Is there ONE RIGHT polity?

The post that really gets comments and attention around here is the one on multi-site ecclesiology and the earliest churches.  I feel like I should clear something up though, because I feel like I am having to argue for something I don’t necessarily believe.

I don’t think there is ONE RIGHT WAY for churches to organize themselves.  Nor do I think the New Testament presents ONE RIGHT WAY.  I think the New Testament presents a plurality of polities in the different churches, and is largely concerned with matters other than polity.  So I don’t want to argue that a multi-site polity is more “biblical” or correct than any other type of polity.  Or that I have special insight into the practices of the earliest Christians that lets me know that the earliest churches were really multi-site churches like that exist today.  They weren’t.  I know they weren’t.  A multi-site polity is really our creation after the fact, just like presbyterian, congregational, episcopal, or other polities.  I just find that the whole multi-site ecclesiology discussion opens up a whole new creative lens for reading the New Testament.

I think, actually,  that polity is a mix of theological and cultural concerns (like everything else about churches).  The way churches and denominations in the United States are organized today probably says as much about our modern, disestablished, democratic, and individualistic milieu as much as anything else.

Think about this: if a first century Christian walked into your church, what would he or she think?  How about: why are there “senior” and “associate” pastors?  Those weren’t there in first century churches.  Why is there a “youth” pastor, and “office administrator?”  They weren’t there either.  Where is the prophet?  Teacher? Evangelist?  Bishop/Overseer?  Apostle?  Those are gifted people that God gives to the church, so why don’t they have official jobs?  Where are they?  Better yet, why are all the churches so separate?  Why aren’t they connected together?  Why do they all act like little kingdoms unto themselves?  And so on.

So, no church has the perfect, “biblical” polity.  Every church (including the multi-site congregations) has to pick and choose what to emphasize and de-emphasize in scripture to make their polity work.  That being said, I do have some preferences.  I like polities that emphasize trust, openness, empowerment, speedy decision making, egalitarian relationships, and interdependence, and I dislike polities that lead to being closed, suspicious, slow, bureaucratic, autonomous, and hierarchical.  Some of that is just personal preference, and some of that is from theological concerns.  Of all the polity choices out there, I think multi-site polities have the best potential to tend toward the former list instead of the latter.  In future posts I’ll talk more about churches and their polities that have qualities I admire.


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