A major contributor to Reformed theology
was John Calvin , who converted from Roman
Catholicism after training for the priesthood
and in the law. In exile in Geneva, Switzerland,
Calvin developed the Presbyterian pattern
of church government, which vests governing
authority primarily in elected laypersons
known as elders. The word Presbyterian
comes from the Greek word for elder.
Elders are chosen by the people. Together
with ministers of the Word and Sacrament,
they exercise leadership, government,
and discipline and have responsibilities
for the life of a particular church
as well as the church at large, including
The body of elders elected to govern
a particular congregation is called
a session. They are elected by the congregation
and in one sense are representatives
of the other members of the congregation.
On the other hand, their primary charge
is to seek to discover and represent
the will of Christ as they govern. Presbyterian
elders are both elected and ordained.
Through ordination they are officially
set apart for service. They retain their
ordination beyond their term in office.
Ministers who serve the congregation
are also part of the session. The session
is the smallest, most local governing
body. The other governing bodies are
presbyteries, which are composed of
several churches; synods, which are
composed of several presbyteries; and
the General Assembly, which represents
the entire denomination. Elders and
ministers who serve on these governing
bodies are also call presbyters.