Ecclesiastical polity

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Ecclesiastical polity is the operational and governance structure of a church or of a Christian denomination. It also denotes the ministerial structure of a church and the authority relationships between churches. Polity relates closely to ecclesiology, the study of doctrine and theology relating to church organization.

Governance comprises all of the processes of governing - whether undertaken by the government of a state, by a market or by a network - over a social system and whether through the laws, norms, power or language of an organized society. It relates to "the processes of interaction and decision-making among the actors involved in a collective problem that lead to the creation, reinforcement, or reproduction of social norms and institutions". In lay terms, it could be described as the political processes that exist in and between formal institutions.

Christian denomination identifiable Christian body with common name, structure, and doctrine

A Christian denomination is a distinct religious body within Christianity, identified by traits such as a name, organization, leadership and doctrine. Individual bodies, however, may use alternative terms to describe themselves, such as church or sometimes fellowship. Divisions between one group and another are defined by authority and doctrine; issues such as the nature of Jesus, the authority of apostolic succession, eschatology, and papal primacy may separate one denomination from another. Groups of denominations—often sharing broadly similar beliefs, practices, and historical ties—are sometimes known as "branches of Christianity". These branches differ in many ways, especially through differences in practices and belief.

In Christian theology, ecclesiology is the study of the Christian Church, the origins of Christianity, its relationship to Jesus, its role in salvation, its polity, its discipline, its destiny, and its leadership.

Contents

Ecclesiastical polity is defined as both the subject of ecclesiastical government in the abstract and the particular system of government of a specific Christian organization. The phrase sometimes is used in civil law.

Civil law, or civilian law, is a legal system originating in Europe, intellectualized within the framework of Roman law, the main feature of which is that its core principles are codified into a referable system which serves as the primary source of law. This can be contrasted with common law systems, the intellectual framework of which comes from judge-made decisional law, and gives precedential authority to prior court decisions, on the principle that it is unfair to treat similar facts differently on different occasions.

History

Questions of ecclesiastical government are first documented in the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles [ citation needed ] and "theological debate about the nature, location, and exercise of authority, in the church" has been ongoing ever since. [1] The first act recorded after the Ascension of Jesus Christ was the election of Saint Matthias as one of the Twelve Apostles, to replace Judas Iscariot. The Twelve Apostles were the first to instantiate the episcopal polity of Christianity.[ citation needed ]

Acts of the Apostles Book of the New Testament

Acts of the Apostles, often referred to simply as Acts, or formally the Book of Acts, is the fifth book of the New Testament; it tells of the founding of the Christian church and the spread of its message to the Roman Empire.

Matthias was, according to the Acts of the Apostles, the apostle chosen to replace Judas Iscariot following Judas' betrayal of Jesus and his (Judas') subsequent death. His calling as an apostle is unique, in that his appointment was not made personally by Jesus, who had already ascended into heaven, and it was also made before the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the early Church.

During the Protestant Reformation, reformers asserted that the New Testament prescribed an ecclesiastical government different from the episcopal polity maintained by the Roman Catholic Church, and consequently different Protestant bodies organized into different types of polity. [1] During this period[ citation needed ] Richard Hooker wrote Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity , the first volumes of which were published in 1594, to defend the polity of the Church of England against Puritan objections. [2] It is from the title of this work that the term ecclesiastical polity may have originated.[ citation needed ] sWith respect to ecclesiology, Hooker preferred the term polity to government as the former term "containeth both [the] government and also whatsoever besides belongeth to the ordering of the Church in public." [3]

New Testament Second division of the Christian biblical canon

The New Testament is the second part of the Christian biblical canon, the first part being the Old Testament, based on the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament discusses the teachings and person of Jesus, as well as events in first-century Christianity. Christians regard both the Old and New Testaments together as sacred scripture. The New Testament has frequently accompanied the spread of Christianity around the world. It reflects and serves as a source for Christian theology and morality. Extended readings and phrases directly from the New Testament are incorporated into the various Christian liturgies. The New Testament has influenced religious, philosophical, and political movements in Christendom and left an indelible mark on literature, art, and music.

Richard Hooker English bishop and Anglican Divine

Richard Hooker was an English priest in the Church of England and an influential theologian. He was one of the most important English theologians of the sixteenth century. His defence of the role of redeemed reason informed the theology of the seventeenth century Caroline Divines and later provided many members of the Church of England with a theological method which combined the claims of revelation, reason and tradition.

Church of England Anglican state church of England

The Church of England is the established church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the most senior cleric, although the monarch is the supreme governor. The Church of England is also the mother church of the international Anglican Communion. It traces its history to the Christian church recorded as existing in the Roman province of Britain by the third century, and to the 6th-century Gregorian mission to Kent led by Augustine of Canterbury.

Types of polity

Though each church or denomination has its own characteristic structure, there are four general types of polity: episcopal, connexional, presbyterian, and congregational.

Episcopal polity Hierarchical form of church governance

An episcopal polity is a hierarchical form of church governance in which the chief local authorities are called bishops. It is the structure used by many of the major Christian Churches and denominations, such as the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Church of the East, Anglican, and Lutheran churches or denominations, and other churches founded independently from these lineages.

Connexionalism, also spelled connectionalism, is the theological understanding and foundation of Methodist ecclesiastical polity, as practised in the Methodist Church in Britain, Methodist Church in Ireland, United Methodist Church, Free Methodist Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Bible Methodist Connection of Churches, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and many of the countries where Methodism was established by missionaries sent out from these churches. The United Methodist Church defines connection as the principle that "all leaders and congregations are connected in a network of loyalties and commitments that support, yet supersede, local concerns." Accordingly, the primary decision-making bodies in Methodism are conferences, which serve to gather together representatives of various levels of church hierarchy.

Presbyterian polity is a method of church governance typified by the rule of assemblies of presbyters, or elders. Each local church is governed by a body of elected elders usually called the session or consistory, though other terms, such as church board, may apply. Groups of local churches are governed by a higher assembly of elders known as the presbytery or classis; presbyteries can be grouped into a synod, and presbyteries and synods nationwide often join together in a general assembly. Responsibility for conduct of church services is reserved to an ordained minister or pastor known as a teaching elder, or a minister of the word and sacrament.

Episcopal polity

Churches having episcopal polity are governed by bishops. The title bishop comes from the Greek word epískopos, which translates as overseer. [4] In regard to Catholicism, bishops have authority over the diocese, which is both sacramental and political; as well as performing ordinations, confirmations, and consecrations, the bishop supervises the clergy of the diocese and represents the diocese both secularly and in the hierarchy of church governance.

A bishop is an ordained, consecrated, or appointed member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight.

Diocese Christian district or see under the supervision of a bishop

The word diocese is derived from the Greek term dioikesis (διοίκησις) meaning "administration". Today, when used in an ecclesiastical sense, it refers to the ecclesiastical district under the jurisdiction of a bishop.

Ordination is the process by which individuals are consecrated, that is, set apart as clergy to perform various religious rites and ceremonies. The process and ceremonies of ordination vary by religion and denomination. One who is in preparation for, or who is undergoing the process of ordination is sometimes called an ordinand. The liturgy used at an ordination is sometimes referred to as an ordination.

Bishops in this system may be subject to higher ranking bishops (variously called archbishops, metropolitan or patriarchs, depending upon the tradition; see also Bishop for further explanation of the varieties of bishops.) They also meet in councils or synods. These synods, subject to presidency by higher ranking bishops, may govern the dioceses which are represented in the council, though the synod may also be purely advisory.

Also, episcopal polity is not usually a simple chain of command. Instead, some authority may be held, not only by synods and colleges of bishops, but by lay and clerical councils. Further, patterns of authority are subject to a wide variety of historical rights and honours which may cut across simple lines of authority.

Episcopal polity is the predominant pattern in Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Anglican churches. It is also common in some Methodist and Lutheran churches, as well as amongst some of the African-American Pentecostal traditions in the United States such as the Church of God in Christ and the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship. [5]

Hierarchical polity

Some religious organizations, for example Seventh-day Adventist, Jehovah's Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, describe their polity as hierarchical. In practice, such polities are similar to an episcopal polity, but often have a much more complex system of governance, with several dimensions of hierarchy. Leaders are not called bishops, and in some cases have secular-like titles such as president or overseer. The term bishop may be used to describe functionaries in minor leadership roles, such as a parish leader; it may also be used as an honorific, particularly within the Holiness movement.

Connexional polity

Many Methodist churches use a derivative of episcopal polity known as[ citation needed ]connexionalism, or connexional polity, [6] which combines a loose episcopal hierarchy with a bottom-up structure, centred on small groups of congregations called circuits.

Presbyterian polity

Many Reformed churches, notably those in the Presbyterian and Continental Reformed [ citation needed ] traditions, are governed by a hierarchy of councils[ citation needed ] (or courts). [7] The lowest level council governs a single local church and is called the session or consistory ; [8] its members are called elders . The minister of the church (sometimes referred to as a teaching elder) is a member of and presides over the session; lay representatives (ruling elders or, informally, just elders) are elected by the congregation. The session sends representatives[ citation needed ] to the next level higher council, called the presbytery or classis. [9] In some Presbyterian churches there are higher level councils (synods or general assemblies). Each council has authority over its constituents, and the representatives at each level are expected to use their own judgment. For example, each session approves and installs its own elders, and each presbytery approves the ministers serving within its territory and the connections between those ministers and particular congregations. Hence higher level councils act as courts of appeal for church trials and disputes, and it is not uncommon to see rulings and decisions overturned.

Presbyterian polity is the characteristic governance of Presbyterian churches, and also of churches in the Continental Reformed tradition. Elements of presbyterian polity are also found in other churches. For example, in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, governance by bishops is paralleled by a system of deputies, who are lay and clerical representatives elected by parishes and, at the national level, by the dioceses. Legislation in the general convention requires the separate consent of the bishops and of the deputies.

Note that in episcopal polity, presbyter refers to a priest.

Congregational polity

Congregational churches dispense with titled positions such as bishop as a requirement of church structure. The local congregation rules itself, elects its own leaders, both clergy and laity, ordains its own clergy, and as a "self-governed voluntary institution", is a type of religious anarchism. Appointment of local leaders and councils by external authorities derives from a separate bureaucratic or associational polity.

Members may be sent from the congregation to associations that are sometimes identified with the church bodies formed by Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans, and other non-congregational Protestants. Neither the congregations nor the associations exercise any control over each other, other than having the ability to terminate membership in the association. Many congregationalist churches are completely independent in principle. One major exception is ordination of clergy, where even congregationalist churches often invite members of the vicinage or association to ordain their called pastor.

It is a principle of congregationalism that ministers do not govern congregations by themselves. They may preside over the congregation, but it is the congregation which exerts its authority in the end.

Churches that traditionally practice congregational polity include congregationalists, Baptists, and many forms of nondenominational Christianity. Because of its prevalence among Baptists, and the prominence of Baptists among Protestant denominations, congregational polity is sometimes called Baptist polity.[ citation needed ]

Polity, autonomy, and ecumenism

Although a church's polity determines its ministers and discipline, it need not affect relations with other Christian organizations. The unity of a church is an essential doctrine of ecclesiology, but because the divisions between churches presuppose the absence of mutual authority, internal polity does not directly answer how these divisions are treated.

For example, among churches of episcopal polity, different theories are expressed:

Plurality and singularity

Plurality refers to systems of ecclesiastical polity wherein the local church's decisions are made by a committee, typically called elders. The system is in contrast to the "singularity" of episcopal polity systems as used in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican churches, or the pastor/president system of many Protestant churches.

Plurality of elders is commonly encouraged, with variation of practice, among Presbyterians, some Pentecostal churches, and Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ and Plymouth Brethren (who employ congregational polity). The practice is drawn from biblical precedent, acknowledging that churches in the time of the New Testament appear to all have had multiple elders. [10] [ POV? ]

See also

Related Research Articles

Congregationalist polity, or congregational polity, often known as congregationalism, is a system of ecclesiastical polity in which every local church congregation is independent, ecclesiastically sovereign, or "autonomous". Its first articulation in writing is the Cambridge Platform of 1648 in New England. Among those major Protestant Christian traditions that employ congregationalism are those Congregational churches known by the Congregationalist name that descended from the Independent Reformed wing of the Anglo-American Puritan movement of the 17th century, Quakerism, the Baptist churches, and most of the groups brought about by the Anabaptist movement in Germany that migrated to the US in the late 18th century, as well as the Congregational Methodist Church. More recent generations have witnessed also a growing number of non-denominational churches, which are most often congregationalist in their governance.

This is a directory of patriarchs, archbishops, and bishops across various Christian denominations. To find an individual who was a bishop, see the most relevant article linked below or Category:Bishops.

Synod council of a church

A synod is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. The word synod comes from the Greek σύνοδος (sýnodos) meaning "assembly" or "meeting", and it is synonymous with the Latin word concilium meaning "council". Originally, synods were meetings of bishops, and the word is still used in that sense in Catholicism, Oriental Orthodoxy and Eastern Orthodoxy. In modern usage, the word often refers to the governing body of a particular church, whether its members are meeting or not. It is also sometimes used to refer to a church that is governed by a synod.

Continental Reformed church reformed church originating in continental Europe

A Continental Reformed church is a Reformed church that has its origin in the European continent. Prominent subgroups are the Dutch Reformed, the Swiss Reformed, the French Reformed (Huguenots), the Hungarian Reformed, and the Waldensian Church in Italy.

United Reformed Church Christian church organisation in the United Kingdom

The United Reformed Church (URC) is a Protestant Christian church in the United Kingdom. It has approximately 56,000 members in 1,400 congregations with 608 active ministers, including 13 church related community workers.

The seven dioceses of the Scottish Episcopal Church make up the ecclesiastical province of the Anglican Communion in Scotland. The church has, since the 18th century, held an identity distinct from that of the Presbyterian-aligned Church of Scotland.

Low church

The term "low church" refers to churches which give relatively little emphasis to ritual, sacraments and the authority of clergy. The term is most often used in a liturgical context.

Church (congregation) Christian religious organization meeting at a particular location

A church is a Christian religious organization or congregation or community that meets in a particular location. Many are formally organized, with constitutions and by-laws, maintain offices, are served by clergy or lay leaders, and, in nations where this is permissible, often seek non-profit corporate status.

Anglican doctrine

Anglican doctrine is the body of Christian teachings used to guide the religious and moral practices of Anglicans.

Conciliarity is the adherence of various Christian communities to the authority of ecumenical councils and to synodal church government. It is not to be confused with conciliarism, which is a particular historical movement within the Catholic Church. Different churches interpret conciliarity different ways.

In Christianity, an elder is a person who is valued for wisdom and holds a position of responsibility and authority in a Christian group. In some Christian traditions an elder is an ordained person who usually serves a local church or churches and who has been ordained to a ministry of word, sacrament and order, filling the preaching and pastoral offices. In other Christian traditions, an elder may be a lay person charged with serving as an administrator in a local, or be ordained to such an office, also serving in the preaching or pastoral roles. There is technically a distinction between the idea of ordained elders and lay elders, often the two concepts are conflated in everyday conversation. Particularly in reference to age and experience, elders exist throughout world cultures, and the Christian sense of elder is partially related to this.

Christianity in Ireland Largest religion in Ireland, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and others

Christianity is and has been the largest religion in Ireland. Most Christian churches are organized on an all-Ireland basis, including both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland, 78.3% of the population adheres to the Catholic Church. In Northern Ireland, the various branches of Protestantism collectively form a plurality of the population but the single largest church is the Catholic Church which accounts for some 40.8% of the population.

Ordination is the process by which individuals are consecrated, that is, set apart as clergy to perform various religious rites and ceremonies. The process and ceremonies of ordination varies by religion and denomination. One who is in preparation for, or who is undergoing the process of ordination is sometimes called an ordinand. The liturgy used at an ordination is sometimes referred to as an ordinal.

References

Footnotes

  1. 1 2 Doe 2013, p. 118.
  2. Foakes-Jackson 1909; McGrade 2013, p. xxxii.
  3. Hooker, Richard (1954). Morris, Christopher, ed. Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. 1. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. p. 297. Cited in Becic 1959 , p. 59.
  4. "Bishop". Merriam-Webster.com. 2018. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
  5. Dowley 2002, p. 646.
  6. Doe 2013, p. 122.
  7. Doe 2013, p. 123.
  8. Doe 2013, pp. 123, 150–151.
  9. Doe 2013, pp. 123, 151.
  10. Strauch 1995; Viola & Barna 2008.

Bibliography

Becic, Marilyn Jean (1959). Richard Hooker and His Theory of Anglicanism (PDF) (MA thesis). Chicago: Loyola University. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
Doe, Norman (2013). Christian Law: Contemporary Principles. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN   978-1-107-00692-8.
Dowley, Tim, ed. (2002). Introduction to the History of Christianity. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press.
Foakes-Jackson, F. J. (1909). "'Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity'". In Ward, A. W.; Waller, A. R. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature . New York: Bartleby (published 2000). ISBN   978-1-58734-073-4 . Retrieved 17 June 2018.
McGrade, Arthur Stephen (2013). Introduction. Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity: A Critical Edition with Modern Spelling. By Hooker, Richard. McGrade, Arthur Stephen, ed. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. xv–cix. ISBN   978-0-19-960491-3.
Strauch, Alexander (1995). Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership (3rd ed.). Littleton, Colorado: Lewis & Roth Publishers.
Viola, Frank; Barna, George (2008). Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House. Archived from the original on 2 July 2010. Retrieved 17 June 2018.

Further reading

Cragg, Gerald R. (1975). Freedom and Authority: A Study of English Thought in the Early Seventeenth Century. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Westminster Press. ISBN   978-0-664-20738-0.
A study of religious authority (especially pp. 97–218) as well as the secular authority of the state.
Henderson, Ian (1967). Power without Glory: A Study in Ecumenical Politics. Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press (published 1969). ISBN   978-0-8042-1497-1.
A study of the conflict and prestige of episcopal church authority with other forms of church polity as they affect inter-Christian relations and ecumenism.