“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17
I’ve spent my adult years in Lutheran denominations with a congregational polity – first the Missouri Synod, now the AFLC (Association of Free Lutheran Churches). What does this mean? Well, it means that the congregation, and therefore, the laity have a crucial role to play. They own their church building; they call their pastor; higher church officials cannot dictate how they must organize or conduct the congregation’s business.
According to the AFLC:
“Each local congregation should be free and living, subject only to the Word and Spirit of God.”
The Association is not a Synod and does not have the authority to bind the conscience of the local congregation to particular positions. They do not assess local congregations in order to obtain funding. The purpose of the Association is to do the tasks together that cannot be done by one congregation alone: send missionaries, publish Lutheran materials, support mission congregations, educate pastors, and so on. For each purpose, separate corporations have been formed, and every corporation must have more lay members than pastors.
To be a member of the AFLC, the congregation simply agrees that they accept the Augsburg Confession, The Small Catechism and the inerrancy of Scripture. When our congregation voted to join the Association, we had a visit from Pastor Bob Lee, who was then the President. Many questions were raised, such as:
Can women be Elders?
Can we hire a youth leader who is not a Lutheran?
Can lay people take communion to shut-ins?
The answer to virtually every question was, “It’s up to you.” This was a surprise to many.
Of course, with this freedom comes responsibility. The laity must be well grounded in Scripture in order to make appropriate decisions. They must prayerfully consider issues facing their congregation and be willing to make personal sacrifices when necessary. A congregational mindset fosters the understanding that the congregation is not just something we join like a club; it is who we are as the people of God.
Sometimes we don’t question the way we’re organized or do things, but we should. The framework we use affects our view of ourselves, the Church, and what it means to be a Christian. It comes back to the question I raised in an earlier post. Do you want to be an adult Christian, taking personal responsibility for growing in your knowledge of Christ and in service to others? Are you part of the “priesthood of all believers” or just a consumer of Christian services?
I’m not saying other ways of organizing are wrong. God can use all sorts of tools to grow His church; but being part of a congregational church body has worked for me. It’s my framework and within it, I’ve learned to thrive. Readers and authors, do you have a different experience/opinion? I’d like to hear more.