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.
Reformed Church in America's
Book of Church Order
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.
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.
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.