The majority of Christians are not interested in labels today, but All Nations Church Ilford is a “presbyterian” church. We’re part of a little group of churches started by Francis Schaeffer called the International Presbyterian Church (IPC). I’m not a presbyterian by accident, nor by convenience. In fact, it’s pretty inconvenient to be a presbyterian in England. There aren’t many of us; the mentality of most English evangelicals when it comes to church is pragmatic – “does it teach the Bible? then stop fussing about secondary matters”.
But I’m a presbyterian because I believe that’s how Jesus wants his church to be run. I’m not an independent, because when I read my Bible, local congregations are meant to be connected (Acts 15), so that decisions made when they meet together bind individual churches (Acts 16:4). I’m not an episcopalian, because when I read my Bible, I can’t find anybody called a “bishop” (Greek: episkopos, usu. translated “overseer”), who is not also an “elder” and a “pastor” (Acts 20:17, 28). I’m a presbyterian because I think Jesus cares how his church is governed (Heb 8:5). We don’t “do” church; only Jesus “does” church (Matt 16:18).
But, despite my enthusiasm for presbyterianism, the sad reality is that it was presbyterians who put Jesus to death. It wasn’t the independent churches that did it. It wasn’t a vote in the house of bishops. It was the presbyterians. All four gospel writers point it out (Matthew 26:57; Mark 14:53; Luke 22:66; John 11:47). At a presbytery meeting, the church elders (Greek: presbuteroi) voted to hand Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, over to the Roman government for execution.
That is a sobering fact, which is worth weighing carefully. It means presbyterians can (and have, and will continue to) get Jesus very wrong. No church “label” or constitution guarantees that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God is being worshipped there (2 Cor 11:4; Rev 2:9). The sad reality is that presbyteries are still quite capable of voting in ways that crucify the Son of God all over again (Heb 6:6). That’s why the Word of God must always trump all church courts. We must never let ourselves think that presbyterianism will save anybody. The presbyterian church can’t rescue you from your sins.
So, while I’m super encouraged to be part of the IPC, and thank God for what he’s doing in our little denomination, and other like-minded bodies, our hope’s got to be squarely placed in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Pride in our particular form of church government is seriously misplaced. The only hope of the one church of Christ – in its presbyterian, episcopal or independent forms – is that Christ died for his enemies to make us his own. Better a Jesus-loving FIEC or Anglican church any Lord’s Day of the year, than a text-book, presbyterian church voting to trample on the blood of Christ (Heb 10:29).
On Judgment Day, God won’t ask any of us which church we were members of, but “what do you think about the Christ?” (Matt 22:42). All who have Christ as Saviour will then, with humble wonder and adoration, take their place in the (presbyterian!) church triumphant (see Rev 4:4, 10; 5:6, 11).