The basic spiritual order of the church is composed of the presbyters (elders), all of equal status, divided into teaching elders (ministers) and ruling elders. The deacons and trustees complete the order; they may manage temporal affairs. The presiding minister and ruling elders make up the session or consistory; it is the first in the hierarchy of courts. Since both the minister and ruling elders are elected by the congregation, the Presbyterian polity is ultimately determined by the people.
Appeal from the session may be made to the presbytery or colloquy, the next highest court. The presbytery includes equal numbers of ministers and lay elders. The presbytery holds jurisdiction over church properties and ministers and confirms a church's call to a minister. The synod, the next court in the hierarchy, consists of ministers and elders from a stated number of presbyteries; it exercises limited supervisory authority over both presbyteries and congregations. Finally, there is the general assembly, composed of lay and clerical representatives in equal numbers, which meets annually to supervise the interests of the whole denomination.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.