We belong to denomination called the Presbyterian Church in America (or PCA) in which our elders and members are part of, and partners with, all the other elders and churches in our denomination. We see this kind of local, regional, and national connectionalism in the New Testament when, in Acts 15, churches send delegates to discuss a crucial doctrinal matter in Jerusalem, the result of which was then sent to all the churches as a decision they were all called to receive. We also see that this connectionalism does not end at spiritual care issues but extends to physical care issues as Paul raises money from brother and sister Gentile churches to support the impoverished Jerusalem churches.
Here’s what this connectionalism looks like in the PCA on a local, regional and national level:
Because the Apostles were foundational to the building of the church, and the New Testament is clear that spiritual leadership was to be conferred to elders (and not future apostles), there is no hierarchy of leadership in the PCA on any level. A businessman called to be elder and serve on a local session has just as much voice, vote, and authority as the pastor (which we call teaching elder), or any other elder in the PCA regardless of their title. This is true on a session level in a local church. This is also true on the regional church level, called the “Presbytery.”
Presbytery consists of the teaching elders and their churches in a particular geographic region. Our presbytery, Heritage presbytery, includes some of PA, MD, and all of Delaware. The elders meet four times a year to do things like pray for one another, discuss doctrinal issues, examine and approve men to be ministers and work together to support the work of mission and plant churches. Just as sessions hold their members accountable to live as becomes followers of Christ, so Presbyteries hold ministers and their churches accountable. Just as sessions may inquire as to the spiritual health of their members and exercise church discipline when necessary, so presbyteries do so with whole churches by means of casual inquiry, by formally examining the minutes of all the session meetings of all the churches for irregularities and by taking action when a teaching elder or session is acting out of accord with Scripture.
The same is true on a national level called the General Assembly. General Assembly or GA meets annually and does much of the work that sessions and presbyteries do, only on a larger scale. Whole presbyteries are held accountable and new presbyteries formed. Discipline cases that can’t be resolved on a local or regional level are resolved on a national level. Doctrinal issues are debated, discussed, and the results sent to all the churches to be received. Our denomination also has a number of agencies that serve the denomination which give reports at the General Assembly meeting.
The agencies of the PCA, which our church supports financially and benefits from immensely, are the Administrative Committee that oversees ministerial credentials, legal issues, and facilitates the work of the national and regional churches, Mission to the World which trains, equips, and sends out missionaries, Mission to North America which does the same but with an emphasis on church planting in the US, Christian Discipleship Ministries which provides educational resources, publications and curricula, and RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) which is our denominations college campus ministry. RUF is distinct in its philosophy of ministry both in requiring its campus pastors to be ordained ministers in a presbytery and in its desire to see students come to Christ and be connected to local churches. Other agencies include Covenant College and Covenant Seminary, Ridgehaven Retreat Center, the PCA Foundation which handles trusts and large donations, and RBI which handles retirement and benefits for ministers and their families.