Reformed Church in America's

Book of Church Order

The Book of Church Order contains the Government, the Disciplinary and Judicial Procedures, the Bylaws and Special Rules of Order of the General Synod, and the Formularies of the Reformed Church in America.

Doing things decently and in good order for nearly 400 years

The Book of Church Order (also known as the BCO) is more than the rule book of the RCA. It provides a way for us to live and work together as the body of Christ, following 1 Corinthians 14:40’s admonition that “all things be done decently and in order.” Order is a way to express our unity and achieve cooperation and harmony in the body of Christ as we seek to fulfill our mission. It’s our theology lived out in the ways we live and work together. 

The Book of Church Order contains one part of the RCA’s Constitution, which defines who we are. The other parts are the Liturgy and the Doctrinal Standards. No one part is more important than the other. Our theology, liturgy, and government act like a skeleton to hold the church together, providing a framework for the ministry of the church.

The RCA's Book of Church Order features an orange cover and the RCA crest.

Getting started

Start by reading the Introduction to the Book of Church Order and How to Use the Book of Church Order; these sections define basic terms and principles of church order that provide an important foundation for understanding the rest of the book. Then, if you are only interested in issues relating to the local church, read Chapter 1, Part I, which is titled, “The Consistory.”

An Introduction to the Book of Church Order
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How to Use the Book of Church Order
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Download the full BCO (English)

Other versions: SpanishKoreanMandarin

Because the General Synod was not able to hold its annual meeting in June 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, final declarative votes on constitutional amendments approved by the classes in 2019-2020 and on changes to the General Synod bylaws adopted by General Synod 2019 was not be taken before General Synod 2021. A 2020 edition of the Book of Church Order will not be produced since there are no substantive changes to incorporate; the 2019 edition will remain the current edition of the BCO until a 2021 edition is produced.

Contents of the Book of Church Order

Much of the Book of Church Order is organized by the assemblies of the church: consistory, classis, regional synod, and General Synod. Following the example of the early church, we believe that decisions should be made by gathering people together to discern the will of God. Since the whole church cannot meet together at one time and place to make decisions, representative governing bodies are established to carry out the work of the church at various levels. The unity of the church is preserved when we accept the decisions made by those who serve in the assemblies of the church.

The BCO also includes disciplinary and judicial procedures, and the bylaws and special rules of order of the General Synod.

Freedom and Flexibility

The BCO doesn’t cover every question about church order that you may encounter. The RCA’s church order book is relatively short when compared with those of other denominations. The BCO gives authority to the assemblies to decide many issues related to the general superintendence of the church. The BCO generally vests the most authority in the lower assemblies—the classis and the consistory. 

Interpretation

If you are still wondering how to interpret a provision of the BCO after reading through an entire part, you can start by contacting your pastor or the stated clerk of your classis. If you are still uncertain, you may request an advisory opinion from the Commission on Church Order, which has the responsibility of providing advisory responses to requests for interpretation of the BCO. You can contact the commission through its moderator or staff person. You do not need to submit an overture to receive a response; a letter is all that is necessary.

You can also use the BCO’s references to the Minutes of General Synod to discover the background of recent amendments. Or you may purchase Constitutional Theology, a commentary on the BCO by Allan Janssen.