Congregational Ethics Paper pt 1: The Nature of the Congregation

Posted on October 8, 2013

The Church of the Brethren published a paper in 1996 addressing Congregational Ethics. We are sharing this paper with you one section at a time.  You can read the whole paper here: including the opening preamble we are not including on this site.  Please discus and share your thoughts on what you are reading:

The Nature of the Congregation

In the New Testament the early church sensed its call to be a faithful community in an unfaithful environment, placed there to witness to God’s love in Christ. Those who shared in this mission were charged to live with the same kind of self-abandonment and sacrifice as Christ demonstrated. The support and power for this momentous task came from their participation in a community of persons who together could proclaim their devotion to Christ, exchange understandings of the way of Christ, and put their devotion and understandings into practice.


Several biblical images instruct us in the nature of this basic Christian community, the congregation:1. The Bride of Christ. In Ephesians 5, the relationship between Christ and the
church is used as the model for the covenantal relationship that should exist
between husband and wife. The image is one of mutual love and accountability. An understanding of the covenantal nature of the church begins with the covenant established between God and Abraham (Gen. 12). There
was to be mutual respect and accountability, and so long as Abraham’s descendants were obedient to God’s will, God would favor them with prosperity and long life. It was the first relationship of its kind in the stories of
religion – a personal, and ethical, pact between a god and humanity
In Christ, the covenant between God and God’s people was particularized. The covenant now had an “administrator,” one who could interpret the relationship between the two “parties.” But more than that, the church would form a covenant with Christ . . . to honor his teaching and example and in turn
to be the recipient of his sacrificial love — love that would form the basis for all other human relationships. Neither the individual Christian nor the church acts unilaterally, but in relation to Christ.
2. The Body of Christ. The church is more than a collection of individuals who
have promised to follow Christ’s way. The church is the extension of the Incarnation; it functions as Christ’s presence in the world — the evidence of his resurrection. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, makes clear how dependent is the function of the body on the health of every part (1 Cor. 12). Each part must work properly, i.e. with the integrity and love of Christ, for the Body to be healthy.
In Ephesians 4, the image is repeated, indicating that the body is whole when
each part “speaks the truth in love, and grows up in every way into him who is
the head” (4:15).

3. Sojourners. The writer of Hebrews describes the faithful as those who are aware that they ultimately belong to an existence that transcends the earthly, and their activity on earth is guided by that hope (11:13-16). They are not then bound by earthly standards or limitations. They do things for one another that astound the pragmatists. They choose to follow convictions of justice and
fairness, even though those decisions are unpopular. They accept a personal discipline that puts the welfare of others before their own needs.
4. Holy Priesthood. 1 Peter 2:13-17 assigns an awesome responsibility to the
church. It is to perform a priestly function for the world. It is the priest’s function to speak to God for the people and to speak to the people for God. Service and not domination is a distinguishing factor of the church’s life
and mission. To serve and not to be served is its first priority.
These biblical images provide a lofty portrait of the church – a covenantal
community that is just and loving, one that is not bound or given to earthly attitudes and standards, one that transcends those attitudes and standards through service in the world.

Traditionally, Brethren have held to some particular values within that overall
framework that have guided both our corporate and individual ethics. These values include the following:

1. The New Testament is our rule of faith and practice. We covenant to live by its
precepts as taught and demonstrated by Jesus and affirmed by the apostles.
2. The Brethren word is as good as our bond. We covenant to be truthful in
speech and in honoring the commitments we make. Integrity, fairness, and sincerity are requirements.
3. All members are ministers. We are called not only to serve one another, but also to model abundant life in Christ to all with whom we come into contact.
4. We believe in living in harmony with all persons, in peacefully solving conflict and in not harming or degrading any other person.
5. We believe in the corporate judgment of the gathered church in our understanding of God’s will.
6. Each member of the church is a valued part of the whole body. God endows each member with spiritual and natural gifts, and the church values each member’s opinion and contributions.
7. Brethren shall be known by their fruits, and Christ should be glorified and
revealed in all we do.

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