Government of the RCA

Jesus Christ is the only true Head of the church; all authority exercised in the church comes from him. Church order helps us apply our theology to the way that we live and work together as his body. In other words, the purpose of the church’s government is to support the body of Christ in carrying out the mission of Christ, its Head (Book of Church Order, Preamble).

Membership in the RCA
Learn more about what it means to be a member of the RCA and how to join. Plus, get statistical information about the churches and members in the RCA.

How Our Government Works

The Reformed Church in America (RCA) has a presbyterian government. Those who hold an ordained church office serve on governing bodies that oversee different levels of ministry within the denomination. But unlike in a political democracy, those in church office do not represent the will of the people; they represent the will of Christ.

Assemblies

Following the example of the early church, we believe that decisions should be made by gathering people together to discern the will of God. Because the whole church cannot meet together at one time and place to make decisions, governing bodies made of those who hold an office within the church carry out the work of the church at various levels.

View the assemblies

Church offices

Three offices are involved in the government of the church: minister of Word and sacrament, elder, and deacon. (A fourth office focuses on preparing seminary students for ministry.) Those who are ordained to office act as servants who represent Christ through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Learn more about church roles and how they contribute to ministry.

Assemblies of the RCA

There are four different assemblies that govern ministry within the RCA: consistory, classis, regional synod, and General Synod.

Consistory

Oversees a congregation

Key responsibilities:

  • Guides the ministry of the church to meet needs in the community and the world
  • Calls ministers to serve the church
  • Provides worship for the spiritual benefit of God’s people

Who can serve in this assembly?
Elders and deacons elected by the congregation and the congregation’s installed minister(s)

Learn more about consistory

Classis

Oversees consistories and ministers within its bounds

Key responsibilities: 

  • Ordains, installs, and oversees ministers; commissions and oversees commissioned pastors; every RCA minister of Word and sacrament or commissioned pastor is under the care of a classis
  • Receives new congregations and organizes them as local churches
  • Oversees students who are studying to become ministers in the RCA

Who can serve in this assembly?
Ministers who are members of the classis and elder delegates from churches in the classis

Regional Synod

Oversees classes in a region

Key responsibilities:

  • Oversees interests and concerns of the classes within its bounds
  • Creates programs to further the work of the gospel and denomination in the region

Who can serve in this assembly?
Minister and elder delegates from the classes

Regional Synods:
Albany, Canada, Far West, Great Lakes, Heartland, Mid-America, Mid-Atlantics, New York

Green church graphics represent governmental structure.

General Synod

Oversees ministry of the denomination

Key responsibilities:

  • Sets the direction and tone for denominational ministry
  • Exercises authority in all matters relating to denominational programs and policies

Who can serve in this assembly?
Elders and ministers representing each classis and regional synod

Learn more about General Synod

Constitution of the RCA

Our theology, liturgy, and government act like a skeleton to hold the church together, providing a framework for the ministry of the church.

The Constitution of the RCA consists of:

Theology

Together known as the Doctrinal Standards of the Reformed Church in America, we affirm four statements of doctrine as our historical faithful witness: Belgic Confession, Belhar Confession, Heidelberg Catechism with its Compendium, and the Canons of the Synod of Dort.

Liturgy

The Liturgy is like our common prayer; it declares what we have agreed to say in the same way as we gather for worship. The Directory for Worship is also part of our Constitution and functions like an instructional appendix to the Liturgy.

Government

The Book of Church Order (BCO) spells out how the Reformed Church in America is to be governed. Four sections of the BCO make up our Constitution: the Government of the Reformed Church in America, the Disciplinary and Judicial Procedures, the Preamble to the Book of Church Order, and the Formularies. (The Bylaws and Special Rules of Order are not part of the RCA’s Constitution.)