REFLECTIONS ON THE CONSTITUTIONS

AND BYLAWS OF LOCAL CONGREGATIONS

 

The Name Clause

 By:

Larry D. Harvey

 

            In the previous article, I reflected upon the Preamble clause of constitutions and bylaws of local congregations.  In that article, I lifted up that the Church is really and rightly only those who believe they are saved and forgiven their sins only on account of the vicarious satisfaction of Christ.  I also examined the Scriptural teachings that the Church is only the work of God and not men, that people are only God’s instruments in His work concerning the Church, the marks of a true visible church, and how these truths relate to local congregations.  Above all else, I sought to present the grave danger of constructing a constitution or bylaws for a local congregation wherein the Law, whether God’s or man’s, overrides the Gospel. 

 

            With those teachings and reflections in mind, let us now reflect upon the Name Clause of a local congregation’s constitution. 

 

            The Name Clause often receives only cursory attention within congregations, and even within committees charged with drafting original or amended constitutions.  Most people seem to operate under the attitude of “After all, what’s in a name?”  Since I consider everything that a congregation says, writes, and does as a form of teaching, my answer to that question is “A lot!” 

 

            Ask yourself this question, “In the Bible how important to God are the names borne by the people and nations involved in the story of our salvation?”  From Adam and Eve on, names are given or changed frequently to reflect the relation of people and their work to the history of our salvation.  For example, consider the names of Adam, Eve, Noah, Abram/Abraham, Jacob/Israel and Simon/Peter.  However, since the local congregation belongs to God, is founded only upon the Gospel, is empowered only by the Gospel, and is but an instrument of God, not men, perhaps the more important question is “How important is God’s Name in the Scriptures?” 

 

            The First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be Thy Name”, should be sufficient in and of itself to teach us how important His name is to be among us also.  Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, explained the meaning of this First Petition as follows:

 

What does this mean?  God’s name is indeed holy in itself; but we pray in this petition that it may be holy among us also. 

How is this done?  [God’s name is hallowed] When the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead a holy life according to it.  This grant us, dear Father in heaven.  But he that teaches and lives otherwise than God’s Word teaches, profanes the name of God among us.  From this preserve us, Heavenly Father.”[1]

 

            Consider also the names and titles used in the Scriptures of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We encounter names such as “Almighty, Eternal God, Heavenly Father, Holy One of Israel, I AM, Lord Almighty, Most High, Lord God, Alpha and Omega, Author and Perfector of our Faith, Bread of Life, Capstone, Holy One of God, Immanuel, Lamb of God, Counselor, Spirit of Christ, Spirit of Glory, Spirit of God, Spirit of Grace, and Spirit of Wisdom.”  The list is much longer than these examples.  In fact, as Dr. Pieper[2] wrote, “The entire Scriptures are in reality nothing else than an elaboration of God’s name.”[3]  Consider also the name given the Son of God in His Incarnation, “Jesus”.  “Jesus” is the Greek equivalent to “Joshua”, a shortened form of “Jehoshua”, which means “Yahweh (the Lord, God of the Covenant) is salvation”.  The entire Gospel is summarized in His Name Jesus.[4]  In fact, to speak, act, or even pray in a way that is contrary to His work as the Sole Mediator between God and man is to act in opposition to His Name. 

 

            But what about the name of the local congregation?  If His Name is important, if the Church is His, if the local congregation is founded by Him, and if the local congregation’s only legitimate purpose is to be His instrument, then how important is the name of the local congregation?

 

            Many congregations choose a name that begins with the name of an Apostle, such as “St. Paul”.  Others begin with a name associated with God Himself, or a Person of the Trinity, particularly the Son of God, or the work of God, particularly of the Son of God.  Examples of these would include “Trinity Lutheran”, “Christ Lutheran”, “Our Redeemer Lutheran” or “Concordia Lutheran”.  When the name of an Apostle is used, historically Lutheran congregations have not used the name of an Apostle in a possessive form.  For example, the congregation may be named “St. Paul Lutheran”, but not “St. Paul’s Lutheran”.  As we have discussed, the church belongs to God and has but one Head, Christ Jesus Himself.  In addition, since a Lutheran congregation is founded only the Word of God, and the Gospel specifically, and in that the Scriptures are the Word of God breathed into the Apostles and the Prophets, to identify a local congregation with an Apostle should be understood as identifying the local congregation with God’s Word.[5] 

 

            But what about the question of including “Lutheran” in the name of the congregation rather than “Christian”?  After all, people may have heard that even Martin Luther expressed reservations concerning the use of “Lutheran” or “Lutheran Church”.  In fact, those expressions were first used by his opponents to disparage him and his followers.  However, when “Lutheran” was really understood to identify believing, teaching, confessing, and practicing in strict conformity to the Scriptures, as the sole source and norm for all teachings and life, then Luther accepted such terminology as pointing not to him but to the Scriptures and the Scriptures’ sound teaching of justification through faith alone.[6]  In visible Christendom today there are numerous denominations that place human reason, or tradition, or subjective experience as equal in authority to the Holy Scriptures.  In addition, those same denominations do not look to grace alone, Christ alone, through faith alone, as the sole reason and manner by which we are saved.[7]  If “Christian” is being used by denominations that teach some form of works righteousness or that deny the authority of the Scriptures, in whole or in part, should Lutheran congregations seek to be just another denomination or should they clearly distinguish our teachings from theirs?  However, if we do not clearly present to our own members, much less the world around us, what it truly means to be “Lutheran,” then perhaps the opportunity to teach the distinction is lost. 

 

            The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod was originally named the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other States, so what about “Evangelical” in the name?  “Evangelical” is from the original Greek word for “Gospel.”  Evangelical therefore meant one who stood upon, looked solely to, and was empowered only by the Gospel. Thus Evangelical refers to one whose faith trusts solely in God’s promise of salvation in the vicarious satisfaction of Christ alone, without regard to man’s works or merit, by His grace alone, and revealed in the Holy Scriptures alone.  Accordingly, there is no church body more “Evangelical” than one whose confession of faith is in unity with Lutheranism.  However, today the term “Evangelical” carries with it connotations of personal piety, a spiritualism that separates the Holy Spirit from the Word, or the like.  Perhaps the choice that remains is either to reclaim the various terms, such as Evangelical, Bible Church, Spirit-filled, and the like with clear and bold proclamations of their definitions, or to simply abandon the public use of such phrases to avoid being confused with false teachings. 

 

            With these questions in mind, consider the following examples of Name Clauses to the constitutions of local congregations:

 

            Name Clause: Alternative One

 

In humble celebration of the Name of God, the name of this Congregation shall be “Christ Crucified Lutheran Church of Certain City, Texas”, which shall hereinafter sometimes be referred to as either “this Congregation” or “the Congregation”.

 

 

Name Clause: Alternative Two

 

The name of this Congregation shall be “St. Peter Christian Church of Certain City, Texas, Unaltered Augsburg Confession”, which shall hereinafter sometimes be referred to as either “this Congregation” or “the Congregation”.

 

Name Clause: Alternative Three

 

The name of this Congregation shall be “Bent Tree [or some other natural local feature] Lutheran Church of Certain City, Texas”, which shall hereinafter sometimes be referred to as either “this Congregation” or “the Congregation”.

*****

 

            Which Alternative Clause would you prefer to include in the constitution of your congregation, Alternative One, Two or Three?  Now, ask yourself why you prefer one over the other.

 

Now lets ask specific questions about each of the Alternative Name Clauses. 

 

·        Which Alternative best reflected that the local congregation is formed and sustained only by the work of God?

·        Which Alternative best reflected that the local congregation truly belongs to Christ Jesus?

·        Which Alternative best reflected that the local congregation is built only upon a foundation of the Gospel?

·        Which Alternative best reflected confidence in the Gospel?

 

As I stated in the first article, I consider the constitution of the local congregation to be an instrument to proclaim and teach God’s word.  That understanding encompasses the name of the congregation and the Name Clause within its constitution.

 

There are a few other matters that should be examined when the Name Clause is considered.  One such matter is whether or not the name set forth in the constitution corresponds exactly to the name the State was given when the congregation filed Articles of Incorporation as a non-profit corporation.  Another matter that should be considered, with the consultation of legal counsel, is the question of whether or not the congregation, as a non-profit corporation, needs to file with the State or County an Assumed Name Certificate because the congregation does not always employ its full legal name in its activities.  In addition, I have seen many constitutions wherein the Name Clause was typed in such a manner that a reader could not tell exactly where the name ended, such as “The name of this Congregation shall be Local Lutheran Congregation of Certain City, Texas, Unaltered Augsburg Confession, a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, hereinafter referred to as the Congregation.”  My question generally is how much of all of that do they intend to use in their legal documents, such as Deeds or Contracts?  However, these are matters of secular law, and my concern remains the question of whether or not these clauses reflect the Gospel.

 

            Next article:  The Purpose Clause.

 

 

 

Mr. Harvey is an attorney practicing in Houston, Texas, USA, a member of Zion Lutheran Church, Tomball, Texas and the lay representative on the Committee on Constitutions and Bylaws of the Texas District, LCMS, 2001-2003.  The views expressed herein are Mr. Harvey’s personal thoughts and opinions, and are not meant to represent the position of the Committee on Constitutions and Bylaws of the Texas District, LC-MS.

 



[1] A Short Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s SMALL CATECHISM, Edited by the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other States with Additional Notes for Students, Teachers, and Pastors, by Edward W. A. Koehler D.D., published by Concordia Theological Seminary Press, Fort Wayne, Indiana, annotations © 1981 by Concordia Theological Seminary Press.  Even though the Small Catechism published by Concordia Publishing House has been revised a number of times during my life, I prefer to use this version because Dr. Koehler’s annotations have been very beneficial and useful in personal study as well as teaching.  I continue to recommend this version to parents of confirmands, particularly.

[2] See first article on the Preamble Clause, page 1.

[3] Christian Dogmatics by Francis Pieper, D.D. Vol. I, © 1950 by Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Missouri, page 433.  German parenthetical insert omitted.

[4] A good discussion of this can be found in Christian Dogmatics, by Francis Pieper, D.D., Vol. II, © 1951 by Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Missouri, in footnote 4 on page 331.

[5] See, e.g. 2Timothy 3:16 and 2Peter 1:21.  The subject of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is well presented by Dr. Pieper in Christian Dogmatics, Vol. I, beginning at page 217.

[6] Some good, selected quotes on this may be found in What Luther Says, compiled by Ewald M. Plass, © 1959, Concordia Publishing House, under “Lutheran Church”, beginning at page 856.

[7]  The “formal principle” of a church body’s theology is what that church body teaches as the source and authority for its teachings.  The “material principle” of a church body’s theology is that church body’s central theological teaching.  The formal principle of Lutheranism is that the Scriptures are the source and norm for all its teachings in life.  The material principle of Lutheranism is justification by grace through faith in Christ vicarious satisfaction alone.  An excellent study of the formal and material principles of the various church bodies of the United States of America can be found in The Religious Bodies of America, by F.E. Mayer, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Missouri © 1954, 1956, 1958 and 1961.

 

 

 

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