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Monday, November 15, 2010

Model for Church Government

One of the pastors in the Czech Republic asked me why the Missouri Synod called its bishop "president." The assumption was that a conservative church body would use traditional language. I explained some of the history of the Missouri Synod and Bishop Stephen, etc. And that seem to help in the understanding.

However, I was recently struck by a Herman Sasse quote -- where he says in Europe, church government is modeled after the State. In America, church government is modeled after the corporation or business. This is an interesting observation. The church is always at tension in this world and will pick up characteristics from one thing or another. Historically in Europe it was from the government while in America it was business.

Here is the Sasse Quote:

"The church administration in Europe follows the patterns of the administration of the state, while in American the great business organizations seem to be unknowingly imitated by the churches. The consequence is that also the parish minister becomes more and more of an administrator and organizer who rushes from meeting to meeting and has not enough time for his proper calling as a shepherd."

 -- Hermann Sasse


  1. Sasse was a smart one. Acting like a corporation puts the church into dangerous territory, and even if that weren't true, I'd object on the grounds that I hate corporate-speak.

    However, it's interesting to think what church governance would look like if modeled after the U.S. government.

  2. "In America, church government is modeled after the corporation or business."

    This may be seem so today, and especially for the Missouri Synod, over the past administration. But that has not always been the Lutheran case, as indicated by the following:

    "We read among other things in the Evangelienharmonie of Martin Chemnitz, Polykarp Leyser, and John Gerhard:

    'Christ bequeathed the keys of the kingdom of heaven to the church, Matt. 18:18. In this matter we pay no attention to the ridicule and scorn of those who cry: "With you therefore also cobblers and tailors, all cooks and tradesmen have the power of the keys, and so you build Babel itself and introduce complete confusion!" I answer: Who will deny that in a case of necessity every believer can baptize another believer, teach him, absolve sin, and thus as it were open for him entrance to the celestial city?... Outside of a case of necessity such a thing is granted to no one if he is not a rightfully called and installed minister of the church.... Nevertheless, the right of every believer, even of the least of them remains inviolate, that he has the keys conferred by Christ. For even as all citizens of a free city of the kingdom, as many as live in the city, have common right and equal liberty, so far as the republic is concerned, and as they nevertheless for the sake of good order elect senators, and place a mayor over them to whom they deliver the keys and statute of the city, in order that he may exercise them in the common name of all and govern the republic according to them, so do also the citizens of the city of God... for the sake of good order they elect certain persons to who they transfer the administration of the keys of the kingdom of heaven.' (Harm. ev. c. 85, p. 1687)

    "If we had been the first to write this [the quote from Chemnitz, et. al.], our opponents would cry 'murder' against us. They would exclaim: 'There you see how the Missourians introduce their American democratic ideas into the church's doctrine.' However, it is well known that neither Chemnitz, nor Leyser, nor Gerhard were Americans or democrats. Nevertheless, the church is here likened to a free republic, in which all power of state, all office and titles originally, so far as their root is concerned, rest in all citizens, none of whom can, however, make himself president, or mayor or senator, but whom the citizens through free election clothe with these powers, offices and titles which originally rest in them. Thus, the Evangelienharmonie wants to say, it is also with the church." - The first President of the Missouri Synod, C. F. W. Walther, Der Lutheraner, Vol. 17:8, November 27, 1860, pp. 57-60, trans. by Fred Kramer, in The Congregation's Right To Choose Its Pastor, CTS, 1997, pp. 57-58.