Over the last month or so we have been examing a few words that are regularly found and heard in our Seminary environment. We have looked at “isagogics”, “exegesis”, and “homiletics”. Today we want to consider the word “polity”, as in “church polity”, another of the courses taught in the area of Practical Theology by Prof.B.Gritters.
If the word “polity” sounds a lot like “politics”, you are correct in your association, because they both have the same root – the Greek word for city (polis) and citizen (polites). And there are other English words that derive from this: police, polite, and of course, politician and political. If you look up this word in the dictionary, this is what you find for definition and origin:
World English Dictionary
polity (ˈpɒlɪtɪ) — n , pl -ties 1. a form of government or organization of a state, church, society, etc; constitution 2. a politically organized society, state, city, etc 3. the management of public or civil affairs 4. political organization [C16: from Latin polītīa, from Greek politeia citizenship, civil administration, from politēs citizen, from polis city]
Now, of course, we despise church politics, by which we would mean using worldly craft and power to attain one’s goals in the spiritual city of God. We don’t want our pastors, professors, elders or deacons – or any citizen of God’s city for that matter – resorting to this kind of “polity”.
But we do want them to follow Christ’s polity for God’s holy city, which is nothing else but the rules He has ordained and revealed to us in His Word for how His church ought to be managed. The Head of the church (or the King of God’s city) has given us the principles and regulations by which His body (or city) ought to be organized and governed. And the study of these principles and regulations is called “church polity”.
And so, in our Seminary catalog you will find this description of the course known as “church polity” (course # 413 & 414):
A study of the biblical principles of Reformed church government relating to the institutional life of the church upon earth, and of the Church Order adopted by the Synod of Dordrecht and used in the Protestant Reformed Churches in America.
Yes, church polity is about how we all – officebearers (sub-rulers in God’s city) and citizens – behave in the house of God (cf. I Tim.3:15). Do you know how to? If you want to learn more, study the Word of God - and our Church Order! You might also be interested in these “Notes on the Church Order” by Prof.(emeritus) H.Hanko. And perhaps someday, Prof.Gritters will invite you to his Seminary course :)