Purpose and Division
For the maintenance of good order in the Church of Christ it is necessary that there be offices and supervision of doctrine; assemblies; worship, sacraments, and ceremonies; and discipline.
Originally the first article was the one which we now have as Article 74, the article that deals with the command of Scripture that no one shall lord it over anyone else, be it church or office-bearer. That this article has been given another number and another place in our Church Order does not mean at all that we consider it of lesser importance. This would be farthest from the truth.
We can see this also in what is now the first article, in which the purpose of our Church Order is described and in which are mentioned the various successive matters with which we shall deal in the following articles.
What is described as the purpose of our Church Order? “The maintenance of good order.”
Here we have to be very careful and to ask a basic question, namely: “What is meant by ’the good order’?” Does this mean that as churches we need regulations and rules to make sure that every one marches stiffly and precisely at his proper place in the ranks? Anyone who looks at it from that angle and from such a point of view does great injustice to the churches as well as to their adopted order.
There must be order in the church of God, but this order is of a fundamentally different nature than the order which is demanded by totalitarian regimes or strictly regulated organizations where monotonous uniformity produces a dull life and community. The order of which we speak here is the order to which the apostle Paul refers when he writes in 1 Cor. 14: 40, that “all things should be done decently and in order.” This order is necessary because of what he wrote in verse 33, that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”
Note: the apostle does not say that God is not a God of confusion but of order; he says that God is a God of peace.
In our modern world the word “peace” means that there is no fighting or war going on. In our ears the word “peace” has more or less a negative ring. Not so in the Word of our God. “Peace” in the Holy Scriptures means an overall well- being, a harmonious relationship in which life flourishes and develops unhindered. Such a harmonious relationship is possible only when there are clear agreements and when these agreements are kept faithfully. Righteousness and peace greet each other, we read in Psalm 85. This
means that when there is righteousness, that is, a faithful keeping of mutually given promises, there is that harmonious condition which the Lord will bless so that life flourishes and bears rich fruit. The Lord cannot give His peace, His blessing upon all of life, if promises are not kept, if righteousness is lacking.
It is therefore necessary that there are well-defined conditions on the basis of which the churches live together. Now each church knows what its obligations are and what it may expect from the other churches within the federation, within the framework of their covenant.
When each church separately and when all churches together are faithful in doing their part, the Lord will give His blessing and everyone will receive the rich benefits from this.
Offices and Supervision of Doctrine
In order that they might know what their obligations and rights are, the churches have in the first place made provisions regarding offices and supervision.
That there are offices in the church is not the result of the need to have a board which supervises and regulates the affairs of a society. A church is not a society of people who have chosen a board to run their affairs in their behalf. A church is a flock of Christ, in which the Holy Spirit Himself has made certain persons guardians, as the apostle states in Acts 20: 28. It is the fruit of our Saviour’s one sacrifice that He could give the offices and office-bearers to His church, Eph. 4: 11. The saints are to be equipped for their service to their Lord and Saviour, and with a view to achieving this, the Lord gave the offices.
In obedience to this revelation, “we believe that this true church must be governed according to the Spiritual order which our Lord has taught us in His Word. There should be ministers ..., elders and deacons,” Art. 30 B.C.
Thus, in the first part of our Church Order, we describe what the offices are, Art. 2, how the call to office is extended and to whom, Art. 3, who are eligible for the ministry of the Gospel, Art. 4, how one enters upon this ministry, Art. 5, etc.
Since essentially there is only one mark by which the true church of the Lord can be known — “In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and regarding Jesus Christ as the only Head,” Art. 29 B.C. — a provision has been inserted regarding subscription to the Confession, Art. 26, as well as one outlining the obligation of the office- bearers to protect the flock against all attacks on purity of doctrine or conduct, Art. 27.
In the second place, the churches describe the place and function of the various assemblies in the federation.
First we mention the assemblies themselves, Art. 29; then we describe what these assemblies are allowed to deal with, Art. 30; what one is allowed
to do in order to remove any wrong that he is convinced has been done to him, Art. 31; who are to compose the major assemblies, Art. 32; etc. In Art. 50 we speak of the relation with churches abroad; this part concludes with reminding each other of our obligation to have the Gospel proclaimed worldwide, Art. 51.
Worship and Ceremonies
The third part of the Church Order deals with the worship services, Art. 52; special days, Art. 53 and 54; what we shall sing in the services, Art. 55; which ceremonies shall be found in our midst and how they shall be conducted, Art. 56, 57, 59, 60, 61, 63.
In connection with holy baptism we speak of the attention which the consistories shall pay to the manner in which the parents look after the education of their children, Art. 58. Because it is important that good records are kept, we mention this in Art. 64, concluding this part with a provision about funerals.
In the fourth part the Church Order speaks of discipline, both “general” discipline and “special” discipline over office-bearers.
We conclude with what at one time was Article 1, the article about not lording it over others, Art. 74, followed by one which makes clear that what is held in trust by deputies or committees or trustees remains the property of the churches, which the churches at all times have at their disposal as they see fit, Art. 75.
The final article describes how and for what reason the Church Order may be changed or even must be changed.