- Ecclesiology (from the Greek ecclesia) is the division of theology that studies the church, its organization, and its relation to the state. It begins with biblical references to the church as the body of Christ or the bride of Christ, examines the church as it exists in the present and in different times and places, and prescribes how it should be changed or preserved.Ecclesiology was at the center of many Reformation debates about polity (governance) and church-state relations. Anglicans, for example, retained an episcopal polity (leadership by BISHops) and a close relation to the state. John Calvin replaced bishops with ELDERS (presbyters) in his state church. The Radical Reformation favored a congregational polity, with only a distant relationship to the state. Anabaptists and other Free CHURCHES wanted to be free of any entanglement with the state and exist as a fellowship of the committed.Another key issue was church membership. State churches tended to retain baptism of infants, a sign of their induction into the church. They would later be confirmed. Among Free Churches, only believers committed to a godly life could join the fellowship of members.The multiplying Protestant denominations confronted another question: was the church (or the true church) one's own denomination, or possibly a spectrum of denominations holding similar views? Some Protestants made distinctions between the true church, consisting of all those who have a saving faith in Jesus Christ whatever their denomination, and the visible church, which consists of both believers and nonbelievers. Some tried to put aside denominational divisions, and formed new churches with nondenominational names such as the Church of God, the Churches of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, and the Brethren. Chinese preacher Watchman NEE tried to revive what he saw as the New Testament pattern of one church per city. Each of the churches he founded was simply known as the Church in whatever city it was located. The movement became known as the Local Church.A more overt attempt to reconcile the differences among Protestants resulted in the 20th-century Ecumenical movement. After only limited success in merging denominations, the goal became the mutual recognition of different churches, often through pulpit fellowship and recognition of sacraments. A major embodiment is the Leuenberg Church Fellowship.Many 20th-century church leaders have jettisoned ecclesiology as a search for a single model of church life or organization. Any church polity is acceptable if it brings people to faith and nurtures Christian fellowship. A variety of innovative forms of church life, each with New Testament credentials, have been proposed, including communal homes, house churches, and cell churches.Further reading:■ Paul D. L. Avis, The Church in the Theology of the Reformers (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981)■ Ernest Best, One Body in Christ: A Study in the Relationship of the Church to Christ in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul (London: SPCK, 1955)■ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols., trans. by Ford Lewis Battles, ed. by John T McNeill. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960)■ James Leo Garrett, The Concept of the Believers' Church (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1969)■ William Robinson, The Biblical Doctrine of the Church (St. Louis: Bethany, 1948).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.