The Idea of Church Polity
The careful definition of terms is helpful in any consideration of a topic. “Polity” is defined as “a particular form or system of government,” and, when added to the noun “church,” gives a phrase meaning “the science of church government” or “church government.” Identifying principal truths of the Holy Scriptures, the only rule for the doctrine and life of the church, sanctified collective wisdom has developed certain practices of church government. These principles and practices are characterized by spiritual simplicity rather than “line upon line, precept upon precept.”
The Importance of Church Polity
All organizations, regardless of size or purpose, have some form of government or polity. The church also has a form of polity that is of vital importance for the glory of the triune God and the well-being of the Christian. God is a God of order and desires his dwelling place, the church, to be a place of order. A local congregation that is governed in an orderly way is conducive to spiritual growth and maturity under the Spirit’s blessings.
The Principles of Church Polity
Reformed church polity acknowledges four basic principal truths upon which its practices for church government are developed. The first and most fundamental principle is that Jesus Christ is the exclusive King and Head of the church. The church is his by divine right, and his will alone, as revealed in Scripture, rules. A second principle is that the local Christian congregation is a manifestation of a church and is autonomous, or self-governing, under Christ’s authority. Related to the second principle is a third, that of Christ delegating the exercise of his authority to a local consistory (“consistory” comes from a Latin word meaning “meeting place” and means a “solemn assembly”) comprised of a plurality and equality of elders or overseers. A fourth principle of Reformed church polity is that of a voluntary federative (“federative” is derived from a word implying a covenanting together) unity based upon sister churches sharing a unity in doctrine, expressed in the Three Forms of Unity, and a unity in polity, expressed in a Church Order.
Rev. Greg Lubbers is currently serving as Minister of the Word and Sacraments at Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Pella, IA.