Tomorrow a group of students from our local Lutheran School will be visiting mgpc along with three other local churches.
In under thirty minutes together the students will learn about the Presbyterian denomination as part of a process of understanding the similarities and differences of some of the Christian Denominations.
As a guide we were given some questions that the students will be trying to find answers for. The questions themselves are quite interesting in that they primarily focus on people, events, rituals and actions and don’t really open up the fact that the church is a body that moves and grows under the influence of the Spirit of God. There’s something about that dynamic that is problematic in church schools.
In any case, addressing these areas is challenging, as we cover quite a lot of ground, can’t assume any background knowledge, and have to make sure that everything is easy to understand. Though I’ll summarise these details in a presentation tomorrow, here are my notes.
1. How did the denomination begin?
From the beginning of the reformation in the 15th century, the churches of Western Europe continued to seek to reorganise or reform themselves along biblical patterns. The intention was never to start new denominations, but to return the existing church to faithfulness.
In time, some of those churches would become known as Reformed Churches in Europe, and Presbyterian Churches in Scotland and other parts of the English speaking world. The years 1559 and 1560 can be identified as the point in time at which the church in Scotland embraced the reformation. At that time it was established by the government as the Church of Scotland. The name ‘Presbyterian’ was adopted in other countries in much the same way that the Church of England is called the Anglican Church in Australia. The name ‘Presbyterian’ is derived from the fact that local congregations were led by men who were given the title: ‘elders’, the English translation of the biblical greek word ‘presbyter’.
2. Who is an important person in the denomination’s history?
John Calvin, a Frenchman who lived and taught in Geneva from 1536 until his death in 1564, developed the theology and practice that would be adopted by the Presbyterian and Reformed churches. His major book, among many others, is called The Institutes of the Christian Religion.
John Knox, a Scotsman, originally was a Roman Catholic priest who came to a Protestant understanding. Due to events after that change he spent time as a slave on a galley boat for nineteen months, before returning to minister in England. Eventually he was forced to go into exile in Europe, where he meets Calvin and pastors a church in Geneva. In 1559/60 he returned to Scotland and was part of a rebellion that lead to the establishment of a government supportive of Protestantism.
3. What was the culture like when the church began?
Europe was in a time of great change in thought, economy and society. Scotland was on the edges of that change, a largely rural and uneducated place. Its exports were mainly primary products and it imported manufactured goods. It was, however, of strategic importance to the governments of England and France among others.
4. Who is the leader of the denomination in Australia?
The Presbyterian Church recognises only the Lord Jesus Christ as our head. It is governed by a system of regional bodies. Local churches belong to a regional group called a Presbytery. The regional groups in each state support each other in another body (called an Assembly) which meets each year. The six state bodies meet together every three years in a General Assembly. This arrangement has some similarity to our local, state and national governments. These groupings allow local churches to work together and pool their resources in ways that mutually support one another. Currently the Moderator (or Chairman) of our national General Assembly is Robert Benn.
5. Does the denomination belong to a worldwide organisation? Which? How?
The Presbyterian Church of Australia is part of a worldwide family of churches that are known by the names ‘Presbyterian’ or ‘Reformed’. Congregations of people from this family of churches would be found in most nations on earth.
1. What is your definition of the Christian church?
Presbyterians understand that a true church is one where: the Bible is truly taught; where the sacraments are rightly celebrated; and where discipline is observed. While this definition may seem odd, it: recognises that the Bible is central to what we believe and do; affirms the place of the sacraments as being given to us by the Lord Jesus as a mark of our obedience and growth; and demonstrates a commitment to mutual accountability by all Christians.
A church must remain true to the biblical teaching called the ‘Gospel’ in order to be a Christian church, which means that it must affirm that Jesus died on the cross receiving God’s punishment for our sins and that God graciously saves us only because of Jesus’ work by grace, through faith.
2. What do you think is the most important aspect of your congregation’s work?
To be obedient to the command of the Lord Jesus for us to help people become, and then grow as, His followers here in our own town, throughout our nation and around the world.
3. How does your congregation use God’s word or the Bible?
The Bible teaches that though it was written by normal people, its words are exactly what God intends it to say. The phrase ‘Thus says the Lord’ is used over 3,800 times. The Bible teaches that all Scripture is ‘inspired’. In the Bible God has communicated everything that humans need to know in order to have a relationship with Him and how to live out that relationship. We do not need to receive any other revelation from Him, but can be satisfied with the Bible.
4. What do you believe about baptism?
There are two sacraments given to the Church by the Lord Jesus. A sacrament is an outward sign of a spiritual truth. Baptism is a sacrament that symbolises the washing away of our sin and our being united to Jesus. It is also an outward mark that shows who belongs to God’s family in the New Testament church, just as circumcision did in the Old Testament. Because of this continuity in the meaning between baptism and circumcision we baptise the children of church members.
5. What do you believe about holy communion?
The Lord’s Supper, or communion, is a sacrament which uses the symbols of bread and wine to remind us of Jesus’ death. As the bread symbolises Jesus’ body, broken for our sake, and the wine represents His blood shed as a sacrifice for our sins, so by eating we show that God accepts us because of Jesus and not because of anything we have done. For this reason only those who trust the Lord Jesus as their Saviour should eat and drink the Lord’s Supper.
6. What do you use as a common statement of belief?
The Westminster Confession of Faith, read in the light of a clarifying statement, is a statement that sums up how Presbyterian ministers and elders understand various Bible teachings.
1. Does your congregation have a mission statement? If so, what is it?
Glorifying God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit by growing His family through Biblical teaching, prayer and loving relationships locally, nationally, and internationally.
2. What are the weekly activities of the congregation?
Sunday: Prayer, 9.00am; Worship 10.00am; Fellowship, 5.30am
Other activities for various groups are held at different times on other days.
3. How is your congregation involved in loving and serving others?
The Congregation support one another by helping each other with their spiritual and physical needs. One of our groups exists to offer support and care to those in need. Our small groups seek to sponsor and support Gospel activities conducted by others outside of our Congregation. We recently completed supporting an orphanage in Indonesia for twenty-two months.
4. What does the minister’s role involve?
The Bible identifies the role of pastor/teacher. This involves teaching the Bible in preaching ministry and in other settings, such as Bible studies. The pastor/teacher leads the congregation along with the other elders as the first alongside equals. Other activities include prayer, visiting (especially the sick) and being involved in the work of the wider church, such as short term mission trips, and supporting other congregations in various ways.
5. What activities does your church provide for people our age?
On many Saturday nights our young people meet. Some weeks they study the Bible on others they have social activities. Biblically there is no ground to separate people into different groups on the basis of age, so we emphasise family inclusiveness in our worship and activities. We find this helps people to fight the self-centeredness that our culture trains people to have.
6. How is your church involved with other Christian denominations?
Our work with other Christian denominations has seen us support the Christian Pastoral Support Worker Program; go to other countries on short term mission trips. We are blessed to be able to partner with many churches in Mount Gambier because they affirm the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and believe the Bible. This is not always the case in other places.

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