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The Church

—is not three 'expressions'

by John Beem (Chair, WordAlone Network)

News: July 5, 2006

The WordAlone Network takes issue with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America constitutional proviso by-law that this church is one that has three primary expressions--churchwide, synod and congregation. WordAlone stands on the same conviction as the Augsburg Confession--the church is where the believers are gathered by the Holy Spirit to hear the Word and receive the sacraments. photo of John BeemWe see the role of synod and churchwide offices as servants, who would assist congregations in their ministries. We do not see churchwide as the "public church" leading the rest of us, which is how some ELCA leaders view their roles.

WordAlone's view has a host of implications that could well serve the ELCA.

For example, synods would assist congregations in the call process, not control them. (Take note, call committees, of a guide for call committees found on the WordAlone web site.) Such a posture by synods would alleviate much of the tension that exists between synods and congregations. It would also empower congregational leadership. Leadership development is one of the ELCA's five strategic priorities and the ELCA council has committed more than $2 million to it. Most of it was designated for multicultural leadership development, according to an ELCA news release last February.

But, it's not just the churchwide organization and synods that need the Servant's heart. Churches can serve each other. Many congregations in given locales have members who are gifted at such things as Biblical stewardship, evangelism, teacher training and much more. Others have developed confirmation programs that work. Why not encourage them to link with each other through Lutheran Churches of the Common Confession. This would lift up local leadership and save significant dollars and personnel needs on both synod and churchwide levels. Furthermore, "parachurch" groups have made available excellent resources in a wide variety of areas that are of value to churches. Money saved could well enhance the mission outreach of the denomination in such areas as global missions, home mission developments and reducing the cost of seminary education.

The challenge is to return the ELCA to our Lutheran Confessions, which saw the church as expressed in the fellowship where the Gospel is preached and the sacraments administered rightly. The synods and churchwide organization must be seen for what they are: administrative levels of a manmade denomination. The universal Church is a fellowship of believers.