“Order, Please”

Introduction

Young people, do you know that CERC adopted our own Church Order in 2011? It is almost identical to the Church Order of our sister church, the PRCA, whose Church Order is based upon the original Church Order that was adopted by the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619. Since adopting our own Church Order officially, we have seen the great benefit of doing so.

The focus of this article would be on the necessity and importance of the Church Order for a church, as well as its uses. As to its history, structure and content of the Church Order, I refer interested readers to other excellent sources that are readily available (see bibliography), which we would all do well to read or refer to for our own spiritual profit.

Necessity and Importance of the Church Order

Why is the Church Order necessary and important for CERC, and indeed for any church? The reason, in the first place, can be found in Article 1 of the Church Order itself: “For the maintenance of good order in the church of Christ”.

Our God is a God of order. He never does anything in a disorderly or haphazard manner. He never does anything arbitrarily, according to His whims and fancies, just because He ‘feels like doing it’. That is simply impossible, because He is infinitely wise and does all things with a clear and definite purpose and goal in mind – His glory (Eph 1:11-12). Whether in creation or redemption, God’s orderliness is unmistakable.

Therefore, it follows that the church of Jesus Christ, Who is very God of very God, is an orderly church. She ought to be. When Jesus gathers His church by His Spirit, He does not bring His sheep into an institution that is loosely organised, where there is no clear code of conduct and whose directions and goals change according to popular opinions   or   personalities.   Rather, the child of God is brought into an institution that is governed according to scriptural principles by lawfully appointed leaders, whose members behave themselves as becoming great sinners saved by Almighty grace, and whose one unchanging goal is the honour and glory of God. That the church is an orderly institution is evident in the way God ruled His church in the Old Testament (i.e. the nation Israel) by many strict rules and regulations that governed every detail of her moral, civil and religious life. In the fullness of time, when the redemptive plan of God extended beyond national Israel to gather His elect from every nation, tongue and tribe, God continued to ensure that there is order in the New Testament church by instituting the offices of ministers, elders and deacons as representatives of the three-fold office of Jesus Christ to rule the church on behalf of her ascended Lord. We know God takes order very seriously in His Church, because of the weightiness of the authority that Jesus gave to His apostles, and by extension to all office- bearers in the NT, when He said, “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18,16:19).

Orderliness in the church, for all time, is the will of the unchangeable God of order Himself. The church that understands this will see the necessity and value of adopting a Church Order. The Church Order, as a document laying down clear principles derived from Scripture, for regulating the life of the church in an orderly manner, is critical for a church who seeks to obey the injunction ‘Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Cor. 14:40).

A second reason why the Church Order is necessary and important for a church is because it serves to promote unity and peace in the church. This second reason flows from the first. When there is order in the church, peace and unity prevails. No church is without her own fair share of troubles or conflicts, including the church that has adopted a Church Order. But when troubles and conflicts arise, the church with the Church Order has a ready, reliable reference and guide to deal with them properly, biblically and in an orderly manner. It is not left to the preference of individuals, or the wit of a few intelligent men, or the high-handedness of a forceful leader to resolve the matter or determine the outcome.

The Church Order not only promotes unity within a church, but also in a federation of churches when all the churches adopt the Church Order together as one of their minor confessions. The church institute is called to manifest the spiritual unity of the one holy catholic church of Jesus Christ by establishing ecclesiastical relationships with other churches of like precious faith. These relationships require a certain structure and order to regulate the proper interaction between churches in the federation. The Church Order provides that organizational structure and order that allows the churches in the federation to express and experience their spiritual unity.

A third reason why the Church Order is necessary and important for a church is because it guards the church against false doctrine. It does this by regulating those who teach doctrine in the church, namely the ministers of the gospel. Ministers must be examined by the church as to the orthodoxy of their beliefs. They must be ordained by the church, and bind themselves to teach the confessions of the church. They must be subject to the supervision and rule of the Elders, may be investigated, suspended   or   deposed   from   their office by the church should they become wayward. The Church order also guards the church against false teaching by providing an avenue of protest and appeal to those who object to the teaching of the church. When the leaders of the church err and allow false doctrine to be taught, church members can (and must) bear witness to the truth through the proper avenue of protest and appeal.

How necessary and important is the Church Order for a church? Can a church survive without a Church Order? Probably yes (though I’m not sure for how long). But can it thrive? In my judgment, no.

Uses of the Church Order

The Church Order has great practical value for the local church. I will name but a few here.

First, it guides office-bearers in their rule of the church. The fundamental principle that underlies the entire Church Order is that Jesus Christ is the Head and King of the Church, and He rules her by His Word and Spirit. The office-bearers are NOT the supreme authority in the church. Jesus Christ is. The authority of the office-bearers is a delegated authority, and insofar as they rule according to the principles and commands of Scripture, they wield the authority of Christ Himself. The Church Order is founded upon direct and indirect principles of the Word of God, and hence when office-bearers rule according to it, they may be sure that they are exercising their authority in a lawful manner. The Church Order regulates the keys aspects of church government relating to the marks of the true church, i.e. in the areas of preaching/doctrine, the sacraments and Christian discipline. It is therefore very helpful in keeping the office-bearers focused on their proper calling and not be distracted by many other non- essential and perhaps even illegitimate demands.

Second, the Church Order serves as a rule for members of the church regarding their daily conduct in relation to the office-bearers, as well as to fellow believers. Because it is founded upon the principles of the Word of God, the Church Order is authoritative (albeit derived authority) for the faith and life of the church member whose church has adopted the Church Order. I quote Rev. Vanden Berg: “The believer promises before God and His church that he will submit himself to the rule of the church. He binds himself to these rules of church government. He promises that by the grace of God he will regulate all his life according to these rules. That must not be regarded lightly for it is a very serious matter. It means certainly that our Church Order is the rule for our daily conduct and by it we are to be governed not only in relation to the office-bearers in the church but also in relation to our brothers and sisters of the household of faith. Our Church Order then is certainly no abstraction but, on the contrary, is a matter of greatest practical concern to every member of the church” (Vanden Berg, 1953, pg. 261)

Last but not least, the Church Order is of great practical value for the local church in her mission work. The main goal of every mission work is to establish an instituted church in the field that is self-governing, self- propagating, and self-supporting. In relation to the first aspect, instruction in the Church Order is essential for the group of believers in the mission field who desire to be instituted as a church someday, especially for those among them who are potential office- bearers. They must have a good grasp and understanding of the principles of Reformed church government, of the proper calling and work of the special offices, of the significance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the importance of church membership and the necessity of Christian discipline. In CERC’s own experience, we have seen how this instruction in the Church Order has helped correct what is a common erroneous practice in India – independent preachers without the oversight of a church. The Church Order has also helped us and the fellowship in India to better understand the validity of administering baptism in the mission field, and guided the Session in coming to a decision to call Bro. Emmanuel Singh as CERC’s missionary to Kolkata, India.

Conclusion

How necessary and important the Church Order is for the church of Jesus Christ in guarding her against false doctrines and promoting her peace and unity! What blessings it brings when there is good order in the church! Young people, know your Church Order. Appreciate it. Then you will know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), and in that way seek the good and peace of Zion.

REFERENCES

Vanden Berg, G, (1953). Decency and Order – Introduction. Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer Vol 29, Issue 11, pg 261 (http://standardbearer.rfpa. org/articles/introduction-6)

Vanden Berg, G, (1953). Decency and Order – Introduction. Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer Vol 29, Issue 12, pg 285 (http://standardbearer.rfpa. org/articles/introduction-contd)

Cammenga, Ronald, (1987). Our Church Order – An Introduction. Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer, Vol 64, Issue 1, pg 18

Cammenga, Ronald, (1987). For Thy Maintenance of Good Order. Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer, Vol 64, Issue 2, pgs. 44-46

Hanko, Herman. ‘Notes on Church Order’. http://www .pr ca.org/books/Notes%20on%20the%20Church%20Order%20by%20Herman%20Hanko/CHURCH%20POLIT Y.htm#ARTICLES_53,_54_

Monsma & ven Dellen, (1954). The Church Order Commentary. Eugene, Oregon, USA: Wipf and Stock Publishers

Written by: Lee Kong Wee | Issue 40

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