Foundational Principles of Church Government

From the Church Order of the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA), Second Edition, 1997

1. The church is the possession of Christ, who is the Mediator of the New Covenant.
Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25-27

2. As Mediator of the New Covenant, Christ is the Head of the church.
Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23-24; Colossians 1:18

3. Because the church is Christ’s possession and He is its Head, the principles governing the church are not a matter of human preference, but of divine revelation.
Matthew 28:18-20; Colossians 1:18; See Principle 2.

4. The universal church possesses a spiritual unity in Christ and in the Holy Scriptures.
Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Timothy 3:15; 2 John 9

5. The Lord gave no permanent universal, national or regional offices to His church. The office of elder (presbuteros/episkopos) is clearly local in authority and function; thus, Reformed church government is presbyterial, since the church is governed by elders, not by broader assemblies.
Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5

6. In its subjection to its heavenly Head, the local church is governed by Christ from heaven, by means of His Word and Spirit, with the keys of the kingdom which He has given it for that purpose; and it is not subject to rule by sister churches who, with it, are subject to the one Christ.
Matthew 16:19; Acts 20:28-32; Titus 1:5; See Principle 5.

7. Federative relationships do not belong to the essence or being of the church; rather, they serve the well-being of the church. However, even though churches stand distinctly next to one another, they do not thereby stand disconnectedly alongside one another. Entrance into and departure from a federative relationship is strictly a voluntary matter.
Acts 15:1-35; Romans 15:25-27; Colossians 4:16; Titus 1:5; See Principle 5. Revelation 1:11, 20

8. The exercise of a federative relationship is possible only on the basis of unity in faith and in confession.
1 Corinthians 10:14-22; Galatians 1:6-9; Ephesians 4:16-17

9. Member churches meet together in consultation to guard against human imperfections and to benefit from the wisdom of a multitude of counselors in the broader assemblies. The decisions of such assemblies derive their authority from their conformity to the Word of God.
Proverbs 11:14; Acts 15:1-35; See Principle 7. 1 Corinthians 13:9-10; 2 Timothy 3:16-17

10. In order to manifest our spiritual unity, local churches should seek the broadest possible contacts with other like-minded churches for their mutual edification and as an effective witness to the world.
John 17:21-23; Ephesians 4:1-6

11. The church is mandated to exercise its ministry of reconciliation by proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Matthew 28:19-20; See Principle 3. Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21

12. Christ cares for His church through the office-bearers whom He chooses.
Acts 6:2-3; 1 Timothy 3:1, 8; 5:17

13. The Scriptures encourage a thorough theological training for the ministers of the Word.
1 Timothy 4:16; 2 Timothy 2:14-16; 3:14; 4:1-5

14. Being the chosen and redeemed people of God, the church, under the supervision of the elders, is called to worship Him according to the Scriptural principles governing worship.
Leviticus 10:1-3; Deuteronomy 12:29-32; Psalm 95:1,2,6; Psalm 100:4; John 4:24; 1 Peter 2:9

15. Since the church is the pillar and ground of the truth, it is called through the teaching ministry to build up the people of God in faith.
Deuteronomy 11:19; Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Timothy 4:6; 2 Timothy 2:2; 3:16-17. See Principle 9.

16. Christian discipline, arising from God’s love for His people, is exercised in the church to correct and strengthen the people of God, maintain the unity and the purity of the church of Christ, and thereby bring honor and glory to God’s name.
1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 1:13; Hebrews 12:7-11

17. The exercise of Christian discipline is first of all a personal duty of every child of God, but when discipline by the church becomes necessary, it must be exercised by the elders of the church, the bearers of the keys of the kingdom.
Matthew 18:15-20; Acts 20:28; See Principle 1; 1 Corinthians 5:13; 1 Peter 5:1-3

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