Book Review: The Book of Church Order, by the PCA


The 2022 edition of The Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America (BCO) reflects the denomination’s rich history of biblically informed and theologically reformed church governance. First adopted in 1789 following the constitution of the General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in the United States (PCUSA), the inaugural BCO listed eight preliminary principles intended to guard the newly formed denomination against top-down governance, along with providing a practical guide to worship and theological subscription to the Westminster Confession and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The present BCO reflects each of these elements, along with additional amendments adopted in the intervening years.


Composed of a preface, 63 chapters, and no less than ten appendices, the 2022 BCO is a mature polity manual aimed at eliminating the need for ad hoc church governance in the twenty-first century Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The BCO’s preface proudly establishes the denomination’s ties to the original PCUSA by including John Witherspoon’s Preliminary Principles from 1788. The preface establishes Christ’s headship over the church, defines the Constitution, and notes Scripture’s place as the ultimate authority for the church.

The body of the BCO is broken into three parts. The first, titled “Form of Government,” consists of 26 chapters covering a range of concerns, beginning with an explication of the Doctrine of Church Government. Part 1 then proceeds to define the church, note the nature and extent of the church’s power, discuss and classify the church’s membership, and address the church’s leadership and relation to the presbytery. Next, Part 1 considers the church’s election of pastors, ruling elders, and deacons before closing with two chapters on the rules for congregational meetings and the process for amending the church’s Constitution.

In Part 2, the BCO turns to “The Rules of Discipline.” Chapters 27 through 46 establish the nature, subjects, and ends of church discipline. These chapters define the offenses for which discipline is required and explain the process when exacting said discipline. Building on the Presbyterian model of church government provided in Part 1, the second section also details the lower and higher court’s responsibilities when processing cases, providing specific directions as to how one may make an appeal or lodge a complaint. The BCO’s consideration of discipline ends with a discussion of jurisdiction and of a church member’s responsibility to transfer his or her membership should they relocate.

Chapters 47 through 63 compose the BCO’s third section: “The Directory for the Worship of God.” Grounded once again in the ultimate authority of Scripture, Part 3 opens with a discussion of the principles and elements of worship, followed by an explanation of the sanctification of the Lord’s Day, directions regarding the ordering of public worship and the elements of public worship such as the reading of Scripture, singing psalms and hymns, prayer, preaching, giving, and the celebration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Also included in the directory are instructions for marriage, the visitation of the sick, funerals, fasting, and even godly parenting.

The BCO’s appendices A through F provide templates for the performance of marriages, first and second, as well as funerals for adults or children, graveside services, and the dedication of church buildings. Appendix G offers suggested forms for use in church discipline, while Appendices H and I concern suggested procedures for Presbytery Judicial Commissions acting as Appellate Courts and biblical conflict resolution respectively. The final appendix may be the most pragmatic provision of all. It puts forward a sample form for pastors considering the call to serve a particular church covering such concerns as salary, benefits, secondary benefits, temporary benefits, and vacation.

The remaining entries in the BCO include rules of the Assembly operations, a manual for the standing judicial commission, the certificate of incorporation for the PCA, along with the denomination’s corporate bylaws and the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council’s agreements (NAPARC).


All told, the 2022 BCO in its three-ring bound, loose-leafed form lands at a little over four hundred pages. The principal differences between the BCO and a baptistic church polity include:

  • The BCO’s definition of the visible church as composed of “all those persons in every nation, together with their children, who make profession of their faith. . .” (1-3)
  • The BCO distinguishes the church’s officers as the pastor or teaching elder, the ruling elders, and deacons (1-4).
  • The BCO affords two classes of membership:
    • the non-communing members composed of children of believers who may not take the Supper (6-1).
    • the communing members who are believers and may take the Supper (6-2).
  • The BCO permits members to elect the church’s officers; however, the church’s officers may only be removed by the Session (24-9; 24-10).
  • The BCO states the “government of the church is by officers gifted to represent Christ” (16-2). Thus, the members have no say in the receiving of new members or the discipline of existing members.
  • The BCO identifies the church’s highest court as the General Assembly (14-1), followed by the Presbytery (13-1), and then the Session (12-1). Thus, the ultimate authority for a particular church does not lie with the congregation.
  • The BCO directs the “baptism of infants and children” who are “solemnly received into the bosom of the visible church. . .” (56-4-g). These subjects are “by virtue of being children of believing parents” are “made members of the church. . .” (56-4-j). However, upon reaching “the age of discretion,” they are required to “make public confession of their faith in Christ, or become covenant breakers and subject to the discipline of the church” (56-4-j).


The BCO is thorough, easy to navigate, and filled with practical help. The templates are particularly useful, providing scripts not too unlike those we Southern Baptists find in resources such as The Broadman Minister’s Manual. However, the BCO’s biblically based, Christ-glorifying emphasis upon church discipline is an element largely absent from our recent publications. While our congregational polity certainly differs from that presented in Part 1 of the BCO, Parts 2 and 3 contain much that we may benefit from as Baptists.

I highly recommend the chapters detailing church discipline, which the BCO defines as “the exercise of authority given the church by the Lord Jesus Christ to instruct and guide its members and to promote its purity and welfare” (27-1). Despite our denomination’s apparent disinterest in the matter today, John Leadley Dagg (1794–1884), Southern Baptists’ first writing theologian, dedicated an entire chapter to church discipline in his Treatise on Church Order. We would do well to consider this biblically directed practice and implement it in a manner like that detailed in the BCO that seeks the glory of God in the purity of his church.

Andrew Morgan

Andrew Morgan is a pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Salisbury, MD.

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