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When people ask me what makes ECO unique, I often point to sections 2.0501-2 of our polity. These sections allow the session to conduct further training for specific elders and deacons to celebrate the sacraments in micro-expressions of church. This is fundamentally different than simply extending the Communion table to shut-ins. This is acknowledging that these micro-expressions — small groups, missional communities, etc. — are not just ancillary activities to the “real church” that takes place on Sunday morning, but that these are authentic forms of church in and of themselves.
This is a significant shift in our ecclesiology, but it is a biblical one. In Matthew 18:20 Jesus says, “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am with them.” Jesus is not saying that a quorum of 2 people needs to be present in order for Him to show up. He is saying that a representation of the body of Christ is present whenever two or more are gathered in His name: “Wherever two or more are gathering, there I am, there is the body of Christ, there is the Church.” As we live in a post-Christendom culture, where an ever-shrinking percentage of people who don’t know Jesus will be reached by attracting people to Sunday worship, we need to affirm and deploy micro-expressions of church in the world.
One of the last things I did at my previous church, Indian River Presbyterian, was to take 12 officers who were leading micro-expressions of church through a 6-month training course. We took a deeper look at theology, leadership, ecclesiology, culture, and sacramental training. At the end of the course, these leaders were authorized by the session to celebrate the sacraments within their micro-expressions of church.
There were several benefits to this. First, it de-professionalized the clergy. While still ensuring a “right administration of the sacraments” it acknowledged that others who where trained and ordained could fulfill that function. This is why I love that in ECO, we don’t call our elders “ruling elders” as if they had only a purely governmental function. Second, it affirmed that these expressions of church were fulfilling the biblical functions of church. Third, it raised the bar for these micro-expressions. Because these expressions were to be more than a sub-group of people from Sunday morning, it gave the expectation that, among other things, these groups should be reaching people with the good news of Jesus.
I hope that as you live or are preparing to live within the Covenanted Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, you will find ways to utilize this element of the polity in order to become an even healthier church that makes disciples of Jesus Christ.