On December 20, 1560, the first General Assembly of the Church of Scotland convened in Edinburgh.
Under the leadership of John Knox, six ministers and 36 elders gathered to deliberate on and eventually to present for the approval of the Scottish Parliament the Book of Discipline, drafted earlier in that year. Although this work would be superceded by the Second Book of Discipline by 1578, the greater significance of the 1560 gathering was its establishment of the Presbyterian pattern of annual meetings of commissioners from each presbytery. This conciliar system of church government finds its biblical precedent in the Jerusalem council of Acts 15.
The highest representative body in the Reformed system of government is presided over by a moderator, with the stated clerk serving as chief executive officer. The General Assembly oversees and supervises its committees and agencies, along with the lower assemblies of the church (which in turn submit overtures and appeals to the General Assembly). In Presbyterian polity, the General Assembly is itself limited in its powers and subject to the constitution of the church. The precise authority that it holds varies among Reformed denominations. The American Presbyterian tradition has generally assumed a more decentralized character, with undelegated powers residing in the presbyteries.