Koinonia Project Part VIII: “The Word, The Word, The Word”

luther-predigt-lc-wbAs Vice-President Mueller said, it was a beginning, not an ending. There is still much to do. There are some questions I haven’t yet answered. Some have popped up on the web and in my inbox as I’ve been posting. I’ve answered a few of those, but some remain. Others are questions that were hanging in the air already before New York. They followed us there and back, and still linger. In my remaining posts, I will try and answer those that seem significant.

Can this work? Yes. It can, and it has. Vice President Mueller is doing nothing more than what he did as a District President: Bringing both sides of a dispute together to sit and hash things out under scripture and the confessions. This is just a more formal version of that process. Not every dispute was resolved with unanimity. In some cases, it became clear that paths had diverged. And as I have continually noted, that may be the outcome for the Koinonia project in some cases.

However, in my discussions with others who have taken part in Koinonia Project discussions across the synod, there has been a certain measured success. It comes slowly. But there is consensus on some issues where once there was division. Not by conceding truth, but by working together under scripture and the confessions to determine what is the contentious issue, what portion of the doctrine of Christ is at stake, and how to resolve that faithfully.

And when we ask the question, “Can this work?” we are really asking, “Can we, under the Word of God, meeting to hear and learn that word in humility, find unity/concord of faith/doctrine?” Is there anyone in our synod who will say that the Word of God can not accomplish this?

But the key is the Word of God. That is where it all begins. While we were given a paper to read about process, the discussions themselves were focused on doctrine and practice. When there were questions, we turned to Holy Scripture. The success or failure of the Koinonia project rests on the commitment of the participants to explore God’s Word together. The Koinonia Project will stand or fall at that point. And because the leadership of synod guides, but does not participate, in the process, we must trust that the participants, when they come together, will focus on that Word.

So far, it seems to be working. And as long as it keeps working that way, I have a cautious optimism for the future of our synod. But there are significant challenges. We no longer have a common worship. It’s even possible for two congregations to use the same hymnal, for each to have a rich and full liturgical life, and for neither to ever use the same ordo. Is that a good thing? I have my doubts.

In many places the catechism has been abandoned entirely. Where it has not, (and this is one of my soap boxes) Luther’s Small Catechism has been replaced by the synodical explanation as the main resource for laity to understand what we believe, teach, and confess. This is not a new problem. Pastors and scholars have been lamenting this state of affairs for decades. When I mentioned recently to a synod employee that we have a crisis of catechesis, he responded, “More than a crisis. A Catastrophe.” That is, our own members are quite often are unfamiliar with the basic doctrine of Scripture and our Confessions.  And pastors are often confused as well. Not to cherry pick cases, but simply to illustrate the point, a few years ago the CTCR had to rule on whether video consecration in an individual home constituted a proper celebration of the sacrament. That this could be suggested at all, given our confession’s repeated and explicit rejection of “private masses” shows a low level of understanding of our confessions. That it could be suggested of a sacrament most often referred to as “Holy Communion” beggars the imagination. The CTCR unanimously spoke against it.

And yet, in other respects, it is as if we have only selective vision for our confessions. The Smalcald Articles criticize Rome for giving the bishops so many extra duties and powers that they no longer “preach, nor teach, nor baptize, nor administer the Lord’s Supper, nor perform any work or office of the church…” And yet we have District Presidents (excepting 3 districts) who also do not preach regularly, or baptize, or administer the Lord’s Supper. They fill our forms and ensure compliance with the bylaws. We have men who serve, not in a congregation, but in the International Center. One would be hard pressed to find a jot or tiddle in our confessions that speak of the church as located in the hierarchy of structure and bureaucracy. The confessions explicitly call it the “Predigtamt: preaching office”, and we believe according to Walther’s Church and Ministry that it is the highest office in the church. Yet the salaries for IC employees put the salary of the average parish pastor to shame. Which is more important? Which receives more recognition, more reward and honor in our synod? Why is it that a call to the International Center and away from pulpit and altar is seen as a promotion?

I do not intend for this to devolve into a rant against the synod. Our own synod president now serves as a pastor in a congregation – the first time in more than two generations. This is a good thing. But it is a long-term transformation. Teaching must be done at all levels regarding the proper dignity of the Word of God, and the glory and honor given to men that allows them to preach it weekly in a parish. Moving from the parish to the IC is not a “step up” in any sense. But that change will be a long time in coming. It begins with proper instruction in the parish to children and adults. What is the true adornment of the pastoral office? The Word of God.

And that’s where this began. The Word of God. It’s where it must end. And it must be everything in the middle as well. If that happens, then this process will be a blessing. And we can let God worry about the final outcome.

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