- Gemeindeordnung und Kirchenzucht: Johannes a Lascos Kirchenordnung für London (1555) und die reformierte Konfessionsbildung
On the eve of the John Calvin Quincentennial, Judith Becker has directed attention to another luminary within the broader Reformed tradition, the Polish reformer, John a Lasco. Becker's study of a Lasco, and especially the immediate circle of congregations he influenced in London and in Emden, has appeared in the same year as Michael Springer's Restoring Christ's Church: John a Lasco and the Forma ac Ratio (2007). While Springer focuses rather exclusively on a Lasco's legacy by examining his foundational church order, the Forma ac Ratio, Becker probes the way in which his concepts about ecclesiastical structure, and especially church discipline, were actually implemented in the Emden Reformed congregation, and the Dutch and French strangers churches in London. Although keenly aware of broader dynamics of social discipline, Becker emphasizes the role of church discipline within these various congregational settings, with an interest in exploring the intersection of pastoral care, congregational autonomy, and discipline.
The first segment of Becker's book examines the ecclesiology of a Lasco, with a particular concern for notions of congregational structure and his understanding of church discipline. Becker argues that a Lasco concentrated on the entire faith community, with the notion of Gemeinschaft permeating his understanding of the congregation. This emphasis resulted in a unique perspective on the church as the body of Christ: the communio corporis Christi. In one important sense, this quasi-mystical understanding of Christ's body became real and evident in the celebration [End Page 1312] of the Eucharist. Christ's presence and headship of the church was not realized so much in the elements themselves, but in the corporate activity of celebrating the Lord's Supper. Here a Lasco moved beyond the mere sacramentalism of Zwingli. Church discipline, in its best sense, was a means of not only preserving, but of enhancing this experience within the gathered community. Although particular offices had roles to play in the discipline of church, such as pastors, deacons, elders, and originally, the superintendent in London, ultimately this was the responsibility of the entire congregation. Becker states that for a Lasco paired notions of love and liberty shaped the practice of discipline that sought to hold the community together and, particularly, sought to bring wayward members lovingly back into the communio corporis Christi.
Having established a Lasco's approach to church discipline, Becker looks closely at how his ideas and ideals were carried forward in Emden and London. One of a Lasco's first professional stops was as Superintendent in East Frisia, and he was later connected to Emden through the refugee community that settled there. Becker analyzes the reformed church at Emden, encapsulated in a territory under the authority of a Lutheran count, and notes the way in which the consistory, or Kirchenrat, negotiated the religious interests of the territorial authorities, the city council, and the congregation. By the mid-1570s Emden had abandoned the more congregational interests of a Lasco, replacing these with the kind of discipline and order (Zucht und Ordnung) characteristic of other reformed communities. Becker refers to the earlier work by Timothy Fehler on the Emden diaconate (Poor Relief and Protestantism), also active in aspects of church discipline, but argues that the consistory was increasingly the primary locus for disciplinary matters. In a similar fashion, Becker mines the consistory records (Kirchenratsprotokolle) of the London Dutch strangers church, evaluating the function of various church offices and their approach to church discipline. This congregation sought to adhere more firmly to the theological vision of its founding superintendent. The congregation's broader role in matters of discipline was evident in a controversy surrounding baptismal sponsors in the 1570s, a controversy that pitted the more broadly represented diaconate against the consistory. Nevertheless, even this congregation experienced the erosion of congregational discipline as the consistory abandoned the tradition of weekly "prophesy" services —a main feature in...