What do I expect to come from this? At first, I said, that I didn’t want this conference to be the poster child for the Koinonia Project. (“Look, if they can do it, you can do it!”) I wanted to actually hash through issues. Well, we did that. And we are, to some extent, the poster child for Koinonia. But so what? Will our dual-joint conference result in total unity between us? Sadly, I think that may be impossible. But not for the reason you might expect.
I don’t think the barrier is the vast theological differences between us. I think the barrier is 2,000 miles and the high cost of airline tickets.
We can certainly work through an issue – maybe two. But there are many issues in our synod. And there is not enough money to fly us back and forth each month for years on end. That is what is needed.
The good news is, other districts are doing that. Not flying, but driving. Because they are closer together – either intra-district, or inter-adjacent-district. That is where the progress will be. In a sense, this was a test case. And it worked, as far as it goes.
It seems to me that the largest gain for our synod was not the theological dialogue itself, but the realization that behind the resolutions are real people, who are trying to be faithful to the Word of God, and are willing to discuss that with those who disagree. This was true in both districts.
Both districts found earnest and caring theologians. Theologians with disagreements, to be sure. But also theologians with a willingness to discuss those disagreements openly.
Perhaps as time goes on, the Atlantic District will meet with the New Jersey, New England, or some other District. We may meet with the Montana , Rocky Mountain, South Dakota, or Northwest District. Those are ongoing conversations we can have over the long haul. This was exceptional. But it opened the synod up to the process.
There are those who will criticize my take on this. Oddly, that criticism has not come from those who were there. Some of the brothers in both districts have expressed their gratefulness that I have reported, and the manner in which I have done so. Among those are men who were, like me, skeptical of the process. There are those who have read the reports who are still skeptical of the process. Given our synod’s history with theological dialogue (Statement withdrawn, Resolution passed by 60/40 vote, Dissidents removed from Roster, Rinse, Repeat.) this is not terribly surprising.
I was a reluctant volunteer. I am reluctant no longer. I would encourage others to be volunteers – reluctant or not – when asked to do so.
The caveat of all of this is that it only works if the pastors on all sides join together in their commitment to discuss theology. This only works if we agree that our discussions will be held under the authority of Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. For they must guide us as we talk.
Had we wanted to, we could have spend all of our allotted time on pleasantries. But we all knew that time was fleeting, that theological substance was why we were there, and that this was an unprecedented opportunity. With that in mind, this can work. Keep to the theology.
We will, when we receive our Atlantic District brethren, just as they did when they received us. That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun at a ball game together, or on the shooting range together. They introduced us to curried goat, we may try and return the favor with curried antelope. Hopefully LCEF springs for more beer, wine and appetizers.
But when the Vice-President sounds the horn, we will dive right back into the theology. We may pick up right where we left off, we might have made progress in the interim and have a head start on the second leg of the race. We won’t finish everything, we won’t solve every problem the church faces, either in this conference, or in our lifetimes.
And that’s OK. No generation solves all of the problems. They simply move the ball a little closer toward the goal. Moses could not enter the promised land. John the Baptist didn’t see Jesus raised from the dead. Luther had nothing to do with the Formula of Concord. God preserves his church. The Spirit gives faith, where and when it pleases God. Unity is not our work, but the Lord’s.
Grant peace we pray in mercy Lord.
Peace in our time, O send us.
For there is none on earth but you.
None other to defend us.
You only, Lord, can fight for us. Amen.