“A significant change to our tradition”

A reform to our definition of ministry … Why is this necessary? What’s the point? And how is it supposed to work? The Chief Apostle’s video address provides the answers. Here are the most important aspects in a nutshell.

Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider sees plenty of reasons to revisit the subject of ministry: there are gaps in the Catechism, which were left in order not to delay its publication. And the manner in which the congregational and district rectors have been entrusted with their tasks to date has not been appropriate to the significance of their function.

Above all, the Church needs to react to constantly changing realities: more frequent changes of residence for professional reasons, or mergers of congregations and districts. The hierarchy in place until now has led to discrepancies, which have caused confusion in congregational and district structures and diminished the sanctity of the ministry.

Decoupling ministry from hierarchy

The basis for ministry is the authority to speak and act in the name of the triune God. Those who make organisational decisions do not do so by the authority of God, the Chief Apostle pointed out. Although linked, ministry and leadership function are two distinct matters.

For ministry, the structure arises from the traditional allocation of authority: Deacon (with the authority to proclaim the word of God and bless the congregation), Priest (with the additional authority to perform Holy Baptism with water, celebrate Holy Communion, proclaim the absolution, and carry out acts of blessing), and Apostle (with the additional authority to perform Holy Sealing and ordain ministers).

For the leadership function the hierarchy also arises from traditional structures: rectors lead a congregation, district rectors lead a district, Apostles the Apostle district, District Apostles the District Apostle Area, and the Chief Apostle the global Church.

No new Evangelists, Shepherds, or Elders

Where in all these considerations are the Evangelists, Shepherds, District Evangelists, District Elders, and Bishops? These priestly ministries will not be abolished, however, no new brothers will be ordained to these ministries. This will come into effect across the globe as of Pentecost 2019. Something similar has been in effect for the Apostle ministry since June 2018.

The view that each ministry was associated with a particular personal characteristic came to be hierarchised over time, the Chief Apostle said as he outlined the history. In part, the size of the congregation played a role in whether a rector was ordained as a Priest, Evangelist, or Shepherd, even though no additional spiritual powers were conferred.

Even in the past, no additional ministerial authority was needed to assume a leadership function. All that was required was the corresponding blessing and sanctification. This will in future be imparted by way of an appointment—not only with a simple handshake, but through laying on of hands while the minister kneels.

The Chief Apostle mentioned two exceptions. The designation “Bishop” will be retained for the Priest who will serve as assistant to the Apostle. This is a concession to a tradition that was highly esteemed in certain parts. The Chief Apostle will continue to be ordained in order to document the special character of the service inherent in this ministry.

“I am aware that this represents a significant change to tradition,” the Chief Apostle said. “It will certainly take some time to become accustomed to it. However, I am absolutely convinced that this reform will have beneficial effects for the Church.”

Next question: ordination of women

In conclusion he gave an outlook on the next steps in our concept of ministry. This also includes the question of the ordination of women. In addition to theological aspects, cultural aspects must also be taken into consideration. The Church leaders will take the time needed to sound out the depths of this subject and inform the members of the progress of their work when the time comes.

Photo: Oliver Rütten

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