What is the purpose of church by-laws (bylaws)?

Question: “What is the purpose of church by-laws (bylaws)?”

Most churches have a doctrinal statement, a document which condenses and systematizes the church’s tenets of faith. A doctrinal statement is valuable in ensuring conformity to the Word of God and preventing the church from being “tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). In addition to the articles of faith, most churches also have a set of by-laws (or bylaws), sometimes called rules of order or a constitution. There are several practical reasons to have bylaws.

First, to promote efficiency, a church must have some type of organization. By-laws specify a church’s governing structure; define the roles of pastor, elder, deacon, and other leaders; and stipulate the requirements for membership. In other words, bylaws allow “all things [to] be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).

Second, to provide direction, a church needs to articulate its mission and methodology. The by-laws of a church are useful in setting parameters for fund raising, outreach, ordination, expenditures, and missionary support.

Third, to preserve unity and maintain its testimony, a church should agree on certain issues of Christian living and separation. A “gray area” which the Bible does not specifically address may be covered in a by-law. For example, a church may require its members to refrain from the consumption of alcohol; since this is not a doctrinal issue, per se, it is better dealt with in the by-laws.

Fourth, to protect itself from liability, a church should have written policies on church discipline, screening youth workers, etc. By-laws can be a way of averting calamity in a crisis situation.

Recommended Resource: Who Runs the Church? 4 Views on Church Government ny Paul E. Engle & Steven B. Cowan.

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