REFLECTIONS ON THE CONSTITUTION
AND BYLAWS OF LOCAL CONGREGATION
The Purpose Clause
Larry D. Harvey
Previous articles have reflected upon both the Preamble clause of constitutions of local congregations as well as the Name clause. This article is to reflect upon the Purpose clause of a local congregation’s constitution. I have witnessed various titles assigned to Purpose clauses, including “Purpose”, “Mission”, “Objectives and Purpose”, “Purpose and Rights”, “Statement of Mission”, and “Philosophy of Ministry”. I consider this clause to be one of the clauses within a constitution where the greatest degree of discipline is required and the commitment to doctrine is most severely tested. I submit that the test begins with the name given the clause and the precision of definition expressed or implied in the chosen name.
In the previous articles, I set forth certain Scriptural truths which will directly bear upon the Purpose clause now being considered. I suggest a review of those two articles before serious consideration of the Purpose clause is begun. Among other matters, I lifted up the following points:
· The church truly consists only of believers.
· The church is only the work of God, not men.
· The people of the church are God’s instruments only insofar as they are proclaiming and teaching the Gospel, and specifically the vicarious satisfaction of Christ Jesus.
· The marks of a true visible church are the pure proclamation of God’s Word and the administration of the Sacraments according to Christ’s institution.
· The church has no other power or authority than so proclaiming the Gospel and administering the Sacraments.
· There is grave danger within visible churches of allowing the Law to override the Gospel.
· The church truly belongs to Christ Jesus.
· The church bears the imprint of the Name of God.
Those Scriptural truths will be tested in the construction and implementation of the Purpose clause of a local congregation’s constitution.
Take a moment and consider your conversations with other members of your congregation. If a stranger to your congregation had overheard those conversations, how would that stranger describe the purpose of your congregation’s existence and operation? Take a moment now to consider your congregation’s most recent Voter’s Meetings. If that same stranger had reviewed your congregation’s meeting agenda and listened to all of the proceedings, what would that stranger say now is the purpose of your congregation’s existence? Would the stranger’s list include the following:
· To take care of our members?
· To help our community?
· To teach our children how to live?
· To make people feel better about themselves and their lives?
· To help families get along?
· To be a place where we can be with our friends and family?
In the second article concerning the Name clause, I presented the formal principle of Lutheranism and the material principal of Lutheranism. The formal principle is that the Holy Scriptures are the sole source and norm for all of its teachings and life. The Purpose clause must be true to that formal principle. The material principle is that justification is by grace through faith in Christ’s vicarious satisfaction alone. I submit that every portion of the Purpose clause must reflect that material principle, as well. Otherwise, there has to be a shifting of the very heart of the local congregation away from justification as revealed in the Scriptures towards a works based righteousness.
With those thoughts in mind, let us now reflect upon the Purpose clause of the local congregation’s constitution. First of all, I prefer to use the terminology “purpose clause” rather than “mission clause” to avoid confusion that has arisen concerning the “mission” of the local congregation and “mission statements” of local congregations. A great deal of discussion, if not outright support, has arisen in recent years concerning congregations using certain strategic planning devices, including the composition and adoption of mission statements and vision statements. While I admit to grave concerns concerning the process of composing and adopting mission and vision statements, let it suffice to say that the “purpose/mission clause” of a constitution is not synonymous with a “mission/vision statement”. Even if a congregation adopts a “mission statement” I do not recommend they include it in the constitution or bylaws, because such statements are subject to periodic, if not frequent, revision and, if they are included within the constitution or bylaws, such revisions must be adopted under the procedures for amendments to constitution and bylaws and submitted to the appropriate District Office of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod before becoming effective.
If local congregations serve the Lord of the Church, and are therefore being truly His instruments in His Church “only insofar as they proclaim and teach the Gospel” then the Purpose clause must remain connected to and reflect the means of grace in every part thereof. The church is built only on the foundation of the Gospel, and the Gospel is the sole power of the church. Since the church, as an institution, certainly exists in and under God’s other Kingdom, the Kingdom of Authority or Government, it must not allow a confusion of those two kingdoms. The life of the church is therefore a life in the Word, and specifically the Gospel. The congregation’s definition of itself and its purpose must reflect that God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the sole Actor in the Gospel. The Gospel comes to us from the Father, through the Person and Work of Christ Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and returns to God, by word and deed, by the power of the Spirit, through the Son, to the Father. Man, whether according to his reason, power, or flesh, does not supplement, contribute to, or cooperate in that work. Accordingly, our “good works” as the church must be confessed to exist and occur only by God’s grace and power.
Dr. Kurt E. Marquart wrote on this question as follows:
“We are face to face here with the so-called ‘mission of the church.’ The church has only one divinely-assigned task: to build herself up in faith and love, embracing more and more of fallen humanity, to the praise and glory of God, by and for the transmission of forgiveness, life, and salvation through the holy Gospel and sacraments of Christ (Mt. 28:19,20; Jn. 15:1-17; Eph. 2:19-22;4:1-16; I Pet.2:1-12; I Jn. 1:1-4; 5:1-13).”
As the Purpose clause is constructed, it is critical that even the purposes of the church as set forth in Scripture, when included in this clause, must clearly reflect that all the life of the congregation is a life of receiving God’s free gift of salvation through Word and Sacrament and responding thereto, solely by the power of the Spirit, boasting only in our Lord, Christ Crucified. Dr. Marquart further wrote:
“Given that the church is the realm of the Gospel, she can and must be governed by the same power by which she is created, extended, and preserved: the Gospel. This of course necessarily involves the preaching of the Law, as God’s ‘alien’ work. But the Christian as new creation, and so the church as church, is ruled, that is fed and tended, by Christ through His Gospel Word and sacraments” ibid, page 186.
Therefore, the purpose of the local congregation must not be confused with that of the other realm, the government, and become nothing more than an institution for achieving temporal peace, promoting social justice, being a special protector of the world’s people and resources, or pursuing some other “social ministry”.
With that disciplined focus upon and trust in the Gospel, God’s Word sets before the local congregation certain purposes for which He created and continues to work through His Church, including:
1. To proclaim, by word and deed, the Gospel of Christ Jesus, in its entirety.
2. To insure that the purity of doctrine and life is maintained within the congregation by testing and retesting all doctrine and life according to the Confessional Standard of the local congregation.
3. To manifest the unity of faith of the congregation to the world.
4. To foster true Christian fellowship and love, by God’s grace and the power of the Spirit, as a response to the free gifts of forgiveness, reconciliation, salvation, and eternal life through the vicarious satisfaction of Christ Jesus.
5. To respond to God’s free gift of His self-sacrificing love in Christ Jesus by the selfless helping of others, particularly other believers.
6. To provide instruction and continued growth in God’s Word to all members of the congregation consistent with the Confessional Standard of the local congregation.
7. To maintain a commitment to true unity of faith in the bond of love and peace with all other church bodies or congregations in its community and the world with whom the congregation can establish true fellowship in the Word.
The God-given purposes for God’s church show clearly that the local congregation as created by God is not just another “religious” or “faith-based” organization. To consider the church of Christ in such a manner is to make Christ but one of multiple ways for the salvation of man. True Christianity is either the only religion, or it is no religion at all. In addition, God’s church is certainly not a “philosophy”. It is not created by, defined by, or empowered by anything that arises out of man.
Next, there is the commonly encountered predicate to a Purpose clause that is often written in a manner similar to “to give honor and glory to the Triune God” My problem with this language, interpreted literally, is that it sounds more like the Theology of Glory of Reformed Calvinism, particularly, than the Theology of the Cross of Lutheranism. We can not give to God that which is already His, whether by His essence, His attributes, or His work. Glory and honor are His by essence. We do nothing that truly adds to His glory and honor. As discussed in the second article, we celebrate and praise the Name of God in thank-filled response to Christ’s work of our redemption. We remain, by the power of the Spirit, focused upon Christ Crucified in all things.
With these thoughts in mind, consider the following examples of Purpose Clauses in the constitutions of local congregations.
Purpose Clause: Alternative One
The purpose of this Congregation shall be to give honor and glory to the Triune God, to carry out His will, to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world, to manifest the unity of our faith in Jesus Christ as God and Savior, to foster Christian fellowship and love, to extend a helping hand in human need, and to achieve our objectives by the preaching of the Word of God, by the administration of the sacraments, and by the religious instruction of all its members according to the confessional standard of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Purpose Clause: Alternative Two
The primary objective and purpose of this Congregation is to carry out the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ contained in Matthew 28:19,20. In response to God’s love and grace, this Congregation also provides ministry to meet the spiritual, emotional, physical, social and intellectual needs of people within the world in the name of Jesus Christ.
Purpose Clause: Alternative Three
We are a community of Christians gathered together to carry out God’s mission in the world. This mission, as set forth in Ephesians 1:9,10; 2:14,17, is to reunite an estranged and broken world in Jesus Christ; to breakdown the barriers that divide men from God, from one another and from themselves; to accept the unacceptable; and to establish salvation, peace and wholeness by proclaiming the good news of Christ on the cross. We see ourselves as participants in God’s mission of reconciliation, committed to give freely of our time, talents and treasures for the implementation of His mission in this community. We are not the end of God’s action, but rather an instrument in accomplishing His purpose.
Purpose Clause: Alternative Four
The purpose of this Congregation shall be that of a religious organization; more specifically, that of a Christian Congregation, established and maintained for the express purpose of proclaiming the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ through witness, worship, Christian education, service, and fellowship in accordance with the Word of God and the Confessional Standards of the Lutheran Church as set forth in Article X.
Purpose Clause: Alternative Five
By the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, this assembly of saints is constituted that she may rightfully worship her Creator and Savior, that is she may by saving faith enjoy eternal communion with the Triune God and receive the gifts which He so earnestly desires to bestow upon His people. In response, we, by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word working within us, offer both sacrifice of praise, adoration, and thanksgiving to our Lord and Savior and joyful service to our families, neighbors, and the world around us in Christ’s love. Therefore, this Congregation’s mission is to bring Jesus Christ to the world through the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ. By the Gospel, the Spirit of God gathers from the nations the children of God and brings them in fellowship with Christ and the assembly of the baptized, where they too may enjoy communion with the one true God and receive His gifts.
Which Alternative Clause would you prefer to include in the constitution of your congregation? Ask yourself why you prefer one over the others.
Now let us ask specific questions about each of the Alternative Purpose Clauses:
· Which Alternative best reflected a right focus on the means of grace?
· Which Alternative best reflected that the local congregation is empowered only by the Gospel?
· Which Alternative best maintained a focus upon Christ Crucified?
As I have stated in the prior articles, I consider the Constitution of the local congregation to be first an instrument to proclaim and teach God’s Word. Each clause must properly reflect the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. That understanding encompasses the purpose for which the Congregation exists and the Purpose Clause within its Constitution.
Next article: The Confessional Standards 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.
 My concerns are centered upon the danger of confusion of Law and Gospel that typically occurs in the process. In addition, the process carries the grave danger of attempting to put unscriptural measurements upon God’s grace, the power of the Holy Spirit, and God’s working through His church. I recommend Lutherans read Law and Gospel: the Foundation of Lutheran Ministry, With Special Reference to the Church Growth Movement, by Robert J. Koester, © 1993 by Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee, WI.
 Christian Dogmatics, by Francis Pieper, D.D., Vol. III, page 416.
 A good discussion of this can be found in “Render Unto Caesar…and Unto God-a Lutheran View of Church and State”, a Report of the Commission of Theology and Church Relations of LC-MS, September, 1995, prepared in response to a 1983 request of Synod.
 Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, Robert D. Preus, Editor, John R. Stephenson, Assistant Editor, Volume IX, THE CHURCH AND HER FELLOWSHIP, MINISTRY, AND GOVERNANCE by Kurt E. Marquart, second printing, 1995 corrected edition, © 1990, published by the International Foundation for Lutheran Confessional Research, Inc., Waverly, Iowa, page 185. Dr. Marquart is a seminary Professor at Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
 Dr. Marquart has a good discussion on these perversions of the purpose of the church in ibid, pp. 185-194.
 “In the first place the congregation should see to it that the Word of God dwells richly and has free course in its midst” The Form of a Christian Congregation, by C.F.W. Walther, translated by John Theodore Mueller, second unchanged edition, St. Louis, Mo. 1864, © 1963 by Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Mo., page 30.
 This clause will be discussed in a future article.
 Dr. Pieper has a good discussion of this point in his Christian Dogmatics, Vol. I, beginning at page 9.
 This language is used in the guidelines for the Constitution and Bylaws of a Lutheran Congregation, Fourth and Revised Edition, prepared by the Commission on Constitutional Matters of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
 This example is quoted from the Fourth and Revised Edition of Guidelines for the Constitution and Bylaws of a Lutheran Congregation, cited above.
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