Archive for February, 2011
Recently, President Matthew Harrison met President Tilahun Mendedo of Concordia College Selma and Dr. Rich Bimler of Wheat Ridge Ministries to review the plans for the expansion of the Missouri Synod’s historically black, four-year, coeducational college. For a brief conversation between President Harrison and Dr. Mekonnen, click on the video link below.
From a homily delivered at the International Center Chapel this morning, February 28, 2011. It is a part of the ongoing, Monday morning sermon series through Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.
“No ‘Buts’ About It!”
February 28, 2011 • IC Chapel
“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.”
Here Paul takes a trip down memory lane . . . and not at trip that would have been terribly pleasant for him. Just take a moment, and think of one of the worst things you’ve ever done—one that makes you cringe to even bring to mind. [Pause] Horrible, isn’t it? Now think of Paul. He’s admitting here in writing that in his former life, he had spent his every waking moment trying to destroy the church of God—by violence, no less. Paul was, in effect, a bounty hunter of Christians, tracking down brothers and sisters in Christ from Jerusalem to Damascus, and hauling them back for trial and execution. He was a coat-holder at the stoning of Stephen. As his zealous compatriots picked up stones to crush the body and skull of their innocent victim, Paul stood by . . . watching the carnage, and enjoying it.
This is what life under the Law had come to for Paul. It had led him so far astray that it had even made him a party to murder. And that is exactly why he tells the Galatians about his sordid past, because they were in danger of falling into the same trap—of falling back into a life of bondage under the Law.
Anything that gets into the salvation equation between Jesus, you, and your heavenly Father, is a piece of the Law, and will eventually bring you back into bondage. For the Galatians, it was circumcision and the Jewish law. “Sure, Jesus died for your sins, but before you can really be a Christian, you need to be circumcised and live like a Jew.” For us today, I suppose we could just fill in the blank: “Sure, Jesus died for your sins, but . . .” (The proverbial “but”!) “But, you have to do something . . . But, you have to make a decision and invite Jesus into your heart . . . But, you have to get your life together and stop sinning . . . But, you have to give up alcohol and tobacco to be a real Christian. But, you have to live a victorious life . . . But . . . but . . . but you have to . . . !”
Thank God, the Gospel turns our “buts” and our “have-to’s” around, and makes life in God’s kingdom about nothing that we do, and about everything that God has done and continues to do for us in Christ Jesus. “But,” declares Paul, “. . . [God] who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me . . .” You see, the Gospel’s “but” always has God as the subject, and you as the object of his boundless love. It turns the Law and its “have-to’s”, and our feeble attempts to fulfill them, on its head. “It is finished!” . . . “It’s done,” Jesus declared before he died (John 19:30). And you know what? He really meant it! He took care of it all . . for you.
Before you were born—or as Luther says, “when I could not think, wish, or do anything good but was a shapeless embryo” (AE 26:72)—God loved you, predestined you, set you apart to be his very own. Born of the flesh of your parents, you were born again by the Holy Spirit through the waters of your baptism—called by grace to be a child of God. No decisions there. Only gift! And at your baptism, the Holy Spirit descended, and the voice of the Father was pleased to reveal to you his Son—Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, for you!
With Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road, this Gospel “but” turned him around to become an apostle to the Gentiles. For you, Jesus’ Gospel “butting” into your life means that you are free. It means that you are free to be the child whom God has made you to be—to serve in the vocation that he has given you, here in this place, at home with your family, and in the world, caring for others. It means that you are freed to serve—no longer as a slave to the Law, but as an heir of the Gospel. No “buts” about it.
Rev. Jon D. Vieker
This effort is being developed collaboratively to provide a means for studying and confessing the Word of God together with the prayer that God will use this process to resolve issues and behaviors that have been troubling our fellowship, our life together. The President’s Office, the Board of Directors, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations and the Council of Presidents are all involved together in developing this concept. We introduced some ideas in a previous blog post, but here are some further thoughts on the basic values of the “Koinonia Project.” Remember, “koinonia” is the Greek word for “fellowship,” “partnership,” “communion” or “life together.”
Focus on Christ in His Word
- Our study and discussion are focused on Christ crucified and raised from the dead, confessed in the Word of God, for Jesus Himself “is our peace…” (Ephesians 2:14).
- We pray we undertake this work with a God-given humility under the Word of God and with much prayer! • We look for integrity with one another before God – honest, heart-felt, open dialog – recognizing we do have problems of doctrine and practice to address together, and praying for that openness to one another God gives as we hear the Word of God and each other.
- That is why it is essential for this process that we spend time together in the Word of God, in worship, and in prayer with and for each other (fellowship, “koinonia,” in the church’s marks).
- We will also work together on this, recognizing the nature of the Church as we confess it in the Augsburg Confession – the assembly of believers gathered around the Word and Sacrament.
A Collaborative Effort
- Collaboration is a basic value for the Koinonia Project – this is not just an effort from the President’s Office, but a process in which many more are brought on board, beginning with the design phase. The project must work by attraction, not coercion, and become an integral part of our life together as a Synod.
- The project is inclusive, drawing in the Harmony Task Force, Board of Directors, Seminary Faculties, COP and CTCR in some way in the whole process, including design.
Personal and Individual
- The Harmony Task Force brought a series of recommendations to the Council of Presidents and Board of Directors in November 2010 regarding strategies for restoring harmony among us.
- Though theological issues are primary, the personal cannot be separated from the theological, for how we deal with one another is ultimately a theological issue. The Report of the Harmony Task Force referenced above chronicles real pain and real concerns that must be addressed spiritually through repentance and forgiveness. Following are the suggested strategies of the Task Force:
- Synod-wide studies of the Scriptures and the Confessions, including studies by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, covering specific topics such as; the 8th Commandment, a theology of diversity, Christian virtues and civility, the political culture of the church, accountability and harmony.
- Our seminaries and universities include these topics in the formation of our clergy and professional workers.
- Training & modeling for and by the Council of Presidents, the Circuit Counselors, and all other church leaders.
- A Code of Conduct, developed with input from across the Synod, adopted by the Synod, in which we express common expectations of one another and seek to hold ourselves and one another accountable for appropriate behavior.
- Those who are charged with ecclesiastical supervision must be trained to hold us all accountable when our actions and attitudes are inappropriate.
- The need for continuing education.
- The clergy must recognize their responsibility and engage in working toward greater harmony within our Synod.
- The dialog must include all positions, at every level of the church; within our congregations, circuits, auxiliaries, Synod-wide theological convocations and smaller focus groups as well.
- Communication is a key issue. We need to learn to use the media appropriately-officially and unofficially.1
- The Koinonia Project will need to incorporate these recommendations from its inception. Specifically how this will happen will be fleshed out further by the discussion of this paper in the Council of Presidents, the Board of Directors and the CTCR, etc.
Also Broad Based
- The Koinonia Project is broad based, in the sense that the approach must be replicated broadly across the Synod, and also broadly reported in the sense that, while discussion groups need to have freedom to dialog within themselves without fear, these are not secret negotiations, but at appropriate times the Synod at large needs to hear and support the results of the dialogs, as well as provide input.
- All-encompassing – every member of the Synod (i.e. every ordained or commissioned minister, every congregation) is eventually invited to participate in the effort.
- We cannot work by coercion in this project, but always by invitation, fraternal persuasion, and attraction, centered always in the Word of God and our confession, for the sake of the mission.
- We must begin with those who are willing, drawing in more and more of the skeptical as we move forward. Yes, some may look on the “Koinonia Project” with suspicion, thinking, “this is just another attempt on the part of one group in the Synod to enforce conformity on the rest!” Only as we work together on the project, seeking to proceed in the love we have from Christ (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7) will such suspicions be alleviated. To this end we much be mutually accountable to one another. We pray God to give us the wisdom to work in the spirit of John 17 where Jesus prays that His church may be one. The work of ecclesiastical supervision must move forward in any case, but we also recognize that if the Koinonia Project is perceived as a means to “purge” the Synod of “undesirables,” it will accomplish little.
- That’s why, in our next blog post, we will look at how the “Koinonia Project” fits in with the nature of the Synod as explained in Article VII of the Synod’s Constitution.
1 Report of the Task Force, pp. 17-18
President Harrison was asked to give a presentation at the Fall Leadership Conference sponsored by the Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, in November 2010.
Dr. Collver presented a devotion on “That They May All Be One” at the LCEF Fall Leadership Conference at the Grand Ole Oprey in Nashville, Tennessee in November 2011.