What is a church?
When we use the word 'church', we're often thinking of a building, or perhaps an organisation. But the essence of church is people. We could say a Christian church is a group of people who are in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
In the Bible, the word church can describe a local congregation, a group of Christians in a region, or, in the widest sense, all of God's people through all time. Our local church is St Peters IPC; we are part of a denomination - the International Presbyterian Church (IPC); and we are of course part of God’s universal church.
Our local congregation is made up of people of a wide variety of ages from Liss and the surrounding area. We meet week by week to worship God and encourage one another.
We are focused on timeless truths for our times. That is, teaching, learning and growing in the truths of historic Christianity, and seeking to apply them to our own culture and situations.
What does Presbyterian mean?
‘Presbyterian’ describes the way our church is structured. It comes from the Greek New Testament word for elder - "presbyter". Although nowadays there are relatively few Presbyterian churches in England, there are many millions of Christians worldwide in Presbyterian churches - for example in Scotland, Ireland, America, and South Korea.
Each individual congregation is under the care of its elders, but those churches are also linked with other like-minded churches which enables mutual support, cooperation and accountability.
In the IPC, this works out in practice as follows:
Each individual church is led by elders who collectively are called the "session" of the church. We also have deacons who are responsible for various caring, administrative and practical tasks.
A group of particular churches are associated in a “presbytery”. We are in the UK English Speaking Presbytery, which meets 4 times a year. Presbyteries have several functions to do with the oversight, encouragement and accountability of the church.
The various presbyteries form a “Synod”, which meets annually.
Presbytery and synod also function as wider courts of the church, to resolve disputes that are brought to them by individuals.
What does it mean that we are international?
Firstly, of course, God is international.
He created the world and it is His. His first promise of salvation was to the forbears of all humanity. The bible says to Abraham that in his descendants all the nations will be blessed. This promise found fulfillment in Jesus - "the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" and his final command on earth, known as the "Great Commission” was to go and make disciples of all the nations.
Secondly, our denomination crosses national boundaries.
The IPC traces its roots back to the work of Francis and Edith Schaeffer who went to Switzerland in 1948 as missionaries from the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the USA. Out of their ministry grew L’Abri – which now has residential study centres and communities in various countries around the world – and the IPC.
The IPC came to England in the sixties alongside the work of L'Abri with the first congregation being planted in Ealing in 1969, and our own congregation being formed in 1972. We have always enjoyed a close relationship with the local branch of L'Abri Fellowship in Greatham, and staff and students from L’Abri are a key part of our congregation.
Today, the IPC has congregations in England, Scotland, South Korea and various countries throughout Europe.
Thirdly, happily our own congregation demonstrates this international flavour – with various nationalities represented.