07 November 2011

Some Notes on the Revision of Church Order in Sulawesi, Indonesia

Zakaria J. Ngelow

Part of paper presented at conference on "Protestant Church Polity in Changing Contexts" of Protestant Theologische Universiteit, Utrecht, the Netherlands, 7 - 10 November 2011

As mentioned before, the paternalistic character of church office is a product of the churches’ history. The paternalistic character of missionaries’ traditional leadership culture and the hierarchial structure of the Indies Protestant Church shaped the development of the organizational culture. While in theory churches acknowledged the equivalence of the three offices, the deacon is seen as the lowest office after that of elder, and they are both beneath the pastor. In the liturgy, when elders and deacons lead the service, they are not allowed to raise their hands as they pronounce the blessings, and are required to change the blessing formulation from “you” to “us”.

Num 6: 24 "The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace."

2Cor 13:14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

The deacon is seen as a candidate for the office of elder. This perception corresponds with the absence of diakonia as one of the main calls of the church. The diaconate is practiced as a ceremonial event on Christmas or Easter, and limited to a small gift for widows in the congregation. Revision of the church order revives the understanding of church mission as including the diaconate in its holistic character, and its relation to the specific office of deacons.

Most Indonesian churches acknowledge three major aspects of church mission, namely koinonia (communion), martyria (witness) and diakonia (social ministry). In the ecclesiology consultation we introduce broader aspects uch as leitourgia (worship), oikonomia (stewardship), and didache (teaching).

Churches are also exposed to problems of presbytery-synodal structure. The Toraja Church, GTM and GKSB allocate relatively greater power to local congregational councils; while GEPSULTRA tends to centralize in the synod, including centralized finances (for the payment of pastors’ salaries). [Some churches in Indonesia, such as Kalimantan Evangelis Church (GKE) and Christian Church of Gospel Lighthouse (GKPI) employ the term synodal-presbytery (=sinodal-presbiterial) in their Church Order to underline the greater power at the synod.]

Churches generally employed a three-sphered structure of congregation, classis and synod. But bigger churches like Toraja and GTM had four in the past, as some classis were united in a regional synod. In most cases, churches developed top-down relationships in the church structure, with the synod on the top, then classis and then congregations at the bottom. In the consultation on ecclesiology a reversion was developed, that the local congregation is central as it is the full expression of the church in the world.

Churches employ different organizational structures for the categorical ministries of children, youth and women. They are independent organizations in the congregation and function more as close partners rather than in sub-ordination to the presbyters council. While the church has her church order, these organizations have their own respective statutes. Youth and women’s organizations then become a strategic factor in terms of both church ministry and socio-political leadership.

Regarding the role of the General Assembly, the Toraja church with her big membership and strong human resources recently managed to conduct a relative successful General Assembly. Other churches in the region need to develop a better quality of their General Assembly. In the General Assembly, participants seem to spend most of their time promoting their respective candidates for new Synod Executive Committee personnel.

There are some aspects that need to be addressed to have a good General Assembly: well prepared needed documents, organizing committee with a qualified steering committee, a team of qualified General Assembly moderators, and also well informed and disciplined participants. In general, General Assembly documents consist of (a) the report (including financial report) of the outgoing Synod Executive Committee with all its attachments; (b) draft of the programs for the coming period; (c) other draft documents to be evaluated or decided; and (d) other documents for the General Assembly: agenda, list and address of participants, daily liturgy, rules of order, etc. Steering committees and moderators should be well aware of the process and progress of the meeting and the substance of the ongoing session. They also should lead every session toward achieving well-conceived goals for the assembly.

One area of development of church order that is often neglected is that of the pastoral offices: church discipline and the ministries of baptism, communion, marriage, and funerals. Several of the churches surveyed here maintain largely outdated practices of barring church members from communion (and often refusing baptism to their children), mostly for violating sexual and marital norms, while other serious moral failings such as domestic violence and corruption are routinely ignored. The practice of church discipline also exists in tension with local traditions for the resolution of conflicts and disputes by means of councils of traditional elders to levy fines on those determined to be in the wrong. This is one area in which the contextualization of church order needs further development based on a more contextual theology of ministry. The same applies to the integration of baptism with rituals celebrating the birth of a child and the integration of marriage and funerals with local ritual practices relating to these important rites of passage.

Finally, we should note the difficulty faced by the churches in producing regulations that are equally applicable to both rural and urban congregations, and also providing structures that enable continuing fellowship between urban and rural members. As the process of urbanization progresses in Indonesia, this will become a more urgent problem.

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