The Koinonia Project and the Nature of the Synod
In our previous posts we have outlined some of the theological and practical foundations of the “Koinonia Project.” Here we need to see how this effort fits the nature of the Synod as a fellowship of brothers and sisters sharing one confession. Article VII of the Synod’s Constitution reads, simply:
In its relation to its members the Synod is not an ecclesiastical government exercising legislative or coercive powers, and with respect to the individual congregation’s right of self-government it is but an advisory body. Accordingly, no resolution of the Synod imposing anything upon the individual congregation is of binding force if it is not in accordance with the Word of God or if it appears to be inexpedient as far as the condition of a congregation is concerned. (2007 Handbook, p. 13f)
What does it mean that the Synod “is but an advisory body”? This concept is often misunderstood to mean that congregations and pastors have the right to thumb their nose, so to speak, at actions and positions of the Synod they do not like. To answer this question we first have to determine what is in view when our forefathers wrote in the constitution: “In relation to its members the Synod… is but an advisory body.” What is the Synod? The Synod is not the staff of the International Center – the IC is a tool of the Synod. The Synod is not the Council of Presidents or the Synodical President. They are officers of the Synod. The Synod is not even the convention – conventions are meetings of the Synod (members of the Synod gathered together). Conventions of the districts are meetings of the Synod in that area (district conventions, for example, at one time were called “District Synods”).
In essence then, the Synod is a fellowship (“koinonia”!) of congregations, pastors and commissioned ministers who share the same confession of faith. The Synod is the sum total of all its members, seeking to work together collectively under the Word of God, to confess Christ before the world. Members of the Synod are congregations, together with their ordained and commissioned ministers. Individual members of congregations are technically not members of the Synod, but are members of congregations that have joined the Synod. Again, the Synod is congregations, together with their pastors and commissioned ministers. To say it another way, the Synod is us. Each district is the Synod itself in that area. Each circuit is the Synod in that locale. Since the Synod is a confessional fellowship, as members of the Synod we are mutually accountable to one another in the Lord through our membership in the Synod as a whole.
Because the Word of God rules over us in the Synod, we do not have a hierarchy, nor do we operate by coercion. Instead we operate by fraternal persuasion under the Word of God. Matters of doctrine are decided by the Word of God. In all other things, we seek to work together in love. In its most basic form, the members of Synod in each local area seek to advise one another in brotherly fashion to help one another hear God’s Word clearly, confess Christ boldly and live together in holy love. The Synod is pastors and congregations who have come together to confess the truth and to help one another serve faithfully and extend the Kingdom of God. No one has any power over the other except the power of the Word of God and the power to advise and persuade one another.¹ This writer believes one of our maladies is that we have forgotten how to do this (which is why the 2010 Convention mandated study of Articles VI and VII should probably be part of the Koinonia Project). Our confession says “…the church cannot be better governed and maintained than by having all of us live under one head, Christ, and by having all the bishops equal in office (however they may differ in gifts) and diligently joined together in unity of doctrine, faith, sacraments, prayer, works of love, etc.” (SA II, IV9)²
The “Koinonia Project” will involve human beings, people in positions of leadership, relationships of influence, all seeking to persuade one another and working together under the Word of God. Yet the “Koinonia Project” is not intended to form convention resolutions and bylaws but is designed to help brothers and sisters talk with each other about our theology and how our theology works out in practice. Its purpose is ultimately to help each other hear and confess God’s Word clearly. If convention resolutions are produced, these will have grown organically (as we come closer to the goal of the process) from the consensus God will have worked by and around His Word. That’s because true “koinonia” and lasting harmony and concord are ultimately not our work (though we work and pray hard toward that end) but are gifts of God given through the Word of God.
Therefore the “Koinonia Project” cannot be a political process, but must be a spiritual process centered in the Word of God, repentance and prayer, forgiveness and charity. The theological conferences held in recent years have paved the way for an approach at least as old as the Formula of Concord. Representative groups will meet together to work on a basis for agreement that includes the following: 1) a clear statement of the controversy – what is the real point at issue? 2) clear statements of what we affirm together; 3) clear statements of what we reject; and then 4) an agreement of what we will therefore DO together. This material then needs to be studied and worked on together throughout the Synod 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.
+ Herbert Mueller
¹See also CFW Walther, Essays for the Church, Volume II, “On the Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod,” 1879 Iowa District Convention Essay, Concordia Publishing House, 1992, pp. 31ff.
²Tappert, Book of Concord, p. 300.
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