It was on April 6th in the year of our Lord 1576 that the effort to address the divisions in doctrine and practice among Lutherans in the 16th century began in the City of Torgau, Germany, which ultimately culminated in writing the Formula of Concord. It was this effort – led by Jacob Andreas, Martin Chemnitz, Nicolas Selnecker, and David Chytraeus – that LCMS President Matthew Harrison pointed to as a model to help our Synod reconcile its many differences of doctrine and practice in his pre-election document “It’s Time.”
Much effort has gone into the Koinonia Project over the last three years, but not much has been accomplished. Indeed, one wonders how many more iterations of the Koinonia Project proposal will be forthcoming since we are now on proposal number 10.1 at last count. This raises the question as to when the proposed ten year long process will even begin? But more disconcerting are the questions, when will it end and how?
While the congregations of the ACELC truly applaud the goals of the Koinonia Project to re-establish unity in doctrine and practice in The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, this effort seems to have lost its way in many respects.
The first problem with the Koinonia Project is that the findings of a poorly written and sometimes quite misguided document called, “The Final Report of the Task Force on Harmony” was made part of the Koinonia Project. This document was mandated by the 2007 Synodical Convention as an effort, not of the grass roots of laymen and pastors of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, nor even of the well-qualified theological faculties of our two seminaries, but a hand-picked, Church-Growth-stacked group of 12 men who could not seem to bring themselves to see that one possibility of establishing harmony might be to come to an agreement under Holy Scripture and our Confessions respecting the issues that divide us. Instead, we were told that such an agreement is really “concord,” not “harmony” and as such was outside the scope of their assignment. Additionally, the task force wanted to canonize “diversity” as a value in and of itself. Thus, the Final Report asks the CTCR to, “…produce a study on ‘The Theology of Difference,'” and also concludes, “Ultimately, each of us, every Synodical entity, and every congregation needs to recognize and celebrate God-pleasing diversity.” It should be clear to any reasonably objective observer that our problem isn’t our diversity, but rather our lack of unity.
The second problem with the Koinonia Project is found in its unrealistically long time frame to even identify the problems that divide us. Honestly, this isn’t rocket science. I doubt that it would take any group of three pastors less than an hour to point out the obvious areas of disagreement that exist in our Synod. We’ve been talking about them for decades!
The third problem with the Koinonia Project is that there is no mechanism in place for coming to conclusions and resolutions for the issues that divide us. At the end of the process that resulted in the formulation of the Formula of Concord a document was developed that accepted a Scriptural conclusion and rejected false teaching on each controverted issue. Then the theologians and princes either signed their agreement to it or they didn’t. Those that signed knew they were in agreement with their fellow signers and that they were not in agreement with those who didn’t sign. Unfortunately, the Koinonia Project seems to have no way to know either when they have finished their task or how to deal with remaining differences when it is over.
What a contrast to the way the Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Congregations (ACELC) have sought to bring about unity, concord, and harmony! In Matthew Harrison’s document “It’s Time” he writes on page 11 about the composition of the Koinonia Project group:
“In fact, given the current status of things, it might even be best if this group were to form of its own accord, and thus without the accusation or even suspicion of machination.”
This is exactly what the ACELC has done! We took President Harrison at his word and began in 2010 to do precisely what he wants the Koinonia Project to do. The ACELC has already done the work of clearly articulating the issues that are dividing our Synod. We have already documented the fact that the identified errors truly exist within our Synod, and we have clearly stated what the Word of God says respecting each issue of contention. We have developed study materials for broad-based, grass roots pastors’ conferences, laymen, and even the Council of Presidents to use, and we have done all of this completely in the open, without any secrecy of any kind and willingly put our names to our work.
The ACELC makes our goals for bringing about unity, concord, and harmony within our Synod crystal clear:
“To This End We Seek To:
- Accurately identify errors in doctrine and practice among us,
- make those identified errors publicly known throughout the Synod,
- promote wide-ranging discussion of these errors at every level of Synod – especially at pastors’ circuit conferences, circuit forums, district pastors’ conferences, and the like,
- and work within and alongside official Synodical structures, avenues, and efforts in a complementary effort to bring about renewed unity in doctrine and practice among us.” (ACELC Statement on home page of website)
While the Koinonia Project does not seem to have any end in sight nor any way to determine if the process has come to a conclusion, the 23 congregations of the ACELC will insist that each and every issue finally be resolved under the Word of God and our Lutheran Confessions and not simply indefinitely studied and discussed without ever coming to a conclusion. Nor would we find it acceptable to conclude such an effort by doing what has been done so many times in the past by simply crafting language which seeks to leave opposing views as equally valid. This would be a facade of unity, not true unity.
If you or your congregation would like to help the ACELC in its continuing effort to restore honest harmony, concord, and unity that truly reflects the God we worship and His intention for unity and peace among His children, then we urge you to visit our website at:www.acelc.net and consider the following:
- Become an Associate Member of the ACELC.
- Talk with your pastor (or if you are a pastor) talk with your Elders about the work of the ACELC, encouraging them to study the materials available to you on our website.
- Invite a speaker from the ACELC to visit your congregation to help your members understand the work in which we are engaged.
- Consider having your congregation vote to join the ACELC so that our collective voice within The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod will grow still stronger.
Only as we join together to assist our Synod both in engaging and understanding the issues that divide us, can we ever hope to effectively re-establish the unity in doctrine and practice we once enjoyed as a Synod – and which, under the grace of God, we hope to enjoy once again.
By the end of May, 1577 (slightly more than one year from the first meeting the previous April), the work of writing the Formula of Concord was completed. It didn’t take ten years or more but it did unify the Lutherans of that time. We of the ACELC pray that God would so bless our Synod with such an effort in our day.
Rev. Richard A. Bolland
Assistant Pastor – Emeritus Gloria Christi Lutheran Church