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Church Order of Protestant Churches in China
By:CCCTSPM  |  05.15,2008
 

(Adopted January 8, 2008, at the Joint (National) Conference of the Seventh Standing Committee of the Chinese Christian Three-Self Movement Committee of the Protestant Churches in China and the Fifth Standing Committee of the China Christian Council)

CHAPTER ONE

Article 1 This order has been formulated on biblical teachings, the history and traditions of the Church, and the fundamentals of the life of the church ecumenical, integrated with the realities of the Chinese Church.

Article 2 The Chinese Church functions according to the principle of self-government, self-support, and self-propagation (hereafter: three-self principle) which encompasses independence and self-management, actively engages in theological reconstruction, and guides Christians in making a contribution to the building of an harmonious society.

Article 3 Local churches differ in their backgrounds and development, and thus church affairs organizations in the various provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities may draft their own corresponding orders based on this one. However, these orders may not contradict this order, nor may they be formulated in the name of any denomination.

Article 4 The responsibilities of the China Christian Council in church matters visa ¨¤ vis church affairs organizations in the various provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities include liaison, service, guidance, and supervision.

CHAPTER TWO: FAITH

Article 5 The Chinese Church takes the contents of the entire Bible, the Apostles¡¯ Creed and the Nicene Creed as the foundation of our faith, the main points of which are as follows:

Ours is a Triune God,1 everlasting and eternal. God is Spirit. God is loving, just, holy, and trustworthy. God is almighty Father, the Lord who creates and sustains the cosmos and all that is in it, who keeps and cares for the whole world.

Jesus Christ is the only Son of God, born of the Holy Spirit, the Word made flesh, wholly God and wholly human. He came into the world to save humankind, to witness to God the Father, to preach the gospel; he was crucified, died, and was buried. He rose again and ascended into heaven. He will come again to judge the world.

The Holy Spirit is the Comforter, who enables people to know their sinfulness and to repent, who bestows wisdom and ability and every grace, leading us to know God and to enter into the truth, enabling people to lead holy lives, and to give beautiful witness to Christ.

The church is the body of Christ and Christ is its Head. The church is apostolic, one, holy, and catholic. The visible church is called by God to be a fellowship of those who believe in Jesus Christ. It was established by the apostles as Jesus instructed them. The mission of the church is to preach the gospel, to administer the Sacraments, to teach and nurture believers, to do good works, and to bear witness to the Lord. The church is both universal and particular. The Chinese Church must build itself up in love and be one in Christ.

The Bible has been revealed by God and written down by human beings through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is the highest authority in matters of faith and the standard of life for believers. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, people in different times have gained new light from the Bible. The Bible should be interpreted in accordance with the principle of rightly explaining the word of truth. It should not be interpreted arbitrarily or out of context.

Human beings are made in the image of God, but cannot become gods. God has given humanity dominion over all God¡¯s creation. Because of sin, human beings have diminished God¡¯s glory, yet through faith and the grace of Jesus Christ, human beings are redeemed and saved, and are granted resurrection and everlasting life.

Christ will come again. According to the teachings of the Bible, no one knows the day of his coming, and any method to determine when Christ will come again violates the teachings of the Bible.

A Christian¡¯s faith and works are one. Christians must live out Christ in the world, glorifying God and benefiting people.

CHAPTER THREE: THE CHURCH

Article 6 Differences in culture, historical experience, and social systems exist among churches throughout the world. Faith is not received in identical ways, and this may produce differences in theological knowledge and interpretation. In its fellowship with the ecumenical church, the Chinese Church is connected with the Saints of the Church in every place, as mutual limbs [of the body of Christ], in friendly contact, in mutual sharing and mutual respect. At the same time, it is an independent and self-run church, without a subordinate relation to any church beyond its borders, nor dominated by any outside church.

Article 7 The church is both a spiritual fellowship of Christians which should build up the body of Christ according to biblical teachings, and a social group, which must abide by the national Constitution, and the provisions of laws, regulations, and policies, fulfilling its duties, such as legal registration.

Article 8 Local churches, in accordance with the three-self principle, and with the guidance and support of Church Councils and Three-Self Organizations, should unite Christians in voluntary observance of this order, to carry out all aspects of their ministry well, with one heart and one mind, to support theological education, to develop social service, and to promote social harmony.

Article 9 The Chinese Church maintains a unified form of worship. At the same time it is aware that Christians differ in spiritual experience and needs. On the basis of the three-self principle, the Church seeks the common ground in matters of faith and tradition and practices mutual respect and mutual acceptance, making no distinctions or attacks. The teachings of the Bible must be observed and every effort made to preserve the unity of heart received from the Holy Spirit.

CHAPTER FOUR: THE SACRAMENTS

Article 10 Based on the teachings of the Bible and the various traditions of the church, the Chinese Church administers two sacraments: baptism (sprinkling or immersion) and the Eucharist (also called breaking bread).

Baptism is commanded by the Lord Jesus as a sign that the one baptized has died with the Lord, been buried and has risen again. The Chinese Church recognizes the efficacy of baptism both by sprinkling and by immersion, because the Holy Spirit works in baptism, creating a new Christian person.

The Eucharist was established by our Lord Jesus himself. The bread and wine of the Eucharist are signs of Christ¡¯s body and blood. Christians receive the Eucharist in remembrance of the Lord.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist renews the relationship between the Christian and Christ, strengthens the faith and enriches the Christian¡¯s spiritual life while enhancing the unity of the fellowship.

Only baptized Christians may receive the Eucharist.

Article 11 The Eucharist may be administered by a bishop, clergy (including here and in the following, elders commensurate to clergy in various traditions), and teachers (also called associate clergy). Elders appointed by the clergy may also administer the Eucharist, but no one who does not have ministerial orders may be appointed to administer the Eucharist.

Article 12 The Eucharist must take place in a church as part of a specific liturgy and be carried out in a reverent manner.

Article 13 The church may arrange for elderly or seriously ill Christians to receive the Eucharist in their homes.

CHAPTER FIVE: CHRISTIANS

Article 14 Those who come to church for the first time seeking the gospel truth and those who participate in church activities are called inquirers. Inquirers who have attended churches or home worship gatherings for a given period, who voluntarily accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, who repent of their sins, whose actions are upright, and who are law-abiding, may enroll in an inquirers¡¯ class and make a systematic study of biblical fundamentals and what it means to be a Christian. Those who have been examined by the pastors on faith and morals and found acceptable, may be baptized. Following baptism, inquirers may be entered in the rolls of the church and become members.

Article 15 Christians must abide by the teachings of the Bible and the rules and order of the church. They must show respect for the clergy, serve gladly, support all aspects of the church¡¯s ministry, and fulfill their responsibilities to the church.

Article 16 Christians should be good citizens. They should love the country and love the church, be law-abiding, and be in harmony in their families and with their neighbors. They should serve the society, benefit the people, and fulfill their social responsibilities.

Article 17 Christians found to have engaged in seriously inappropriate behavior, or who adhere to heretical teachings, should be educated and admonished by the clergy. The management organization of the church or home worship gathering concerned may report those who persist in such seriously inappropriate behavior to the local church affairs organization. Upon examination and confirmation of the facts, such individuals may be denied the Eucharist or, as a final measure, removed from the rolls of the church.

CHAPTER SIX: MINISTRY

Article 18 Ministerial orders in current use in churches in China are: bishop, minister, teacher, and elder.

Those who have received these orders are referred to as clergy.

Gender equality applies in ministerial orders.

Evangelists (teachers, including here and below, deacons and lay workers who have been involved in preaching) who have been approved by the local church council and clergy are called pastoral workers.

Article 19 Pastoral workers must meet the following criteria: They must be in good physical and mental health and possess a pure Christian faith and lead a pious spiritual life witnessed by good moral character and conduct. They must have the experience of devotion to Christ and service to the church. They must love their fellow Christians and be held in high esteem among other Christians. They must be patriotic and law-abiding and enjoy a good reputation, both within the church and outside it.

They must uphold the three-self principle, unite with believers in loving the country and loving the church, and promote mutual respect in matters of faith.

Article 20 Those seeking Holy Orders must meet the following criteria: Bishops must have a B.Th.2 or above, be over 40 years of age, have served as pastors for over ten years, be profoundly versed in theology, be active in promoting theological reconstruction, have authored instructional theses or works, have rich pastoral experience, the ability to unite coworkers and believers, a lofty moral character, and be deeply loved and respected by believers.

Ministers should have formal theological education as well as experience in pastoral work. Graduates with a B.Th. (4 years) or higher, should have at least two years of pastoral work experience. Those with a diploma in theology from a regional seminary or a Bible school education (2-4 years) must have at least three years of pastoral work experience.

Teachers should have formal theological education as well as experience in pastoral work. Those with a B.Th. (4 years) should have at least one year of pastoral experience. Those with a diploma in theology from a regional seminary or a Bible school education (2-4 years) should have at least three years experience in pastoral work. Those who have served as teachers for a year or more are eligible to apply for ordination.

Elders should be high school graduates with five or more years experience in church service. Preaching elders should have some theological education, or one or more years of lay training approved by the provincial, autonomous region or municipal Christian Council and Three-Self Organization.

Article 21 The duties of the various ministerial orders differ: A bishop¡¯s responsibilities lie mainly in the interpretation of Christian doctrine, in promoting theological reconstruction, regulating the work of ministry, guidance, and pastoral care for the spiritual lives of ministers, pastoral workers, and Christians. The bishop does not have any special administrative authority.

The main duties of a pastor include all aspects of the ministry of his/her church, management of the church and/or home worship gathering, administration of the sacraments, and the pastoral care and guidance of believers.

A teacher assists the pastor in managing the church and/or home worship gathering and in pastoral care and guidance of believers. A teacher may administer the sacraments.

An elder assists the teacher and pastor in church or home worship gathering management. His/her professional duties are limited to the church and its associated meeting points, to pastoral care and guidance of believers, and administration of the sacraments at the request of the pastor.

Article 22 Ordination procedure for ministerial orders:

Candidates for bishop are nominated by the CCC/TSPM executive committee. The candidate¡¯s own views should be sought prior to nomination. The views of the candidate¡¯s provincial (autonomous region, municipality) Christian Council and Three-Self organization must be sought, following which the Joint Standing Committees of the CCC/TSPM must elect the candidate(s) by a two-thirds majority vote.

Applicants for ordination to the ministry must apply in writing, be put forward by the church council of his/her church, recommended by the church affairs organization of the local church and be approved by the city (locality, prefecture or league) Christian Council and Three-Self organization of the district in which the church is located, which then reports to the provincial (autonomous region or municipality) Christian Council and Three-Self organization. The provincial (autonomous region or municipality) level organizations should canvass a wide range of views and carry out its own investigation. Only when the candidate passes this check may he/she be ordained.

Teachers applying for the ministry must pass the same procedures of application, selection, recommendation, and inspection as one applying for ordination to the ministry.

Applicants for elder must make a written application. They must then be nominated by the management affairs organization of their church or meeting point, be recommended by the church affairs organization of the local church and approved by the city (locality, prefecture or league) church affairs organization in which their church is located, which then reports to the provincial (autonomous region or municipality) church affairs organization. This provincial (autonomous region or municipality) level organization may then request the city (locality, prefecture or league) church affairs organization to send an ordination team of three or more pastors and elders to perform the ordination.

Article 23 Ordination to ministerial orders should follow the relevant provisions of the ¡°Licensing Criteria for Chinese Christian Clergy.¡± At least three bishops are required to take part in the laying on of hands for the investiture of a bishop. Ordained ministers of good moral standing and reputation may be invited to join in the laying on of hands. Ordination to the pastoral ministry requires joint laying on of hands by a bishop and at least two ministers, or at least three ministers. Ordination of a teacher requires the joint laying on of hands by at least three ministers. Ordination of elders requires joint laying on of hands by at least three ministers and elders, and the one administering the sacrament must be an ordained minister.

The rite of ordination to holy orders must be held openly in a church; holy orders may not be received in private. Following the liturgy the newly ordained person must, in accordance with relevant regulations, be entered in the records of the corresponding government religious affairs department.

Article 24 Evangelists should be licensed in accordance with the requirements of the ¡°Licensing Criteria for Chinese Christian Clergy¡± and entered in the records of the corresponding government religious affairs department.

Article 25 Gross acts of misconduct, violation of the church order, heretical preaching or violation of criminal law by a pastoral worker require disciplinary action following investigation of the facts. Disciplinary action may include admonishment, suspension from church office, removal from church office, and revocation of ministerial orders.

Disciplinary action against a bishop must be proposed by the National Conference of the CCC/TSPM, which then informs the Christian Council and Three-Self organization in the bishop¡¯s province (autonomous region, municipality). Revocation of a bishop¡¯s ministerial orders must be done with formal deliberation and approval by the Standing Committees of the CCC/TSPM and passed by a two-thirds majority vote.

Discipline of a minister or teacher must be proposed by the Christian Council and Three-Self organization at the provincial (autonomous region, municipality) level. Discipline of an elder must be proposed and declared by the city (district, prefecture, league) level Christian Council and Three-Self organization. Revocation of ministerial orders in these cases must be arrived at through deliberation and approval at a formal meeting of the provincial- (autonomous region, municipality) level Christian Council and Three-Self organization.

Article 26 Discipline of evangelists may follow methods outlined in Article 25, to be decided following deliberation and approval by a formal meeting of the city (district, prefecture, league) level Christian Council and Three-Self organization.

Article 27 Disciplinary action may be rescinded following the aforementioned procedures. The corresponding government religious affairs department must be informed of the implementation of disciplinary action and its cancellation.

CHAPTER SEVEN:

ORGANIZATION AND MANAGEMENT OFTHE CHURCH (CHURCHES AND HOME WORSHIP GATHERINGS)

Article 28 The following conditions must be present for the establishment of a church:

A requisite number of believers; a meeting place set aside for church use; ordained clergy in charge of pastoral care of believers; a management organization or preparatory management organization; a church order; a reliable source of funding.

Article 29 The following conditions must be present for the establishment of a meeting point:

A requisite number of believers; a set meeting place; a preacher approved by the local Christian Council and Three-Self organization; a management organization or a preparatory management organization; a meeting point management plan; a reliable source of funding.

Article 30 The city (region, prefecture, league) and county (city, district, banner) Christian Council and Three-Self organization must conscientiously consider the meeting needs of believers, and based on the requirements stated in Articles 28 and 29 of this Order, assist churches and meeting points in the construction of a suitable venue.

Article 31 Churches and meeting points which meet these requirements shall install a senior pastor (or a serving elder as the equivalent). The senior pastor presides over church activities and pastoral care for believers, leads believers in resisting heresy and infiltration, and publicizes and implements all decisions of the CCC/ TSPM.

Article 32 Establishment of church and meeting point management organizations

A church shall establish a church management organization (comprised of at least 7 persons). A meeting point shall establish a church affairs management team (comprised of at least 3 persons). A church management organization consists of the senior pastor, pastoral staff/pastors and the requisite number of representatives from the congregation, elected by a meeting of delegates from the congregation or through consultation. The period of service shall be three to five years. Re-election and continued service are allowed, in principle not to exceed two terms. The church or meeting point management organizations shall fully develop democracy, listen widely to the views of the congregation, proceed by division of labor and cooperation and govern the church with one heart and mind.

Article 33 The church or meeting point management organizations shall manage the ministry of the church, including:

Arranging all types of gatherings, worship, and sacraments to proceed decently and in good order, so that heartfelt worship of God may proceed and disorder be prevented.

Preachers shall be determined by the pastor to raise the quality of pastoral care and prevent the spread of heresy, divisions within the church, or illegal and unlawful activities.

Christians, especially lay volunteers, should undergo training to raise their knowledge of the faith and their awareness of abiding by the law, to guard against the invasion of heresy, and to strengthen their study and knowledge of relevant state laws and regulations.

A roll of Christians shall be kept and properly organized to preserve church and meeting point information and archives.

Sound and healthy church and meeting point management organizations and group decision making require regular meetings.
Resolutions must be passed by a simple majority of the members of the church or meeting point management organizations. Decisions on important issues (such as large outlays of funds, recommending candidates for ministerial orders, etc.) must be passed by a two-thirds majority vote.

Retired clergy who enjoy good health may be invited to preach in the church or meeting point, if there is need.

The ministry of the church shall be guided and supervised by the local church affairs organization. The church affairs organization shall consult fully with the church or meeting point management organization on issues related to the church or meeting point, and conscientiously hear their views. Decisions reached following consultation should be implemented by the management organizations of the churches and meeting points.

Article 34 Management of finances by churches and meeting points

Management organizations of churches and meeting points shall set up a finance committee to draw up a system of financial management and strictly adhere to it in their work, including procedures for opening the donation box, keeping accounts, issuing receipts, depositing cash in the bank and so on. Pastoral workers and others in charge at churches and meetings points and their families shall not count the money or serve as accountants.

Management organizations at churches and meeting points shall regularly report revenue and expenditure and accept oversight from the local Christian Council and Three-Self organization. When necessary the congregational meeting may request the local Christian Council and Three-Self organization to examine the accounts or request relevant government department to carry out an audit.

A strict system of financial examination and approval shall be formulated. Large expenditures should be discussed and decided collectively by the church and meeting point management organizations.

 

Article 35 Property and business management for churches and meeting points

The property of churches and meeting points belongs to the church and no person may privately occupy or divide it. It is the responsibility of the church or meeting point management organization to take maintain the property and there should be a designated person or team in charge, with a feasible and practical management system in place. Houses used for meetings, buildings, and residences for the clergy shall not be transferred, mortgaged, used as investment properties or given to others.

To do our general work well includes management and upkeep of property, utilities, and security.

Article 36 Church and meeting point organizations shall uphold self-government, self propagation, and self support and resist all harmful outside interference of any sort.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Article 37 This Order shall be effective on the date of its passage and promulgation by the National Conference of Joint Standing Committees of the CCC and TSPM. Revisions follow the same procedure.

Article 38 This order shall be interpreted by the Standing Committees of the CCC and TSPM.

The Chinese text governs.

Notes

1 Shangdi/ Shen alternatives are given for each instance of the term

?God. This reflects historical usage for the name of God within the Protestant community of China. Both ¡°Shangdi¡± and ¡°Shen¡± versions of the Bible are published, so that individual Christians may read and use the term which is part of their inherited faith tradition.

2 The B.Th. degree is awarded by the national seminary, Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, to those with university-level education. The other regional seminaries award diplomas.

 
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