Today, we shall examine the last of three major forms of church polity we have been discussing from the beginning of the month, the Presbyterian form of church government. The word,’ Presbyter’in Greek means ‘elder’ and is the Greek root word for Presbyterianism.

In the New Testament, the word ‘Presbyter’inits meaning is not about age or status, but the description of the spiritual maturity often expressed by whoever holds or is to hold ministerial function in a local church. The words, elder, bishop, and overseer have synonymous meanings and functions in the New Testament.

The Presbyters, according to those practicing the polity, are said to hold the next important place after the apostles in the New Testament. Our discussion shall center on the form of Presbyterianism among the churches that subscribed to its approach to church governance.

What is Presbyterian Church Polity?

Presbyterian Church polity practitioners acknowledge that Christ is the Head of the Church and the Source of its authority. One of their claims is that Jesus Christ clothed the officers (elders)of the Church with authority to run the system of church government as drawn from the Scriptures, while the rest details of practice are determined by human wisdom and practicality.

The Presbyterian Church posits that Jesus Christ has invested His authority in a special measure upon the elders (officers)of the Church that constitutes the governing body. For every congregation, therefore, there is a plurality of presbyters(or elders) that call for a committee or college of administrators to exercise oversight on the congregation under them(1 Thessalonians 5:12- 13; Hebrews 13:17).

Though these were chosen by the people, their authority, as noted, is not delegated to them by the people who chose them for office. This ruling or governing body holds the governing power in a local assembly. Meanwhile, in the instance of churches in affiliation with other local churches, the interest of the general body holds. Hence, the local church has little form of autonomy but is governed by a body of elders.

Sharing Time: Mention one Presbyterian church in your area or state.

How does Presbyterian Church Polity Operate?

In this polity, it is believed that to keep things done decently and in order, God has ordained a system of governance by the presbyters(elders) to stand as functioning officeholders. Thus, the church is governed at the local level by a constitution of elders.

It is reckoned by the church that the New Testament and pastoral letters have instructed that church officers and elders should take care of the church of God(1 Timothy 3:5,14-15; Romans 15:4; Acts 15; and Titus 1:5-9). Sometimes, allusion is made to the forms of governance in the Old Testament(Moses, Levites, Judges, etc.) or by the Jewish elders (by experience/age) in the Synagogues.

The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria is a major body operating the Presbyterian form of church government in Nigeria. However, some other churches also operate Preshvterianism. In the church polity structure are the Session (local church administration), Presbytery (governing body of churches), Synod(governance of numbers of presbyteries), and General Assembly (governance of national denomination body), showing that there is a plurality of elders at every level.

These are composed of both ministers and lay elder representatives of local churches. They meet as the ruling body of each church, while the elders of a region meet at a broader gathering to deal with issues of ministry concerning the whole area. The deacons in the local churches look after the material care and service of the congregation, under the supervision of the elders/overseers.

Sharing Time: What are the differences between Congregational and Presbyterian Polities?

There are merits and demerits of the Presbyterian Church Polity. Presbyterian church polity consists of both merits and demerits which can be understood clearly.

Merits of the Presbyterian Church Polity

Among others, we shall outline six (6) merits of Presbyterian Church Polity in this article, namely below.

  • It is a representative form of governance: Without the knowledge of Presbyterian Church Polity, it will be difficult to understand the governance of the church. It represents the tiers of governance.
  • There is a level of autonomy at the local churches: In Baptist, and some other churches all local churches have been given autonomy.
  • It operates a plurality leadership style of governance: In this method, there are different leadership styles to use.
  • There is informed leadership decision-making by the clergy and laity: In Presbyterian Church Polity, the clergy is allowed to make an informed leadership decision.
  • The clergy and laity cooperate in coordinating the affairs of the congregation: The clergy is allowed and saddled with the responsibility of coordinating the affairs of the congregation,
  • Scripture is affirmed as the final authority: It is believed that everything is based on the Scripture. Any program or decision-making outside the scripture is void and null.

Demerits of Presbyterian Church Polity

As in merits, we shall outline five (5) Presbyterian Church Polity in this article, namely.

  • Decision-making can be slow or slow down: If the elders of the church are tough, and become the hindrance to the pastor’s decision-making, thus it can be slowed down.
  • The Presbytery elders may become so isolated from the congregation: At times, there may be a faction in the church, isolating elders of the church.
  • Individual members have no voice in decision-making: In this system and practices, individual members of the church have no upper voice when making decisions.
  • Human tendencies may suggest that a Presbytery self-perpetuates itself
  • Too much authority resides in the eldership of the church: As usual, the elders dominate the affairs of the church and will not give cognizance to the congregation to have a say in decision-making.

Sharing Time: Compare and contrast Episcopalism and Presbyterianism.

The Presbyterian system of government is operated by elders or a group of elders. The reality is that all the denominations that practice each system of government trace it to the Scripture. However, each form has its merits and demerits as we have studied this month. We do not have reason to contradict this system as long as it is working for those who practice it and is helping them to do the will of God. The essence is for us to know why we are different.

Prayer: May there be a harmonious relationship between the leadership and followership to break new frontiers.

Post-Group Activity: Pay a visit to any of the Presbyterian churches close to you. Worship there to enrich your experience of this study.


Having come to this end, each member of our churches must realize that Church polity grew out of Christians expressing their religious diversity as found in the Scriptures. No one form of church government approach is the most ideal. However, it is very clear that one gave room for the expression of Christian faith and believes in an atmosphere of freedom and openness than others.

Those who operate any of the systems should do so without acrimony or wilful intention to disrupt the unity of the Spirit. In essence, there should be no basis for seeing one system as superior to the other, as all are an expression of attempts to properly worship God and maintain order in the house of God. Meanwhile, there are churches today that are governed virtually by human theories beyond biblical approaches.

Some of these churches tend towards Old Testament interpretation in church governance. As long as humans exist, however, there will continue to be review and reinterpretation of church policies. Nevertheless, the practice of any church polity must not deny the lordship of Jesus Christ over His Church and the position of the Church as the living essence for human salvation as pictured in the New Testament.