PART TWO

LOCAL, NEW and MISSION CHURCHES

 

 

Chapter 3 : THE LOCAL CHURCH

3.1 The Local Church – its Nature.

.01 A local church of WPC shall consist of a number of professing Christians, together with their children, associated together for the worship and service of God in accordance with the Scriptures and the doctrinal, governmental, and disciplinary standards of this denomination. It shall be self-governing and self-supporting. Being self-supporting does not exclude having a teaching elder or teaching elders willing to engage in remunerative work outside of the congregation, but it is desirable that teaching elders be fully supported by their congregations.

.02 Constitutions or governing rules of local churches do not have to agree in every particular. It is sufficient if they are consistent with the provisions of this BCO and allow the churches to function without hindrance according to the doctrinal, governmental, and disciplinary standards of this denomination.

.03 The chief responsibility for the affairs of the local church rests with the session and not with the congregation. The authority of teaching and ruling elders and the assemblies of the church is from Christ as his will is expressed in the Bible, and not from the congregation. Nevertheless those who are communicant members of the church, and 18 or more years of age, choose the teaching and ruling elders.

.04 All members, whether communicant, non-communicant, or associate, and all adherents, are under the pastoral care of the session, and church rolls should reflect this.

3.2 Communicant Membership.

.01 Admission to communicant membership of a local church is by action of the session. It is open to baptised persons who make a credible profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; who are believed to have been regenerated; whose Christian profession is not contradicted by flagrant sin or a denial of fundamental Christian doctrines; who are willing to submit themselves to the government of the local church, and who have presented themselves to its session as a witness thereof.

.02 The time when young persons come to understand the Gospel cannot be standardised. Their admission to communicant membership is subject to the prudence of the session.

.03 Those seeking communicant membership are not required to subscribe to The Westminster Confession of Faith, as are office-bearers, but sessions are to ensure that before their reception into communicant membership they are instructed in the doctrinal standards of the denomination according to their level of understanding.

.04 The receiving session shall determine reception procedures for people transferring from one WPC congregation to another, and for people from other denominations; for those who are denominationally unaffiliated, and for new Christians, who wish to become communicant members. These procedures shall be governed by the stipulations above, in BCO 3.2.01, 3.2.02, and 3.2.03.

.05 The session, subject in the wider assemblies of the church, shall have the sole power to receive communicant members into the church and to remove names from the communicants' roll.

.06 The session may remove names from the roll of communicants in the following ways:

The first four of these ways of removal of names may be delegated to the clerk of session without particular action by the session in each individual case. The session or its agent shall not refuse a letter of transfer for a member in good standing to a church not deemed heretical and not in an unsound denomination.

.07 Protracted absence from the worship services of the church shall be sufficient grounds for erasure of a name from the roll of communicants, except that extended absence of a member from home, if he/she is known to be maintaining a good Christian testimony, shall not constitute such grounds. In no case shall the name of a member, whose whereabouts are known, be erased from the rolls without that member being notified and given an opportunity to appear before the session in person or by counsel.

3.3 Non-communicant Membership.

.01 Non-communicant members of the church are children of communicant members or children under the care of communicant members who stand to them as foster parents in the place of parents. One or both parents or foster parents of these children shall be under solemn obligation to bring them up "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord", and to seek to induce them to accept Christ as their personal Saviour.

.02 These children are not entitled to vote in any meeting of the church until they become communicant members and meet voting age requirements, nor are they to partake of the communion until they are fully able to obey the command of self-examination as given in 1 Corinthians 11:28.

.03 These children, though non-communicant and non-voting, are nevertheless members of the church and included in the holy covenant which God has made with his people (Genesis 17:7; 1 Corinthians 7:14; Galatians 3:6-14). The covenantal sign of circumcision has been superseded by the covenantal sign of baptism, which is to be applied to believers and their families (Colossians 2:11-12, Acts 2:39).

3.4 Associate Membership.

.01 Associate members are believers temporarily residing at too great a distance from their permanent homes to worship and serve regularly in the church of which they are communicant members. Such believers, without ceasing to be communicant members of their home churches, may be received as associate members in local churches of this denomination, and as such may enjoy all the privileges of fellowship, worship, and service, under the care of the session of the church of which they become associate members; except that, associate members may not vote in congregational meetings and may not be members of the session or the board of deacons, unless, if they are ordained presbyters, they are appointed by the presbytery to serve temporarily on the session.

.02 When associate members are received it shall be the duty of the teaching elder or the clerk of session of the local church receiving them to communicate the fact of their reception to the teaching elder or clerk of session or corresponding officer of the church of which they are communicant members so that those responsible for the shepherding of the Lord's flock may know of the spiritual care and fellowship of their absent members.

.03 When children of associate members are baptised a record of the baptism should be sent to the teaching elder or some other responsible officer of the church of which they are communicant members.

3.5 Adherents.

.01 Adherents are those adults, along with their children, who regularly attend a local church of WPC but have not yet become communicant members.

.02 Adherents may enjoy the privileges and responsibilities of fellowship, worship, communion, pastoral care, prayer, and Christian service, under the directions, guidance, and limitations stipulated by the session, but they are ineligible to vote in church meetings.

.03 Adherents should be encouraged by the session to become communicant members – and to enjoy the full privileges and responsibilities thereof – as soon as they are able to fulfil the relevant stipulations of BCO 3.2.

.04 Adherents may choose not to enter into communicant membership for reasons of conscience. Such adherents remain ineligible to vote in church meetings and their privileges and responsibilities of Christian worship and service continue to remain under the guidance of the session.

3.6 Voting members.

.01 Voting in congregational meetings on issues with legal ramifications is restricted to communicant members who are 18 or more years of age.

.02 On issues without legal ramifications sessions may devise voting schemes that enable discernment of the views of communicant members who have not reached the age of 18 years, but not in such a manner as to defeat the will of the majority of communicant members of 18 or more years of age.

3.7 The Local Church – Its Meetings and Officers

.01 Meetings

.02 Officers (See relevant chapters in Part Four, "Procedures").

    (1) Each congregation shall have the power to choose its teaching elders and ruling elders and deacons, and to remove them.

    (2) No teaching elder, ruling elder, or deacon shall be imposed on a congregation against its will as expressed by orderly ballot according to the provisions of its constitution or governing rules.

    (3) Men chosen by congregational vote to be teaching elders of a congregation shall be examined and approved by the presbytery before ordination/installation. Candidates for the ruling eldership shall be examined and approved by the session and at least two other presbyters before ordination/installation.

    (4) Teaching elders shall be ordained and installed by the presbytery. Ruling elders shall be ordained and installed by the session.

    (5) Men chosen by congregational vote to be deacons shall be examined, ordained and installed by the session.

3.8 The Local Church – Its Rights.

.01 As stated in Chapter 1 WPC is a connectional church. All its local churches are connected as a whole by the system of local and wider governing assemblies, namely, sessions, presbyteries, and the Synod.

.02 In the overall pattern:

.03 The voting membership of a local church shall have sole title to its real property and shall be sole owner of any equity it may have in any real estate. No wider assembly of this denomination shall, as such, have any claim whatever upon any real property or any equity in any real estate, or any funds or property of any kind held by or belonging to any local church, or any board, society, committee, Sunday School, class or branch thereof. The wider assemblies of the church may receive monies or properties from a local church only by free and voluntary action of the latter. Nothing in this BCO shall be construed as preventing the collection of lawful debts or loans by agencies of the wider assemblies.

.04 Local churches need remain in association with this denomination only so long as they themselves so desire. The relationship is voluntary, based only upon mutual love and confidence, and is in no sense to be maintained by the exercise of any kind of force or coercion whatsoever. A local church may withdraw from this denomination at any time, for reasons that seem to it to be sufficient, by orderly ballot at a legal meeting of its congregation. This portion of this BCO, namely Chapter 3.8.03 and 3.8.04, shall be unamendable forever, and shall constitute a solemn covenant between this denomination and its assemblies and the local churches adhering thereto.

.05 A presbytery may remove a local church from its rolls for reasons that seem sufficient to the presbytery, but only after careful study of the facts and after representatives of the church have appeared before the presbytery and been fully heard. Removal of the church from the presbytery rolls cannot occur until six months have elapsed from the time the presbytery first notified the church of its intention. Any member or members of the local church may appeal to the synod in accordance with the provisions of this BCO and such action prevents the presbytery's removal of the church before the matter is heard and finally decided by the synod.

.06 A local church unable to support or to govern itself (i.e. having less than two elected elders) may petition the presbytery to grant it the status of "mission church". In such a case the presbytery shall appoint a committee to investigate the circumstances of the local church and recommend to the presbytery actions consistent with the provisions of this BCO.

.07 If a local church ceases to function the presbytery may declare it extinct and remove it from the rolls. The presbytery may request possession of the records. The disposition of any property shall be governed by the local church's constitution. The local church records shall be transferred to the presbytery and kept by it for at least seven years. Membership of the church shall be held in the name of the church and under the care of the presbytery for up to six months from the closure of the church by declaration of extinction. During this period members should be encouraged to seek a new church home at another WPC congregation or another Bible believing church. The presbytery shall try to assist members during this transition period in any way that is deemed appropriate for their encouragement and transition. Members may request of the presbytery clerk a certificate of transfer and the clerk will issue such a certificate on behalf of the church to which they belonged.

.08 If a local church withdraws from the denomination, is removed, or ceases to function, the delegation of its presbyters to the presbytery shall lapse and their names shall be removed from the membership roll of the presbytery. If a presbyter of the church concerned has been serving in a post to which he was appointed by the presbytery the appointment shall lapse at the time of the exit of the church.

.09 If a local church withdraws from the denomination, is removed, or ceases to function, the membership of the teaching elder shall be removed from the roll of full members of that church. In a situation where the teaching elder desires to remain with the withdrawing church his name shall be removed from the rolls of the presbytery. If the teaching elder desires to remain in such a vocation in this denomination his name shall remain on the rolls of the presbytery, subject to the provisions of BCO 9.2.

 

 

Chapter 4 : NEW CHURCHES AND MISSION CHURCHES.

4.1 Reception of Established Churches.

The reception into WPC of already organised churches existing outside of WPC shall be conducted as follows.

.01 Any enquiry from an established and self-supporting congregation interested in joining WPC shall be handled by the presbytery of the area in which the church is located.

.02 The presbytery shall invite the leaders of the enquiring church to attend presbytery meetings as observers.

.03 When ready to do so the leaders of the enquiring church shall present to the presbytery the written request of the enquiring church to be received into WPC, and accompany it with a written history of the church.

.04 The presbytery shall satisfy itself that the request has the support of the congregation of the enquiring church to the degree consistent with the constitution or governing rules of the enquiring church.

.05 The presbytery shall appoint a commission to visit the enquiring church and to help it understand the provisions of this BCO.

.06 The commission shall examine the leaders of the enquiring church in terms of the ordination vows required of officers of WPC and shall explain the significance of these vows to the leaders and the congregation.

.07 The leaders and the congregation of the enquiring church shall affirm in writing their acceptance of the provisions of the BCO and the leaders able to do so shall affirm by signature their acceptance of WPC's ordination standards. The commission shall determine whether an ordination service is necessary and it shall receive the church into WPC.

.08 As soon as convenient after the commission's reception of the church the presbytery shall conduct a formal service of admission, including an ordination service if the commission has so determined.

4.2 Mission Churches

.01 A mission church is either:

.02 Any enquiry or other approach from (1), (3), or (4), above, shall be handled by the presbytery of the area, and the entity concerned must agree to be directed by the officers appointed by the presbytery, and must agree to adhere to the policies they prescribe. In each case the desired aim shall be to have the entity reach full local church status, and the policy of the presbytery must include all steps necessary, consistent with WPC's standards of doctrine, government and discipline, for the attainment of that aim.

In relation to (1), (3), or (4), only the presbytery shall have the power to dissolve a mission church, or break the connection with WPC, but in the case of (4), where presumably a constitution exists, any provision of that constitution governing dissolution affects the process of dissolution by the presbytery.

.03 The church-planting ministry in (2) above may be initiated and carried on by either a session or a presbytery, through a committee, a church-planter, an evangelist, or some other agency.

.04 In each case a temporary session appointed by the overseeing session or presbytery shall carry out the duties normally carried out by a session. Any ruling elders elected by the developing congregation must satisfy the requirements for ordination to the ruling eldership set out in Chapter 10 of this BCO, and while the temporary session is still functioning the newly elected ruling elders shall form part of that session and not work independently of it.

.05 Granting a work the status of mission church or the status of fully constituted church shall be the responsibility of the presbytery and shall only take place when, by means of an objective assessment, the aim of each of three stages of progress is deemed by the presbytery to have been achieved. These three stages are:

    Stage 1. Church Planting work.

    The aim of this stage is to gather a worshipping and serving group of believers, representing at least ten households, who understand WPC distinctives, and who are committed to the establishment of a local WPC congregation.

    Stage 2. Westminster Presbyterian Mission Church.

    The aim of this stage is to bring the mission church to its final level of development and status as a fully constituted local WPC congregation with its own membership, church constitution, ruling eldership, and financial provisions adequate for supporting its own teaching elder (see BCO 3.1.01).

    Stage 3. Fully Constituted Westminster Presbyterian Local Church.

.06The presbytery shall also be responsible to initiate the close of a work that, after a reasonable period of time and effort, evidences little or no spiritual growth and progress toward becoming a fully constituted church.

.07 The purpose of objective assessments is to ensure that observable spiritual progress is being made in the work and that the stated aims of each stage have been reached. These objective assessments are to be seen as benchmarks in the development of the church. Each one assists the deliberate decision to proceed and persist, or not, in the church planting effort.

.08 The assessment, to be properly objective, must be conducted by a committee of which none of the members are to be persons directly involved in the work being assessed.

.09 Frequency of assessments may be determined by the presbytery and/or those engaged in the work. In any case, the presbytery shall request the assessment of a church planting work twelve months after its commencement, and of a mission church after two years in that status. It is most desirable that members of the assessment committee also make informal visits to the developing church from time to time. Assessment must always precede, and validate, any change in status.

.10 Information for the making of assessments should be derived through church planting team progress reports, attendance at church meetings, and discussions with adherents and members of the new church, preferably by way of pastoral visits to their homes.

.11 Observable marks of spiritual progress to be noted are to include:

    (1) Growth in individual and corporate spiritual maturity, evidenced in the people's united participation in church activities, the practice of hospitality, deeds of love and Christian service, and commitment to WPC and its distinctives;

    (2) Numerical growth, evidenced in converts resulting from evangelism, and the adding of families and individuals to the church.

.12 A church-planting work that has reached a stage consistent with being a local church of WPC should be encouraged by the overseeing session or presbytery to petition the presbytery to be granted the status of fully constituted local church. If it does so, and if the presbytery after careful examination grants the petition, the presbytery shall conduct a formal service of admission as soon as convenient.