The Presbyterian Church of Australia
I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
The Presbyterian denomination has its roots in the Reformation in Europe in the 1500s and, more particularly, in Scotland in the 1600s. Later, when Scots settled in Australia in the 19th century they brought “Presbyterianism” with them. In 1901 the various state Presbyterian Churches united into a federal church to form the Presbyterian Church of Australia.
In Australia, in 1977 about two-thirds of congregations in the Presbyterian Church voted to leave and form the UnitingChurch (combining with the MethodistChurch & many Congregational Churches). This left the continuing Presbyterian Church much smaller but more clearly focussed.
During the time of the Reformation, many of the Reformers adopted the motto “Faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone” which summed up their core beliefs.
We believe in one God of three persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We look to Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for forgiveness and the sure hope of eternal life.
The Bible is God’s Word to us. The Presbyterian understanding of Christianity is summarized in a document called The Westminster Confession of Faith. This was drawn up after the Reformation in the 1640s.
The Westminster Confession contains what is called a “reformed” outlook. That is, Presbyterians tend to emphasise God’s initiative and activity in such important matters as knowing God and being saved. God’s initiative is not taken as lessening the need for human responsibility but is rather the condition under which human response occurs.
Ministers and elders are required to assent to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Congregational members are not required to sign a doctrinal statement.
Each congregation in the Presbyterian system is relatively autonomous. We are responsible for our own finances and appointing our own leadership. There is a constitution that stipulates how our finances are to be organised and our leadership structured, etc. But, in all this, it allows freedom in some matters such as how we meet for church on Sundays.
The state assembly is made up of a pastor and elder from each congregation. It meets annually and sets broad policy for the various congregations in the state.
The Presbytery covers a specific geographical area and they oversee the congregations and plant new congregations in that area. The Presbytery is made up of a pastor and an elder from each congregation in the area. The Presbytery of the Northern Rivers, to which Grafton Presbyterian Church belongs, basically covers an area from Grafton to the Queensland/NSW border.
The word ‘Presbyterian’ comes from the Greek word presbuteros which simply means “elder”. This reflects the fact that within the Presbyterian Church congregations are led by a pastor (or minister) together with a team of elders.
The elders’ meetings are chaired by the pastor and are called “the Session” While the pastor is in charge of all aspects of the Sunday meetings, the Session is responsible for the overall spiritual oversight of the congregation.
The elders are elected by the congregation. Elders are not re-elected each year. They continue until they resign, retire or are removed by the Session.
Congregations vote to choose their pastor (requiring a minimum two-thirds approval) and their choice needs to be approved by the Presbytery. The pastor is answerable to the Presbytery for the conduct of his ministry. Pastors are generally appointed to serve indefinitely, but after 3 years are free to take up an appointment elsewhere.
The Committee of Management
Each congregation appoints a committee to look after buildings, finance and general administration. The purpose of this committee is to free the elders and pastors to focus on ministry (See Acts 6). The Committee is elected each year at an Annual General Meeting. Elders are automatically included as members of this committee.
We currently have a committee of several people serving St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Grafton. Elections take place in March each year.
There are two types of membership in the Presbyterian denomination. There are “communicant members”. They are the only ones who can vote regarding elders and ministers. Ordinarily, membership is by public profession of faith.
The other members are called “adherent members”. Adherents are people who attend regularly but have made no formal commitment to the congregation. Adherents can vote on all matters except when it comes to electing elders or calling a minister.
How do I become a member?
Members are not required to agree to a doctrinal statement, but the Session admits to membership those who they are confident are genuine Christian believers. Ordinarily, there will be a course of instruction with the pastor to ensure that people understand the promises and responsibilities involved in membership.
For more information on membership click below.