Dump the BCO

Actually, I have no desire to dump the BCO, that slim orange book of church government and discipline for the Reformed Church. Rather, I find myself surrounded by many who apparently would like to get rid of it, who  have no use or respect for it. Frankly, I believe that many of them have no understanding of it, either. Others might value it a little more highly. But when it becomes inconvenient, when it would have them act in a way counter to their inclinations or emotions, they ignore it, claiming that it is obsolete, out of date, impractical or unworkable.

Sure, the BCO is not perfect. There are errors. It seems, at times, incomplete.


The BCO, on most every page, reflects our values and beliefs about the good news of Jesus Christ. It is a theological and pastoral manifesto for how we are to live together in the light of that good news. The prescriptions and proscriptions it contains (and those it chooses to omit) arise out of decisions concerning our shared understanding of the Christian life. It states how we have agreed to live and work together. It is an agreement not of convenience but of Grace and Love, these as shown and sown by Christ.

But we live in a time of convenience. The imperatives of the convenient, the comfortable, the emotionally satisfying, these all drive our ecclesial decision-making far more than do the initiative of Grace and the law of Love. Then the actions of our assemblies and judicatories arise from hungers and thirsts incited but never slaked by those hyperventilating imperatives.

I know the church is not perfect. (It’s a truth not easy for me to accept, just as it is not easy to accept about myself.) But when this community I love consistently refuses to live according to its own theological agreements, I simply despair.

I close with the words of Christ, which are both challenge and blessing, law and gospel: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Posted in BCO

3 thoughts on “Dump the BCO

  1. Although I have never read the BCO , this article reflects what I am feeling concerning the demoted place of scripture in modern church society. What has come to matter most is what is convenient, gratifying and encouraging. Any study of the life of Christ on earth will fly in the face of modern thought, yet people are no longer interested in the deeply demanding, grinding, and sacrificial aspects of His kind of lived out faith.

  2. If wishes were granted, I would wish that each office holder in the RCA read the Preamble to the Book of Church Order at the beginning of each year, and that every delegate to classis, regional synod, and General Synod read it before gathering with the body. It rightly points us to God, and not to our own agendas or needs, and it is a comprehensive reminder of those values and beliefs that Dan writes about in his post. Here is a portion from that preamble:

    ”The Nature of the Church’s Authority. All authority exercised in the church is received from Christ, the only Head of the church. The authority exercised by those holding office in the church is delegated authority. Their appointment to their special tasks is by the Spirit of the Lord, and they are responsible first of all to the Lord of the church. Their authority is of three kinds: ministerial, declarative, and spiritual. Ministerial authority is the right to act as Christ’s servants. Declarative authority is the right to speak in his name within the limits set by Scripture. The church shall declare what is in the Word and act upon it, and may not properly go beyond this. Spiritual authority is the right to govern the life and activity of the church and to administer its affairs. The church shall not exercise authority over the state, nor should the state usurp authority over the church.

    The Spiritual authority given to office-holders is exercised in the assemblies of the church. The offices meeting together represent the fullness of Christ’s ministry. No office functions apart from the other offices. Reformed governance understands that the greater assemblies care for the ministry that extends
    beyond the purview of the lesser assemblies without infringing upon the responsibilities of the lesser. Consistories, classes, and synods work together in mission and ministry within their shared boundaries.”

    May we humbly act as Christ’s servants.

    Anita Manuele

  3. The RCA is rapidly succumbing to ecclesiastical amnesia. There is so much we simply do not remember (as is evidenced by the declining number of us who recall that there was a General Secretary before Wesley Granberg-Michaelson).

    We do not remember that I. John Hesselink, in his address as General Synod President in 1996, pointed out that being Reformed in a modern American society is not easy, but does have its rewards. It is something we have to work at.

    We do not remember that we are not just a bunch of congregations, we are a covenant community, and that our Constitution is the tangible expression of our covenant. We forget that the BCO is not our Constitution, that the government that is in it, along with our doctrine and liturgy are that Constitution.

    We forget that, every time we say “I don’t care what the BCO says, this is what we want to do,” every time we decide that the liturgy is too much work when we can just rip off whatever the group down the street did to put butts in the pews, every time we replace our Standards with the latest pop theology we break down that covenant just a little bit.

    We forget that, once the covenant is broken, we don’t have much left. We have tried being the big church, the cool church, the patriotic church, and God keeps pushing us back to being the small, faithful covenant community. So we need that covenant. We need to hang on to who we are.

    We need to remember.

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