The ecclesiastical unit in episcopacy is a diocese, comprising many churches and ruled by a prelate; in congregationalism it is a single church, self-governed and entirely independent of all others; in Presbyterianism it is a presbytery or council composed of ministers and elders representing all the churches within a specified district.
The general assembly reviews all the work of the Church; settles controversies; makes administrative laws; directs and stimulates missionary and other spiritual work; appoints professors of theology; admits to the ministry applicants from other churches; hears and decides complaints, references and appeals which have come up through the inferior courts; and takes cognizance of all matters connected with the Church's interests or with the general welfare of the people.
Probably the recognition and appointment of elders was simply the transfer from the synagogue to the Church of a usage which was regarded as essential among Jews; and the Gentile churches naturally followed the example of the Jewish Christians.
It is consistent with this view to argue the absolute parity of ministers and elders, conceding to all presbyters" equal right to teach, to rule, to administer the sacraments, to take part in the ordination of ministers, and to preside in church courts."The practice of the Presbyterian churches of the present day is in accord with the first-named theory.
We look in vain, therefore, for much more than the germs and principles of Presbyterianism in the churches of the first Reformers.