Many people have questions about denominational affiliations. If the church is suppose to be one (Ephesians 4), then why are there so many different divisions? If the church truly is Christ's church (and not simply our church), then why do we insist on using labels like 'Presbyterian' to describe our church?
On the question of who governs the church, there can be only one answer -- Jesus Christ. It was Jesus that said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matt. 28:18). "Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior" (Eph. 5:23). "And he is the head of the body, the church." (Col. 1:18). The New Testament is crystal clear that ultimately Christ is the one who runs things -- it is His church, not our church. Individuals church members are ultimately subject to Him, to His Word, and to the Holy Spirit.
But that still leaves a lingering question -- how is it that Christ leads and governs His Church?
All evangelical churches agree that Jesus Christ is the King and Head of the Church, but Presbyterians specifically believe that Christ as Head has also appointed 'elders' to preside over and govern matters in His church. In fact, the word "Presbyterian" is derived from the Greek work, presbuteros, which is often translated as 'elder' in our English New Testaments.
So while we are absolutely resolute in commitment to Christ's rule through his Word and Spirit, we also believe that "he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-12). Paul is not distinguishing between "saints" and "super-saints" but rather he's outlining two different offices at work in Christ's body: a general office of all believers and a special office of those called to govern the church.
All believers have been given the Spirit (Rom. 8:15-16) and have been made an heirs with God and with Christ (Rom. 8:17). And yet we still read that Paul and Barnabas "appointed elders for them in every church" (Acts 14:23). We also witness Paul pleading with the elders at Ephesus, "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood" (Acts 20:28).
So the list of the so-called 'elder qualifications' that we find in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are there for the purpose of helping each Church body evaluate the qualifications of men to govern her as servants of Christ. This is precisely the kind of thing we see at work in Acts 6:1-7, when seven men were recognized and chose by the church to serve as elders over the church. The New Testament makes clear that the ministerial offices are not man-made structures but were designed by God to help.
In short, Church authority can be summarized in 3 ways:
(a) Delegated, not original -- that is, there is a difference between the King (Jesus) and the ambassadors of the King (elders). Elders only have authority granted to them by Christ through his Word. Thus, we do not adapt Jesus to establish our own authority; rather, we humbly submit and adapt ourselves to His authority.
(b) Ministerial, not magisterial -- that is, the leaders in Christ's church are not there to serve themselves but to serve Christ and his church. Christ's authority alone is sovereign; elders have no such authority.
(c) Declarative, not legislative -- that is, elders are permitted to declare and apply only what God's Word demands. Because we believe God's Word is sufficient for life and godliness, nothing should be added to it. The Bible is our only infallible rule of faith and practice.
We realize that many people with a strongly-'individualist' mindset have difficulty with such authority or hierarchical structures. We are sensitive to the fact that many come from church backgrounds where the church leadership and elders acted more like ecclesiastical bullies than servants of Christ. We deeply regret that some people calling themselves 'elders' treat the flock of God in such an unChrist-like manner; this is clearly not the picture that the New Testament presents for the reason and rationale of ordaining elders.
Because of these Scriptural reasons, we consider ourselves a Presbyterian church and have chosen to join with like-minded churches in the Presbyterian Church in America.