Ecclesiology. It means words about the ecclesia which is a group of people – in ancient Greece, it was about civics and politics, a group of citizens – and it is a word that has come to be used in the Church to describe the people of God and how they are Church and how we relate to each other and to other groups of Christians. As we believe there is only one Church (holy, catholic, and apostolic) so ecclesiology talks about the theology and practice of being the people of God here on Earth. I mention it because that is the issue behind our forthcom-ing Synod.
We like order and structure and most of us have grown up in a congregation so we have a bit of an idea of how Church ‘works’ and I expect that what we’ve grown up with is our ‘default’ position about how congregations should behave and how synods should work. But the Bible doesn’t give a great deal of detail how about how the Church should be structured or organised. It seems to me that there are three ‘components’ to our understanding of Church. There is Jesus, there are the people of God, and there are the pastors. (If we go back to Jesus’ time, there was Jesus, the Twelve, and the other followers of Jesus.) So the question becomes, ‘how do these components relate to each other?’.
Scanning the history of the Church and how it is organised there seem to be two main ways, two hierarchies, that have happened. Jesus is at ‘the top’ in both! He is the Lord of the Church and he then sets up either the Ministry out of which comes the People of God (the Church) or Jesus sets up the Church and they choose some of their own to be the clergy and do particular things. These hierarchies reveal the authority structures in these denominations. We can see the Roman Catholic Church or the Baptist Church pretty clearly in these struc-tures.
However when you look at Lutheran Churches around the world you will find aspects of both structures! That is because the Lutheran Reformers came to see ecclesiology wasn’t so much a hierarchy as a relationship of mutual service. So Jesus institutes the Office of the Ministry and people are called to serve through the Church (but the Ministry doesn’t come from the Church). And Jesus is the Head of his Body, the Church (which doesn’t ‘come out’ of the Ministry). Both Ministry and Church have Jesus as Lord and neither can exist without the other and Jesus calls them to mutually support each other and work together – to the glory of God and for the good of the world.
This means that Lutheran Churches can choose the organisational structures that best relate the three components together for their time and place. The ELCE is a fascinating little church because it is ‘multi-Lutheran’ with so many ecclesial backgrounds among its members and pastors. As we continue with our restructure we need to think about how best we should be organised so that congregations are the Body of Christ and always look to Jesus as Head of the Church and so that the Office of the Ministry can speak and serve in Jesus’ name. Ec-clesiology is always a fascinating discussion to have!
Please pray for our forthcoming Synod! – GS