CHURCH POLITY 101

 – An Introduction to Reformed Church Government –

In a secondary sentence, the Belgic Confession states: “it is useful and good for those who govern the church to establish a certain order to maintain the body of the church.” With this Reformed churches confess the teaching of Scripture that God is not a God of confusion but of peace, and that all things should be done decently and in order (1Corinthians 14:33,40).

Those who serve in a leadership role in the church, thus need to know what the “certain order” is which the church in which they serve has “established”. That order determines what they can and cannot do, what they ought to do and ought not to do. Just as traffic laws regulate traffic, so the church order regulates church life. If God’s people are to be perfect as their Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), then it is of the utmost importance that things in the church are done right.

What are the duties and privileges of the various office bearers and of the various church assemblies? If you’re not sure, and realize you ought to know, here is a course for you.

Purpose and Focus of the Course

This course aims to introduce the basic principles and practices of Reformed church government as expressed in the tradition of the Church Order of Dort (1618-1619), known as Dort Polity. The purpose of the course is to equip individuals to fulfil leadership roles in the church, by instructing them in basic Scriptural principles of church government and reviewing in some detail the order established in their church.

The focus of the course will be primarily on the Church Order of the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC), with attention also for the Church Order of the United Reformed Churches (URC) and the Proposed Joint Church Order drafted as the CanRC and URC sought to merge.

Summary of the Course

The course consists of 4 sessions.

Session 1: Orientation. This session will cover topics such as deriving an order from Scripture, the history of Reformed polity (in very brief), the hermeneutics of church polity (how to read and apply church law), the character of Dort Polity, resources for the practice of Reformed polity.

Session 2: The Offices. This session covers most of the first section of the Church Order. Among the topics reviewed will be: calling to office, the exercise of the offices of minister, elder, and deacon, and the relationship between the offices.

Session 3: The Assemblies. This session covers the second section of the Church Order. Among the topics reviewed will be: assemblies in general (e.g. use of Robert’s Rules), the local assemblies (consistory, council, deaconry), the regional assemblies (classis, regional synod), and federational matters (general synod, inter church relations including NAPARC and ICRC).

Session 4: Liturgy and Discipline. This session covers the third and fourth sections of the Church Order. (As there are plans for a separate course on discipline, it will cover discipline comparatively briefly.) Among the topics reviewed will be: worship (e.g. regulations pertaining to worship services), growing and persevering in faith (baptism, catechizing, profession of faith, Lord’s Supper), and discipline (concentrating on discipline of office bearers).

Hosts and Instructor

This course is offered by the Word & Spirit Institute (WSI in ON – wsinstitute.ca) and Reformed Bible College (RBC in BC – rbcollege.com).

This course will be taught by Rev. Dr. Roelf C. (Karlo) Janssen. Dr. Janssen graduated with a M.Div. from the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary and with a Ph.D. in the fields of church history and church polity from the Theological University of the Reformed Churches (liberated) in The Netherlands. He has served two congregations in The Netherlands, and is currently serving his second charge in Canada, the Willoughby Heights Canadian Reformed Church in BC. Among others he has served as first clerk of three general synods of the CanRC. Since 2016 he has served as convenor of the CanRC Committee on Ecumenical Relations (formerly CRCA). He was recently appointed Corresponding Secretary of the ICRC (International Conference of Reformed Churches).

Course expectations

Individuals can register to participate in the sessions and audit the course, can register for the Certificate Program in Church Leadership or can take the course as part of BA or Ma studies via MINTS (contact the institute at wsinstitute@outlook.com for more information to register for post-graduate programs).

For students working towards the Certificate in Church Leadership, course requirements are:

1)  Student participation (8 hrs) (30 points)– for every 2 hours of class attendance, the student will receive 7.5 points.

2)  Roughly 100 pages of reading (20 points).  The student will write a two page (500 word) reflection paper. Students will be provided with a Guideline on what this reflection paper should look like.

3)  Complete a case study (50 points). The student will be presented with a situation and will be asked to research and describe what course of action is required.

For credits towards a post-secondary degree, additional assignments will be required, in line with MINTS guidelines.

Resources

Note: the list that follows may yet be expanded. With a view to the certificate, some readings will be compulsory, some will be optional; the total of read pages would have to be roughly 100.

Agema, Douwe, Council Handbook (https://officebearers.com/library/council-handbook/)

– Chapter 1.8: The Minister (7 pages)

– Chapter 2.4: Federation (7 pages)

– Chapter 2.8: The Elder (7 pages)

– Chapter 3.2: Finances (11 pages)

– Chapter 3.5: The Council (9 pages)

– Chapter 3.8: The Deacon (5 pages)

Boekestein, William & Swets, Steven, Faithful and Fruitful: Essays for Elders and Deacons (Grandville, MI: Reformed Fellowship, Inc., 2019) – Kindle Book

– Chapter 15: How to Be a Clerk (Mark H. Vander Pol) – 9 pages

– Chapter 16: Navigating the Broader Assemblies: Serving at Classis and Synod (Ronald Scheuers) – 10 pages

Bouwman, Clarence, Spiritual Order for the Church, (Winnipeg, MB: Premier Publishing, 2000)

– Chapter 1: Scripture Principles Forming Reformed Church Polity (30 pages)

– Chapter 5: Assemblies, 1-8 (20 pages)

Brown, Michael, Called to Serve: Essays for Elders and Deacons (Grandville, MI: Reformed Fellowship, Inc., 2010) – Kindle Book

– Chapter 12: Office Bearers and Church Government (Nelson Kloosterman) – 20 pages

– Chapter 13: Surviving Tuesday Night: The Rules and Order of a Meeting (Bradd L. Nymeyer) – 10 pages

Janssen, Roelf C. www.officebearers.com/topics (10 pages)

For more resources, including some that are digitally accessible, see https://officebearers.com/library/commentaries/

Format of the Course

The course will be taught online via Zoom. There will be a combination of lectures (with the use of slide presentation through screen sharing) and class discussion. Experience indicates that church government is a very practical topic and there are always many more questions than answers. Consideration will be given to extending sessions or creating extra sessions for q&a.

Dates of the Course

The four lectures will take place on February 15, March 1, April 5, and April 19. When enough people register, the course can be taught from 7:00-9:00pm EST for Ontario and Manitoba, AND 7:00-9:00pm PST for Saskatchewan, Alberta, and BC. (The gap of several weeks is to avoid the Spring Breaks in the various provinces.) When not enough people register, alternative times will be considered; for instance eight 1-hour sessions at 9-10pm EST/6-7pm PST.

Benefits of the Course

Completion of this course should mean an individual is better equipped to serve in a leadership role in the church, with a basic knowledge of Reformed church government and the skill to apply the provisions of the church order and other ecclesiastical documents in the church setting. No doubt completion of this course will also alert an individual to how much more there is to know, and seek further courses, such as the one on church discipline.