Neo-Congregational Polity in Outline


A. Why Congregationalism?

B. How Will We Do This?

1. Principles for Constructing Local Church Polity

a. The Principle of Sufficiency
b. The Principle of Simplicity
c. Three Principles for Biblical Polity

2. Moving from Scripture to Polity

I. Of the Church and Churches

1. That the Church Is the Key Instrument for the Application of God’s Redemption of the Cosmos Decisively Achieved in Christ Jesus.

a. Abraham
b. The Sons of Israel
c. The Nation of Israel
d. The Apostates and the Remnant
e. The Church in the New Testament
f. The Church in These Last Days

2. That There Is an Invisible Church (Cf. CPD Ch. II).

a. Under the Old Covenant
i. The Covenant Community
ii. The Remnant and the Invisible Church
iii. The Problem of a Mixed Community
b. Under the New Covenant

3. That the Visible Church Consists of Congregations (CPD Chs. II)

a. The Content of the New Testament Is Addressed to the Local Churches
b. The Manifestation of the Invisible Church in the New Testament Is Local Churches
c. Conclusion

4. That Congregations Are Demarcated, Local Composites of Believing Laypersons and Officers That Engage in the Life of the Local Church (Cf. CPD Chs. II-IV).

5. That the Invisible Church Has Global Expression in the Communion of Local Churches (Cf. CPD Chs. XIII, XV-XVI).

a. Under the Old Covenant
b. Under the New Covenant
i. The global, visible church in the New Testament

1) The apostolic ministry

2) The Jerusalem Council

3) The support of one church for another

4) Hospitality and itinerant ministry

5) Conclusions: The global church and its invisible ideal

c. Conclusion

6. That This Global Expression Has No Ecclesial Authority (Cf. CPD Chs. II, VII-X).

a. Alternate Views
b. The Incompatibility of Christendom and Global, Visible Church Organisation and the New Testament Global Church
i. The earthly kingdom of God is an eschatological reality
ii. There is discontinuity between New and Old Covenant ecclesiology
iii. Exile is instrumental to the New Testament Church, not a curse
b. Conclusion

II. Of Local Church Membership (CF. CPD XII)

1. A member of a local church is a believer who regularly participates in the life of the church, thus an ordained leader is a member.

a. The Qualification for Membership
b. On the Propriety of Church Covenants
c. The Officers and Laity as Two Categories of Members
d. Members Are a Category of Those Who Are Associated with a Local Church
e. Concerning Degrees of Membership

2. The Genuineness of Faith to Be Judged according to the Principle of Charity

3. Members of a congregation are mutually accountable to one another and are responsible to hold one another to account.

4. Members of a congregation are obligated to serve their brethren in the local congregation according to the gifts entrusted to them by God.

5. Members of a congregation willingly submit to one another according to the position given them by God.

6. To ensure the health of the local congregation and the salvation of each individual, a congregation is obligated to practice discipline towards members who are found in continuing sin.

III. Of Ecclesiastical Authority and Church Officers

A. Concerning the Meaning of Authority

1. What Is Meant by “Authority” or “Power” in an Ecclesiastical Context.

2. The Power Christ Invests in the Laity.

a. Election
b. Admission
c. Discipline

3. The Power Christ Invests in the Officers.

a. Rule
b. Ordination
c. Ministerial Authority

4. Responsibility Concomitant to these Powers.

B. Of the Church Offices

1. Concerning Apostles and Evangelists.

a. Evangelists
b. Apostles

2. There Is One Office Instituted for the Rule, Care, and Instruction of the Congregation. Office Bearers Are Variously Called Elders, Overseers (“Bishops”), Rulers, Teachers, or Shepherds (“Pastors”).

a. Elders and Bishops are the Same
b. The Qualifications of an Elder
c. The Duties of an Elder
i. Ruling
ii. Offering pastoral care
iii. Teaching and preaching

3. There Is One Office Instituted for the Oversight of Material Matters in the Church, the Deaconate.

a. The Qualifications of a Deacon
b. The Duties of a Deacon

4. Concerning Women “Ministers” or “Pastors.”

C. Concerning the Commission and Maintenance of Officers

1. Election Is the Act of All Members Together.

2. Ordination Is an Act of the Ruling Office.

3. Ordination Is Local and, therefore, Non-Transferrable

4. The Church Is Responsible For the Maintenance of Its Officers.

a. Churches have the responsibility for seeing their officers taken care of
b. The Dangers of Professionalising Ministry
c. The Virtues of Bivocational ministry (“Tentmaking”)

5. Elders Are Responsible to Train Up Elders.

IV. Gatherings, Ordinances, and the Word of God

A. Concerning a Congregation’s Gathering

1. Regular Gatherings.

2. Special Gatherings.

B. Concerning Baptism

1. All Who Profess Faith in Christ and Seek to Step out in Obedience Ought to Be Admitted for Baptism.

2. The Bible Does not Mandate that Baptisms Must Be Public, nor that Only Ordained Officials May Perform It.

3. The Mode of Baptism Given in the Bible and Suitable to Its Symbolic Significance Is Immersion.

4. Baptism Signifies the Burial of One Who Is Dead and Their Resurrection to New Life in Christ Jesus.

C. Concerning the Lord’s Supper

1. That Those Who Are Reasonably Considered Believers May Participate.

2. The Bible Does not Specify Who May Officiate the Lord’s Supper.

3. That the Bible Portrays the Lord’s Supper as a Symbolic Meal Involving Bread and Wine.

4. The Significance of the Lord’s Supper

a. Remembrance
b. Declaration
c. Anticipation
d. “This is my body”

D. Concerning the Shared Life of Congregation

1. Congregations Should Regularly Participate in Life together Apart from Official Gatherings.

2. Small Groups Are not Mandated but Consistent with the Biblical Instructions for Community.

a. Some Dangers with Small Groups
b. The Positive Use of Small Groups

3. Congregations Are Obligated to Take Care of One Another’s Physical Needs, within Appropriate Limits.

E. Concerning the Corporate Use of the Word of God

1. Scripture Is to Have a Central Place in the Regular Gatherings of a Congregation.

2. Preaching Is the Application of the Word of God in the Context of the Church Gathering.

3. Prophecy May Be a Specific Mode of Preaching.

4. Teaching Is a Specific Mode of Preaching.

5. Women May Prophecy but not Teach in the Corporate Gathering.

V. Discipline

1. That Discipline Is an Act of the Congregation Directed Towards One of Its Members for the Benefit of that Member and of the Congregation (Cf. CPD Ch. XIV).

a. Discipline is Restorative

b. Discipline Preserves the Purity of the Church

c. Discipline Protects Christ and His Church from Dishonour

d. Discipline Deters Others from Similar Offences

2. That Discipline Is Gradated.

3. Censure or Discipline Is Proportionate to the Sin.

4. In Case of Private Sin, the Offended Party (where Appropriate) Ought to Confront the Offending Party in Private.

5. If an Offending Member Does not Respond to Private Rebuke, then the Offended Party Ought to Bring Another Member.

6. If an Offending Member Does not Respond to the Presence of Another Member with the Offended Party, the Case Is to be Brought before the Church.

7. The Elders Ought to Investigate the Matter and, where the Breach Has not been Repaired, Bring the Case before a Special Gathering.

8. If the Offending Party Does not Respond to the Public Rebuke of the Special Gathering, further Censure Is to Be Prescribed, the Loss of some Privileges of Membership and Disqualification from the Lord’s Supper (Matt 18:17).

9. If the Offending Member Does not Respond to These Censures, then They Are to Put out of the Congregation and Considered a Member of Ill-Standing (“exairtion”) (Matt 18:17; 1 Cor 5:1-13; 2 Thess 3:6-15).

10. “Extra-Ordinary Fellowship” Forbidden to the Member Who is the Subject of Exairtion Is That Fellowship Unique to the Church; Ordinary Fellowship of Spouses and Guardians Is not Restricted (CPD XIV.5).

VI. Inter-Church Relations

1. The Obligations of Churches to One Another.

2. The Benefits of Inter-Church Communion.

3. That Synods and Parachurch Forms of Fellowship Have no Ecclesiastical Standing, namely, They Are not a “Church.”

4. The Obligation of Other Churches in the Ordination of Ministers to a New Presbytery.

5. Of Synods (Cf. CPD XVI).

6. The Role of Other Churches in the Deposition of a Presbytery or Mediating Conflict between a Presbytery and Congregation.

7. Of the Relationship between a Congregation and Non-Congregational Churches and Denominations (Cf. The Burial Hill Declaration).

8. That We Ought to Seek a Pure Communion but Express Patience and Charity.

VII. The Relationship of Congregations as Congregations to the State

1. God Has Ordained Civil Magistrates for the Public Good.

2. Though Ordained by God, States Are Under the Sphere of Satan’s Authority.

3. God’s People Are to Be Subject to Civil Magistrates and to Pray for Them.

4. A Congregation Is not to Express Partiality to Any State and, therefore, not Accept Any State Investment That Would Prejudice Its Exilic Nature.

5. A Congregation Should Submit to All Requirements of the State Except where Doing So Would Prejudice Its Nature and Calling.


Appendix 1: The Cambridge Platform of Discipline

Chapter I: Of the Form of Church-Government and that It Is One, Immutable, and Prescribed in the Word of God.

Chapter II: Of the Nature of the Catholic Church in General, and in Special, of a Particular Visible Church.

Chapter III: Of the Matter of the Visible Church Both in Respect of Quality and Quantity.

Chapter IV: Of the Form of a Visible Church and of Church Government.

Chapter V: Of the First Subject of Church Power or, to Whom Church Power Does First Belong.

Chapter VI: Of the Officers of the Church, and especially of Pastors and Teachers.

Chapter VII: Of Ruling Elders and Deacons.

Chapter VIII: Of the Election of Church Officers.

Chapter IX: Of Ordination, and Imposition of hands.

Chapter X: Of the Power of the Church and Its Presbytery.

Chapter XI: Of the Maintenance of Church Officers.

Chapter XII: Of Admission of Members into the Church.

Chapter XIII: Of Church-Members Their Removal from One Church to Another, and of Letters of Recommendation, and Dismission.

Chapter XIV: Of Excommunication and Other Censures.

Chapter XV: Of the communion of Churches one with another.

Chapter XVI: Of Synods.

Chapter XVII: Of the Civil Magistrate’s Power in Matters Ecclesiastical

Appendix 2: The Burial Hill Declaration (1865)

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