Great Stuff — Koinonia Project One year On… Part 2

Great stuff found over on Pastor Lincoln Winter’s blog, Musings of a Country Pastor


koinoniaThe discussions in the Koinonia Project (KP) are welcome. For years, the Wyoming District has been requesting serious theological dialogue regarding our divisions. After several convention cycles of nothing more than chirping crickets for a response, it is a welcome relief to see that our requests and prayers have been answered.

That having been said, however, there is a problem built into the structure of the Koinonia Project itself. It was not really an issue the first time around. But as we have discussed in our own district exactly what happened and what it means, this fundamental structural problem has come to the fore. In talking to pastors in other districts who are also involved in Koinonia discussion groups, it seems that, while first not even noticed, this flaw becomes more significant the longer the discussions go on.

In the interest of giving others a heads up about potential obstacles in their future paths, a few words of warning now may make the journey easier later. Because this problem will come up at some point. And it has the potential not simply to make discussion difficult, but to derail the project entirely at the local, and eventually national, level.

Before the Koinonia Project had been proposed, during the previous administration, there was a Blue Ribbon task force that recommended significant changes to the LCMS constitution. At the same time, another task force was studying the problem of harmony in the synod. The two task forces came to a common (but entirely incorrect) understanding of the problems we face: Pastors. Now, technically, that was the same problem the church had at the council of Nicaea: hardheaded pastors who refused to compromise in even the smallest jot or tittle. After all, in a word as long as “homoousious” what’s a little “i” between friends? So, in a sense, yes the problem is pastors.

But of course, the problem is that there are differences in how the pastors (and the congregations they serve) see things like the authority of the word of God, the power of that word to do what it promises, the place and nature of the sacraments in the life of the church, the role of male and female in the church and world, the nature of humanity itself, the doctrine of original sin, etc. to name but a few.

However, a problem identified by one task force can be solved with some sleight of hand by the other task force. On the one hand you had a committee composed of District Presidents and other synod leaders identifying the source of our synod’s problems as pastors. (Note for those who are not familiar with the structure of the synod: It would be like executives in a Fortune 500 company being told to find out why there was low morale in the company. Their finding: The employees are the problem! If you are a stockholder in such a company, it’s time to sell.) But despite the thorny problem of pastors in the church(!), another committee was coming up with an elegant solution: Pastors are too committed to doctrine as the basis for our life together. So we’ll just demote the place of doctrine. Problem solved!

The Task Force on structure recommended that the constitution be changed to accommodate a new understanding, thusly:

Unity of faith (Holy Scripture) is given by the Spirit to all Christians.

Concord of Doctrine (The Lutheran Confessions) is what keeps us united as a church body.

The Harmony task force added a third level: Harmony / life together. Unfortunately, this understanding was imported wholesale into the Koinonia Project:

“Unity: The oneness that all believers in Christ have with each other through Spirit-given faith in Jesus created through the means of grace…

Concord: The oneness that believers in Christ seek to manifest and express in their confession of the Gospel and ‘all its articles’…

Harmony: The oneness that believers in Christ seek to manifest and express in their life together as God’s people.”

While this may sound like basic adherence to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, note that “confession” is not mentioned until level 2: Concord. The Wyoming District in 2009 rejected this multi-part understanding:

This separation of doctrine from faith has an extremely important consequence for the Church (including congregations and synods) and her fellowship. The proposed new arrangement would separate the fellowship of the Church into two levels, corresponding to the two levels of the confession… These proposed changes would be the end of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod as a confessional Lutheran church. All declarations about the Lutheran Confessions, the Word and Sacraments, or purity of doctrine and practice, would be relegated to a marginal or secondary level in our Synod’s self-understanding and mission. (Wyoming District Resolution 6-01-2009)

To put it positively, The Spirit gives unity of faith by virtue of the concord of doctrine, which manifests itself in our life together. The three levels are not merely interrelated; there is only one level. Unity of faith is not possible without concord of doctrine, because they are the same thing.

The church in this world (congregation, district, synod, diocese, denomination, etc.) can do no more than recognize and acknowledge this unity; it is not created by churches. We call that recognition “church fellowship”. Churches merely note its existence or the lack thereof.

But the confusion of the previous administration on this issue has been carried into the Koinonia Project – whose very purpose is to bring clarity to our doctrine and practice. As we have tried to work through this process in our own corner of the church, this confusion is now manifesting itself in our discussions and reflections.

Specifically, questions has arisen regarding the basis of our fellowship. Is the synod a fellowship by definition? Is the synod a collection of those who have unity of faith which then results in fellowship? Or is the synod a fellowship only insofar as it shares unity of faith? And what role does the Koinonia project play in all of this? Is the Koinonia Project just about strengthening unanimity in merely external matters for a church which already has concord of doctrine? Are there doctrinal differences underlying the differences in practice which could someday threaten our unity of faith? Or, do differences in practice by definition mean differences in doctrine, thereby indicating that the unity of faith once shared has already been broken?

These are important questions, and they deserve serious consideration. But the tripartite understanding of our fellowship, imported into the Koinonia Project, has not helped the discussion. It has caused confusion about the very purpose of the Koinonia Project. And with the purpose confused, the goal and the end are now shrouded in confusion as well. This is not a formula for success in the church or the world. Clear goals, clear purposes, and clear objectives are necessary.

Is it possible to have that clarity in the Koinonia project? Yes. But first, we need to be clear about the place of doctrine in giving unity of faith to our church, and in bringing harmony to our life together. For this to happen, at the very least the Koinonia Concept paper needs to rewritten, removing the erroneous understanding of fellowship. And there needs to be a serious discussion about the nature of that fellowship, including its source, its implications, and its limitations.

While not prohibitive of initiating discussion, the longer the Koinonia Project continues, the more this structural problem will inhibit solutions.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Great Stuff — Koinonia Project One year On… Part 2 — 10 Comments

  1. Thank you for this article. If we are going to make distinctions, we should consult how Lutherans have always explained the church and her fellowship. This is the distinction between invisible and visible unity, or the invisible and visible church. The invisible is hidden under the visible. The distinction made by the Koinonia project makes it sound like we can actually identify and see the first kind of unity. No, we can’t. We identify it by the marks of the church — the right profession and preaching of pure doctrine.

    What more liberal Lutherans want to do is identify the unity of faith they have with non-Lutherans. Just because they aren’t Lutherans, they say, doesn’t mean they aren’t Christians. So the argument goes that we’re Christians first and then Lutherans. But this is enthusiasm — trying to identify the Spirit and faith apart from the pure doctrine, which the Spirit declares. The Lutherans teachers never denied that there were true Christians scattered throughout heterodox church-bodies. They called them the church hidden under heresy and persecution. So while we acknowledge that the church still exists within these sects despite the false doctrine of the sects, we nevertheless can only identify unity of faith through the purity of doctrine, which is confessed publicly. To assume that you can begin by pointing to the unity of faith before you move on to unity in doctrine is like saying that you can first solve the investigation and then look at the evidence. It is enthusiasm, plain and simple.

  2. Pastor Winter’s warning about the Koinonia Project reminds me of the cabinet order of 1834 by King Friedrich Wilhelm III instituting the union of the Reformed and Lutheran churches in Prussia. This may sound a little far-fetched, but the order sounds very irenic, and in this case, is something we must guard against:

    The Union proposes and intends no giving up of confessions of the faith hitherto in place; neither is the authority which the confessional writings of both confessions have had up to this point done away with. The introduction of the Union is only the expression of the spirit of moderation and charitableness which will no longer allow the differences in individual points of doctrine of the other confession as grounds for denying external ecclesiastical fellowship.*

    In the case of the LCMS, differences in individual points of doctrine arguably often involve doctrine masquerading as “practice,” i.e. a desire to convert sinners by the preaching of the Word versus a desire to attract seekers by solving their problems. These two differing paths belie a huge difference in their underlying theology. One path relies on the power of the Word and Christ’s promises in the conversion of the unbeliever; the other path relies on the power of our own ingenuity with the Word receiving only a perfunctory head nod. The first of these paths is Gospel, the other Law. Admittedly, this is an oversimplification, but I think it gets at where we’re headed if we’re not mindful of the danger inherent in a “why can’t we all just get along” attitude that values pragmatism more than truth. AC VII is not a compromise.

    *Quoted from Hermann Sasse, The Lonely Way: Selected Essays and Letters, Volume I, Trans. Matthew C. Harrison et al. (St. Louis, CPH, 2001) 299.

  3. Friends, permit me to re-post my comment made on Rev. Winter’s blog:

    Good morning Pr. Winter, Your article has put an exclamation point one of the problems with the Koinonia Project, and perhaps its main problem. There is a confusion respecting what constitutes Synodical fellowship: fides qua or fides quae. Is it the faith by which we believe or the faith in which we believe. According to the Preface to the AC that basis is clearly the fides quae, not the fides qua:

    “After the removal and correction of things that either side has understood differently, these matters may be settled and brought back to one simple truth and Christian concord. Then we may embrace and maintain the future of one pure and true religion under one Christ, doing battle under Him [Psalm 24:8], living in unity and concord in the one Christian Church.”
    (Dau/Bente, Concordia-The Lutheran Confessions, Second Edition, ed. Paul McCain, AC Preface, 3, p, 27)

    Other fatal flaws spring from this difficulty:

    1. There is no mechanism either in place nor anticipated to actually resolve the issues that divide us.

    2. It appears that “resolution” under the primary problem noted above, can only be achieved by crafting joint statements between parties which are sufficiently broad to place at least a passive approval of everyone’s respective, but variant positions and thus, on the basis of the fides qua, falsely declare unity.

  4. @Pastor Andrew Preus #1

    Spot on, Pr. Preus. And to Scott’s following post, it would seem that we have already achieved a new Union in our ecclesiastical gathering– not of Calvinism, per se, though its voice is obviously heard throughout our Synod’s regions, but of Enthusiasm. We are a Synodical Union of confessional Lutherans and Enthusiasts, forced by our political machinery to live side by side and without resolution of fundamental contradictions.

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it is much easier to live charitably amongst erring Christians of various sects, when our divisions are open and honest. It is this intrigue of forced cohabitation that results in such rancor.

  5. Fellowship in the faith is altar fellowship. I think this is the main bone of contention in the LCMS. How can two brothers have true koinonia if one confesses open communion and another closed?

  6. Dear Steadfast Friends,

    The Koinonia Project (KP), which has yet to demonstrate any meaningful results, is a make-work project for 1st VP Herb Mueller.

    As such, it serves at least two (there could be more) purposes.

    First, the KP allows the appearance to be given that the Synod/confessional movement/President Harrison/you pick another authority figure is “doing something” about doctrinal disarray in the Synod. Nothing could be further from the truth. An unstated but blazingly clear purpose of the KP is to keep “confessionals” talking as if progress is being made, could be made, might be good if it ever were made, and so on, and so on. Guess who are the chief target of such a program? The “confessionals.” That’s right; you’re being duped by the same folks you elected. Twice.

    Rev. Bolland and his group has been right on the money about the KP for nigh a dog year.

    Second, the KP gives cover for Rev. Mueller’s real job, which is to run the so-called “confessional” movement, essentially the theo-political legacy of Robert Preus. As such, Rev. Mueller doesn’t report to Rev. Harrison; it’s quite the other way around. Mueller actually is in charge, telling Harrison to do this, telling certain DPs to to that, telling other high-ranking synodical employees to do such-and-such. You wouldn’t believe who actually reports to Mueller; I wouldn’t either. My guess is that the KP takes up 5% of Mueller’s typical workday, if that much.

    That’s why nothing’s “happening” with the KP. For all intents and purposes, it is merely a smokescreen for these two purposes, perhaps more.

    You get what you vote for!

  7. “While Lutheranism, especially German Lutheranism, asks about one’s confession, the rest of Protestantism asks about unity. The great question regarding the church among us is the question about one’s confession. In the English-speaking churches the question about the church assumes the form of a longing for unification. In view of the soul-corrupting errors in the lies bewitching the church, we in Germany have come to understand that the eternal High Priest prays for his church: ‘Sanctify them in your truth; your Word is truth’ (John 17:17). Anglican and Reformed Christendom in the world today concentrates upon the other petition of the high priestly prayer: ‘That they all may be one’ (John 17:21). Today the theologians of our church lament to the very depths of their souls the apostasy from pure doctrine for which we all take responsibility. The theologians of those churches lament what they call the sin of division. For us true repentance in the church means becoming serious again about the confession of our church. For those churches this is proof of unrepentance, of stubbornness, of a new, evil defection from the true church of Christ. After all, he prayed, “That they all may be one,’ and therefore does not want the division but the unity of his disciples.”

    Hermann Sasse, The Lonely Way: Selected Essays and Letters, Volume I, Trans. Matthew C. Harrison et al. (St. Louis, CPH, 2001) 359.

  8. Dear Gentlemen, with all do respect to those authors/ministers of several faiths, I have been searching for a former Pastor and friend of my family since 1940.. Do you know the whereabouts of Pastor Rolf Brandt Jr.? He was our Pastor in Gig Harbor at a Lutheran Church, in the mid 40’s and his Dad was a Pastor also Rolf Brandt Sr. I understand he also contributed to thi Project Book.
    R/Mrs. Jan Shipman – I appreciate this request be kept confidential.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.