SGBC - 1689 Confession of Local Church Polity
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 1  Trinity Baptist Church, Montville, NJ
 2  The Reformed Baptist Church, Grand Rapids, MI
 3  The Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Mebane, NC
1689 Revised Confession of Faith

of Local Church Polity

1. As the Lord Jesus Christ is head of the church universal, so also He is the head of each particular church; and as such His will declared in Scripture respecting the formation, membership, government, meetings, ministries, and interrelations of local churches ought to be implemented conscientiously, completely and reverently, nor are churches free to device and follow any polity other than Christ's. Nevertheless, the Lord has not so specified in scripture every detail of local church polity as to mandate total uniformity of practice, but has left many matters circumstantial to the life of the churches to be administered and determined separately in each church with Christian prudence, according to the general principles of the Word of God.

2. In the exercise of this headship, the Lord Jesus calls out of the world unto Himself, through the ministry of His word, by His Spirit, those that are given unto Him by His Father, that they may walk before Him in all the ways of obedience, which He prescribes to them in His word. Those thus called, He commands to walk together in particular churches, for their mutual edification, and the due performance of that public worship, which He requires of them in the world.

3. Although the Lord has thus mandated the formation of particular churches for the glory of God and the good of His people, yet He has graciously provided that each church be formed voluntarily, by such who willingly consent to walk together, according to the appointment of Christ; giving up themselves to the Lord, and one to another, by the will of God, in professed subjection to the ordinances of the Gospel.

4. Although the formation of particular churches is thus voluntary, yet those of one mind in polity, living within such distances as that they may conveniently assemble for divine worship, ought rather to join in one church for their mutual strengthening and edification, than to set up many distinct societies, for avoiding petty differences and jealousy that may otherwise arise, for the greater solemnity in the celebration of the ordinances of Christ and the worship of God, and the opening a way for the larger usefulness of the gifts and graces deposited in the church by the Holy Spirit.

5. Although particular church is a society of Christ's disciples thus assembling by the appointment of Christ, yet every society of Christians gathering for a religious purpose is not thereby constituted a church, seeing there may be wanting among them what is essentially required to that end, namely, their mutual and solemn commitment to organize and band together to do all things whatsoever their Lord requires a particular churches. Moreover, every society of Christ's disciples, thus organized and committed, is consecrated as a church and temple of the living God by their corporate indwelling with the Holy Spirit, without which no organized society of religious people is a church of Christ, irrespective of their claims, documents, or affiliations.

6. To each of these churches thus gathered; according to His mind declared to His word, Christ Himself has given all that power and authority, which is in any way needful to implement all the things He has instituted for them to observe; with commands and rules for the due and right exerting; and executing on that power. Nevertheless, even though particular churches are thus autonomous and independent, these same churches, in virtue of sharing one life in the Holy Spirit and having one mandate from Christ, are also interdependent, needing each other's communications, prayers, counsel, support and cooperation.

7. Whereas all particular churches, thus authorized by Christ, voluntarily formed by His disciples and consecrated by His Spirit, belong to the universal assembly of those saved by the Lord from their sins, only visible saints by calling ought to be received into the membership of a local church, namely, those who believe in Christ and confess their faith in Him creditably in orthodox doctrine, by moral life, and with personal and experiential knowledge of God. And whereas God is not the God of confusion but of peace, only those visible saints by calling who are in substantial agreement with the polity of any particular church, and are willing to promote its peace and submit to its government ought to be received into its membership. But no person should ever be denied membership or have any of its privileges abridged on the basis of skin color or race or of social or economic status, nor should church membership or its privileges ever be granted to any person as a birthright, or on any grounds whatsoever other than faith in Christ. Moreover, so that peace and love (without dissimulation) may be preserved among all the members, no person should be added to any particular church except by the consent of that church itself.

8. Whereas the churches are independent yet-interdependent, transfer of members among them should proceed in an orderly, conscientious, and gracious manner. Therefore, persons that are joined in church fellowship ought not lightly or without just cause to withdraw themselves from the communion of the church whereunto they are so joined. Nevertheless, when any person cannot continue in any church without violating his conscience, or when due to persecution, or convenience of habitation, he thinks it best, that person, consulting with the church officers, may peaceably depart from the communion of the church with which he has walked uprightly to join Himself to some other church.

9. A particular church, gathered and completely organized according to the mind of Christ, consists not only of members but also officers. The officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set part by the church so called and gathered, for the peculiar administration of ordinances, and execution of power or duty, which He entrusts them, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the world, are bishops, or elders, and deacons.

10. Only such men as are qualified according to the standards specified in the word of God to be ordained and allowed to remain as elders to deacons, and the way to appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop or elder in a church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the church itself; and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of the church, if there be any before constituted therein; and of a deacon that he be chosen by the like suffrage, and set apart by prayer, and the like imposition of hands. But ordination alone without the current consent of the church in which those who formerly have been ordained now fellowship, does not constitute any person a church officer or communicate any ecclesiastical authority unto him.

11. The office of elder or presbyter, also called in Scripture that of bishop and pastor, was established by Christ for the Spiritual care and leadership of His churches. To that end, He has specified in His Word the solemn nature and manifold duties of that office, which are governors under Christ their King and as God's stewards over His house, to manage, administer, and oversee all aspects of the corporate life and polity of their particular church according to His will revealed in Scripture; as teachers, to teach and preach the Word of God in order to edify saints, convert the lost, and convict the gainsayers; as men of God, to pray for the blessing of God upon the whole cause of Christ and His gospel in their local church and throughout the world; as bishops and pastors, to watch over, nurture, and visit their entire flock individually and personally, in order to ward off every foe and present every man complete in Christ; and as servants and ministers of Christ, to represent Christ their master and their particular church blamelessly among the churches and before a hostile world.

12. Whereas the Lord Jesus Christ, as the chief Shepherd and Bishop, and His apostles, as fellow elders and pastors of the church universal, manifest the disposition with which these duties should be performed, it is incumbent upon all the elders of each particular church to fulfill their responsibilities in a Christ-like demeanor, with love, diligence, gentleness, and a heart to serve their flock, making themselves example of the flock rather than lording it over.

13. Due to the weight and number of these responsibilities, for which no man is sufficient of Himself but only through God's calling and grace, the Lord has mercifully ordained, for the encouragement of His servants and the good of each congregation, that there should be a plurality of elders in each local church fully organized , and among them complete parity and equality in authority, and that one or more of them should be set apart to labor in the world and doctrine as a vocation, in accordance with their measure of gift from God for that work.

14. Whereas all the elders of a church are Christ's gifts to that church and serve in His name, it is incumbent upon the members of each church to know that those are over them in the Lord, to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake, to refuse to receive evil rumors about them, to imitate their faith, to submit to them as those who watch for their souls, and to call, when afflicted, for their prayers. Moreover, the work of those pastors who labor in the word and doctrine being constantly to attend the service of Christ, in His churches, in the ministry of the word and prayer, with watching for their souls, as they that must give an account to Him; it is incumbent on the churches to whom they minister, not only to give them all due respect, but also to communicate to them of all their good things, according to their ability, so as they may have a comfortable supply, without being themselves entangled in secular affairs; and may also be capable of exercising hospitality towards others; and this is required by the law of nature, and by the express order of our Lord Jesus, who has ordained that they that preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.

15. Moreover, the Lord of grace and peace has ordained, for the benefit of His church, that men duly qualified be ordained as deacons to manage, under the oversight of the elders, the benevolent concerns and mundane affairs of the church, in order that the pastors may give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. To the deacons, and to those men and women helping them in their service, the congregation ought to render all due assistance.

16. Although it is incumbent on the bishops or pastors of the churches, to be instant in preaching the word, by way of office, yet the work of preaching the word is not so peculiarly confined to them but that others also gifted and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved and called by the church, may and ought to perform it.

17. Although men and women are equal in grace, possessing identical privileges of church membership, yet they are not equals in the exercise of rule and authority in the church. And whereas church officers necessarily exercise authority, it is God's will that only men should hold church office, and the Apostles do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise ecclesiastical authority over a man; not in virtue in arbitrary and temporary mores bound to their culture, but based on the necessary, permanent, and binding implications of the creation, fall and redemption for all societies and cultures. Not withstanding, God has ordained that sober-minded women assist the office bearers in the diaconal affairs of the church, that older women train younger women in domestic piety and decorum, and that Christian women nurture their children in the ways and word of God.

18. The Lord Christ summons each particular church to assemble every Lord's Day for the worship of God, the ministry of the Word, and Christian fellowship as part of that worldwide gathering of the church universal into the special presence of God, and frequently to gather on that day for the observance of the Lord's Supper, and to gather at other times, appointed by them severally, for prayer, for promoting the gospel, for choosing their officers, for exercising discipline, and for conducting benevolent and mundane affairs, but always in the fear of God and in the love of one another, lest the Spirit be grieved and the Lord provoked to wrath.

19. Moreover, the Lord Christ calls upon each particular church humbly to discern, through the guidance of His Word and Spirit, and cheerfully to contribute, by the power of His grace, its part toward fulfilling His mandate for His church, whereby He commands the churches to proclaim and defend the truth of His Word, to make disciples and organize them into churches, and to show benevolence to needy saints; and He calls upon them to labor thereunto in accordance with the ministerial gifts, financial resources, and providential opportunities sovereignly bestowed on them, by diligent use of those means alone as are approved in Scripture, through both separate efforts and combine ventures with other churches, unto which end the Lord has promised to supply to His churches all things necessary to fulfill those ministries eternally prepared for them.

20. As each church, and all the members of it, are bound to pray continually for the good and prosperity of all the churches of Christ, in all places, and upon all occasions to further every one within the bounds of their places and callings, in the exercise of their gifts and graces, so the churches, when planted by the providence of God, so as they may enjoy opportunity and advantage for it, ought to hold communion among themselves, by seeking each other's counsel, by recognizing, supporting, assisting, communicating, visiting, and cooperating with each other, for their peace, increase in love, and mutual edification. Moreover, such churches as consist of persons sound in the faith and of lifestyle becoming the Gospel even though they walk not in all things according to the same rules of church order, still ought to hold communion with each other and respect each other's discipline, so far is consistent with their own principles and conscience respectively.

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