The Word of God

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:9-10).

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel (Philippians 1:3-7).

…and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised (Galatians 2:9).

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

 In Greek “Koine” means something “common.”  “Koinonia” is the Greek word that describes the act of holding things in common.  “Koinonia” is usually done into English with the words “fellowship,”  “partnership,” “communion” or “participation,” depending on the context, as in the Scriptures cited above.  In the broadest sense, we have “koinonia” with all who are in Christ by faith, living or dead, as we confess, “I believe in … the communion of saints.”  When we speak of our unity in Christ, we “believe one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” for there is but one Christ, “one body and one Spirit… one hope… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” (Ephesians 4:4-6, selected portions).  This one body of Christ is not The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, but encompasses all believers in Christ.

Where does one find these believers in Christ?  Our confessions tell us we will find them wherever the Word of God is proclaimed and the sacraments are given out according to Christ’s institution.  It is interesting, is it not, that in each of the passages listed above, when the word “koinonia” is used, what we Lutherans call the means of grace (God’s Word and Sacraments in Christ) are quite often also in view.  So in our understanding of Scripture, “Koinonia” is not something we achieve by our efforts, but fellowship is given by Christ, given where He gives all His gifts, namely, in the pure preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments.  These are the Church’s identifying marks, and the true source of our fellowship in Christ.

Unity, Concord and Harmony

 The Task Force for Synodical Harmony identified three important aspects of our life together that needed clear definition:  unity, concord and harmony.  We observe here that our “life together” in the Gospel includes all three.   Here’s how the Task Force summarized them:

Unity: The oneness that all believers in Christ have with each other through Spirit-given faith in Jesus created through the means of grace. “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:4). This unity cannot be seen by human eyes, but we confess it by faith: “I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic church” (Nicene Creed).

Concord: The oneness that believers in Christ seek to manifest and express in their confession of the Gospel and “all its articles” (FC SD X, 31). The church’s unity as confessed in the Creed is a “given.” Concord in doctrine and confession is a goal that we “strive to maintain” (Ephesians 4:3) by God’s grace on the basis of his Word. St. Paul urges the Christians at Corinth—and us—to speak the same thing, to avoid divisions, and to be perfectly united in the same mind and judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10-11). The Book of Concord sets forth what we in the LCMS continue to affirm without qualification as a “single, universally accepted, certain, and common form of doctrine,” drawn from the Word of God, that bears faithful witness to the oneness of doctrine and confession that serves as the basis for true concord in the church.

Harmony: The oneness that believers in Christ seek to manifest and express in their life together as God’s people. Paul urges those who are united in Christ and who seek to manifest that unity through concord in doctrine and confession to be eager to maintain this unity “in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). He reminds the Christians at Corinth that Christ-like attitudes and behavior are crucial to their efforts to maintain doctrinal concord (1 Corinthians 13). Above all, says Paul in Colossians, “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14). “Paul urges that there be love in the church to preserve harmony…lest the church disintegrate into various schisms and lest enmities, factions and heresies arise from such schisms” (Ap. IV, 232).

In summary, unity focuses on our oneness with Christians everywhere by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Concord focuses on our oneness in doctrine and practice. Harmony focuses our life together in Christ to be characterized by Christ-like attitudes, particularly love. (Task Force for Synodical Harmony Report to the Board of Directors and Council of Presidents of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, pp. 1-2.)

Why A “Koinonia Project”?

In light of these definitions, one of the goals we have in our “life together” as a Synod (developing the three-fold theme of witness, mercy and life together) is to seek, by God’s grace and Spirit in His Word, a greater sense of unity and concord in our Synod under the Word of God for the sake of our witness before the world. We pray that this will also help us toward a greater sense of harmony.  There is no denying that we have several areas of disagreement and unresolved problems that plague our life together: questions of worship forms, communion practice, fellowship, church and ministry issues, to name the most obvious. Some would say the differences are usually only matters of practice, yet theology and practice cannot be separated.  A pastor’s teaching will be reflected in his practice and a pastor’s practice is his theology in action.  There may be varieties of practice that can carry the true teaching (adiaphora), but there are also practices that will negate the true doctrine.

We need to recognize as well that our internal fellowship is stressed and polarized not only by disagreements in theology and practice, but also by the resultant political movements and accompanying sinful personal behaviors.1  For years we have sought to solve theological problems by political means (voting), but this has only perpetuated the polarization to the point that, in the eyes of some, we are a Synod not in fellowship with itself.  Others see our Synod as a collection of “aggrieved minorities,” each looking to grab what it can, whenever it can.  And the relative anonymity of the internet makes it easy to write in the blogosphere things about people we would probably never say in person.

In contrast, spiritual health and life, unity, concord and harmony come when God, in mercy, works repentance, forgives sinful attitudes in the blood of Jesus, and gives faith, reconciliation and concord, all through His Word.   We need to learn again how to deal with one another in terms of Christ and Him crucified and do the hard theological work to help each other hear the Word clearly so that our thinking, speaking and practice are more unified under the Word of God.  In essence, then, the true goal of any “Koinonia Project” is repentance and renewal of faith together by means of the Word of God.

That is why this effort cannot become a political process, that is, something determined by close convention votes with winners and losers, but must remain a spiritual and theological movement.  Faithful teaching, faithful practice, mutual repentance and forgiveness for the sake of Christ will only be God’s work among us.  Our confessions tell us…

God is extravagantly rich in His grace: first, through the spoken word, in which the forgiveness of sin is preached to the whole world (which is the proper function of the gospel); second, through baptism; third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar; fourth, through the power of the keys and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brothers and sisters” (SA III, IV).2

In other words, we are called to believe God is at work in our midst through His Word of Law and Gospel to draw us to Himself, not separately, but together in His “koinonia.” All of us constantly need the daily change of heart God works through repentance and faith. The problem belongs to all of us.  None of us is exempt.  We are each, every last one of us, called to examine our actions and attitudes toward one another so that we confess our sins, trust God’s promise and speak forgiveness to one another. 

Repentance and forgiveness will give us what we need for our life together so that we address our theological issues by a thorough process under the Word of God where we come to clear agreement on 1) the points at issue, 2) what we confess together, 3) what we reject and 4) what we will therefore do together, on the basis of Scripture and our confessions.  Material produced in this manner then needs to be studied and worked on together throughout the Synod over and over again so that the Word of God has its way with us in our life together, our witness to Christ and our service for the world. The effort to do so we have chosen to call “The Koinonia Project” because we pray God will build and strengthen our unity in the Word of God and our fellowship, our “koinonia” together.

Watch this space and others for more information (we know there is not much detail here – yet!) on the “Koinonia Project” as it will be developed through the President’s Office with the CTCR, the COP, the Seminaries and many others in future months.  This is a long term project for which, we pray, this piece has only whetted your appetite!  God’s peace to you in Jesus!

— Rev. Herbert C. Mueller Jr.

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1 The Task Force for Synodical Harmony gave a preliminary report in the 2010 Synod Convention Workbook, pp. 74ff.  In that report and in their report to the COP and BOD cited above, they identified seven aspects of disharmony in the Synod:  1) Inability to deal with diversity;  2) A lack of civility;  3) A politicized culture;  4) Primarily a clergy problem;  5) Poor communication across “party lines”;  6) Lack of accountability; and 7) Distrust.  We note here that these are, for the most part spiritual problems – sins – that can be addressed only by repentance and forgiveness.

2 Kolb and Wengert, p. 319, emphasis added.