The Koinonia Project—A Quick Report

By the Rev. Herbert C. Mueller

LCMS First Vice-President

Koinonia (pronounced “koy-no-NEE-ah”) is a Greek word translated as “fellowship” or “participation,” literally “to have something in common.” “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the ‘fellowship’ (koinonia) of His son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9). Because God has called us, we have Jesus in common. The same word is behind the phrase in our creed, “I believe in . . . the communion (koinonia) of saints.”

“The Koinonia Project” is the moniker given to the effort by the Office of the President of Synod to foster discussion groups around the Synod working toward greater theological unity under God’s Word.

As our concept paper explains (see http://www.lcms.org/page.aspx?pid=1041), the heart of the effort is the development of various study groups for theological discussion. Some will utilize existing groups in circuits. Others will be specifically chosen to represent a broad spectrum of opinion.

An informal advisory group has been established to help First Vice-President Herbert Mueller refine the concept paper and to help “put legs on” the idea. These seven pastors from around the Synod provide a broad perspective: Pastor Wally Arp, St. Luke’s, Oviedo, Florida; Pastor Allen Buss, Immanuel, Belvidere, Illinois; President Terry Forke, Montana District, Billings, Montana; Pastor Wayne Graumann, Salem, Tomball, Texas; President Dale Sattgast, South Dakota District, Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Pastor Harold Senkbeil, New Berlin, Wisconsin; Pastor Tony Steinbronn, Mission Executive, New Jersey District, Mountainside, New Jersey. Ongoing consultation is also taking place with the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, the Council of Presidents, our theological faculties and others and will be expanded in the future.

Pilot Groups Already Forming

Various pilot groups will be formed in the next several months. District leaders in the Northern Illinois District have asked to form pilot groups in their district. We pray this can begin yet this fall. The Nebraska District and the South Wisconsin District have also asked to form pilot groups.

Presentations have been made in Kansas, South Wisconsin and Texas. Future presentations are also scheduled in Nebraska and Wyoming. Circuits in Kansas and Texas have expressed interest, as well as others across the country.

As a long term effort, the Koinonia Project will create multiple opportunities for theological dialog under the Word of God toward the goal of greater concord in our life together. Study groups will seek to

•   clearly define the point(s) at issue.

•   affirm where the members of the group agree on what we confess.

•   explain what we therefore reject (showing also where we may still disagree).

•   work towards agreement on what we will, therefore, do together.

What Does a Koinonia Group Look Like?

The following steps are suggested to form a successful Koinonia

group:

1)    Bring respected and capable people together, 8–12 in a group, for theological dialogue under the Word of God, with the help of a chaplain/facilitator.

2)    Begin with a discussion of what it means to be a Synod of brothers and sisters who walk together in our confession of the Word of God. The Augsburg Confession is a great place to start the conversation.

3)    Much prayer is needed across the Synod for this ongoing effort.

4)    The chaplain/facilitator leads the group into the Word of God with regular worship and holds the group accountable to behavior fitting that of brothers and sisters in Christ.

5)    A broad spectrum of people will need to be involved as we move forward and the project grows across the Synod. Over time, various groups will need to be multiplied. Participation by the seminaries and theological faculties of the Synod will be essential.

6)    The groups themselves must live in the baptismal rhythm of repentance and forgiveness, confession and absolution, dying to self and living in Christ and for one another. Regular worship, study of Scripture and the Confessions and prayer are the center of this life together. The Word of God works repentance and faith. God’s koinonia is a gift in Christ, and God gives His gifts by His Word.

7)    Groups must to operate in a spirit of trust, providing “safe places” for honest theological conversation.

8)    Each group will take the time necessary to form a “statement of the controversy.” What exactly is at issue in the matter they are discussing? Can the folks on one side explain the position of others in a way that those others will recognize and accept? Such a process will enable the group to understand and to agree on what the issue actually is.

9)    Then groups will need to identify areas of agreement. What do we affirm together? What do we, therefore, reject? How does the Word of God apply? How do our confessions keep us focused on Christ and His Gospel at the center? Where do we still disagree? How does it matter?

10) Through this process we look to God’s Word to instruct us so that we grow towards being able to say: Here is how we will proceed. Here is where our conscience is captive to Christ so that we confess God’s clear Word. Here is where we have Christian freedom. Here is where we have more work to do. Here is what we will agree to do together out of love for one another and for the common good.

11) Some grant funding is in place to develop pilot groups. Ways need to be found for these efforts to be studied by the whole Synod. Much remains to be done.

Our Synod is not a hierarchical organization, but a fellowship of congregations and church workers united by our confession of Christ in the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions. We have no power over one another save the power of the Word of God and fraternal persuasion. We come alongside one another as brothers and sisters who help each other hear the Word of God clearly. Pray that God would use this effort to increase our fellowship with one another in Christ Jesus.

For more information, email Herb.Mueller@lcms.org.

— Rev. Herbert C. Mueller, LCMS First Vice-President