Off the Wall October 2017 by Rev. Dr. Alan Dorway

Have you ever wondered what being a  Presbyterian means?  Besides the denominational answer, does being a  Christian who   worships at a Presbyterian church have a special distinction?  I know many of us have grown up in a Presbyterian church.  I can’t remember any other “kind’ of church where my family or I worshipped.  When my family moved to Las Vegas, we attended a variety of churches, but ended up at the Presbyterian Church. From age four, I’ve been nurtured, grown in my discipleship, worshipped, and grown up in a Presbyterian church.  I know, we have elders and deacons, we have all of these committees, we value worship, discipleship, and mission and we call ourselves connectional, but what does this mean and where did it come from? 


There are plenty of good books describing church history and the way a small band of Jesus followers changed the world and the history of our denomination (one of those books was written by Jim Angell’s father called How to Spell Presbyterian).  Yet, this year is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, so what is a quick review of our history and where does Presbyterianism begin?  The period of the church called the Reformation did not just start on October 31, 1517.  The Catholic Church had been struggling with finances, power, and leadership issues for years before 1517 and there were many priests, nuns, lay and political leaders seeking change.  One priest was    Martin Luther, who decided to write his 95 Theses or 95 propositions for debate on why the church needed to reform and nailed it to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany as a way to start a public debate. 


Martin Luther’s Theses became a catalyst for protesting the current practices of church and led to leaders banding together to reform the church.  Initially, Luther did not want to cause the church to split, but as he was tried as a heretic and faced many threats, he realized the only way for the ideas of change to be accepted was to split.  We note his actions as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation and from many of his ideas, the Lutheran Church was born. 


In 1509, John Calvin was born and grew up in France becoming a lawyer, who eventually broke from the church around 1530. He went to Geneva taking the influences of the growing protestant reformation and wrote his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536.  His theology has become known as Calvinism and stresses the need for salvation, the sovereignty of God, and predestination.  Enter into this scene, John Knox from Scotland.  John Knox was deeply influenced by reformed thought and struggled with the Church of England against the Catholic Church, but then later left both to preach and teach with the   growing reform movement in Scotland.  He met John Calvin in Geneva in the 1550’s where he developed a better understanding of reformation theology and what was to become the basis of Presbyterian polity. 


As our stated clerk, Dean Strong points out, besides the major tenants of the reformation, which we believe (grace, faith, scripture, Christ, and Glory to God alone), we have made a significant break from one leader.  We do not have a pope, bishop, or priest.  Instead, rather than one person making the decisions, we work in councils and committees.  Presbyterians are a group of Christ followers who have entrusted elders (Greek word, presbuteros) as leaders.  We acknowledge that women and men have various gifts and when we prayerfully entrust them to lead and guide the church, they are doing so   grounded in scripture, using our confessions, ordered by our governing principles and open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  We may think that we are representative in nature (like our federal government), but that is not true.  Elders (I’m a Teaching Elder) are called first and foremost to follow Christ while at the same time being aware of our context.  For some, this has been called reading the newspaper with the Bible open at the same time. 


We are connected through our polity (form of government) as a church.  We are led by scripture, our   confessions, the Book of Order, and the men and women we’ve called to serve as elders, deacons, and  other officers of the church (locally and nationally).  As we do like order, we follow Robert’s Rules of  Order (or try to at least) in our meetings, and we have a structured worship service that glorifies God, reminds us of forgiveness, teaches the Bible and calls us to be a witnessing community. 


Whew!  I know that was a quick and brief history lesson on some of our origins as Presbyterians.  Our  library has great books on our history and the leaders who’ve helped to shape us.  We continue in the tradition of the Reformation.  We worship, study, pray, serve and seek to follow the Holy Spirit using the wisdom of the past in guiding our future.  I hope you have a great fall and join us in this journey.