An Essential Summary of Our Book of Church Order (Presbyterian Church in America)

Our denomination has a book that governs the operation of our church on all levels. Personally, I think it is probably too long and complicated, even though I agree with the principles in it. I think we would be better served to simply have something like the following. This is a summary of our Book of Church Order that I use to give a simple explanation of what I believe are all the key points of the book.

The System of Government of the Church

Church Government:

  1. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. He defines the government, worship, doctrine, and ethics of the Church.
  2. The church of Jesus Christ consists of all true believers everywhere.
  3. All who believe are called to be members of local churches.
  4. The local church is a community of professing believers and their children who gather together under the leadership of ministers and elders in order to proclaim the gospel to the world, mutually encourage and build one another up, and worship God together.
  5. The official leadership of the church consists in the elders and deacons of the church.
  6. Some elders are called to devote themselves to the teaching ministry of the church and take a leading role among the elders and are generally called ministers.
  7. The deacons oversee the physical operations of the church and receive and distribute gifts to the poor.
  8. Churches should seek official relations with each other for mutual accountability and ministry. In our system of government, the regional community of churches is called a presbytery, and the national (or continental) community is called the General Assembly.
  9. These elders gather together in order to govern the local church or churches in common. These gatherings are called the Session (local), the Presbytery (regional), and General Assembly (national).
  10. No one can simply become an officer of the church by their own choosing but must be lawfully ordained.
  11. The ordination of all officers consists in an election by the congregation or other calling body, training and examination by other officers, and an installation or solemn setting aside of the individual to that office.
  12. The relationship between an officer and a congregation can be dissolved by a vote of the congregation and confirmation of the ordaining body.
  13. The congregation does not govern but should approve all major financial decisions and can be called upon for advice or vote on other matters. The congregation must elect all officers governing it.

Church Discipline:

  1. The purpose of discipline is to glorify Christ, build up the congregation, and help the subject of discipline.
  2. The governing body with jurisdiction over a member or minister can and should look into any matter that could become a scandal to the church.
  3. Individuals may seek to resolve issues of concern through church courts, but they must first seek to win their brother.
  4. When a matter cannot be resolved informally, the governing body should enter into a process of careful inquiry into a matter (or trial).
  5. If a governing body enters into process and finds a person guilty, then they may impose a censure.
  6. A censure is either a rebuke, suspension from the Lord’s Supper, suspension from office, or excommunication.
  7. If someone comes and confesses, the governing body may impose a censure, but it must be clear that a person actually intends to confess for this end.
  8. If someone tries to simply remove himself from the roll of the church, then the governing body should make clear the consequences of not being part of the visible church and seek to dissuade them.
  9. If someone disagrees with the action of any governing body over them, then that person may make seek to convince that body that it was wrong through a complaint.
  10. If a complaint is rejected by a governing body, then the person who made the complaint can take that complaint to a higher body.

Leave a Reply