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Polity, Ecclesiastical.

1. Principles, form, or constitution for ch. organization, administration, and discipline.* The local ch., the cong. of believers locally circumscribed, is the seat of authority; e.g., it was the business of the cong. at Colossae to provide for ample preaching (Cl 3:16) and to admonish Archippus to be faithful (Cl 4:17); the admonitions of Rv 2–3 are addressed to local chs.; the various chs. in Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia were asked to give toward the collection for needy (1 Co 16:1; 2 Co 8–9). There were elders or bps. (overseers) in the early ch.; at the election of Matthias (Acts 1) the whole cong. selected the candidates, and choice was made by lot; in Acts 6 the cong. elected 7 deacons; of Acts 20:28.

2. Ecclesiastical polity deals also with relations bet. congs. At first the apostles were the main external bond; the apostolate was undivided; every apostle belonged to each cong. Communication and common concerns helped knit the congs. together; cf. Acts 11:19–30; 15; 18:27; Ro 16:5; 2 Co 3:1; 8:19, 23.

3. Outward organization was gradually effected. Congs. united into dioceses,* dioceses grouped together under metropolitans.* This process of pyramiding centralization led finally to the papacy with its unwarranted claims of power and authority. The other extreme, that of complete fragmentation into cong. units, should also be avoided. Eph 4:3–6 indicates assoc. of those who are one in faith, e.g., in syns. that are not legislative but advisory in relation to mem. congs.; valid acts of any cong. should be honored by all others; erring congs. should be properly dealt with by other congs., within the syn. framework (1 Co 12:25–26).

4. The cong. system is different from others, e.g., papal, presb., and episc. see also Collegialism; Territorial System. Most syns. in Am. have the cong. system, in which, e.g., also the right to call, elect, and install ministers, teachers, and ch. officers rests with the local ch. See also Authority; Keys, Office of the; Lutheran Congregation.

5. On the monarchical, or papal, system see Bishop, 1–3, 5, 11; Hierarchy.

6. In the episc. system, bps. are regarded as successors of the apostles. Apostolic* succession is held in Anglicanism (esp. the High* Ch.), RCm, and others on the unwarranted assumption that episcopal consecration can he traced unbroken to the apostles. See also Episcopacy.

7. In the presb. system, ch. govt. is exercised by presbyters, or elders,* elected by the people. The Gen. Assem. covers the nation; the Syn. covers the state; the presbytery* covers the next division of territory assigned to it; the session* deals with the local cong.

See also Theology.

W. Elert, “Kirchenverfassung,” Morphologic des Luthertums, I (Munich, 1931; improved print., 1952), 320–335, tr. W. A. Hansen, “Church Government,” The Structure of Lutheranism, I (St. Louis, 1962), 367–385; C. S. Mundinger, Government in the Missouri Synod (St. Louis, 1947); J. L. Neve, Die Freikirche im Vergleich mit der Staatskirche (Burlington, Iowa, n. d.), tr. C. E. Hay, The Free Church System Compared with the German State Church (Burlington, Iowa, 1903); J. L. Schaver, The Polity of the Churches (Chicago, 1947); Episcopacy Ancient and Modern, ed. C. Jenkins and K. D. Mackenzie (London, 1930); A. Brunn, The Polity of a Lutheran Congregation (St. Louis, 1940).


Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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