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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Godly governance

It recognizes that the church's power belongs to Christ

In 1762, 26 years before the U.S. Constitution was ratified, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg prepared a constitution for St. Michael Lutheran Church, Philadelphia. Overcoming some of his personal tendencies toward authoritarian systems, he put in place governing principles “suitable to the needs of this land,” such as “approved by at least two-thirds,” “not decided by the Pastors alone” and “must be carefully and well considered by the whole Church Council” (Faith E. Rohrbough, Lutheran Quarterly, 1996).

Muhlenberg was ahead of his time—it’s likely the constitution of your congregation or church-related organization contains some of these phrases. Governance has to do with the ways a collection of people decide about their common life and mission. “Important and weighty matters,” as Muhlenberg called them, are shared responsibilities.

Definitions of governance emphasize the use of power to control or rule. The ELCA Constitution clarifies whose power is at work: “All power in the Church belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ, its head. All actions of this church are to be carried out under his rule and authority.”


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