Micro Koinonia Project Part II – Defining the Problem, by Pr. Rossow

Pastor Mark Schulz and I are embarking on an interesting path. We are on near opposite ends of the LCMS spectrum on how to do church. We are aquaintances, on our way to friendship and in the process are trying out President Harrison’s Koinonia project in hopes of finding synod and concordia. Here is part two of our Micro-Koinonia project in which we begin to define the situation in the LCMS. There is no jockeying for position; we are just going with the flow, trying to make this as dialogical as possible. This time Mark went first and I followed. We look forward to your comments on both sides as we seek to better understand and critique our differences.


Tim – I’ll take the first shot at describing the state of the LC-MS issues, as I see them…

I’ve heard it said over the years that the LCMS is divided when it comes to the issues of “wine, women, and song,” and I think there is a lot of truth to that! There are disagreements about what, exactly, constitutes closed communion. We have issues about the role of women in the congregation (although we do not, I believe, have as big an issue with women’s ordination as some seem to think). We cannot agree as to the amount of freedom there should be in how we worship. These are real issues that need careful discussion and study.

But there is an even bigger issue than these, I believe. Since its inception the LC-MS has not had a consistent, agreed upon doctrine of the office of the ministry. Dr. Barry alluded to this in his keynote address at the 1997 convocation to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the LC-MS. (You can read that address and all the papers presented at that convocation on the LC-MS website. They highlight the issues well.) I believe all would agree there is such a thing as the Office of the Holy Ministry and that it is divinely instituted. We are not functionalists. But how one becomes a pastor, how much training and education that person needs before being certified for ministry, exactly what the duties of a pastor should be, and which of these duties are divinely instituted and which are humanly prescribed – here we find a whole myriad of opinions. Is ordination a sacrament? I heard strong opinions on both sides of this issue while at seminary. What does it mean to “administer” the sacrament? What is the authority of the pastor in the congregation, and how does the Office of the Holy Ministry properly interact with the Priesthood of All Believers? It may be that many of our other issues would disappear if we could come to agreement on what it means to be a pastor.

The elephant in the room, however, is not doctrinal but rooted in human behavior. We simply do not trust each other. I’ve had a number of people counsel me not to participate in this discussion here at BJS. They do this out of love for me and fear for what might happen to me if I am open and honest here. I admit some trepidation of my own. And yet I also remember a brother pastor (who would be called “confessional”) who shared with me a number of years ago that he was afraid he would be forced to do ministry in a way his conscience did not allow, and that the “powers that be” in the LC-MS would threaten his call as a pastor because he was too conservative. I was stunned and thankful for his willingness to be candid with me. Until we learn to trust each other and appreciate that we all love Jesus, His Word, and our common Lutheran heritage, the rest will never work out. What would it take, I wonder, to develop a culture of trust among us?

All this said, we should never forget that we agree on so much. I am so glad we do not have to struggle against each other on issues like universalism, abortion, gay marriage, and even whether Jesus physically rose from the dead! I believe we can celebrate our unity while at the same time wrestle with those issues that divide us. I’m not willing to give up on our church body, or on our ability to let the Word shape our future and our unity.


As I think of the disunity in our synod I agree with you that the old adage of “wine, women, and song” pretty much describes the source of the disunity – that is Holy Communion, women’s role in the church and worship. I would add to those three doctrinal matters, three problems of attitude in the church today – a lack of guts (conviction), the prominence of the false dichotomy of doctrine and practice (what I call “the great divide”) and the influx of the culture’s too broad definition of tolerance.

Before describing how we got to this point let me share what I think is a good standard in each of these cases, our beloved Martin Luther. Concerning Holy Communion, he certainly would practice closed communion, after all one could say he put Zwingli under the minor ban after Marburg. Concerning women, Luther clearly upheld the fourth commandment and would not have women assisting in communion, reading lessons and the like. Luther on worship is sort of like a wax nose, everyone contorting him into whatever shape they wish but to me he is quite clear that a total overhaul of the basic liturgy is not good for the Gospel. At one point early on in the Reformation he briefly spoke of a low church sort of rite for the spiritually elite that was similar to some COWO today (Contemporary Worship) but as quickly as he brought it up, he dropped the notion. (Maybe later on I can dig up the reference and we can study it together in koinonia. I believe the quote is from one of the volumes in the American edition on The Career of the Reformer.)

Concerning my three attitudinal items, Luther is very clear. No one would ever accuse him of lacking guts. Concerning the “great divide,” he never even considered a distinction between doctrine and practice (probably since it is a late 19th, early 20th century invention of the Marxists and Pragmatists). As far as tolerance goes, Luther was highly intolerant and parochial even to the point of fault. I don’t expect us to be as parochial as Luther was when it came to things like the Jewish question (he clearly made some anti-semitic statements that the LCMS has disavowed), but we could benefit from being a bit more parochial than the prevailing spirit of tolerance in certain circles in the LCMS today.

So how did we get to this point? First, I would say that it is nothing new. The age of pietism exhibited many of these things and it can never be underestimated that every generation of Christians has always had to battle the tendency toward compromise and the drift toward false ecumenism. Particularly though I think there are three important causes of our current situation.

First, there is the problem of the impact of contemporary Christian music and the overall Evangelical culture on the middle and older aged pastors of today’s LCMS. I remember as a kid (mid 70’s) listening to this new thing called contemporary Christian music (Larry Norman, Phil Keage, even Andre Crouch) and going to Billy Graham movies (e.g. “Time to Run”) as the whole Christian community would rally around these things. My parents were strong Lutherans and taught me the doctrinal differences but still let me participate in these things. I suppose they figured it was good that I was at least socializing around Christian things and as to the music, I suppose they were just glad I was not listening to the acid rock my brother obsessed on. I can remember at Concordia, Seward in the late 70’s, all the really “spiritual” students going in to Lincoln to various Christian rock performances, usually at some Pentecostal church. I even went to a Keith Green concert in St. Louis in the early 80’s when I was at the seminary. The music was great but I remember that was the beginning of the end for me. By that point I had learned enough about law and Gospel and the doctrine of the ministry to be really annoyed by this lay musician preaching and totally destroying the Gospel with his two-bit pietistic legalism. Enough about me. The point is I know that was not alone and sadly, not everyone got to the point of recognizing the terrible doctrine in contemporary Christian music. Once these guys became pastors and had a willing generation of poorly catechized Lutherans as their sheep, they led them down the path of COWO and away from the liturgy. Even I went down that path by starting a contemporary service in one of the most traditional parishes in the synod. I am so thankful for the brothers who slowly and gently brought me out of that world and into the realm of traditional, Biblical Lutheranism.

Secondly, we have a pastorate these days that lacks guts. It is still to this day a gut check for me every time I need to rebuke a couple living together before marriage or having to close the altar to someone. I am sure it was not easy for Paul to rebuke Peter (Galatians 1-2). It takes conviction, courage and strength to pastor a parish and sadly, many of our clergy do not have those traits.

Thirdly, we find ourselves in this position because many of our District Presidents for the last 20 years or so were trained by the liberal professors before the walkout. It was only natural that those who graduated in the 60’s would be the leaders of the last twenty years of so as they started to reach their 50’s. It also did not hurt that they were basically tolerant people. When you can elect your own supervisor, it makes sense that it would lead to “nice guy” bishops. One can hardly blame them for a lack of conviction based on the education at Concordia, St. Louis in the 60’s and early 70’s. It is also not surprising that they raced after the principles of the church growth movement like air filling a vacuum because they had the blood atonement and the forgiveness of sins taken off the table by the liberal professors and so they were looking for some way to make church meaningful. They found it in the principles of sociology (make people happy) and psychology (satisfy felt needs).

Well, there you have it. Hopefully that lays the ground work for our attempts at koinonia. Despite our differences, I remain committed to trying to find our way out of this lack of concordia and into a state of synod.

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