To see the introduction and disclaimers for my 95 Theses, first go to: 95-Theses-Introduction
(Painting: "Interior of Westminster Abbey," by Jules-Victor Genisson, 1851, oil on canvas)
73.) The Basics of Church Polity - One of the areas in which wide freedom seems to be permitted in Scripture is in the organization of roles and offices within the church. There are two formative principles: first, that the whole people of God together constitute the Kingdom-of-God-in-history on equal ground with one another; second, that God has endowed and equipped certain individuals for roles of leadership, teaching, and so on. As long as a system of church polity honors both of these evident truths about the church, it would seem to be a valid polity.
74.) The Local Church and the Universal Church - There are three levels of the instantiation of the Kingdom-of-God-in-history as represented by the church. First, there is the universal church, already discussed above as existing, unified, because of its mystical union in Christ—this includes not just those believers currently alive, but the whole scope of the people of God throughout time and space. Second, there are the discrete cultural and theological eddies within the church which we term “denominations,” those branches of the universal church which have chosen to self-identify with one another and share a common life and focus. Third, there is the local church—each worshiping community of believers, wherever they may be. The local church is a microcosm of the universal church, equipped and endowed by God for all the works of his people, and thus it too can be called “the Body of Christ,” just as Paul uses the term in reference to local churches under his apostolic care. The relationship between the local-church instantiation, with all its natural authority as a legitimate expression of the Body of Christ, and the denominational instantiation, is the task of each group of Christians to work out for themselves. Whether a congregationalist perspective or a hierarchical system of authority is adopted, the denominational polity must strive to honor both the local church’s inherent identity and the rule of submitting to one another in love (which, in a hierarchical system, means of course submitting to one’s bishop or presbytery). As seen in today’s spectrum of Christian polities, each system has its own strengths and its own frailties. The life of these lower two instantiations of the church, however, must always consciously keep in contact with the life of the universal church, since they are a part of it. This means that we are obligated to engage in historical and theological reflection on the traditions of the church throughout Christian history, and to engage in ecumenical dialogue and partnerships.