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: http://www.brethren.org/discipleship/congregational-ethics.pdf including the opening preamble we are not including on this site. Please discus and share your thoughts on what you are reading:
Relationship to the Larger Church
The Apostle Paul sought to build a close kinship among all the new Christian
communities established as a result of his missionary activity. He shared with them the news of what other congregations were doing (2 Cor. 8:1-2). He reported what others thought of them (1 Th. 1:6-7). He took any promising “missionaries” from the various congregations with Him on his journeys (Col.
4:15). He promoted a mission offering among the churches of Asia for the church at Jerusalem. He forged bonds of service and love within and between Christian
communities, overcoming seemingly irreconcilable differences and diversity.
The Christian faith is belief and action shared in community. Christians need other Christians in order to live out their faith. A congregation cannot exist in a vacuum. It will soon become ingrown and will eventually die from lack of the stimuli of accountability and mission.
The Church of the Brethren Manual of Organization and Polity underscores this
The congregation is not sufficient to itself. It is interdependent with othercongregations and the larger church. This calls for patterns which allow thecongregation to participate in a network of district, national, and ecumenicalrelationships. By this interaction, both the congregation and the larger church are enriched.
All Church of the Brethren congregations are encouraged to adopt the model
constitution and bylaws for congregations passed by Annual Conference In 1969. That constitution states that
“the congregation shall covenant to support faithfully the program of the Church of the Brethren, recognizing Annual Conference enactments of the Church of the Brethren as having governing force in its life, and shall remain a member of the Church of the Brethren or its successor. The congregation shall send delegates to those official conferences of the Church of the Brethren in which it is entitled to have representation. . . .”
The congregation has an ethical responsibility to support the denomination. There may be rare instances in which the congregation may conclude that conscience will not permit participation in a particular aspect of denominational program.
A decision not to participate in a denominational program
should occur only after the congregation has engaged in a responsible process of study and prayer and open and honest dialog with denominational representatives. Congregations constantly need to examine and renew their covenant with the denomination and to follow the counsel of the church. The
prayerful conclusion not to support a denominational position or program should be a manner of anguish, not competitiveness. Disagreement with particular actions of the denomination does not give a congregation the right to disparage the whole church. Responsible children who disagree with their
parents’ counsel do not belittle them in front of other children nor find reason to withhold their love from them. The congregation, as part of the denominational family of Christ, must deal with its family kindly, respectfully, and lovingly.
The same principles apply to the congregation’s relation to the district.
Annual Conference has defined several specific responsibilities to the district organization that are directly related to congregational life, such as the authorization, discipline, and placement of ministers; the coordination of
outdoor education; and the training of lay and ministerial leadership. The district is solely dependent upon the support and participation of the congregations within its boundaries for the continuation and effectiveness of its program.
Congregations are to help establish, support, and abide by the policies and decisions of the district. They are to welcome and work with the district executive or other appointed representatives of the district. They are to cooperate with and give encouragement to other congregations within the district.
The Church of the Brethren at the denominational and district levels, as in the
congregation, permits and encourages a high degree of member participation. The gathered body, such as Annual Conference and District Conference, is the place for discussion and differences to be handled. After that process is employed, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, congregations should seek
faithfully to comply with the decisions.
The local church also is part of a larger whole which comprises the body of Christ. The Church of the Brethren has a long and productive history of working with other Christian communions in the interest of Christian solidarity, witness, and service. Brethren congregations endeavor to know and relate to churches of other denominations in their communities. Our one Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, prayed for unity within the Body (John 17) and demonstrated that effective disciples can come from different Christian perspectives (Luke 9:49-50).
Ethical accountability in relation to other communions calls for the congregation to contribute the uniqueness and strength of its particular witness toward a common goal, rather than seeking to impose sectarian bias.
It also supersedes a judgmental stance toward persons and groups of a different
orientation, and it decries underhanded or self-righteous means of luring members away from other communions for its own cause (proselytizing).
On the other hand, the congregation must guard against promoting or aligning with any interest groups or programs that may disrupt or pull away from the covenantal life and mission of the congregation.