Posts tagged Koinonia Project

“Koinonia Project” – Brief Report – October 2012

Purpose:   The “Koinonia Project” is a long term initiative of the Office of the President of the Synod developing spiritual and theological solutions under the Word of God for some of our long term spiritual and theological issues in the Synod. The project fosters theological study and discussion groups at many levels designed to bring together capable and respected people to study God’s Word and the Confessions of our church so that, by God’s grace, we come to clear agreement on 1) the points at issue, 1 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. This 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.

During the present triennium, we have been developing a number of pilot projects as outlined below. Actually, the “Koinonia Project” will become, we pray, an opportunity for a cultural shift among us, a positive change in our shared expectations.

A Concept Paper for the project is available on the Synod’s website, www.lcms.org/page.aspx?pid=1041. The effort arises from the work of the “Harmony Task Force” appointed in response to 2007 Synod Resolution 4-01A and from a paper produced by President Matthew Harrison in 2009 entitled “It’s Time.” The “concept paper” has been reviewed a number of times by the Synod Praesidium, by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), by the Council of Presidents and by an “advisory group” of pastors and district presidents.  A final draft will be put up on the website soon.

Advisory Group:  Pastor Wally Arp, St. Luke’s, Oveido, FL;  Pastor Allan Buss, Immanuel, Belvedere, IL; President Terry Forke, Montana District;  Pastor Wayne Graumann, Salem, Tomball, TX; President Dale Sattgast, South Dakota District;  Pastor Harold Senkbeil, New Berlin, WI;  President Anthony Steinbronn, New Jersey District (chosen while he was a district executive). This group has met several times by phone with First Vice President Herbert Mueller to discuss drafts of the concept paper and communicating the concepts more broadly. More evaluation and expansion are needed.

We Are in a “Pilot Phase”:  At present we are trying several different approaches to see what works best. Pilot Projects are active in several districts – Nebraska, Northern Illinois and South Wisconsin. The Council of Presidents and the CTCR are helping with the concept and evaluations. Several circuits in various districts are also developing as “Koinonia Project Theological Study Groups,” circuits in Texas, Ohio and Kansas. We have been speaking in several other districts – Northwest, Wyoming, Rocky Mountain, Minnesota South and are looking to develop groups in those areas. We are working with local district leadership to design what will be most helpful in each context. In so doing, we want to learn as much as we can with these pilot projects.

What About the Future?  We are just getting started. Just barely. This is a long term effort. Our theological faculties are being drawn into the process. The Office of the President is involved in Koinonia-like study projects. The Advisory Group will be expanded. Much work needs to be done to take this to the next level. More publicity within the Synod. Receive reports on how the various pilot efforts are doing. Develop a website that can be regularly updated with information about the “Koinonia Project.” Develop more resources, particularly Bible Studies. Develop cross-district efforts. Develop ways to share results of studies across the Synod, ways to collate and bring together these results. Involve colleges and seminaries more deeply. A new draft of the concept paper will be published soon. How will the work of local groups be expanded nationally, or at least more broadly? Watch this space for future information. Keep it in your prayers!

+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President, LCMS

 


[1] In concert with the approach of the Formula of Concord, agreeing on the specific points at issue is the first and most important step toward genuine resolution of controversy and the restoration of concord.

Koinonia Is Incarnational

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
—Acts 2:42-47

Our Scripture today is much more than the words we have recorded here in this brief passage.  Certainly, it connects to everything President Harrison had to say on Tuesday and to what President Stoterau was saying yesterday, about the Pentecost proclamation of Peter [Both preached on earlier portions of Acts 2].  It connects also to the proclamation in the chapters to come, as Peter would preach in Acts 3: “Repent, therefore, and turn, that your sins may be washed away, and that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (3:19-20).

But what is it that we have here, really?  That they were holding everything in common?  Distributing to everyone as he had need?  Is this an experiment in “proto-communism” that was destined to fail?  An impossible ideal?  Inspirational to be sure, but impossible nonetheless?

Yet the language here is very nitty gritty – down to earth, incarnational, even.  Full of present participles, periphrastic constructions and imperfect verbs, it’s describing ongoing actions, videos, if you will, not snap shots.   This is what they were continually doing, those 3000 who were baptized on Pentecost, to whom the Lord was adding every day. 

They were devoting themselves – proskarterountes – meaning, to be firm, to persevere, to be faithful to a person. We might best say – “They were completely given over to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Next verse: Literally, “fear was happening with every soul” and “signs and wonder were happening through the apostles.”  “They were selling their property and possessions and distributing them.”  “They were devoting themselves to the temple together,” same word – proskarterountes – and the Lord was adding to their number daily.  None of this could be human work, but it was the Lord Jesus Himself alive in their midst working by His Spirit.

But that also begs the question!  To what are we devoting ourselves?  To what are we completely given over?  What or whom do we fear?  What signs are at work among us?  What reputation do we have?

Maybe what really makes us feel uncomfortable with this passage is the contrast… The contrast between our life together and the koinonia, the life together, of these 3000, growing daily.  I guess, when we really consider it, the contrast makes us feel, even at our best, like nothing more than sinful frauds.

Yet therein also lies a trap, a deceptive trap laid by Satan himself.  For when we talk about this contrast, it is so easy to think of the sins of others against the koinonia, and much harder for me to consider my own, to consider how often I have been the obstacle to koinonia, how my actions and attitudes have hindered the Lord’s way among us.  And the same is true for you.

But when the Spirit thereby leads us to repentance, He also shows us the truly incarnational side of koinonia, the incarnational nature of this word, koinonia, the act of holding things in common.

These baptized believers were led to hold everything in common.  But before that could ever happen, the Lord Jesus came to hold everything in common with us. St. Paul writes, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).  

What does it mean to have fellowship with Jesus?  It means we have everything in common with Jesus.  Well, what do I have to give to Jesus?  Nothing He hasn’t first given to me… except for my sin, my death.  But that is exactly what He has come to take!  In this wonderful great exchange Jesus takes my sin, my death and gives me His righteousness, His life, His peace, His presence for ever.

This is the truly incarnational meaning of koinonia.  Jesus identified with us.  He took on our flesh. He carried all our sins. He held them in common with us on the cross.  He took them along into His grave where they are buried forever because He rose from the dead.

That’s why the real koinonia begins as a fellowship of sinners, sinners who know they are dead without Jesus.  Sinners who know it is true: what the Pharisees in Luke 15 meant as the ultimate putdown, is actually the ultimate good news, for sinners, “This man receives sinners and even eats with them!” (Luke 15:2).

Not only that, He feeds them with Himself!  The ultimate fellowship or koinonia here on earth is what Paul describes in chapter 10 of 1st Corinthians: “The cup we bless, is it not a participation [a koinonia] in the blood of Christ?  The bread we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”  (1 Corinthians 10:16).

And this koinonia, this holding in common, goes both ways. Bread and wine share in the body and blood of Christ placed on our lips, so that we who share in His body and blood also have koinonia with one another even as Christ gives Himself to us.

So “they were devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

The apostles teaching and fellowship… this is the teaching about a real Savior, for real sinners.  Who actually took on our flesh, who took our sin into Himself, who suffered the full wrath of God for our sin on His cross, in our place.  Who rose again and is alive today.

He does not leave us as sinful frauds, but He unites Himself with us.  He sits down to have a meal with us, a meal where He feeds us with Himself, where He has fellowship with us, where He brings us into the Father’s house, and restores us to the Father’s table.

As you may know, we are developing what we are calling “The Koinonia Project,” a means by which we pray our Synod can be drawn closer together in its life together by means of helping each other hear God’s Word clearly.  For more information, the concept paper is on the Synod’s website on the President’s page.

But the heart of the real koinonia is this: that we have Jesus in common, and that Jesus receives us, that Jesus takes everything we have, even our sin and death.  And that Jesus gives us everything He has, everything good, now and forever.

Then what John writes about koinonia becomes true for us as well:

“If we say we have fellowship with Him, and yet we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another [koinonia] and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7-8).

          “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[Sermon preached by LCMS Vice-President Herbert Mueller on Thursday, September 22, 2011, at the National Mission Conference of members of the COP, District Mission Execs and others, for opening devotion.]

Life Together and the Koinonia Project

You already know that Witness, Mercy, and Life Together describe what we, as the Body of Christ, do for the sake of the world.  Each of the three depends on the other two.  If our witness is separated from works of mercy, both are truncated.  When we live together in the fellowship of the Gospel, our witness and mercy are strengthened.

That’s why we are using the Greek word “koinonia” or “fellowship” in Christ to talk about Life Together. Informally, as part of the restructuring of the Synod’s work, we have referred to the new Office of National Mission as the “Life Together” unit.  This is the place where a number of the important support efforts of the Synod are grouped together – youth, schools, stewardship, support for district and congregational outreach, and more.  These efforts all seek to enhance our Life Together, though all of them are also permeated with Witness and Mercy as well.  Again, the three cannot be separated.

On August 1, 2011 (he actually began July 1), the Reverend J. Bart Day was installed as the head of the Office of National Mission. He has “hit the ground running” and is already bringing blessing to the National Mission team.  However, response to the publicity regarding his installation has revealed a bit of confusion on the part of some.  Because the Office of National Mission includes many of the efforts that support our “koinonia” or “Life Together” some have thought that Bart Day was actually installed as the head of our “Koinonia Project.”  This is understandable because both are using the same Greek term because both have to do with our fellowship in Christ.

But there is a distinction.  The Office of National Mission (informally our “Life Together” unit) has a very broad focus, including many areas of our work.  The “Koinonia Project,” however, is the term we have coined for a narrowly focused effort by the Office of the President to organize theological study to work toward greater harmony under the Word of God.  Certainly the “Koinonia Project” is part of our efforts to strength our life together, but it is a special project separate from the work to which Bart Day has been called.

Regarding the “Koinonia Project,” as I write this, my wife is driving me towards Chicago for a meeting with the leadership of the Northern Illinois District.  Northern Illinois is seeking to develop several pilot groups to begin theological discussion.  I will also be making trips in the near future to Kansas, to South Wisconsin, and other places to talk about the project.  Please pray for this effort and check out the Koinonia Project concept paper on www.lcms.org.

+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President

More “Talk” about the Koinonia Project…

Currently under development through the Office of the President of the Synod, the Koinonia Project is basically intended to draw the members of our Synod closer together in our confession of God’s Word.  Just that statement alone begs the question – why is the Koinonia Project needed?  What are the issues?  What’s the real problem?

Some would say, “If only ‘they’ would behave themselves as Christians,” (whoever “they” are!), “our problems would be solved.”  Or, “the real problem is those pastors who…” and you can fill in the blank with whatever you think is the malady.  Indeed, the Task Force on Synodical Harmony (whose report you can access at www.lcms.org/koinoniaproject) has identified a number of issues, both behavioral and theological.  Everyone, it seems, will have their list of reasons why our Synod experiences conflict in our life together.  In the Koinonia Project concept paper, also at www.lcms.org/koinoniaproject, we list a few of the obvious theological issues, not to be exhaustive but simply illustrative. 

The point is, most people can identify at least some of the problem.  Of course, it is also true that how each person (including myself!) evaluates the issues and conflicts will be colored by his or her political biases and expectations.  No one should be surprised by this.  It’s been part of our life together for a long time.  In fact, this phenomenon is one of the clearest examples of the need for an effort like the Koinonia Project.  It’s also the source of some misconceptions about the project.

For example, we’ve heard it said:  “The Koinonia Project is just a smokescreen for a new purge of the Synod.”  “Harrison and Mueller are writing off 15-20% of the Synod.”  “This really shouldn’t be difficult – if only ‘they’ would…”  “I heard that Koinonia will force people to conform…”  “I’m afraid Koinonia will be hijacked by [here insert the group you are afraid of].”  “What’s going to happen if we can’t agree?”  Perhaps you’ve heard other things as well.

Please read carefully the concept paper and watch the Koinonia Project web site as the project expands and is refined.  And please pray for us as we seek to develop and implement the process. There are many possible pitfalls – some listed above and many others we haven’t even thought of.  The Koinonia Project is not going to be easy – in fact, it may be the most difficult thing we have ever done together as a Synod, more difficult than any of us imagine.  Koinonia will not be quick – we are looking at this as a decade long effort.  The Koinonia Project cannot work by coercion but only by attraction to draw people into theological discussion under the Word of God.  We will not “paper over” differences, but will seek to deal with them honestly, plainly, clearly from the Word of God and our Lutheran confessions. It also means we will have to be patient with one another and with the process. No one is being written off.  Every member of the Synod is welcome.  It’s just something we have to do, together. This will take time, but we believe it will be worth it!

We do understand that right now we’ve only been talking in general terms about the project.  How it actually works is yet to be demonstrated.  Our prayer is that several pilot groups will be active before the Fall of 2011, and that many more will be developed over the next couple of years.  Please keep the effort in your prayers and consider your own participation as the project grows. Only God can provide His blessing of koinonia, of life together, and He provides His blessings through His Word. As St. Paul writes, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship (koinonia) 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 ESV).

Remember the goal (from the concept paper):  “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.  But again, it is absolutely essential that our theological issues are addressed 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.  This 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.”

+Herbert C. Mueller
First Vice President

A Way Forward with Harmony and Koinonia

 The 2007 Convention of the Synod mandated a Task Force on Synodical Harmony appointed by the Board of Directors and Council of Presidents. After more than three years of work, this Task Force has issued a final report with a number of possible strategies.

The President’s Office also is moving forward with a “Koinonia Project” (also referenced in the Task Force Report) that will enfold the suggestions recommended by the Task Force. To that end we offer the following four documents:

Find these documents and more at www.lcms.org/koinoniaproject.

We pray the blessing of God as we bear “with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2b-3).

+Herbert C. Mueller
1st Vice President

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