New Characteristics of Christianity Organizational Change

Early forms of the new Christianity were characterized by different organizational schemata that were either adapted from, or reactions to, (1)

the hierarchical and authoritarian form of organization employed by the Roman Catholic Church, and (2) the political environment in which the reformers found themselves. The early Reformed Church took one of two forms: congregational, or episcopal. The former represented a more dramatic break with orthodox Christianity than the latter. In the episcopal form, bishops govern, and they are appointed by a higher authority within the church. After the Reformation, some churches (e.g., Anglicanism) continued to uphold the Roman Catholic principle of apostolic succession, whereas some (e.g., Lutheranism) did not. But all episcopal forms maintained the special role of the bishop. This system is hierarchical, centralized, and in some manifestations (e.g., Roman Catholic), authoritarian. In the congregational or presbyterian model articulated by Calvin and Knox, church government is exercised by ministers and elders who are usually elected along lines that loosely conform to representative democracy. The congregational system is the form favored by Calvinists, Presbyterians, Puritans, and Congregationalists, to name a few. Interestingly, advocates of both administrative models strove to find anticipations of their organizational views in Holy Scripture, with varying degrees of success. In our reading of Scripture, we find no support for the superiority of one form of church organization over another. Christ's declaration, "Thou art Peter and upon this rock I shall build my church,'' is open to diverse and ambiguous interpretation, for example.

Separation of church and state is a relatively modern idea, associated more with the United States than with Europe. The concept was generally not part of the intellectual toolkit of the religious reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Reformed Churches varied in terms of their official connection with the state as well as their organizational structure. What we are looking for in the history of the early Reformation are indications that the choice of organizational form by each of the Reformed Churches followed a rational pattern or underlying theory of action. We initiate this search by a brief review of the major early currents of the religious Reform Movement. For reasons that will become obvious as we progress, we have divided this survey into developments on the Continent versus companion developments in England.

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