The Presbyterian Church's Foundational 
Principles for Governance
Chapter 8 - Reform by Amendment

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seeks to be faithful to the Lordship of Christ and to its historic tradition of the Church reformed, always being reformed, by the Spirit of God. In this faith, amendment procedures follow specific procedures to assure that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) remains faithful to its call, and that the voices of its various constituencies can be heard and considered. These procedures are understood as a means to faithfulness as God breaks forth yet more light from God’s Word.


The 211th General Assembly (1999) received a report of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution submitted to fulfill the referral of the 205th General Assembly (1993) to attempt a re-drafting of the Form of Government that would isolate Foundational Principles from policies and manual of operations material. The Advisory Committee on the Constitution was relieved of further responsibility for that effort with the exception of a request to present material determined to be foundational to our understanding of governance in a form that could be used for study by the church.

The report, "The Nature of the Church and the Practice of Governance," from which this process began, spelled out the reason why a description of foundational material was needed by the church. They said:

. . . we [have come] to . . . a consensus around certain things: . . .

  • People of genuine faith in the PC(USA) (sic) have very different perceptions about the present, the past, and the future. . . .
  • Distinct characteristics about how Presbyterians have understood faith and order can be found in the current Book of Order, but the Book of Order cannot be the primary unifying document for our denomination in either its practice or its theory.
  • Lack of understanding of Presbyterianism — historically and currently — promotes dependence on . . . delegation of authority . . . and accentuates the Book of Order as a way to develop uniformity when no other uniformity exists. (Minutes, 1993, Part I, p. 358, paragraph 26.028)

It is the conviction of this committee that the church will live in the future by certain basic principles: . . .

  • The Book of Order should delineate the broad principles of Presbyterian polity, rather than requirements that turn it into a manual of operations. . . .
  • Effective leadership in the PC(USA) (sic) must be educated and knowledgeable in Scripture, Reformed theology, church history, and Presbyterian polity. To this end, effective training programs must be prepared and offered for ministers and elders (Minutes, 1993, Part I, p. 370, paragraph 26.201)

To achieve this needed objective, the Advisory Committee on the Constitution submits to the 212th General Assembly (2000) the following statement of "The Church’s Foundational Principles of Governance." It is our hope that this statement may prove useful to officers and members of congregations and governing bodies who desire increased understanding of our Constitution. This statement is intended for study only and is not to be construed as an authoritative interpretation of the Constitution or the precise meaning of any particular provision of that Constitution