The Constitution of West Suffolk Baptist Church
We, the present membership of West Suffolk Baptist Church, do hereby establish, adopt, and maintain the following articles as the constitution to which we, and all subsequent members, do voluntarily covenant to submit ourselves.
Article 1: Name
The name of this local assembly shall be West Suffolk Baptist Church. This name reflects both the physical and the spiritual geography of the congregation: we have been positioned by the grace of God as a Christian congregation in the western environs of the city of Suffolk, Virginia; moreover, by God’s grace, we have been made enthusiastic partakers of that faith once for all delivered to the saints, embraced in that historic orthodox confessional witness – the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith. Through this name we declare our commitment to maintain and promote our spiritual heritage in that corner of Christ’s kingdom where we have been sovereignly planted.
Article 2: Purpose
The purpose of West Suffolk Baptist Church, in love and obedience to her Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is to worship the triune God in spirit and in truth by continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, scripturally observing the ordinances, and in prayers. To this end, we purpose to assemble ourselves together so that the saints might be perfected for the work of ministry and that through this ministry the elect might be saved. It is our goal that the membership of this church, both individually and collectively, through a proper exercise of spiritual gifts sovereignly bestowed at regeneration, be built up in the unity of the faith unto godliness, speaking the truth in love. This aim, properly pursued, will result in each member, by good works, glorifying the Father who is in heaven.
Article 3: Membership
A. Qualifications: The membership of West Suffolk Baptist Church shall consist of born-again believers who:
1. Have publicly confessed that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior through the ordinance of water baptism. It is the doctrinal conviction of West Suffolk Baptist Church that baptism is
a) an ordinance of the church, is
b) for believers only, and
c) that the biblical mode of baptism is immersion in water.
2. Present a signed application for membership to the elders using the official membership application of West Suffolk Baptist Church.
3. Be presented to the congregation during a Lord’s Day meeting as candidates for membership. This provides the congregation an opportunity to be prayerfully and lovingly involved in the membership process.
4. Be unanimously approved by the elders after assessment as to their Christian doctrine and life (and, if coming from a church of like faith and order, as to a letter of recommendation or an approving answer to a letter of inquiry into their standing with that church).
5. Be officially presented to the congregation in a Lord’s Day meeting following approval by the elders. Those presented as candidates will be received into the ranks of membership with a vote of at least 3/4 of the eligible voting membership present. The congregation, through the symbolism of “the right hand of Christian fellowship,” will then personally recognize new members.
B. Duties: According to the grace given by our Redeemer, every member of West Suffolk Baptist Church is expected to:
1. Be in cheerful submission to the doctrinal position of the church and the elders as those elders carry out the functions of their office “in the Lord.”
2. Be faithful in all duties essential to the Christian life.
3. Attend the stated meetings of the congregation unless temporarily and/or geographically separated from the church by divine providence.
4. Give cheerfully and regularly to the church of their time, talents, and finances, as God providentially enables for its support and its causes.
5. Share in the church’s organized work and responsibilities with Spirit-wrought conviction, enablement, and faithfulness.
1. All members shall share equally in the spiritual rights and privileges of union with the congregation, but not all have equal God-appointed functions, gifts, and responsibilities.
2. Those voting in any congregational gathering during which decisions are being prayerfully made shall be at least 18 years of age.
3. Members who are providentially hindered from being present at a congregational meeting are eligible to vote in advance on publicized issues by presenting a signed ballot to an elder and will be considered present for the purposes of such vote.
1. The primary purpose of church discipline is to restore the erring believer to fellowship and willful obedience to the Word of God in order that the restored believer might afterward experience the peaceable fruit of righteousness and that Christ might be glorified by a godly manner of life.
2. Should a member become an offense to the church and thus to Christ, the head of the church, by reason of immoral or unchristian conduct (as defined by Scripture), by persistent breach of covenant vows (i.e., failing to fulfill the duties of membership as outlined above in Article 2, paragraph B), or comes into irreconcilable disagreement with the congregation’s statement of faith, one or more of the following disciplinary steps will be prayerfully taken, in order, and under the oversight of the elders:
a. Private rebuke of the member.
b. Rebuke of the member in the presence of two or three witnesses. This is the first disciplinary step for an elder, for an elder must not be accused except before two or three witnesses.
c. Public rebuke by the elders of the member before the congregation.
d. Official exclusion by the congregation of the member from the Lord’s Table and the public exercise of spiritual gifts and responsibilities in the congregation, including his/her voting privileges.
e. Official excommunication from the fellowship of the congregation by the elders in conjunction with the entire congregation, but only after two official admonitions before the congregation. This measure will be taken by vote of the eligible membership present during a specially called conference. This is the congregation’s final resort when faced with persistent ungodliness and/or heresy. The congregation will be publicly instructed to refrain from relating to him/her as a brother/sister in Christ unless repentance is forthcoming.
f. Any member who has been excommunicated from fellowship/membership in the congregation may be restored during a called conference upon unanimous approval of the elders and at least a vote of the eligible voting membership present, after showing the fruits of repentance.
(Note: We recognize that sincerely held doctrinal differences could evolve that would lead some members to separate from us on those grounds. Those cases are not ordinarily subject to church discipline, provided such members communicate those issues to the elders, are considered to be acting in good faith, and do not seek to sow discord among the brethren remaining).
E. Termination of Membership:
1. Membership status shall be terminated whenever a member no longer fulfills the duties of membership (see Article 3, paragraph B above). Except for death or disciplinary dismissal, the termination of membership will be officially announced at a regularly scheduled meeting. Cessation of membership in West Suffolk Baptist Church will result from:
a. Physical death.
b. Voluntary termination to become a member of another congregation.
c. Permanent geographic relocation.
d. Disciplinary termination.
(Note: Disciplinary termination does not necessarily mean that such a person is a stranger to the saving grace of God, but should serve as a most solemn admonition for that one to examine himself/herself to discover whether he/she be in the Faith or a reprobate, especially if dismissed for rebellious persistence in offending and disrupting the church).
2. Termination of membership will be officially noted in the minutes of the applicable congregational gathering of the church. In the case of disciplinary termination, a letter of dismissal will be written by the elders and sent to the dismissed party, stating the circumstances and the biblical grounds for termination.
Article 4: Doctrine and Life
The mainstream of true Baptist life in the English-speaking world has been historically manifested in churches rather than in social institutions. Genuine Baptist doctrinal heritage has been preserved in the statements of these churches, both independently and in associations. This mainstream of Baptist life has been solidly identified with an unwavering commitment to the conviction that God is sovereign in all things, most especially salvation. This commitment to what is commonly referenced as the “doctrines of grace” is reflected in such historically significant statements as the First London Confession (1644), the Second London Confession (1689), and the Philadelphia Confession (1742). The churches thus identified were known as PARTICULAR BAPTIST CHURCHES, both in England and in America. West Suffolk Baptist Church seeks to take her place within this grand doctrinal and ecclesiastical tradition by affirming completely and unreservedly the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith as her official congregational confession.
A. Non-Central Doctrine: All Scriptural truth is important and essential for doctrine and life; yet, not all truth is central. Therefore, exceptions may be granted on doctrines determined to be non-central by the discernment and unanimous approval of the elders.
B. Members’ Doctrinal Submission: Given that doctrinal unity is a matter of supreme importance to the writers of Scripture, the elders of West Suffolk Baptist Church, who are charged by God with the spiritual oversight and building up of the church, will determine, on an individual basis, what liberty may be granted to a member’s doctrinal views that are not in harmony with this constitution/statement of faith and not central, although important, to the Christian faith. Diversity in matters of doctrine is not a right of membership; it is a potential threat to the health of the congregation, especially in the area of the “fundamentals” of the Faith.
C. Statement Regarding Eschatology (The Doctrine of Last Things). Eschatology has been a source of great confusion and division in the history of the Church. Many have elevated eschatology above all other doctrinal issues and, by so doing, have done great damage to themselves and the Church. While not diminishing the significance of the study of last things within the scope of the whole counsel of God, West Suffolk Baptist Church has made the conscious decision to focus upon those elements of biblical eschatology which have been beyond dispute within the history of the orthodox Church: the bodily return of the Lord Jesus Christ followed by the universal resurrection of the dead and the judgment of all mankind. This is consistent with other historic Baptist confessions, such as the First London Confession (1644), the Second London Confession (1689), and The Baptist Faith and Message (1963). Therefore, convictions regarding secondary (although significant) issues of eschatology such as the “Rapture,” various tribulation views, or the nature of the millennium will not be considered a hindrance to membership, a test of fellowship, or grounds for discipline.
Article 5: Congregational Organization
A. General. West Suffolk Baptist Church is an autonomous – that is, self-governing – body of born again believers in covenant union with the Lord Jesus Christ, each one having been spiritually baptized into His Body, the Church, with the Holy Spirit in the new birth.
B. Biblical Organization. Scripture prescribes only two offices of the church, elders and deacons. To assist them in the performance of their duties, West Suffolk Baptist Church recognizes the administrative positions of clerk, financial secretary, and treasurer. Those positions may only be filled by members of West Suffolk Baptist Church.
1. Elders – under-shepherds and overseers. The office and qualifications of elders are described in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
a. Composition of the Elder Body – The elder body shall be comprised of not less than three men, if available, who shall satisfy the biblical qualifications for the office of elder. No elder shall hold the office of deacon during his tenure.
b. Election – The church shall recognize men gifted and willing to serve in this office through the following process: elders shall be unanimously recommended by the other elder(s) and approved by a vote of the voting membership present at a normally publicized congregational meeting. Those approved as elders shall be received as gifts of Christ to His church and shall be publicly set apart, (unless previously ordained), to fulfill the duties of the office indefinitely.
c. Duties – The elders shall oversee the ministry and resources of the church. In addition to the weekly duties of preaching and teaching God’s Word, they shall, assisted by the deacons, administer the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, supervise the processes of congregational discipline, and lead the church in worship. Additionally, they may:
1) Establish ministry positions or committees to assist them in fulfilling their responsibilities.
2) Propose funding for new paid staff positions, which the membership must approve.
3) Function as a Pastoral Search Committee – In the event that West Suffolk Baptist Church finds herself without the service of a primary teaching elder due to death, dismissal, or resignation, the remaining elders will constitute the search committee.
d. Removal – Men so ordained will normally serve until their
1) physical death,
2) voluntary resignation, or
3) geographical relocation.
Note: They may also be removed for disciplinary reasons upon the unanimous recommendation of the other elders and a vote of the membership present for such deliberation.
2. Deacons – officially recognized servants in the local church.
a. Duties – The office and qualifications of deacon are described in 1 Timothy 3.8-13 and Acts 6.1-7. Their duties, under the oversight of the elders, are:
1) To minister to the outward needs of the membership of the congregation, showing mercy with cheerfulness to those in special need.
2) To care for the material interests of the church; such as buildings and grounds, and to recommend action to the elders pertaining to those interests when necessary.
3) To assist in the collection and recording of church offerings.
4) To foster and safeguard the spiritual unity and growth of the church as enabled by the Holy Spirit.
5) To assist the elders in the administration of church ordinances.
b. Selection and Election – Deacons shall be recognized by the elders, other deacons, and the congregation as possessing the spiritual gifts of ministering and helps, after which.
(a) They shall be approved and recommended unanimously by the elders and approved by a vote of the voting membership present at a duly called meeting.
(b) They shall be publicly ordained, unless previously ordained, to fulfill the duties of their office indefinitely and shall be removed from office by death, voluntary resignation, geographic relocation, or disciplinary action.
C. Administrative Organization. West Suffolk Baptist Church shall recognize the following administrative positions:
1. Clerk. It shall be the duty of the clerk to record the minutes of all regular and special congregational meetings of the church, to preserve an accurate roll of the membership, and to render reports as requested by the elders, deacons, or the church. The clerk shall be appointed by the elders. In the absence or incapacity of the clerk the elders shall appoint a member to perform the duties of the church clerk.
2. Treasurer. The treasurer shall ensure that all church funds are properly secured in such banks, financial institutions, or depositories as appropriate. The treasurer shall also be responsible for presenting regular reports of the account balances, revenues and expenses of the church at each congregational meeting. This responsibility may be delegated with the approval of the elders. The treasurer shall also ensure that full and accurate accounts of receipts and disbursements are kept in books belonging to the church, and that adequate controls are implemented to guarantee that all funds belonging to the church are appropriately handled by any officer, employee, or agent of the church. The treasurer shall render annually to the elders an account of all transactions as treasurer and of the financial condition of the church. The treasurer shall himself be an elder.
3. Financial Secretary. The financial secretary shall assist the treasurer in the weekly disposal of church funds. The treasurer, in collaboration with the other elders, shall appoint his financial secretary. The parameters of the financial secretary’s role shall be defined by the treasurer in collaboration with the other elders.
4. Trustees. The congregation shall appoint and maintain a body of trustees in accordance with the statutes and regulations of the city of Suffolk and the Commonwealth of Virginia for the purpose of representing the congregation in civil affairs.
Article 6: Congregational Meetings
A. General. Congregational meetings are elder-led forums called to address issues that pertain to the spiritual and material needs of the congregation. In meeting together, members shall act in that spirit of mutual trust, openness, and loving consideration as is appropriate for members of the Body of Christ.
1. Any matter requiring a vote will be approved by a simple majority vote, fifty-one percent (51%) of the voting membership present at the meeting – except where this constitution requires otherwise.
2. All church meetings shall be moderated by an elder.
3. No congregational meeting shall be conducted without an elder present.
B. Annual Meetings. The congregation shall conduct at least one congregational meeting annually, at which the elders will present the church budget, recommendations for new or on-going ministry support, and report on the overall state of the church.
C. Special Meetings. Upon approval from the elders, special meetings may be called for any specific purpose. These meetings are to be publicized on two successive Lord’s Day meetings prior the date of the special meeting and shall address only the matter(s) for which they have been called.
D. Quorum. Thirty-five percent (35%) of the voting membership shall constitute a quorum for the purposes of conducting congregational business.
E. Rules of Conduct. Except where it is contrary to this constitution, ROBERT’S RULES OF ORDER shall govern the conduct of any congregational meeting.
Article 7: Amendments
This constitution may be amended or repealed, or a new constitution may be made and adopted, upon recommendation of the elders, by the vote of the voting membership present, or by written proxy, at the meeting. If the proposed amendment receives a positive vote of the voting membership present, or by written proxy, at one congregational meeting, then the potential amendment is forwarded to the next scheduled meeting. If it receives the necessary votes at that meeting, then it immediately goes into effect. Amendments must be publicized for at least two weeks prior to the meeting(s) at which they will be considered.
Article 8: A Statement Concerning Legal Action
In accordance with the command of our Lord, given to us by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, no member shall take any legal action against West Suffolk Baptist Church or her leadership for her counsel, practices, ordinances, doctrine, or disciplinary measures.
Article 9: Dissolution Clause
In the case of the dissolution of West Suffolk Baptist Church, which may be accomplished through action conducted at a quarterly or special congregational meeting, any and all property and assets belonging to this church shall be given, granted, and conveyed to a tax exempt purpose/agency (lawfully recognized), according to the will of a majority of the voting membership.
West Suffolk Baptist Church Covenant
Having, as we trust, been brought by Divine Grace to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to give up ourselves to Him, and having been baptized upon our profession of faith, we, assembled together as West Suffolk Baptist Church, do now solemnly and joyfully establish our covenant with each other.
We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of the Body of Christ; exercising an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonishing and entreating one another as occasion may require.
We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor neglect to pray for others and ourselves.
We will endeavor to bring up as many as may be under our care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and loving example to seek the salvation of our family and friends.
We will rejoice at each other’s happiness, and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows.
We will seek, by Divine aid, to live carefully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and remembering that, as we have been symbolically buried by baptism and raised again from the grave, so there is now on us a special obligation to walk in purity and newness of life.
We will work together for the continuance of a faithful evangelical ministry within this congregation, as we sustain her worship, her ordinances, her disciplines, and her doctrines. We will contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of our poor brethren, and the spread of the Gospel through all the nations.
We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, both now and forevermore. Amen.
(Updated to include revisions of form, December, 2016)