Boehm’s Church Constitution of 1725

Articles from Rev. John P Boehm’s Church Constitution of 1725 [1]

(It is agreed) that all the members of Consistory now in service in all the three villages shall be recognized and remain in their offices for their appointed term. Then all the members of the congregation shall, with the Minister and the rest of the consistory, choose new members of consistory. But at the same time all the members of the congregation shall transfer, each to his own consistory, all power and right henceforth to choose the consistory from year to year by a majority vote; since, through the increase and spreading abroad of the congregations, it is not practicable for all the members to meet just for this purpose.

The persons chosen shall be propounded for three Sundays each in his congregation, to see if any one makes any lawful objection; and, if not, they shall be ordained at the third announcement.

If it should happen (as we hope it will not) that one or more of the consistorial persons should walk disorderly, or create strife and division in the congregations, he or they shall be timely warned by the rest to give over such courses; and if they will not comply, they shall be put out of their offices; and others shall be chosen in their place out of such as have last been in service, and be regularly ordained, and then serve. And so in case any one dies in office.

When any Elder or Deacon goes out of office he shall be exempt for two years and then may again be chosen; or even earlier, if it is deemed necessary by the consistory for the time being.

The Minister, Elders, and Deacons, and the whole congregation shall determine the time when, on the Lord’s Day and other days, and the places where, divine service shall be held.

The rite of Baptism shall always be administered, without a fee, at the close of worship. Besides the Elders, there shall be witnesses at the baptism; and this edifying custom shall not be lightly altered. The witnesses must be sound in doctrine and blameless in life.[2] {26}

The Holy Supper shall be administered twice a year in each place where public worship is maintained. No one shall be admitted unless upon confession before the consistory and evidence of an upright life, or upon proper testimonials from other Reformed congregations, according to the Church Order of the Synod of Dort, anno 1618 and 1619. All the members shall constantly, as they are able, attend worship and appear at the preparatory sermon; and those who neglect this shall be spoken to by the consistory as they shall judge necessary. The old shall diligently instruct the young in the Reformed religion, and thereunto shall carefully provide for their hearing God’s Word in preaching and in catechizing; so that the young may also come to the Lord’s table. All the members of the three congregations shall have the right to commune in any one of them, no lawful hindrance existing, so long as they have the same minister.

The bread and wine for the Lord’s Supper shall always be provided by the Deacons, who shall also collect and disburse the alms, and make faithful account of the same. The members of the consistory, whether Elders or Deacons, to whom the church chest and property are intrusted, shall annually make account of their administration before the congregation, and for this purpose shall keep a true record of receipts and expenditures. And the account, when approved, shall be signed by the minister in the name of all as satisfactory.

In order to meet the necessities of the church, the Deacons shall always collect the alms at the end of service.

If any member, male or female, fall into lewdness, such shall be under censure of the consistory until they promise and give evidence of amendment.

The office and duty of the Minister shall be to preach the pure doctrine of the Reformed Church according to God’s Word, and to administer the Seals of the Covenant at the proper time and place, to adhere strictly to the Confession of Faith of the Reformed Church, to explain in order the Heidelberg Catechism, and to catechize, and with the Elders to exercise discipline. He shall not, without necessity, omit to hold service at the prescribed time and place at Falkner’s Swamp, Skippack, and White Marsh.

A consistory shall be held at least every half-year, and the Minister shall record all ecclesiastical proceedings in a book.

And if he should be inclined to go away, whether because called elsewhere or for other lawful reasons, he shall as soon as practicable give the congregations {27} notice, so that they may not be left in distress, but may seasonably provide another suitable man. The Minister, also, shall in all other things bear himself as becomes a true servant of Christ, under Him the Great Shepherd of the sheep.

The Minister, Elders, and Deacons shall maintain a careful oversight of the congregation, and shall appear at the appointed time and place to hold consistory, nor omit the same without ample cause. They shall, to the best of their ability, faithfully execute the foregoing orders, each according to his office. Whoever knows of any offense committed by one of the consistory, or by any other member, shall feel bound in conscience to make it known, not through malice or hatred, but to remove scandal. The accused person shall not demand the name of his accuser, nor obstinately deny his proved faults, nor wickedly continue therein; such as do so shall be disowned as members of the congregation till they promise and show amendment of life.

And if any one allege anything against the doctrine or life of the minister, or of any member of consistory, or of any other member, they shall abstain from everything injurious or slanderous, and not avenge themselves, but refer the matter to the consistory, who shall be bound to use all diligence to remove such scandal.[3] {28}

[1] Quoted from J. H. Dubbs. op. cit., pp. 267-270.

[2] The custom of having witnesses (sponsors) at baptism was common until a comparatively recent date, but has now become unusual. At present, even when sponsors are admitted, parents are required personally to assume the baptismal vows in behalf of their children. In early days there were sometimes as many as five sponsors at a single baptism, and their names were duly entered on the records of the church. At a later date the number was limited by custom to a single pair. Conscientious sponsors were careful to see to it that those for whom they had become sureties were faithfully instructed and prepared for confirmation and the holy communion; and instances were not rare when children, on the death of their parents, were adopted by their godparents.

[3] Editor’s note: Dubbs leaves out the section on Adherence to this Constitution-the section which dates it to 1728 and 1729 and which includes adherence to “the Heidelberg Catechism, all the Formulas of Unity and the Synod of Dort. . . . . . See Minutes and Letters of the Coetus of Pennsylvania, p. 52. Cf. also a footnote on page 49 which reports a verbatim copy made by Boehm himself and dated March 18, 1744-some two years before Schlatter was sent over.

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