Foundational Statements of Reformed Church Government

22 March 2011 by Wes Bredenhof

Many of us are disappointed at the outcome of a decade of ecumenical efforts with the URCNA.  However, there were some good things coming from all the time and effort spent.  Some years ago, the URCNA developed a set of “Foundational Principles for Reformed Church Government.”  As ecumenical discussions proceeded, this document was imported into the Proposed Joint Church Order.  Along the way it was tweaked and improved.  Today it stands as an excellent summary of Reformed church polity.  I use it with my preconfession students to orient them to our basic understanding of how the church of Christ is to be governed.  Here’s the document as it appeared in the 2010 PJCO:

Foundational Statements of Reformed Church Government

1. The church is the possession of Christ, who is the Mediator of the New Covenant.

Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25-27

2. As Mediator of the New Covenant, Christ is the Head of the church.

Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23-24; Colossians 1:18

3. 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; 2 Timothy 3:16-17

4. The catholic or universal church possesses a spiritual unity in Christ and in the Holy Scriptures.

Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:20; I Timothy 3:15; II John 9

5. In its subjection to its heavenly Head, the universal 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.

Matthew 16:19; 23:8; John 20:22-23; Acts 14:23; 20:28-32

6. The offices of minister, elder, and deacon are local in authority and function.  The Lord gave no permanent universal, national, or regional offices to His church by which the churches are to be governed.  Therefore, no office bearer may lord it over another office bearer.

Acts 14:23; 16:4; 20:17, 28; Ephesians 4:11-16; Titus 1:5

7. 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

8. The exercise of a federative relationship is possible only on the basis of unity in faith and in confession.

I Corinthians 10:14-22; Gal. 1:6-9; Ephesians 4:16-17

9. Although churches exist in certain circumstances without formal federative relationships, the well-being of the church requires that such relationships be entered 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; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3; Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; Revelation 1:11, 20

10. 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 are settled and binding among the churches unless they are contrary to Scripture, the Reformed Confessions, or the adopted Church Order.

Proverbs 11:14; Acts 15:1-35; I Corinthians 13:9-10; II Timothy 3:16-17

11. The church is mandated to exercise its ministry of reconciliation by proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth and by administering the sacraments in the congregation.

Matthew 26:26-30; 28:19-20; Acts 1:8; 2:38-39; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; II Corinthians 5:18-21

12. Christ cares for and governs His church through the office bearers, namely, ministers, elders, and deacons, whom He chooses through the congregation.

Acts 1:23-26; 6:2-3; 14:23; I Timothy 3:1,8; 5:17

13. The Scriptures require that ministers, elders, and deacons be properly qualified for the suitable discharge of their respective offices.

I Timothy 3:2-9; 4:16; II Timothy 2:14-16; 3:14; 4:1-5

14. Being the chosen and redeemed people of God, the church, under the supervision of the consistory, is called to worship Him in reverence and awe 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; Hebrews 12:28-29; I Peter 2:9

15. 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 11:19; Ephesians 4:11-16; I Timothy 4:6; II Timothy 2:2; 3:16-17

16. The church’s evangelistic and missionary calling consists of preaching and teaching the Word of God to the unconverted at home and abroad with the goal of establishing new churches or expanding existing churches.  This calling is fulfilled by ministers of the Word ordained to be missionaries, and by equipping the congregation to be the light of the world.

Matthew 5:14-16; 28:19-20; Acts 1:8; Ephesians 4:11-13; Philippians 2:14-16; 1 Peter 2:9-12; 3:15-16

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

18. The exercise of Christian discipline is first of all a personal duty of every church member, but when official discipline by the church, to whom the keys of the kingdom are entrusted, becomes necessary, it must be exercised by the consistory of the church.

Matthew 18:15-20; John 20:22-23; Acts 20:28; I Corinthians 5:13; I Peter 5:1-3