactly the same number of ministers and elders. At least, this is the case in the PC(USA). Sterrettc (talk) 23:53, 14 June 2010 (UTC)

A draft rewrite[edit]

I've been a bit annoyed at the lack of detail about the highter courts and their responsibilities, so I've done a draft rewrite. You can find it at User:Blarneytherinosaur/Sandbox. Please feel free to comment or make changes. I think the other sections could do with some tidying up too.

Also, does anyone else think we should include take the information from this article and Moderators and clerks in the Church of Scotland and create some new articles about the specific offices and courts of Presbyterian polity, or should we try to better include the information here and on the disambigation pages?

Blarneytherinosaur 07:24, 21 August 2006 (UTC)

This looks good. The older piece about the English word 'priest' should be deleted as the piece about bishop/elder/ministry/pastoral care is much less confusing and covers the relevant points.
As far as specific articles, it depends how much material you have, especially how deep the verifiable sources you can cite go. If you do create specific articles, I think summaries of them should still appear here. If you go into detail about specific offices and court, how confident are you that what you write about the various presbyterian churches applies to other countries, particularly non-English-speaking countries?
Now that the article flows quite well, I, personally, would appreciate it if one or two knowledgeable people put some effort into getting good citations for the facts in the article. In particular it interests me that Scotland attempted presbyterian polity before Geneva. By the way, many thanks. --Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 09:56, 21 August 2006 (UTC)
I've had a think about my proposal for new articles. While it would be nice to have a real article to link to from the disambigation pages (General Assembly, Synod, and Presbytery), but I don't think we can worry about that until we have too much information in the sections here (which I don't see happening in the near future).
I agree that we need sources, so I'll raid my reference books and see what I can come up with. I've changed the section on the origins of Presbyterianism so hopefully people won't have the misconception that it originated in Scotland. (You should see the look on the faces of die-hard Scottish Presbyterians when they hear that Presbyterianism was started by a Frenchman in Switzerland!).
Does anyone think the information about the regularity of meetings of the higher courts is important? I've been thinking about removing it. Blarneytherinosaur 03:43, 22 August 2006 (UTC)
Suggest you go ahead and paste your changes in before doing more work. That way there won't be too many changes for editors to review in one go (doesn't bother me eitherway - I have already reviewed the changes, for what its worth.) --Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 08:16, 22 August 2006 (UTC)
I'll do that now. Blarneytherinosaur 01:37, 23 August 2006 (UTC)

Congregation or Parish[edit]

Great rewrite. Why did you replace 'congregations' with 'parishes'? As far as I recall, English and Irish presbyterians don't have parishes. --Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 14:00, 23 August 2006 (UTC)

In my experience a congregation is a body of people who meet for worship. A parish on the other hand is all the congregations within a defined area who are under the same session and share a minister (or ministers). I wanted to note that in those parishes with more than one congregation there is still only one session. I wondered if "parish" would be the right term. I could have used the less commonly used, but correct term "charge", but I thought "parish" would need less explanation. Blarneytherinosaur 10:42, 24 August 2006 (UTC)
I had not come across this concept of charge or parish. Some Church of Scotland parishes are just one congregation (one minister and one church building.) So I think whichever term you use, it needs some explanation. --Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 11:04, 24 August 2006 (UTC)
More than 14 months later, I've got a definition of a congregation:
"It is lawful and expedient that there be fixed congregations, that is, a certain company of Christians to meet in one assembly ordinarily for publick worship." Of Particular Congregations from The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government.
I can't see any definition of a parish in that document, but I'll consult a few other sources for one. Blarneytherinosaur gabby? 06:04, 29 October 2007 (UTC)
I've asked at Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Calvinism for help on this one. (When we have a definition for a parish, I'd like to add a section just before "The Session" about the powers of a congregation as a whole, eg. issuing a call to a minister, electing Elders, Deacons, and a Property Board or Committee of Management.) Blarneytherinosaur gabby? 06:13, 29 October 2007 (UTC)

Articles for individual bodies[edit]

I have removed some internal links that seem distracting to me. I have also made a couple of new pages that redirect here: Presbytery (presbyterian church) and General Assembly (presbyterian church). A redirect at Kirk Session already exists. Consider these as placeholders for the articles dedicated to those courts that Blarneytherinosaur suggested. I tried to tidy the disambiguation pages at Presbytery and General Assembly to reflect this. --Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 14:59, 23 August 2006 (UTC)

Ruling elder[edit]

Please look at The ministry because it starts with an ambiguous sentence that seems to imply (to me) that ruling elder is the same office as teaching elder. I thought that women had basically been excluded from all forms of eldership until the 19th century. Can you make it more clear, please? --Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 11:07, 24 August 2006 (UTC)

I've had a go. I hope it clears that up. Blarneytherinosaur 02:29, 25 August 2006 (UTC)

Ruling elder and teaching elder are the same New Testament office, presbyter. The ordinations are essentially identical. However they seem to have become somewhat different offices. E.g. if a ruling elder becomes a teaching elder, which can certainly happen, I believe they are ordained again. Hedrick (talk) 22:56, 7 June 2009 (UTC)

Absolutely. Thanks. Since I was still puzzled by this term (I am no theologian, and no presbyterian) I did a web search. This book implies that all presbyterian elders are formally known as Ruling Elders:
I imagine that the word 'ruling' arises from their being ordained to a role in church government, and is simply to distinguish them from 'teaching elder', and from 'elder' meaning 'older person'. However, I do not know if my inference is right, or even if Miller is considered authoritative. It seems that the article is missing a section on The Elder (or The Ruling Elder) to become fully rounded. Any takers? --Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 07:23, 25 August 2006 (UTC)

In the PCUSA, teaching elder and ruling elder are seen as two offices. It seems very odd to think of a teaching elder as also a ruling elder. I believe you have misinterpreted Miller. He says that teaching elders also rule, but not that they are actually rulin elders. Hedrick (talk) 22:56, 7 June 2009 (UTC)

I would agree with your assumption about the term 'ruling', but I do not know whether Miller is authoritative either. The Westminster Confession might clear it up.
I also agree with the need for a section on elders. I don't know when I would have time to do it (It took me many months to get the time and motivation to do the rewrite, little work that it was) but if no one beats me to it, I'll have a shot. Blarneytherinosaur 10:36, 27 August 2006 (UTC)
We could ask at Talk:Presbyterianism for a volunteer to write the 'Ruling elder' section, if you think you don't have the time. Just a thought. --Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 16:42, 29 August 2006 (UTC)

Did you notice yet that Westminster The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government mostly calls them variously Church-Governors and Ruling officers? Elders are mostly mentioned in a piece about the NT Jerusalem church. The Westminster documents are primary sources so we need to look at good books (secondary sources) to get an authoritative interpretation (at least I do, as I am not a trained historian.) --Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 21:43, 29 August 2006 (UTC)

Different words are used for the same person in different functions. It seems to me that when the elder is dealing with the local congregation they are called "ruling officer." When they are acting in a higher court they are a "church-governor." The same thing happens to ministers. For instance, in a service of worship that includes admitting a person into membership of the congregation, the minister performs the normal parts of the service as the minister, but when it comes to admitting the person to membership, they act as the moderator of the session, because membership is a function of the session. I'll see what I can come up with for secondary sources. Blarneytherinosaur 01:39, 30 August 2006 (UTC)


Do presbyterians in some countries call their teaching elder Pastor? (As did George Gillespie.) If so, then lets make this article reflect that, to make it more accessible to readers from those countries. --Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 07:23, 25 August 2006 (UTC)

Yes. In the denomination I attend most ordained men use "Rev." and are called ministers, but some are called "Pastor". It comes down to preference. (It is often unordained men in temporary positions of ministry are called "Pastor"). However, I imagine that in other Presbyterian denominations calling all ordained minsters "Pastor" could be the practice. Blarneytherinosaur 07:32, 25 August 2006 (UTC)
After replying to the References section, I realised that the reference I directed you towards, The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government deals with the ordained minister of the word and the sacrament under the heading "Pastors". If the writiers of the Westminster Confession called minsters "pastors" I would think that the term would be widespread. Blarneytherinosaur 07:40, 25 August 2006 (UTC)


Here are a couple of references a simple google search uncovered. I do not know if they are authoritative, or wholly accurate. I am sure that your local minister and elder will have better books in their library. Failing that, this list could get a knowledgeable person started on sourcing the many facts in this article.

Should be Philip Morgan at
and Thomas Campbell (Restoration movement) --Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 16:45, 25 August 2006 (UTC)
"It has taken seriously the position of the parity of elders, making a distinction between the two classes of elders, teaching and ruling. It has self-consciously taken a more democratic position (rule from the grass roots up) on presbyterian governance in contrast to a more prelatical form (rule from the top assemblies down)."
  • There seem to be more online books at but there seems to be some bug in my browsers that stops them displaying.
  • Finally, I feel tempted to add this highly disrespectful popular poem

--Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 07:24, 25 August 2006 (UTC)

For when your browser is working, may I suggest as a reference The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government, one of the additional documents from the Westminster Confession. I intend to scour it for information when I have the time. I would imagine that all of the Presbyterian churches with British links would take their form of Presbyterian polity from this book. Blarneytherinosaur 07:36, 25 August 2006 (UTC)

Thanks for adding some references Hroðulf. Blarneytherinosaur 09:32, 6 September 2006 (UTC)

The current church law texts of the Church of Scotland can be found on their website at [1]. Hope this is useful to folks Slackbuie 14:25, 14 January 2007 (UTC)

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