The proper structure of the church was one of the most contested issues of the sixteenth century, and while Protestants agree on the errors of an episcopacy headed by a supreme pontiff, there is still little agreement among them about the right form of church polity. Many of these disagreements emerged early in the Reformation, as different individuals, churches, and confessions processed the meaning of relevant biblical texts and their particular contexts differently. In his interpretation of Paul’s metaphor of the body from Romans 12, German Lutheran pastor Johann Spangenberg (1484-1550) assumes the continued value of church offices, of which all believers hold a type, to which they are appointed to serve the people of God in their own way in harmony under the headship of Christ.

The Metaphor Applied to the Ministry of the Word

Through this parable Saint Paul wants to say how many members constitute the body and yet remain only one body. So also there are many servants and yet only one Christian church, whose head is Christ. In the body there are eyes, ears, mouth, nose, hands and feet. So also in Christianity there are bishops, pastors and preachers. Each member has its own office. The eye sees. The ear hears. The mouth speaks. The hands work. The feet walk. So also in Christianity each prelate has their own office and calling. The eyes are bishops and preachers; the ears, parishioners; the hands, rulers; the feet, subjects. Now if the foot hurts, the eyes look at it, the hands grasp it, the mouth calls for help, etc. And so it should also happen in Christianity. One should help carry another person’s load and burden. One accepts another person’s distress and concerns as one’s own. One should help, serve and advise others with words and deeds. In this way God wants to be our dear Father and Patron, and he wants us to be his children—yes, accepting us as true living sacrifices in his kingdom, in eternal life.

Epistle for the First Sunday after Epiphany.

Romans 9-16, eds. Philip D. W. Krey and Peter D. S. Krey. Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT vol. 8, p. 132.