Connections Hour: 9:00 a.m.
Worship Service: 10:30 a.m.

The Lutheran Brethren understanding of congregation has it's roots in the "free church" movements of the mid to late 1800's. At that time many churches began to question the relationship of the church to the state. [1] Some felt that the state churches were in bondage to the governing body of the country. These trends began as early as the 1600's with the puritans. Seeking to practice their religion freely, the Puritans left the state churches of England. A wide spread persecution soon followed forcing many to flee England. Many were drawn to the "new-world" with renewed hopes of religious freedom among other things.

The Church of the Lutheran Brethren based its constitution, and congregational beliefs upon The Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of Norway. [2] They in turn built upon the constitution of The Free Church of Scotland who were interestingly enough, a Presbyterian Church body. The word "free" came to hold two meanings. The first, and most obvious, was that these churches had broken from their respective state church bodies. They were neither subject to their jurisdiction nor relying upon them for support. The second, and more relative to this discussion, was their emphasis on admitting only believers as communicant members to their local congregations. Many of these Norwegian "free-church" people immigrated to the United States and settled in the Midwest in the late 1800's. [3]

During this same period a spiritual awakening swept through a large portion of the Midwest. As a result people began to seek the scriptures relating to the local church. [4] Most Lutheran bodies at the time practiced mixed (non-believers and believer) membership. Many believers, at this time left these mainline churches to form independent congregations based on their conviction of a membership of believers. [5] This biblical understanding brought together those from the revival and those who had immigrated.

Independence brought with it autonomy. This became another major tenet of the Lutheran Brethren understanding of the local congregation. [6] However, these small independent congregations soon realized that they could not carry out many of the mandates of the great commission alone. [7] The major ones were foreign missions, Christian and pastoral education. At the close of the nineteenth century a stirring began among these independent "free" congregations to form a new synod. This eventually led to the organization of The Church of the Lutheran Brethren in 1900. [8] They recognized the congregation as the communion of saints and therefore mandated the policy of a membership of believers. [9] In terms of the congregation's relationship with the synod, it was understood that the synod has an advisory function rather than a ruling function. [10]

The local congregation, in its macro sense, consists of people in various stages of spiritual life, including unbelievers, seekers, new believers, and maturing believers. All are welcome to attend the local church and be under the hearing of the word of God. The congregation can be characterized using terms ranging from broad to narrow. In the broadest sense, the congregation is comprised of members and friends. These include all people who call the local church their "home", believers and unbelievers alike. Within this larger group are the confessing members. These are people who confess faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and have been voted and accepted as members by the voting confessing members of the congregation. [11] Only God can knows the hearts of people, so the church recognizes that there may be some among the confessing members who may profess their Christian testimony falsely. [12] We must trust that the Spirit will bring these people to true regeneration through Word and Sacrament.

The congregation in its micro sense, that is the voting confessing-members, recognizes and calls their own elders and pastors. They are ordained and installed according to the rituals of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren of America. At the time of his ordination/installation, the pastor also becomes part of the congregational council. [13] The congregation looks to this group of men for their spiritual teaching, guiding, and leading. This group is also responsible for recommending individuals for congregational membership. This generally occurs following an application process where the elders meet with the individual. The individual shares his or her testimony about their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as God's only way of salvation and that they have trusted Him as their personal Savior and Lord. The congregation votes on their acceptance as a member during a business meeting. [14] The congregation then usually extends "the right hand of fellowship" to the individual at the next communion service. This is an exciting time in the life of the church.

The elders are also charged with exercising church discipline with accordance to scriptural norms found in Matthew 18:15-18; I Corinthians 5; II Corinthians 2:5-11; and I Timothy 5:20. They have the authority to exclude individuals from the Lord's Table but only the congregation holds the authority to excommunicate them. [15] This is a drastic measure taken only after attempts have failed to restore the individual into the life and fellowship of the church. This is a difficult yet necessary part of church life. The congregation works in harmony with its elders to maintain the truth and sanctity of God's Word.

The congregation recognizes the office of the pastor as a role set apart from the other elders. The congregation calls a man who will concentrate on the preaching of the Word of God and administers the Sacraments. [16] The congregation will support him and his family both spiritually and materially. He will be their shepherd, caring and loving them as God gives grace. Together with the elders, he will minister to the needs of the congregation and will lead them in the call of the Great Commission.

The congregation is where corporate worship occurs. A special time is set up, usually Sunday morning, when all the parishioners gather together in the presence of almighty God for the purpose of worship. Each congregation decides on its own worship style: contemporary, traditional, blended, etc. Generally, Lutheran Brethren congregations choose a Low Church format. This means that the pastor does not wear clerical robes and the service does not follow a liturgy. It is a simple and informal service where the preaching of the Word of God is the primary focus. [17] The congregation acknowledges both God's transcendence and His imminence. They worship God in His hiddenness as well as glorifying Him through His revealed Son, Jesus Christ. The congregation celebrates the presence of the crucified and risen Savior in worship. This can be clearly observed through the church's two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper.

It is the people of the congregation who develop bonds with their community. The focus of the congregation, as a great commission community, is outward in mission. A healthy church will produce fruit that will ripple throughout its community. New believers are brought into the congregation through the people's witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ working through their natural webs of influence. They begin to be assimilated into the daily life of the church through the home bible studies, adult Sunday school, small group ministries, Discovery class, adult confirmation, etc. that the church offers. Further discipling takes place in one on one ministry and other discipleship opportunities. This further aids in grounding their faith so that this process can repeat itself. This person is then able to reach a whole new web of people with the witness of the gospel.

The congregation, seen in this light, is a living body that works together to bring the reality of the Gospel to the people that only they can reach. God has placed the church as an outpost of the Kingdom in that specific location. He has placed His people in homes, jobs, and communities in order to be His ambassadors to them. In this way the body becomes a witness to its head, Jesus Christ

-Aage Larsen
[1] Levang, Joseph H., The Church of the Lutheran Brethren 1900-1975, (Fergus Falls, MN: Lutheran brethren Publishing Company, 1980) 6
[2] Church of the Lutheran Brethren, "A Brief History" (Fergus Falls, MN: Faith and Fellowship Press), 1
[3] Levang, 6-7
4 Rinden, David, "How we came to be (Fergus Falls, MN: Faith and Fellowship Press), 1
[5] Levang, 15
[6] Church of the Lutheran Brethren of America, Constitution and By-laws (Fergus Falls, MN: Faith and Fellowship Press), 1
[7] "How We Came to Be", 1
[8] Levang, 23
[9] Ibid., 16
[10] Constitution, 8
[11] Ibid., 15
[12] Ibid., 9
[13] Ibid., 14
[14] Rinden, David, "Membership in a Lutheran Brethren Congregation," (Fergus Falls, MN: Faith and Fellowship Press) 2
[15] Constitution, 14
[16] Ibid, 13;14
[17] Rinden, David, "Who are the Lutheran Brethren?" (Fergus Falls, Faith and Fellowship Press, 1995), 1