Polity is a term used to describe church organization, government, and collective practice. It is a general outline set forth to assist us as we work together in a unified manner. Polity is not the ultimate goal of the redeemed, but merely provides a framework wherein godliness may be cultivated; brotherly love is that which gives power to the witness of God’s people. For this reason, the need for genuine brotherhood in our local churches is emphasized, where relationships of sincere love and care toward brethren and sisters are felt and seen. Such Biblical relationships of brotherhood must first exist in the local setting before they can be enjoyed in an extended setting.
The following statements are set forth for the Old German Baptist Brethren Church (New Conference) to further develop the Polity Statement accepted on July 3, 2009. This is an outline of generally accepted collective practice and is given with the hope that brethren and sisters being led by the Spirit will give themselves to one another in humility. “The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life” (2 Cor 3:6).
A. The Local Church. The church functioning in a local setting is a primary place where the blessing and glory of God is to be encountered, and where the vibrant relationships of true Christian experience are developed and nurtured. It is here that brotherhood is lived, where the reality of being children in the family of God takes on a personal meaning for each member as mutual love and accountability are shared among brothers and sisters. It is in this environment that Christ Jesus becomes a visible manifestation of the Gospel. Ac 2:46-47; Eph 3:21; Phil 1:27; James 2:2
- Decorum. Scripture teaches that there is propriety and order within the local assembly. In an atmosphere of love, dignity, and respect, the Holy Spirit labors in the hearts of brethren and sisters to knit them together, that the body may increase unto the edifying of itself in love. 1 Cor 14:26, 40; 1 Tim 3:15; Titus 1:5
- Members. Members of the local church are those who have responded to the call to be born again, have been baptized by trine immersion, and continue to walk in faith and obedience to the Word of God. As a part of this fellowship, they are willing to live in harmony with the agreements of the Old German Baptist Brethren Church (New Conference). As participants of the local church, members are accountable to the congregation and willingly accept and submit to Biblical counsel and/or discipline. Matt 18:15-17; Ac 2:41-42, 5:13-14; Rom 12:5; Eph 4:1-32, 5:21
- Districts. Each local church is situated in a geographic area with mutually agreed-upon boundaries. Members residing within each district place themselves under the leadership of that congregation and participate in all the responsibilities of the church. (At times boundary exceptions may be made for appropriate reasons when mutually agreed upon by the affected congregations.)
B. Leadership. Leadership in the church must follow the Biblical model, where a Christ-like ministry is emphasized in shepherding and teaching the flock. The Lord will bless His people through leaders of such character. Ac 6:1-7; Eph 4:11-16; 1 Tim 3:1-16; 2 Tim 2:2; Tit 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-11
- Elders, Ministers, and Deacons. Elders, ministers, and deacons comprise the leadership of the local church. Each congregation determines their own needs and, heeding Biblical qualifications, selects from among themselves Spirit-filled men to labor in their behalf. Brethren called to serve in the preaching ministry, as they gain experience and are found faithful in their calling, are eventually given more responsibility. Ultimately, with the approval of their congregation and the elders of adjoining districts, they are ordained as elders. 1 Tim 3:1-13
- Presiding Elder. Each congregation has an elder who is primarily responsible for its functional and spiritual oversight. He counsels with his fellow ministers and deacons, and with the church, in order to shepherd and direct them in the ways of God. While it may sometimes become necessary for a local church to reach outside its own membership in calling for a presiding elder, it is usually preferable for him to reside among the members.
- Responsibilities. The Spirit calls leaders in His church to serve the Lord Jesus Christ and to be godly examples in every area of life. The primary calling of ministers is to preach the Word and address spiritual needs, while that of deacons is to oversee natural needs. Brethren called to these responsibilities work together in such needful areas as prayer, care for the fatherless and widows, visiting, anointing of the sick, counsel, communion, and discipline.
C. Vital Biblical Functions. Certain Biblical functions are vital for the spiritual growth of each congregation. By the Spirit’s enabling power the local church endeavors to meet the needs of the members in the following areas: 1 Cor 12:1-31; Eph 4:11-16; Titus 1:5a
- Worship. Worship in a collective capacity is commanded in Scripture and is crucial for spiritual growth and development in the church. Each local assembly has regularly appointed times for public worship, and all members are encouraged to arrange their lives to make regular attendance a priority. Ps 111:1, 149:1; John 4:23-24; Ac 14:27; Heb 2:12, 10:25
- Council. Collective council is the place for consideration of the natural and spiritual needs of the congregation and its witness within the local community. Under the established leadership of its ministers and deacons, each congregation has regularly appointed times to consider any needs presented, and make attempts to lovingly care for them. Matt 18:17; Ac 15:4, 6, 22; 1 Cor 6:4
- Communion. Each congregation comes together, at least once each year, to be refreshed in a love-feast occasion and to participate in the communion ordinances of the house of God. This time of remembrance is commanded by the Savior for His church and each member in good standing makes an effort to participate. Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-28
- Discipleship. One of the great purposes of the Holy Spirit in the local assembly is the nurturing of spiritual growth. The continuing development and perfecting of the saints, as well as the discipling of seekers, may be enhanced through many avenues, including teaching sessions, Bible studies, and other efforts. Discipleship that leads to growth in godliness is a work in which every member with their unique giftings can engage. John 13:33-34; Ac 11:26; Rom 15:1-7; 1 Cor 12:25-26; Gal 6:1-2; Col 3:12-17; 1 Peter 3:8
- Accountability and Discipline. As brethren and sisters meet with issues of sin, discipline, and correction, primary consideration is given to Matthew 5:23-24 and Matthew 18:10-22 in affecting reconciliation between members. There are additional Scriptural principles pertinent for restoration on a congregational level. Accountability and discipline are to be exercised with great carefulness and discretion. Matt 5:23-24; 18:10-22; Rom 15:14; 1 Cor 5:1-13; Gal 6:1-2; 1 Thess 5:12; 2 Thess 3:15; 1 Tim 5:20
D. Regular Worship Services. Stability and blessing result when each member, whether a part of the local brotherhood or the extended brotherhood, knows what to anticipate as they assemble for public, Sunday worship. These services begin with singing, brief exhortation and prayer, and continue with a Biblical message, suitable following testimony, and a closing prayer. Hymns are sung at appropriate times throughout the service, unaccompanied with musical instrumentation. Preaching emphasizes the centrality of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Scriptures. Reading is generally from the King James Version of the Bible. A Collection of Hymns and Sacred Songs is the hymnal used. (Other times of devotion may utilize other hymnals and be conducted with a different format.) Neh 8:8; Ps 100:2; Mark 16:15; Ac 8:35; Rom 10:14-15; 1 Cor 1:18-21, 14:29, 33, 40; Col 3:16; 2 Tim 3:16-17, 4:2; 1 Peter 1:25
A. The Extended Church. As brotherhood is a blessing to be experienced at the local level, so it is also a blessing to be experienced as an interconnected body of churches at an extended level. The Scriptures speak of a oneness, love, communion, and interdependence experienced between the local churches of the Apostolic period. In a world with many divergent and deceptive teachings, brethren and sisters united on Scriptural understandings can fellowship and commune together – trusting, encouraging, and building each other up in faith and godliness. 1 Cor 16:19; Gal 1:2; Col 4:16; 1 Thess 2:14
- New Conference Churches. The New Conference churches are congregations who are willing to support the mutual agreements of the Old German Baptist Brethren Church (New Conference) and to work unitedly with the extended brotherhood. By representing at Annual Conference, either by messenger or letter, a congregation is declaring each year that it is willing to labor harmoniously with the extended brotherhood.
- New Districts. When a new district is to be formed, brethren make a request to their current home district and upon approval of their request, mutually agree upon geographic boundaries. The home district and its adjoining elders are involved in this organizational process. The members of a newly-formed district select a presiding elder who can further shepherd their establishment.
- Church Plants. Planting churches in new localities is an effective means of enlarging the witness and influence of the Gospel. Church plants need to have enough members to be viable, and express a clear and unified purpose as they form. Members relocating into new areas are encouraged to place their current membership in one district as they work through this organizational process. The elders from adjoining congregations are to offer support in these efforts.
B. Basic Procedures. Certain key procedures are to be upheld by each local congregation within the extended brotherhood.
- Forms. The Forms of Practice accepted at the 2012 Annual Conference, when followed within each local congregation, promote a consistent brotherhood practice and provide a pattern for teaching. These forms address practices such as baptism, the annual visit, anointing, election and advancement of church officials, and the keeping of ordinances at the love-feast. (See Appendix A, Forms of Practice.)
- Church Letters. When a brother or sister in good standing with their local church relocates into the geographic bounds of another district, a church letter is sent recommending them to the care and oversight of the new congregation. This practice attempts to establish ongoing support and accountability both to the relocating member and to the local churches of the brotherhood wherever this letter is received. Ac 18:27; Rom 16:1-2; 2 Cor 3:1
C. District Relationships. All congregations in the extended brotherhood support and uphold one another, endeavoring to work together in harmony with each other in the promotion of unity and mutual respect. Col 4:16
- Adjoining Districts. Congregations with adjacent geographic boundaries are considered to be adjoining. In this relationship, they have great opportunity to uphold each other in the many practical aspects of faithfulness and fellowship. In cases of special need, and by mutual consent, other congregations may also be considered adjoining.
- Ministerial Support. An atmosphere of brotherly love is promoted as the ministry of one congregation actively supports the worship services and (when summoned) the council settings of other congregations. This expression of brotherhood presents a united testimony to the world around us and promotes harmony throughout the extended brotherhood.
- Assistance to Congregations. If disorders or grievances arise in a local assembly that cannot be resolved in a peaceable manner, that congregation should call the elders from the adjoining districts to assist them as they seek to restore peace and unity.
D. Leadership Accountability. Stable and godly leadership is essential to both a vibrant local brotherhood and to a well-functioning extended brotherhood. Those tasked with shepherding and caring for the various flocks are to be closely linked as they walk in the Spirit with each other. Consequently, whenever leadership is being installed, or when a brother in leadership is to be examined by the local church for his actions, the elders from the adjoining districts are to be invited to assist or preside over such matters and to give counsel. Ac 20:17-38; Gal 2:11,14; 1 Tim 5:17, 19-21; Heb 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-5
E. Brotherhood Harmony. Christian brotherhood is experienced and maintained as each member humbly exercises in the power of the Holy Spirit with love and goodwill toward every other member. 1 Peter 1:22, 2:17, 3:8; 1 John 3:16
- Consideration in Local Decisions. Each local assembly, as they make decisions, should consider in love how their choices may affect others within the larger brotherhood. When a local issue may create conflict with other congregations, wisdom and love necessitate bringing the subject to Annual Conference for consideration by the extended brotherhood.
- Queries. Questions or issues that a local church considers necessary to present to the brotherhood’s Annual Conference are carried by their appointed messengers and properly placed into the hands of the brotherhood council. (Consideration should be given to the possibility of placing unnecessary burdens on future generations.) Ac 15:2, 28
- Striving for Unity. The Scriptures teach the need to patiently tarry one for another in order that the Holy Spirit may unite God’s people. To peaceably resolve issues when differences occur, the minority willingly submits to the majority, so as to assist in achieving unanimity. “. . . Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility.” Psalm 133:1-3; 2 Cor 13:11; Eph 4:13-16; 1 Peter 5:5
F. Annual Conference. Annual Conference is a yearly gathering of New Conference churches for the purposes of worship, Christian fellowship, and consideration of issues that affect the extended brotherhood. Ac 15:4-6
- Brotherhood Participation. Participation within a brotherhood requires willing service and godly submission. The decisions of the Annual Conference, as we counsel together, are used as guidelines for local churches.
- Messengers. Local churches send messengers to each Annual Conference. When circumstances prevent a congregation from sending two messengers, it either sends a single messenger or submits a letter stating its willing service and submission to the brotherhood. Messengers are brethren who are in good standing, who honor the Word of God, and who promote brotherhood unity. It is generally best to give first consideration to those serving as ministers and to respect those ministers who are more experienced.
- Conference Committee. The Conference Committee is a group of nine elders chosen annually from among the messengers present at Annual Conference. The new committee chooses its own moderator, secretary, and reading clerk. The duty of this committee is to oversee the matters of the business portion of that year’s conference. (Ministers who are not messengers facilitate the messenger body’s selection of the Conference Committee.)
- Conference Business. Matters that are felt necessary to consider at Annual Conference may be presented in the form of a letter, query, or report from either a New-Conference church or a committee authorized by Conference. Such matters are to be properly placed into the hands of the Conference Committee, who decides how to process each article of business.
- Subcommittees. Queries received by the Conference Committee are delegated to subcommittees comprised of the messengers. Each subcommittee selects its own foreman and secretary, and has the privilege of proposing a direct answer to the query, suggesting it be resolved locally, or recommending it be laid down.
- Resolution of Queries. During the brotherhood council, a query is read with the proposed answer from the subcommittee. The messengers from the submitting congregation then explain the origin of the question, followed by the subcommittee foreman’s explanation of their labors. The assembly is then given opportunity to discuss the matter and is voiced for a decision. After an attempt to pass the subcommittee’s answer, there may be a need for additional discussion or an alternate answer. If necessary, the issue may be laid down or deferred to a subsequent time.
- Committee of Arrangements. In order to facilitate the Annual Conference, a Committee of Arrangements (COA) is selected by the hosting congregations or region. It is the responsibility of this committee to arrange for the selection of a location, oversee the financing of the meeting, and ensure that responsibilities for hosting the meeting are delegated among the members. Requests for significant changes in the conference format (either by the COA or others) should be submitted to the brotherhood assembly.