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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 4 : The Particular Church

Paragraph 1 : Its Defining Purpose

4-1. A particular church consists of a number of professing Christians, with their children, associated together for divine worship and godly living, agreeable to the Scriptures, and submitting to the lawful government of Christ's kingdom.

[Historical Summary : The one substantive change since PCUS 1879, II-4-1 occurred in 1974, changing "offspring" to "children" (M2GA, 2-70, p. 55). Uniquely among the various key editions, PCUS 1879 also capitalizes the word "divine". Note also with the PCUS 1867 draft how a vastly different text was revised in subsequent editions to a much more principial statement]

Background and Comparison :
PCA 1973, 4-1, Adopted text, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, p. 129
Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, 4-1, Proposed text, p. 5
PCUS 1933, V, §20
PCUS 1925, V, §20

A particular church consists of a number of professing Christians, with their offspring, associated together for divine worship and godly living, agreeably to the Scriptures, and submitting to the lawful government of Christ's Kingdom.

PCUS 1879, II-4-1

A particular church consists of a number of professing Christians, with their offspring, associated together for Divine worship and godly living, agreeably to the Scriptures, and submitting to the lawful government of Christ's kingdom.

PCUS 1869 draft, II-4-1
A Congregation consists of a number of professing Christians, with their offspring, voluntarily associated together for divine worship and godly living, agreeably to the Scriptures, and submitting to the lawful government of Christ’s kingdom.

PCUS 1867 draft, II-2-3
It is according to scriptural example that the church should be divided into many organized congregations. A congregation consists of a number of professing Christians, with their offspring, voluntarily associated together in one place for divine worship and godly living, agreeably to the Scriptures, and submitting to the lawful government of Christ’s kingdom.

RPCES 1973, II-1
A particular church of this denomination shall consist of a group of believers with their children, organized to worship God in accordance with the doctrinal, governmental, and disciplinary standards of this denomination.

The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government...Agreed Upon by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster
(1645)
Of the Church, paragraph 3
Particular visible churches, members of the general church, are also held forth in the New Testament. Particular churches in the primitive times were made up of visible saints, viz. of such as, being of age, professed faith in Christ, and obedience unto Christ, according to the rules of faith and life taught by Christ and his apostles ; and of their children.

COMMENTARY :
F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order
(1898, pp. 30-31), on II-4-1 :
20.--I. A particular church consists of a number of professing Christians, with their offspring, associated together for Divine worship and godly living, agreeably to the Scriptures, and submitting to the lawful government of Christ's kingdom.
The language, "professing Christians with their offspring," supplies the principle of paragraph 3 to a particular church. Besides this, five points are to be noticed : (a), One professing Christian cannot be a church; it requires a number. And yet, supposing a church loses its members until only one remains, is he a church? Strictly, while he is a member of the Church, he is not a member of a church; and yet Presbytery might, in such a case, continue the name of the church on its roll as having in the one member a potential nucleus of a church. But he certainly continues a member of the Church. (b) It is not any church members put down in the same list that constitute a church, but they must be associated together. (c) They must be associated together for divine worship and godly living. An association of such characters for conducting a certain industry would not be a church; but the object of their association in its meetings together; for, though the association were for godly living, and its meetings mainly for the study of the Scriptures, rather than for worship, it would not be a church. On the other hand, an association that aimed at worship, without godly living, would be a mockery of a church. (d) They must be associated for these objects agreeably to the Scriptures. This must not be pressed so far as to contravene the principles laid down in paragraphs 3 and 7; and yet an association fails of the idea of a church just so far as it does not proceed agreeably to the Scriptures. (e) The association must submit to the lawful government of Christ's kingdom; for so far as any association is rebellious against the lawful authority of Christ's kingdom, it is the contradiction of a church. Yet it must not be forgotten that bona fide submission to Christ is submission to the lawful government of his kingdom in its source and essence. Perfect submission to this lawful government involves submission to courts of Presbyters over many churches. (Cf. pars. 5 and 7.)



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Chapter Index [links to Par. 1 of each chapter]:
FoG..
1
2
3.
4
5.
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
I. King & Head of Church
.§1.
§4
§5
RoD
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
II. Preliminary Principles
§1
§2
§3
§4
§5
§6
§7
§8
DfW
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
[FoG = Form of Government ; RoD = Rules of Discipline ; DfW = Directory for Worship]