If you have ever wondered what the function of the local church or congregation is, we have the answer. CFW Walther, first president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, wrote a piece entitled “The Proper Form of an Evangelical Lutheran Congregation Independent of the State.” In it he notes that each congregation has six duties as follows:
Of the Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Local Church Independent of the State
6. It is the duty of the congregation carefully to see to it that the Word of God may richly dwell and have full and free scope in its midst. Col. 3:16: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly,” etc.
7. It is the duty of the congregation to care for the purity of doctrine and life in its midst and to exercise church discipline in these matters. Matt. 18:15-18: ‘If thy brother shall trespass against thee, . . . let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” Rom. 16:17: “Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them.” 1 Cor. 5:1-13: “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? . . . Put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” 1 Cor.6:1-8; 2 Cor.2:6-11. Gal. 6:1: “restore such an one in the spirit of meekness.” 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:6,14,15. 2 John 10,11: “If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed,” etc.
8. It is the duty of the congregation to concern itself also with the temporal welfare of all its members that they may not suffer want of the necessaries of life nor be forsaken in any need. Gal.6:10: “Let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” Deut. 15:4. Rom. 12:13: “Distributing to the necessity of saints.” Gal. 2:9,10; Jas. 1 :27; 1 Thess. 4:11,12.
9. It is the duty of the congregation to see that in its midst “all things be done decently and in order,” 1 Cor. 14:33, 40, and to “provide for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord but also in the sight of men,” 2 Cor. 8:21. Col. 2:5.
10. It is the duty of the congregation to be diligent “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” also with all parts of the orthodox Church, Eph. 4:3; 1 Thess. 4:9,10; Rom. 15:26, 27; 2 Cor. 8:19.
11. It is also incumbent upon the congregation to do its part in building up and promoting the welfare of the Church at large. Amos 6:6; Acts 11:21-23 (“Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem; and they sent forth Barnabas that he should go as far as Antioch,” etc.); 15:18.
The Proper Form of an Evangelical Lutheran Congregation, by Dr. CFW Walther, translated by Dr. Th. Engelder, from “Walther and the Church” by Dau, Engelder and Dallman, (1938 Concordia Publishing House). The full text of the theses can be found at the following website: http://www.reclaimingwalther.org/articles/cfw00005.htm
Simple, Scriptural, to the Pointe. Every local congregation has the responsibility to (1) Let the Word dwell richly and freely among the congregation by establishing the office of the Holy Ministry and calling a pastor, establishing public worship in Word and Sacrament on Sunday and one other day of the week observing all holy days and festivals, publicly catechizing all youth and new members, establish a school for children, tolerate no divisions by allowing meetings for teaching and instruction outside of divinely ordained public ministry; (2) Care for the purity of doctrine and the spiritual life of members holding one another accountable to conform our lives to purity of doctrine and spiritual life and avoid syncretism with unbelievers or heterodox church bodies; (3) Take care of the physical needs of members; (4) Conduct all the affairs of the congregation in an honest, open, efficient, and orderly manner; (5) Maintain unity in the Spirit in the bond of peace that ties a congregation’s members together and binds them to the wider church to work with other local congregations to maintain a common confession, avoid sheep stealing, and support struggling congregations where appropriate; (6) Do its part to make disciples and raise up church workers, and take the Gospel to those who have not heard it, joining with sister congregations locally and nationally where opportunities permit.
I wonder how our congregations would measure up in a critical self-analysis using this framework. Perhaps Walther’s form could be useful in structuring a long term plan for a congregation. One matter that stands out in this list is the call not to tolerate divisions by allowing for meetings for instruction and prayer outside of the outside of the divinely ordained public ministry. I suppose it is to ensure that what is taught and practiced in small groups is approved and overseen by the office of the ministry. Otherwise, there is a tendency to be blown around by any spiritual practice, whim, teaching that comes along. And boy do we have a lot of them today! In the congregations of which I have been a member it seems to be the norm that small group studies are promoted, and teachers and leaders often are permitted wide latitude to study whatever they want with very little oversight or input from the Pastor. This can and does create problems where some folks refuse to participate in certain studies, and will only take part in others.
In any event, the duties outlined in this piece set priorities for our congregations based solely on Scripture, and not on the desire of an individual or an individual congregation to (A) Do something, i.e. missional congregation, (B) to Be something, i.e. mission central, or (C) establish an Identity separate and apart from the church as a whole and other local congregations, i.e. the church for bikers. They call us to a unity with our sister congregations, to avoid divisions, and, most importantly, to be built on public preaching and teaching of the Word and administration of the Sacraments. In a culture with so many niche interests, it is easy to try to become a boutique congregation, marketing and appealing to a small segment of the local population. Our duty, however, is to be who and what Christ called us to be. Let’s build our foundation on Him and the saving Word He has left us to light our way.