The Form of Church Government
1. Jesus Christ, upon whose shoulders the government is, whose name is called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, of the increase of whose government and peace there shall be no end, who sits upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and justice, from henceforth, even for ever, having all power given unto him in heaven and in earth by the Father, who raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand, far above all principalities and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, and put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all, he being ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things, received gifts for his church, and gave officers necessary for the edification of his church, and perfecting of his saints.
2. Church power is an authority granted by God the Father through the Mediator Jesus Christ unto his church. Having its ground in the word of God, it is exercised by them to whom the spiritual government of the church is committed by a lawful calling, and who are appointed thereunto by the word of God. Therefore it is given immediately to the office bearers, by whom it is exercised for the welfare of the whole body.
3. This church power and polity is different and distinct in nature from that power and polity which is called the civil power and appertains to the civil government of the commonwealth, albeit they be both of God and tend to one end if they be rightly used, to wit, to advance the glory of God and to have godly and good subjects. For this church power flows immediately from God and the Mediator Christ Jesus, and is spiritual, not having a temporal head on earth but only Christ, the only spiritual king and governor of his church. Therefore this power and polity of the church should lean upon the word of God immediately as the only ground thereof, and should be taken from the pure fountains of the Scriptures, hearing the voice of Christ, the only spiritual king, and being ruled by his laws.
4. The form of government which Christ has instituted for the government of his church to the end of the age, and prescribed in the New Testament, is that exercised by presbyters, commonly called elders, who exercise this oversight on a parity the one with the other.
5. There is one general church visible, held forth in the New Testament. The ministry, oracles, and ordinances of the New Testament are given by Jesus Christ to the general church visible, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints in this life, until his second coming.
6. Particular visible churches, belonging to the general church, are also held forth in the New Testament. Particular churches in the primitive times were made up of visible saints, viz. of such as, being of age, professed faith in Christ, and obedience unto Christ, according to the rules of faith and life taught by Christ and his apostles, and of their children.
The Officers of the Church
7. The officers which Christ hath appointed for the edification of his church, and the perfecting of the saints, are, some extraordinary, as apostles, evangelists, and prophets, which are ceased. Others are ordinary and perpetual, as pastors and teachers, elders, and deacons. The whole polity of the church consists in three chief things: in doctrine, in discipline and distribution. With doctrine is joined administration of the sacraments. And according to the parts of this division arises three sorts of officers in the church, to wit, ministers or preachers, elders or governors, deacons or distributors. No more offices ought to be received or to be suffered in the true church of God established according to his word.
Pastors and Teachers
8. The pastor, or minister of the word, is an ordinary and perpetual officer in the church. It belongs to his office, to pray for and with his flock, as the mouth of the people unto God,Acts 6:2-4 and 20:36, where preaching and prayer are joined as several parts of the same office. The office of the elder (that is, the pastor) is to pray for the sick, even in private, to which a blessing is especially promised; much more therefore ought he to perform this in the public execution of his office, as a part thereof. To read the Scriptures publicly, for the proof of which, 1. That the priests and Levites in the Jewish church were trusted with the public reading of the word. 2. That the ministers of the gospel have as ample a charge and commission to dispense the word, as well as other ordinances, as the priests and Levites had under the law, proved, Isaiah 66:21 , Matthew 23:34 , where our Savior entitleth the officers of the New Testament, whom he will send forth, by the same names of the teachers of the Old. Which propositions prove, that therefore (the duty being of a moral nature) it followeth by just consequence, that the public reading of the Scriptures belongeth to the pastor’s office.
9. To feed the flock, by preaching of the word, according to which he is to reprove, correct, instruct, rebuke, exhort and comfort, in exposition of Scripture, in teaching sound doctrine, and in convincing gainsayers. To catechize, which is a plain laying down the first principles of the oracles of God, or of the doctrine of Christ, and is a part of preaching. To administer the sacraments. To bless the people from God, Numbers 6:23-26 compared with Revelation 1:4-5 (where the same blessings, and persons from whom they come, are expressly mentioned), Isaiah 66:21 , where, under the names of priests and Levites to be continued under the gospel, are meant evangelical pastors, who therefore are by office to bless the people. To take care of the poor. And he hath also a ruling power over the flock as a pastor.
10. All these as they must be raised up by God and by him made able for the work whereunto they are called, so ought they to know their message to be limited within God’s word, without the bounds of which they ought not to pass. Unto the pastor alone appertains the administration of the sacraments, in like manner as the ministry of the word, for both are appointed by God as means to teach us, the one by the ear, the other by the eyes and other senses.
11. It appertains to the minister, after lawful proceeding by the eldership, to pronounce the sentence of binding and loosing upon any person according to the power of the keys granted unto the church. And generally, all public denunciations that are to be made in the church before the congregation concerning ecclesiastical affairs belong to the office of the minister, for he is as messenger and herald between God and the people in these affairs.
12. As there were in the Jewish church elders of the people joined with the priests and Levites in the government of the church, so Christ, who hath instituted government, and governors ecclesiastical in the church, hath furnished some in his church, beside the ministers of the word, with gifts for government, and with commission to execute the same when called thereunto, who are to join with the minister in the government of the church; which officers are called ruling elders, the word elder in the Scriptures sometimes comprehending the pastors and teachers as well.
13. Their office is, as well severally as conjointly, to watch diligently over the flock committed to their charge, that no corruption of religion or manners enter therein. As the pastors should be diligent in teaching and sowing the seed of the word, so the elders should be careful in seeking the fruit of the same in the people. It appertains to them to assist the pastor in examination of them that come to the Lord’s table and in visiting the sick. Things that they cannot correct by private admonition they should bring to the assembly of the eldership.
14. The Scripture doth hold out deacons as distinct officers in the church. To whose office it belongs not to preach the word, or administer the sacraments, but to take special care for the necessities of the poor, by collecting for, and distributing to them, with direction of the eldership, that none amongst the people of God be constrained to be beggars. A session may entrust the deacons with the reception and distribution of the whole church property, the deacons always acting in accordance with the judgment and appointment of the eldership, that the property be not converted to private men’s use nor wrongly distributed.
15. It is lawful and expedient that there be fixed congregations, that is, a certain company of Christians to meet in one assembly ordinarily for public worship. When believers multiply to such a number, that they cannot conveniently meet in one place, it is lawful and expedient that they should be divided into distinct and fixed congregations, for the better administration of such ordinances as belong unto them, and the discharge of mutual duties. The ordinary way of dividing Christians into distinct congregations, and most expedient for edification, is by the respective bounds of their dwellings. They who dwell together, being bound to all kind of moral duties to one another, have the better opportunity thereby to discharge them. The communion of saints must be so ordered, as may stand with the most convenient use of the ordinances, and discharge of moral duties, without respect of persons. The pastor and people so nearly cohabit together, as that they may mutually perform their duties each to other with most convenience. In this company some must be set apart to bear office.
The Officers of a Particular Congregation
16. For officers in a single congregation, there ought to be at least one both to labor in the word and doctrine, and to rule. It is also requisite that others be chosen ruling elders to join with him in government. And likewise it is requisite that there be deacons also to take special care for the relief of the poor. The number of elders and deacons, in each congregation, is to be proportioned according to the condition of the congregation. These officers are to meet together at convenient and set times, for the well-ordering of the affairs of that congregation, each according to his office. Where there are many ruling elders in a particular congregation, let some of them more especially attend the inspection of one part, some of another, as may be most convenient; and let them at fit times visit the several families for their spiritual good.
The Ordinances of Worship in a Particular Congregation
17. The ordinances in a single congregation are prayer, thanksgiving, and singing of Psalms, the word read (although there follow no immediate explication of what is read), the word expounded and applied, catechizing, the sacraments administered, collection made for the poor, dismissing the people with a blessing. In accordance with the simplicity and purity of worship provided for in the church’s Basis of Union, the church’s worship shall be without instrumental music, and only the Book of Psalms shall be used for singing in worship. The Authorized King James Version shall be the text used in the public reading of the word, and the Scottish Metrical Psalter the text for singing in worship.