Note: These are the sermon notes from a message I preached many years ago. As suggested by the overall title, I intend to follow it up with several other distinctives.
THE DISTINCTIVE DOCTRINES AND /PRACTICES OF THE FREE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF ULSTER
FIRST MESSAGE: WHY ARE WE PRESBYTERIAN? (READING: ACTS 15:1-16:4)
And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. (Acts 16:4)
The unique trait/Presbyterianism not: Calvinism or infant baptism but its form of Church Government.
 Limited Congregationalism (Baptists)
All work if undertook by spiritual people.
Although a secondary matter, yet important for Presbyterians to know where and why they stand.
1) RULE OF ELDERS - A COMMON BELIEF WITH OTHERS:
A/ Two main offices/congregation: Elder and Deacon
Key passage: Acts 6:1-4
Note: Dividing duties into the relatively "mundane" & the "spiritual"
Some were to be taken up/distinctly spiritual duties i.e. the elders. 1 Timothy 5:17 provides link along: idea/teaching elder i.e. minister.
B/ Elders: not self elected: Acts 20:28
Also elected by a vote (Acts 14:23)
Ordain: stretch out/hand for purpose of giving a vote (Vincent)
Who can vote: not revealed but common vote among saved membership seems to present least problems.
Little room for complaint afterwards.
C/ Should be the aim of every church to have its own elders: Acts 14:23/Titus 1:5
At this stage we are in agreement with Baptists/Congregationalists &c.,
2) THE FIRST PRESBYTERY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT:
Before we explore this: Autonomous Church: not found/NT
Only argument: Individual epistles were written to individual congregations..
No argument at all…it does not overthrow Presbyterianism which also has individual congregations.
We have a stronger argument again:
A/ Acts 15:1 We are in the congregation at Antioch. A good church! Acts 11:26/13:2
B/ A problem! Acts 15:1 False teaching (Galatians 1:8) & so v2 A serious row...
C/ What did this church do? Note: v2: "Elders" presbuterous
In v4ff the elders of the churches/Jerusalem came together to discuss/debate the matter.
Here we have a presbytery:
 Elders present (v6) Along/apostles - they discussed matter.
 Matter was debated (v7)
Really, this debate ought not to have been prolonged (Galatians 1:8) but remember: transitional period.
 What saith/Scriptures? Guiding star (v7-11/15-17)
 Thorough (v12) Presbytery business must be.
 James the Moderator summed up: (v13) Cp 12:17/21:18
 A decision was reached (v19-21) Carried (v22)
This decision was seen to be the mind/Spirit (v28)
D/ Authoritative? Crunch issue. Only advice? Recommendation?
A problem in one congregation being discussed/debated & an answer given by elders in others.
If only advice - autonomy is preserved.
If binding…autonomy gone:
Are we looking here at Presbyterianism? Ans:- Acts 16:4 decrees to be kept:
Not merely in Jerusalem and/or Antioch…but in every city.
Word decree = dogma Same word: Luke 2:1/Acts 17:7 Law!
Word for to keep = phulasso
A very strong word: 12:4/1 Timothy 6:20/2 Timothy 2:19/1 John 5:13/Jude 20
Nothing weak here!
E/ Some object: Ref: "the church" (v4/22) along with "multitude" (v12)
Is this Congregationalism?
Ans:- The "Church" may be understood = those in authority.
Whole is put for the part: Multitude = elders from many churches.
Perhaps whole church = all the believers.
There to welcome (v4)
There for the send off (v22)
The business in the middle was conducted by the elders/apostles (v6)
This was not a free for all.
This was for those called to rule/church.
Not fit for mere novices.
F/ This was not a one-off meeting: Acts 21:18
We are not told how often they met.
Evident from Bible…often individual church sessions met (Acts 20:17) with local matters/agenda.
G/ Presbytery not only solves disputes…but also ordained men to the ministry: 1 Timothy 4:14
3) THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE ELDER:
A/ No light thing to be called to be an elder.
Humanly speaking: what if these men had fudged the issue/took side/Legalists?
[Might mention also: What if the Christians had rejected Presbyterianism & ignored these binding decrees from Presbytery?]
B/ No less than 3 passages: 1 Timothy 3/Titus 1/1 Peter 5
Main qualification is:
 Holy living
Although new converts are not ideal (1 Timothy 3:6) young men are not to be barred if they otherwise qualify (1 Timothy 4:12)
C/ Worth saying: Bishop = elder. 1 Peter 5:1-2 The address to the elders (v1) was to take the episcopacy (v2) of the flock.
 We believe in rule/elders. Ever pray for them. A church with good elders go places/God. Make/break witness.
 Presbyterian government is "founded on/agreeable to the word/God"
 Only those Biblically fit should serve as elders.