ABCs of the PCA: Church Polity
Up next in our “ABCs of the PCA” blog series is church polity (or church government). This simply is the structure of leadership within the church. While differences can certainly be found throughout individual congregations, most churches are governed according to either episcopal, presbyterian, or congregational church polity. Every church is either independent and answers to no higher authority outside of the local church, or is a part of a larger denomination that has oversight over the individual churches within the group.
In the episcopal form of polity, there is a single leader. This overseer of the denomination known as a bishop. Some of the denominations that follow episcopal polity are Roman Catholic (the Pope is also known as the “Bishop of Rome”), Anglican, Episcopal, and Greek Orthodox. In each of these, a priest answers to a bishop who answers to another and so on until the final bishop (or archbishop) who has final authority. In the congregational form of polity, final authority rests with the congregation. This takes on many different forms across different churches. Sometimes, there are no designated leaders and the congregation is involved in every decision from the color of the carpet to the calling of the preacher. In other cases, leaders are elected to represent the congregation, making most decisions and only consulting the congregation for more significant decisions. In congregational churches, if the majority of the congregation agrees upon a decision, they have the authority to take action. Many Baptist churches follow congregational polity.
As you have probably guessed, Westminster follows a presbyterian, or representative, form of church polity. The word presbyterian is from the the Greek word presbuteros, which means “elder.” In this form of government, authority doesn’t rest with a single individual, but with a body of elders or presbyters. In the instance of the Presbyterian Church in America, or the PCA (Westminster’s denomination), our local church is overseen by our Session (made up of our called, elected, and commissioned elders). Pastors and representatives of local churches in a region form a “Presbytery.” Representatives of Presbyteries and local churches meet annually at a “General Assembly.” The General Assembly Committees and Agencies help local churches combine their efforts and resources to advance God’s Kingdom.
The PCA has 83 Presbyteries which are divided regionally. Westminster belongs to Covenant Presbytery, which spans the northern half of Mississippi, all of west Tennessee, and most of Arkansas. Covenant Presbytery holds three stated meetings each year. Each of these meetings begins with a worship service. The first and last meeting of the year celebrates the Lord’s Supper. Each meeting is hosted by a local church within the Presbytery.
Last Tuesday, May 18th, Richard Owens, Josh Reagan, and Gene Stansel attended a meeting of Covenant Presbytery. To learn more about the PCA, you can visit the website here. To learn more about Covenant Presbytery, click here.