Introduction to the (Proposed Joint) Church Order
Biblical and Confessional Basis
We Reformed believers maintain that the standard for personal, public, and ecclesiastical life is God’s Word, the inspired, infallible, and inerrant book of Holy Scripture. As a federation of churches we declare our complete subjection and obedience to that Word of God. We also declare that we are confessional churches, in that we believe and are fully persuaded that the Three Forms of Unity, the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort, summarize and do fully agree with the Word of God. Therefore, we unitedly subscribe to these Reformed Confessions.
Both the Word of God and these Reformed Confessions demand that in our ecclesiastical structure and rule we openly acknowledge Jesus Christ to be the supreme and only Head of the church. Christ exercises His headship in the churches by His Word and Spirit through the ordained offices, for the sake of purity of doctrine, holiness of life, and order in the churches. The churches of our federation, although distinct, willingly display their unity and accountability, both to each other and especially to Christ, by means of our common Confessions and this Church Order. Congregations manifest this unity when their delegates meet together in the broader assemblies.
Our Church Order has its roots in the continental European background of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformed churches desired to be faithful to God’s Word in practice and life as well as in doctrine. Therefore, as early as the mid-sixteenth century, and even in the midst of persecution, the Reformed churches set down the foundation of the Church Order at various synods beginning in 1563, including those in Wezel, The Netherlands (1568), and in Emden, Germany (1571). For the most part, the decisions of the assemblies in this period leaned heavily on the church orders already in place and used by the Reformed churches in France and Geneva.
The Church Order adopted at Emden was revised at the Synods of Dordrecht (1574 and 1578), Middelburg (1581), and the Hague (1586), before being adopted by the well-known Synod of Dordrecht (1618-1619). Our Church Order follows the principles and structure of the Church Order of Dordrecht.
The following list of foundational principles, though not exhaustive, provides a clear biblical foundation for, and source of our Church Order.
- The church is the possession of Christ, who is the Mediator of the New Covenant.
Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25-27
- As Mediator of the New Covenant, Christ is the Head of the church.
Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23-24; Colossians 1:18
- Because the church is Christ’s possession and He is its Head, the principles governing the church are determined not by human preference, but by biblical teaching.
Matthew 28:18-20; Colossians 1:18, II Timothy 3:16, 17
- The catholic or universal church possesses a spiritual unity in Christ and in the Holy Scriptures.
Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:20; 1Timothy 3:15; II John 9
- The Lord gave no permanent universal, national or regional offices to His church. The offices of minister, elder and deacon are local in authority and function. Therefore, a broader assembly governs the church only by way of delegation, and exists only when it is in session.
Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Ephesians 4:11-16; Titus 1:5
- In its subjection to its heavenly Head, the church is governed by Christ from heaven by means of His Word and Spirit with the keys of the kingdom, which He has given to the local church for that purpose. Therefore, no church may lord it over another church, nor may one office bearer lord it over another office bearer.
Matthew 16:19; 23:8; John 20:22, 23; Acts 20:28-32; Titus 1:5
- Although churches exist in certain circumstances without formal federative relationships, the well-being of the church requires that such relationships be entered into wherever possible. Entering into or remaining in such relationships should be voluntary; there is, however, a spiritual obligation to seek and maintain the federative unity of the churches by formal bonds of fellowship and cooperation.
Acts 11:22, 27-30; 15:22-35; Romans 15:25-27; I Corinthians 16:1-3; Colossians 4:16; I Thessalonians 4:9-10; Revelation 1:11, 20
- The exercise of a federative relationship is possible only on the basis of unity in faith and in confession.
I Corinthians 10:14-22; Galatians 1:6-9; Ephesians 4:16-17
- Member churches meet together in broader assemblies to manifest ecclesiastical unity, to guard against human imperfections and to benefit from the wisdom of many counselors. The decisions of such assemblies derive their authority from their conformity to the Word of God.
Proverbs 11:14; Acts 15:1-35; 1 Corinthians 13:9-10; II Timothy 3:16-17
- In order to manifest our spiritual unity, churches should seek contact with other faithful, confessionally Reformed churches for their mutual edification and as an effective witness to the world.
John 17:21-23; Ephesians 4:1-6
- The church is mandated to exercise its ministry of reconciliation by proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8; II Corinthians 5:18-21
- Christ cares for and governs His church through the office bearers, whom He chooses through the congregation.
Acts 1:23-26; 6:2-3; 14:23; 1 Timothy 3:1, 8; 5:17
- The Scriptures require that ministers, elders and deacons be thoroughly equipped for the suitable discharge of their respective offices.
1 Timothy 3:2-9; 4:16; II Timothy 2:14-16; 3:14; 4:1-5
- Being the chosen and redeemed people of God, the church, under the supervision of the consistory, is called to worship Him according to the scriptural principles governing worship.
Leviticus 10:1-3; Deuteronomy 12:29-32; Psalm 95: 1, 2, 6; Psalm 100:4; John 4:24; I Peter 2:9
- Since the church is the pillar and ground of the truth, it is called through its teaching ministry to build up the people of God in faith.
Deuteronomy 1 1:19; Ephesians 4:11-16; I Timothy 4:6; II Timothy 2:2; 3:16-17
- Christian discipline, arising from God’s love for His people, is exercised in the church to correct and strengthen the people of God, to maintain the unity and the purity of the church of Christ, and thereby to bring honor and glory to God’s name.
I Timothy 5:20; Titus 1:13; Hebrews 12:7-11
- The exercise of Christian discipline is first of all a personal duty of every church member, but when official discipline by the church becomes necessary, it must be exercised by the consistory of the church, to whom the keys of the kingdom are entrusted.
Matthew 18:15-20; John 20:22-23; Acts 20:28; I Corinthians 5:13; I Peter 5:1-3
Since we desire to honor the apostolic command that in the churches all things are to be done decently and in good order (I Corinthians 14:40), we order our ecclesiastical relations and activities under the following divisions:
- Assemblies (Articles – )
- Offices (Articles 1- )
- Worship, Sacraments and Ceremonies (Articles – )
- Discipline (Articles – )