The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is governed by three sets of documents: its primary, secondary, and tertiary standards (cf. Form of Government, Chapter XXXII, Section 1). The primary standard of the Church is the Word of God, contained in the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments. Standing above the Church’s constitution, the Word of God is “the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him” (Shorter Catechism, Q/A 2). Subordinate to the Word of God is the constitution, consisting of two sets of standards. The doctrinal standards of the Church (the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church) are its secondary standards, and the standards of government, discipline, and worship comprise its tertiary standards.
The book that you hold in your hand contains the tertiary standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church: its Form of Government, Book of Discipline, and Directory for the Public Worship of God. While printed separately from the secondary standards, they are not conceived, nor should they be used, in isolation from them. Several sections of the doctrinal standards refer directly or indirectly to worship and ecclesiology, such as those dealing with the sufficiency of Scripture, Christian liberty and liberty of conscience, religious worship and the Sabbath day, the civil magistrate, the church, the sacraments, church censures, and synods and councils.
The genius of Presbyterian church government lies in its appreciation for the value of such tertiary standards. They do not replace or compete with the Scriptures. Rather, they set forth rules and procedures by which the church corporately interprets and applies the Word of God. That is, this Book of Church Order provides the effective means by which the teaching of Scripture is applied to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s government, discipline, and worship. As Presbyterians have put this in the past, a book that rightly orders the church is not necessary for the being of the church (since there are true churches that do not follow these rules and procedures), but is necessary for the well-being of the church. The rules and procedures set forth in this book will promote and encourage the spiritual health of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
The differences in authority among the primary, secondary, and tertiary standards come to expression in two important respects. First, the language of the church officer ordination vows takes into account the relative weight of these standards. Ministers, elders, and deacons in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church are required to believe the Bible as the only infallible rule of faith and practice, to sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms as containing the system of doctrine taught in Scripture, and to approve of the government, discipline, and worship of this Church. There is a lessening of the required commitment to the lower levels of these standards. Second, the standards are distinguished by the processes by which amendments may be made to them. The primary standard of Scripture cannot be altered, the secondary standards of doctrine may be amended only with difficulty and rarely, and the tertiary standards of church order may be more easily and frequently revised.
This 2015 edition of The Book of Church Order of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church represents the current understanding of what this branch of the church believes the Scriptures teach about the government, discipline, and worship of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was in 1941, five years after the founding of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, that its General Assembly ordered the first edition of The Book of Church Order to be printed. In 1979 the General Assembly approved a substantially rewritten Form of Government. A major revision of the Book of Discipline was adopted in 1983. Beginning in 1995, further approved changes to these tertiary standards could ordinarily come into effect only in years ending in 5 or 0. And the General Assembly completed a sixty-two-year process of revising the Directory for the Public Worship of God by authorizing the publication of a special edition of these standards of government, discipline, and worship in 2011.
This edition of The Book of Church Order has been prepared in accordance with instructions of the General Assembly, in consultation with the stated clerk of the Assembly. The Committee on Christian Education has taken on the responsibility of publishing and distributing the book. It contains all the revisions of The Book of Church Order that have been approved since 2011 and which take effect on January 1, 2015. In accordance with the Form of Government, Chapter XXXII, Section 2, this particular edition of the book will remain in use in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church until at least 2020.
Ross W. Graham, stated clerk
Willow Grove, Pennsylvania