For the maintenance of good order in the church of Christ it is necessary that there should be: offices, assemblies, supervision of doctrine, sacraments and ceremonies, and Christian discipline; of which matters the following articles treat in due order.
This article is an introductory article, introducing the entire Church Order and setting forth the main content and divisions of the Church Order. It presupposes that good order is necessary in the church of Christ; it defines what is necessary to maintain good order; it sets forth requirements for good order; it gives, therefore, the purpose for which the Church Order is written.
The purpose of the Church Order is the maintenance of good order in the church of Jesus Christ. The presupposition is that God is a God of order. He does nothing haphazardly or arbitrarily, but works always in an orderly fashion because all He does is adapted to a very high purpose. Because the church is God’s handiwork (cf. Eph. 2:10), the church must reflect that good order (I Cor. 14:40).
The article speaks of the “church of Christ.” These words refer to the manifestation of the church in the world, i.e., the church as institute. The reference is not necessarily to a particular congregation, nor even a particular denomination. Rather, the reference is to the organic body of Christ wherever it comes to manifestation in the world in institutional form. Thus it refers to particular denominations and congregations which accept this Church Order.
All this implies that the Church Order must be based upon the Word of God. The church must walk in the way of God’s will, which is revealed to the church. This revelation is contained in the Scriptures. Yet the Scriptures are not a law-book for the church, in which every rule and regulation is spelled out. But the principles are to be found in God’s Word. And the church, under the guidance of the Spirit, discovers these principles and applies them specifically to her calling. This must be maintained over against the so-called inner light churches, which were strong at the time the Church Order was written, and over against the total disregard for the authority of Scripture (or any kind of authority) manifested in our own day.
This article lists the four main divisions of the Church Order.
1) Offices in the church. This subject is treated in Articles 2-28.
2) Assemblies. Treated in Articles 29-52.
3) Public Worship. Treated in Articles 53-70.
4) Christian discipline. Treated in Articles 71-86.
These four divisions are also the four requirements necessary to maintain good order in the church.
The offices referred to are the offices instituted by Christ. The Dutch has diensten, which emphasizes the idea of “service” or “ministering.”
The assemblies are the ecclesiastical assemblies, including Consistories, Classes, Provincial Synods, and General Synods.
The supervision of public worship is also essential to good order in the church. For it is only in this way that purity of doctrine and of the sacraments is maintained.
Christian discipline deals with the discipline of church members, including censure and excommunication and the discipline of
officebearers, including suspension and deposition from office.