A church functions well when she knows what she believes and why. We cannot escape church history. If we do so, it is to our spiritual peril and impoverishment.
John Calvin and the Genevan Reformation are credited with the recovery of biblical Presbyterianism, something seen as the apostolic pattern to be pursued at all times, in all nations, until the end comes. Ecclesiology may be messy, but we cannot relegate this subject to a lower division of spiritual truths. Not least when the NT reveals that the Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22, 4:15, 5:23, Colossians 1:18, 2:19).
When I studied the pattern for the church in Geneva in the Sixteenth century, the subject really appealed to me. It was not a rigid lifeless pattern that emanated from Geneva, but a blueprint for the church to follow, a theology with "hands and feet". True Presbyterianism is lively; it demands change in the church on the basis of the Scriptures, theology, church history and the early Church Fathers. Do you desire Reformation and revival in the church? Then you must become clear on the distinctive of a NT doctrine of the church.
There are seven key aspects of the doctrine of the church which must be revisited, if the church is to have true spiritual life, and to be obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. The Scriptures must be given supreme authority in the church. This includes a consistent dedication to the public reading of the Scriptures and the preaching of sound doctrine out of the Scriptures (Acts Chapter 17).
2. A church must have a clear confession of faith, one to summarise the Apostles' Doctrine (Acts 2:42). A list of nine points of key doctrines is wholly insufficient in my opinion, in order to teach the church, defend her against error and to know how to call elders, ministers and deacons. This is why a joyous commitment to the Westminster Standards provides a robust platform for doctrinal growth, both for the office bearers and church members.
3. An enthusiastic recovery of church government composed of local elders in connection with regional elders to form a presbytery, whereby there is mutual accountability. This is something seriously deviant, deficient and lacking in an Independent form of government and also in contemporary Anglican circles. Where are the bishops today who can exercise any meaningful church discipline?
4. A recovery of the simplicity and reverence of NT worship. The high point of Presbyterian worship should be the preaching of pure doctrine. Yes we love to sing Psalms and hymns but it is not singing which is the mark of true church, it is preaching of pure doctrine, the right administration oft he sacraments and church discipline.
5. The right administration of the sacraments means that a covenantal view of baptism, one which includes the baptism of the children of believer's, must be shown to be what it is; a true biblical doctrine. In addition a Reformed understanding of the Lord's Supper is very important, in order to go beyond the contemporary morass of a mere memorial at the Lord's Table.
6. Healthy Presbyterian churches should be warm-hearted and serious minded. The Book of Acts was all about a living orthodoxy.
7. To be involved in world missions which works along Presbyterian lines, to recover lost ecclesiology and lost doctrine. Church history shows that a vigorous commitment to world missions is something essential to obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the spiritual vigour of the church.
If you are interested in being part of the church planting work of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales, then I would love to hear from you, especially if you are from any towns or cities in the Northern part of England.
For further study, take a look at Book 4 of the "Institutes" by John Calvin.
Also Guy Waters "How Jesus Runs the Church".