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Huh? Say what?


As I have talked of before, this discussion of ecclesiology (the Church being the Church) can seem mundane and boring.  It sounds like discussion for folks way over the pay grade of the person in the pew or of the parish pastor.  There is much history (and histrionics), some large theological words that one needs a dictionary to define – and then still may not understand, and when it comes down to it for most people, does it really matter?

I contend that it matters and matters deeply.  Because many of the decisions made in congregations and in denominations are made according to how we are ordered, or how we go about being in community together.  For example, in 1988 the American Lutheran Church, The Lutheran Church in America, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches merged to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

All Lutheran bodies, all confess the creeds of the Church, the Small and Large Catechism, the Augsburg Confession, Scripture, Sacraments.  On paper, this looks like an easy thing – we agree, let’s get together.  However, it is much more tricky than that – while the core beliefs of each group were the same, the ecclesiology of each group was drastically different.

* Where is authority held within the structure?  Does authority lie in the congregation or with the Bishops office.

* Do we have a Bishop in the history of the Magisterium or do we have a District/Synod President?

* Do we have districts or synods?

* Who makes decisions? Bishops/Presidents, Legislative bodies, congregations?

I know, most of this doesn’t seem to matter even when it’s laid out for us.  So, let’s break it down even further.  Let’s look at this from the smallest of all systems, a family.   When a couple is going to get married, they are coming together from two different backgrounds.  They love one another, they have learned about one another – backgrounds, one another’s families, seen one another’s home towns, maybe even know some of the stories of past loves and heart breaks.  They come in and take an inventory, to all of their pre marital counseling, plan the ceremony, and have a wedding that makes the royal family green with envy.  Everyone says, it’s a match made in heaven.

But those of us who have been in families know that all of that is for naught when it comes time to plan vacations, plan on whose family do we visit at which holiday, are we a cash only or a credit card family, do we pay our credit card at the end of each month or are we ok letting some debt float? How many kids do we want to have? How about girls night out or guys night out?  And what about sexuality, is every February 29th enough, or should it be twice a day/every day? Not only do we have the questions, but who and how do we make these decisions?  Is it a democracy? Is it a matriarchy? Is it a patriarchy? Is it some sort of hybrid combination? These are some of the questions I encourage couple to think about during pre-marital counseling, because many times these are areas where tensions arise.

In the words of a professor I had in seminary, “We left way too many questions with answers of we will work it out as we go along.”  Part of what the denomination I serve in has struggled with since the merger are issues of ecclesiology, of system, of how we do what we do.  There has been compromise and a lack of explanation and I believe a serious lack of theological heavy lifting done to help define these issues, and so here we sit – congregations leaving, congregations unsure, structural instability, and an echo of a lament I have heard since 1988 – “There is a disconnect between the people in the pew, the Synod Office, and the Churchwide Structure.”

I was ordained in 1993, my seminary class was the first class to come through the process post merger, and I still get asked once every few months, “Pastor, what’s a synod and what does it do?”   Serious work needs to be done on basic system issues, whether it’s the ELCA, LCMC, NALC, LCMS, ECUSA, PCUSA, PCA, SBC, UMC, RCC, or any other alphabet soup structure that proclaims Christ and him Crucified.



2 Comments leave one →
  1. 1August2011 11:31

    Might we then ask whether our thrust toward a corporate and more organized ecclesiology restricts the work of the Holy Spirit to the cognition of the human?

  2. 1August2011 13:48

    I think that is a very good question. However, I am not sure if there are any much more organized than either the Roman Catholics or the Orthodox and they seem to have a fairly decent Spirit movement within their various orders.

    Granted, it may not be a full blown gale, but in some corners of their communities there is a strong breeze Spirit breeze blowing. What do others think?


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