Polity is essentially an organized way to put biblical convictions and principles into practice. It is how we as a branch of the Body of Christ may best be faithful to our Lord and His Word in particular parts of the church. We seek to be organized in this way because of our convictions that Presbyterian polity is the prescribed polity of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
I no longer believe myself to be a young minister, but my time as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is still in its early days. Four years ago, I entered the PCA after serving as a Baptist pastor for nine years. I came into my new church with a love for Presbyterian doctrine, worship, the denominational emphasis on the means of grace, the connection to other local churches that make up one national Church, and various other biblical distinctives. My affection has only increased in my time in the PCA, but one thing I have come to appreciate even more is Presbyterian polity, and particularly the spiritual nature of our polity.
When I first began studying for licensure and ordination, the exams on the Book of Church Order (BCO) were most daunting. While I was comfortable explaining the biblical foundation of Presbyterian polity, I was a bit taken aback when having to study the intricacies of the BCO. At first, I assumed I would need a lawyer to help me discern some of the language and cadence; but as time has elapsed, I have grown to understand more, and I am growing more adept at navigating through the BCO.
But much more than learning simply how to navigate the BCO, I am growing more appreciative of the BCO’s clear intention to promote godliness. In its preface, the PCA BCO says in Preliminary Principle 4, “Godliness is founded on truth. A test of truth is its power to promote holiness according to our Savior’s rule, ‘By their fruit ye shall know them’ (Matthew 7:20).” The BCO continues, “On the contrary, there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or embrace it.” From the outset, the polity of the BCO is framed such that the PCA would be a church ordered in a biblically faithful and wise manner, so that God may be glorified, and for His people’s blessing. In short, I am growing to appreciate Presbyterian polity more because polity is not inherently legal, but is inherently spiritual.
Polity is essentially an organized way to put biblical convictions and principles into practice. It is how we as a branch of the Body of Christ may best be faithful to our Lord and His Word in particular parts of the church. We seek to be organized in this way because of our convictions that Presbyterian polity is the prescribed polity of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. I do not intend to defend this conviction, but rather to show that polity is inherently spiritual because it is attempting to be as faithful to the Scriptures as a connectional Church can be. It is seeking to be faithful to God’s Word for the good of the Church, which glorifies God, and this is why polity is neither legal nor bureaucratic, but spiritual in nature. Polity can be made too legal or bureaucratic and lose its spiritual potency, but when polity is based upon God’s Word and seeking His glory and our good (as we are called to do in Scripture), then polity will remain spiritual.
Consider some situations that a church of any kind will inevitably face in its existence: How must a church be organized? Who may pastor a church in its first days? What type of training must he have? What are the expectations of his character? Who can call this man to be the pastor? Who will approve and oversee his work? Who can give him wisdom and council?