It was a year ago last week that we drove through a mid-winter blizzard to sit in airports while flights got cancelled. Eventually, all but one of us made it to New York. After the snowy roads of Wyoming, it felt like the Caribbean. (From fur parka to shorts and T-shirts!) Of course, the weather was not the thing. The purpose was theological dialogue between two districts that, historically, are on opposing ends of the theological spectrum. (Back in the day, their DP was one of four removed for his Seminex sympathies, while in Wyoming one of my predecessors was the only pastor in the district sympathetic to that cause. Which became crystal clear to him shortly before he was also removed.)
So, what has happened since then? Officially, nothing, which is how it was always planned to be. There is another meeting scheduled for the fall. Some initial planning has taken place, so we have been told. As for topics? We’ll pick those when we gather and start talking to each other again.
So, what if anything, has changed, and why bother with an update?
A year has given us facebook friendships. And we have had some informal conversations. Theology, as it is prone to do, has sometimes come up. Differences have been discussed. Of course, the conversation is carried out in social media, which is the least effective means ever established to carry out such conversations. But it has certainly given us a chance to see how everyday life is lived for the pastors of the Empire State, and hopefully for them to see a little bit about life in the Cowboy state. All of which is good. And very little of which affects the theological conversation that will resume in six months. After all, the word of God does not change from place to place, or even from year to year. It remains. The commands and promises of God are exactly the same in New York as they are in Wyoming, as they are in outer Mongolia, as they are on the moon (assuming someone were there to hear them.)
But a year has also given us a little bit of historical perspective. It’s given us a chance to talk and reflect among ourselves. I have lowered my expectations for our particular corner of the Koinonia Project. Not because of disagreements regarding doctrine and practice, but simply because the distance and inability to keep the conversation going has severely limited our ability to participate. I wish we had been able to have quarterly, or even monthly meetings for the last year. But we have not. Another six months. One more meeting, and then finished. Not a lot of time to accomplish anything.
But that shortcoming does not necessarily apply to the other parts of the Koinonia Project. I have friends in other districts who are, and have been, involved in deep discussions for extended periods of time. Progress is slow, but it is progress. For us, we will have to be content with merely having what I would describe as “two snippets of a conversation” regarding theology and practice. This is unfortunate, but it is the reality of having us get together with those who live 2000 miles away. It also shows how very hard the overall Koinonia Project will be. Those 2000 miles aren’t a barrier only for us. There are another thousand miles of Lutherans to the West of us. And the districts of the West Coast are different than those of the East Coast, than those of the Midwest, than those of the West, than those of the South, than those of the…
There is much project yet to be done, and in many cases started. It will be a challenge. Bringing it all together will take a lot of time. But talking at all, even if it is disjointed, and difficult, and a logistical nightmare, is always a good idea if that conversation is centered on the Word of God and prayer. And so far, it seems that it has been. For that I am grateful. I am not pessimistic regarding the prospects for our synod’s unity under Christ. But I am cautious about those prospects. Because it will be very easy to get tired of the effort, and withdraw to separate corners. Or, should the administration change at some point, to go back to our old ways. We must keep talking, as long as there is a chance for agreement. And as a premise of those conversations, we must be willing to admit those differences, rather than covering them up under the banner of LCMS, inc. Rather infamously, the LCMS convention once decided by a margin of 55%-45% that there were not serious divisions in our synod. The result speaks for itself. Our leadership recognizes the challenges and is encouraging us to admit and discuss our differences under Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. And, as long as that happens, the Koinonia Project will bear fruit. But it is a long and hard road. We can not weary of the journey, or we will return to a 55-45 unity. And “close enough, I guess” can never be the basis for the true unity of the church, anymore than “pure enough, I guess” can be the basis for the pure teaching of the Gospel.
A year’s worth of reflection and discussion among the brothers in Wyoming has brought to the forefront a significant challenge to the structure of the Koinonia project itself. It’s not a logistical problem. Like all of the major problems our church faces, it’s a theological one. And it deserves it’s own post. For now, I’m eager to get back to the table, and talk theology. It’s what I do as a pastor, in my parish, my circuit, my district. And, by the grace of God, in the Koinonia Project as well.
To be continued…