Church Orders Human, Not Divine

Did you know that it used to be the common belief that church orders (/agenda/) were matters of public concern and human law, and were not matters of “worship,” actually? It’s true!

Take Johann Gerhard, for instance. In his discussion of “law” in the Loci theologici (Locus 12) he divides and specifies the category of “law” in various ways. One of these is the distinction between human and divine law.

After making this division, Gerhard further distinguishes human laws in respect to their objects. Some are “ecclesiastical” and some are “political” (the important point being, for our purposes, that both are nevertheless human). He then discusses each type. Here is how he describes “ecclesiastical laws”:

Ecclesiastical laws are those which are put into force by a godly magistrate with the consent of the church and with the deliberation of the ecclesiastical ministry; they commonly call these “ecclesiastical agenda‘” [i.e. church orders].

This does not make such orders (liturgies, rites, ceremonies) “worship” in the proper sense, which is why they do not affect the conscience in and of themselves. That can only occur when the further proposition that they are required to approach and please God is joined to them.

If to these human establishments one should added the opinion that they are worship [cultus] or are meritorious or are a matter of simple necessity, at that time they become ἐντάλματα [entalmata, “commands”] of men, by means of which God is worshiped in vain (Matt. 15:9). But if they are instituted and observed for the sake of εὐταξίας [eutaxias, “good order”] and εὐσχημοσύνης [euschēmosunēs, “decorum”], they pertain to the apostolic rule laid down in 1 Cor. 14:40: (ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ) πάντα εὐσχημόνως καὶ κατὰ τάξιν γινἐσθω [(en tē ekklēsia) panta euschēmonōs kai kata taxin ginesthō, “(In the church,) let all things be done with decorum and in an orderly way”].


Related Articles


Other Articles by

Join our Community
Subscribe to receive access to our members-only articles as well as 4 annual print publications.
Share This