I challenge you to consider the BCO in light of what the Bible says about the church. Read it carefully and deliberately. If you disagree with a statement made in its pages, ask why, and investigate further. Ask your pastor and elders about it. Order pleases the Lord, and he desires for his people to be built up and edified, by all the teachings of the Bible about the church. The BCO helps the local church accomplish this vital task.
Like many in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) who come from baptistic backgrounds, I found my church’s inquirers’ class to be a welcome & intriguing experience. Most Baptist churches in the United States can fall anywhere along a wide spectrum of educational practices and confessional commitments, so it was a refreshing drink of mature biblical doctrine to walk week-by-week through the Westminster Confession. My wife and I came to our church already presbycurious, but emerged from the inquirers’ class as full-fledged Westminsterians. We couldn’t get enough of the glorious teaching contained within our Standards. We craved more.
As I spoke with my pastor and elders throughout this class, I came to learn there was more.
You see, Presbyterians love books. They love order even more. They even have a whole book devoted to the establishing & keeping of order in the church. Reading the PCA’s Book of Church Order (BCO) has helped me to learn about my denomination and to love it even more. Laity in our church would find much benefit from the troves of wisdom in its pages. Many a pastor labors in its pages, and perhaps even many elders & deacons, but I believe it can be of great use to the everyday believer in forming their thoughts about the church in its operation.
Giving Shape to the Church
Oftentimes as we read popular works of theology, we gain many insights into what Scripture teaches about God, the Christian, salvation, repentance, and living out life as Christ’s redeemed. The doctrine of the Church, however, can sometimes be unfortunately neglected or even wholly ignored. The BCO provides the reader with the standards by which a Presbyterian church is constituted and maintained. It outlines the scriptural doctrine of church government and defines both the visible church and the powers of that church. It details a governing structure for the local church, its initial organization, its officers, and the rights and duties of its members. The courts of the session, the presbytery, and the general assembly are all defined, as well as the relation of elders to the courts.
For laypersons, the Form of Government (Part 1) of the BCO teaches us about the church, properly governed. We are taught that the visible church’s government reaches its perfection in the presbytery, but that the absence of presbytery doesn’t deny the existence of the church. This comforts many of us who have loved ones and relations outside of Presbyterian churches. This also teaches us what to expect of and for our pastor, how to relate to him in his ministry, and how a church can call a pastor if it does not have one. For any who have spent time in the Wild West of nondenominational churches, such guidance is like water from a spring. No church and no church order is perfect in its execution, but the procedures that the BCO lay out for a church to live by provide a firm foundation of unity & practice for a covenant body of believers.
Spare the Rod and Spoil the Church
Church discipline is a dirty word in many circles of the evangelical world, and not without good reason. Some Christians may have felt the overzealous hand of a church or officers who thought that excessive discipline was the best way to separate the chaff from the wheat. Others may have been exposed to church environments where practical discipline was entirely absent and unrepentant flagrant sin abounded in the body of believers. Neither of these are healthy, nor are they faithful biblical expressions of Christ’s command to care for His sheep. For these tender matters, the BCO is singularly useful as well. In its second part, The Rules of Discipline, standards are laid down for the church to know what church discipline is and how it is to be exercised. BCO 27-3 guides us to the Bible’s described ends for church discipline: the glory of God, the purity of His church, and the keeping and reclaiming of disobedient sinners. Discipline has godliness for its principal end in the life of a Christian; not the stoking of egos, but the salvation of sinners.