Patterns of Polity: Varieties of Church Governance

by Edward L. Long Jr.. Pilgrim Press, 2001.

Author Edward LeRoy Long believes that while churches and denominations are normally compared by the doctrines they hold, a better method would be to compare their methods of governance. Don’t mistake polity for mere legalism or rule following; better to think of polity more like a language. As the author writes, “Polities offer, not only rules for procedure, but models for interaction and fidelity.” Long explores the methods of governance in various denominations, beginning with “Governance by Bishops,” and “Monarchial Episcopacy,” then traveling the spectrum to “Governance by Congregations” and more particularly, “Congregations without Overstructures.” In each case, he carefully examines a polity in practice in American churches. Pastors will find this a remarkably handy book to keep on their shelves, particularly with respect to the specific examples of polity. Theologians should find Long’s approach a fresh means of extending the ecumenical dialog.