I had the privilege to sit and listen to First Vice President Mueller discuss the Koinonia Project with Pastors from the Wyoming District (the first day also included teachers and deaconesses too). Here are some of my thoughts about what was presented:
The honesty of VP Mueller was wonderful to hear. He acknowledged the problems that really do exist. This is a dramatic change of pace from the “we agree on almost everything” celebrations that have been so common in the past.
A thought I had in regards to this is “what stage of heresy are we at in the LCMS?” This goes back to something that C.P. Krauth taught in regards to error and the church. Krauth taught that error first seeks tolerance, then it seeks equality, then it seeks dominance. My personal opinion is that we are at stage two and I think the move to stage three has been halted for the moment.
Problems with practice were not just downgraded to regional differences, but actually used to reflect differences in belief. Lex Orendi, Lex Credendi was held up and taught. This means that we again can strive for uniformity in practices rather than shucking them in the name of diversity and freedom. VP Mueller stressed that you can’t separate doctrine from practice, and that the diversity of practices in the Synod is reflective of differing beliefs. He did say that a number of practices can be faithful to doctrine.
I was slightly concerned about the last statement within reason. That statement could be used (and most likely will be used by many libertines with no love for their neighbor) to allow for anything. It is something to be watchful for.
More than just a presentation on another program or movement in the LCMS, this was presented with the Scriptures in their original language. It was refreshing to see VP Mueller up there as comfortable with his Greek NT as our Synod President is (and a bit humbling for those of us whose Greek is less polished). Scripture was presented to show that first and foremost, Christ is the source and primary koinonia that we have. Also helpful was that VP Mueller classified the efforts of the koinonia project in terms of building “concord” again. He acknowledged God’s role in establishing unity, and also in bringing about a positive result of this project (concord among our pastors, laity, and congregations).
VP Mueller also tied into a lot of history into his presentation, and in general how the Lutheran Church in the past dealt with divisions is being used by our current administration to come up with a blueprint for the Koinonia Project. In particular two processes were used to help explain how this all is going to work. The first example is the process that led to the Formula of Concord, and the second example is that which settled the Predestinarian Controversy in the LCMS. Both of these examples will be helpful.
I thought this reference to history further exemplified the administration’s commitment to the catholic church of all time. I was concerned however in that the Predestinarian Controversy, the division began to be addressed almost right away. The divisions in the LCMS are 50-100 years old now (the fruit of “if we don’t look at it, it is not there” churchmanship). VP Mueller stated that after years of study and deliberation around the Word of God and the Confessions only 1% of the pastors in Walther’s day were still in favor of the erroneous position. It would be a wonderful gift of God if such a large consensus could be found after the years of study in the Koinonia Project. Another difficulty is that there are more than just one issue that divides the LCMS today. All of this makes for a very difficult time for this project (VP Mueller even said that it will likely by 10 times harder than we can even think). With God all things are possible.
In light of all of these challenges, which have been so long left to no action or only political action, our Synod is going to in a directed effort sit down with the Word of God and try once again to be blessed with concord. It is time for this sacred task to be undertaken, and VP Mueller believes that this is what God is calling us to do at this time in order to be faithful to His Word and our confession.
The recent report on Synod Harmony stressed that many of the issues were personal ones primarily and the theological issues were secondary. VP Mueller rightly reversed this. There are personal issues, but they are secondary to the theological issues within our Synod. This was also refreshing to hear since too many times in congregational and synodical things divisions are merely represented as personality differences. Many genuine theological rifts are masked under two men who are jerks with each other.
VP Mueller also stressed that this project is not meant to generate more resolutions to convention. He said that even from his experience this is a bad way to handle the divisions, and it does not bear fruit, only more divisions. I applaud him for this, although I am not sure if such an attitude can prevail in our highly politicized Synod.
There are a few things to watch out for in this whole matter that I can tell. One of the pastors at the conference rightly made the comment that the divisions in our Synod can be found at the level of the Council of Presidents and asked that they go through this process first. I don’t think that they are going to be going first, but it would be very helpful for the entire COP go through this at the same time as the pilot districts (Northern Illinois, South Wisconsin, and Nebraska). With recent situations going on in our Synod, it is quite clear to everyone looking on honestly that there are very different theological brands of men among the District Presidents.
This causes concern as the minutes of the 1881 Synod Convention in settling the Predestinarian controversy declared this:
“While that Synod was profoundly grateful that each of its district presidents adhered to the Theses, it admitted that it would be a totally different situation if there were presidents who sided with the opponents. By the grace of God, the minutes state, without a single exception, they were faithful and firm to a single man on the Theses. In view of this, the Synod was assured of the total confidence that the presidents, as the shepherds of pure doctrine, would exercise the responsibilities of their office according to the Word of God.” (from August Suelflow’s Servant of the Word, CPH, 132)
Another pastor noted that the Wyoming District would like to be involved, but that the level of Concord in our District doesn’t allow us to participate in the way that the other districts are. I thought it would be a good idea for the Wyoming District to go through a District to District Pilot Project with our neighbor, the Northwest District. That effort would keep with the general spirit of this project and also have representation from each side of the major theological divisions in our Synod.
I am also concerned that in this process the “norms” of the Lutheran Church will not be used to their fullest extent. Not only does Scripture define our doctrine and practice, but also our Confessions (they are a normed norm, normed by the Scriptures and fully acceptable to be used among Lutherans to teach and discuss doctrine and practice). There is a great emphasis on Scripture, but we need not reinvent every wheel here, but the Book of Concord should also be used in this project. As they are the only correct exposition of the teachings of Scripture out there that we have all agreed to, the Confessions will undoubtedly be used in the Koinonia Project. The only caution will be in how they are used (remember that the ELCA holds up the confessions too, only as a historical confession with limited importance on specifics for this time).
I am also concerned that the spirit of ecumenism will invade this process and that the goal of real concord will be so hard that we will accept only a veneer of it (the error of the Ecumenical movement of the twentieth century).
The project does need to have a point where final action may need to be taken. There is a real concern that these fraternal conversations will go on and on without resolve or concord. At some point, errorists need to be asked to be honest and follow their convictions, whether those convictions lead one to LCMC, NALC, ELCA, WELS, Orthodox, Catholic, Willow Creek, or whatever. I am afraid there may not be enough character left in man for them to do this. I hope I am wrong and that everyone will agree that parting of the ways in some cases may be the best option for all involved. Many people are worried about the project being a smokescreen either for a witch hunt/purge on one side or continued empty confession on the other. These concerns reflect the divisions and how in the past they have been handled. But this effort is to be theological and historically speaking, with honest conversation around the Word of God and our Confessions. Perhaps the concerns reflect bad consciences which are afraid actual concord may be found. The Word will do as it does, either creating repentant sinners or hardened ones – the outcome of that is the business of the Holy Spirit.
There are many things that I would ask the readers to include in their daily prayers (and possibly for pastors to include in the weekly prayer of the Church as well):
Pray that the Koinonia Project would be faithful to God’s Word. In this I can see several temptations which will come to all of those involved:
- Temptation to compromise when the Word is clear
- Temptation to declare peace when there is no peace (Jeremiah 14)
- Temptation to rely further upon political action
- Temptation to continue in impenitence (pray for the repentance of those in error)
- Temptation to continue with empty confessional agreement w/o any practical agreement
- Temptation to despair and become discouraged with such a hard task
- Temptation that this is our job to do, denying the Holy Spirit’s role in this.
In closing I will quote something from H.C. Schwan that VP Mueller pointed me to:
“What has kept us together until now was not our Constitution, as good as it is, nor the personality of those who bear the highest synodical offices. No, it was something radically different, something which God Himself has given to us. This was the unity of spirit and faith. We remain together outwardly because we are one inwardly. Because of this, districts, congregations, and individuals can never be careful enough in whatever they are doing to maintain the bond of unity. Even though they may have the best intentions in undertaking certain items, if these are not properly thought through, and are not properly considered on the backdrop of love to others and with due respect to the welfare and furtherance of the whole [this unity cannot be maintained]. As long as we by God’s grace remain one in heart and soul through the Word and faith, our bond of fellowship at the continued existence of the Synod will not be seriously challenged. If this [spirit] is ever lost, then no constitution will coerce those who rebel, and the resulting cooperation will be of no value.” (from Suelflow’s Servant of the Word, CPH, 133)
It would be nice to hear the same statement made at some future LCMS Convention…
May God grant us repentance and spare us from reaping what we have sown.