Posts tagged partnership
Recently, as First Vice President, I had the privilege of visiting both churches and presenting our theme of Witness, Mercy and Life Together for both groups. As indicated previously, I was also there to represent the Synod and to preach for the blessing of the first deaconesses in the LCSA. We also had the opportunity to preach in congregations of both synods – Katlehong in the LCSA and St. Paul, Fairlands (Johannesburg), in the FELSiSA.
The LCSA is mainly black (Zulu and Tswana, mostly) and the FELSiSA is historically German and white, though there are many English speaking people that have joined in recent years (both white and black) and some Afrikaans people as well. FELSiSA recently brought into associate membership a black congregation near Fairlands. Tentative efforts are under way to seek to bring both groups together, including perhaps also a third group of independent Lutheran churches founded by a graduate of our seminary in Fort Wayne now in Middelburg, RSA. I was privileged to be present for the first joint meeting of the Church Councils of both the LCSA and the FELSiSA in some years while present.
Pray that God draws both of these partners closer together and that the terrible legacy of apartheid may be overcome by God’s grace and forgiveness in the blood of Christ. We met many people, fine Christians one and all, seeking to serve the Lord faithfully where He has placed them. Pray for true unity in the Gospel that can be expressed in the coming together of these churches into one Synod. Already they are in fellowship with us and with each other, but pray that they are able, by God’s grace, to overcome the past and to unite in one confessional Lutheran Church in Southern Africa.
And after these things, I looked, and behold, a great crowd, which no one could number, from every nation (ethnic group) and every tribe and people, and every tongue, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and they were crying out with a loud voice saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ (Revelation 7:9-10).
God be praised for He makes it so even now!
The offering at the Mpumalanga Diocese (LCSA) Women’s League Convention at Mayflower, near Fernie, South Africa, on 29 October 2011. In the LCSA they sing and dance as they bring their offerings forward to the Lord. The women wear uniforms to identify themselves as members of the League.
First Vice President
Note: This sermon was preached in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Arcadia, Tshwane (Pretoria), South Africa on 28 October 2011 for the blessing of the first deaconesses in the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, a partner church of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. The deaconesses were trained in an intensive course over two years by Deaconess Grace Rao of LCMS World Relief/Human Care. In attendance in the service were the members of the LCSA Church Council, many pastors and Women’s League members of that sister church. Presiding for the ceremony was Bishop Wilhelm Weber, Bishop of the LCSA. To say the least, it was a day full of joy in the Lord!
Bishop Weber, Deans, Pastors, beloved brothers, and people of the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, students and teachers at the seminary, guests from the LCMS – and especially you, the ladies who have completed these intensive deaconess courses taught by Deaconess Grace Rao.
It is my honor to bring greetings to you this day from President Matthew Harrison, and to represent our Synod as together we celebrate God’s gifts. I am humbled by your example and by your desire to serve the Lord Jesus – may God bless you and keep you in His Word.
The Word of God that comes to us this day is 2 Corinthians 8:1-9.
As we begin, you must see this passage in light of the unity of the Church. The Church is One. We confess in the creed, one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church, because we are united by faith, to the One Lord Jesus, and to one another. To be specific about this text, Paul is using the generosity of the Macedonians as an example for the Corinthians in their giving to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem. Even from their poverty, the Macedonians gave generously, giving themselves first to the Lord, so Paul wants to motivate the Corinthians to complete their portion of the gift.
Here’s what this has to do with the unity of the Church. In the book of Acts, the Church began with Pentecost in Jerusalem. At first, most Christians were also Jewish. But as the Church grew and expanded in Antioch, many Gentiles were brought in. This brought conflict, which the Church addressed in the Apostolic Council in Acts 15 – keeping the Gospel at center. But then there came a famine in Jerusalem, so that the Jewish Christians were suffering terribly, poor and starving.
So Paul had this idea that the Gentile Christians should gather a large offering to bring relief and help to these suffering saints in Jerusalem. This would show the unity, the oneness of the Church, by the gifts of Christ for the Church. In chapter 9 Paul says this offering, not only supplies the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God from both Jew and Gentile, showing in a tangible way how the Church is One in Christ.
In a similar way, our service this morning is a sign of the unity of our churches today. A sign that the body of Christ is one and that Christ gives great gifts. You invited Grace Rao to come from the LCMS to teach. So we share together in the grace of God. We share in teaching and we share in learning. Teachers are encouraging students and students encouraging teachers. This all grows from the fact our churches are One in Christ.
That’s why I am honored to bring the Word of God for you this day. Because in this Word of God we share, we are truly rich, in the Lord Jesus. In fact, no matter what else we do not have, if we have the Lord Jesus in His Word, we have everything we need. Together we are rich.
However, if we did not have Jesus in His Word, no matter how much money we might have, we would be the poorest of the poor. For if we do not have Jesus, we really have nothing.
Think of this for a bit. If we look at ourselves without the Lord Jesus – what are we? In my Bible study with the Church Council, I said that without the Lord Jesus, we are like the chicken where the head has been chopped off. He might move and flop around for a few seconds, but as fast as he goes, he has no head, he is lost, and he is dying.
Even when we think we have everything, without Jesus, we really have nothing. Moruti Tswaedi reminded us Wednesday that our parents, Adam and Eve, after they had fallen into sin, had nothing. Even the fig leaves they tried to cover themselves with were drying up and crumbling away.
You and I know this, too. When we act on our own. When we do not care what God says or wants. When we push ourselves in front of others, we may think that is the way to go. But like Adam and Eve’s fig leaves, it all comes to nothing… and may even throw away the gifts of God.
Our Lord calls us daily to REPENT – that is, to see the poverty of that way, the way that leads to death. And by the Holy Spirit in His Word, our Lord wants us to see our true riches in Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead.
Then, as God in our flesh, he humbled Himself. He became poor, as Jesus said, Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay His head. He came down even more, suffering under Pontius Pilate, came down all the way to the cross, all the way to death and the grave. He took our spiritual poverty into Himself, for the Scripture says, God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. So because Jesus takes all our sin, our poverty, our death, now by His resurrection from the dead, He makes us rich. He makes us rich with the forgiveness of our sins, with the promise of the resurrection to eternal life. He makes us rich, by calling us, by adopting us, as the Children of God, making God our Father. Everything that belongs to Him, He now gives us.
By His poverty, we are made rich.
The Bible says that baptized into Jesus, we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that we might declare the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His own marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). A people for God’s own possession, a people God marked out for Himself. In another place it says, you are not your own, you were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19).
As the Catechism says, Christ has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him… Jesus makes us rich in His gifts… And in the richness of His gifts… we serve Him together.
Our temptation as churches is often to think of ourselves as poor, that because we don’t have enough money, we are weak, that we are poor and have little or nothing to give. But our Lord calls us to see today that we have, together, the greatest treasure in all the world, in Jesus Christ.
- In our confessional service on Wednesday, our Lord gave us riches beyond measure in the forgiveness of sins. You have those riches always to share.
- In the Lord’s Supper, we have, given into our very mouths, the most precious things in the universe, the body and blood of Jesus, for the forgiveness of sins.
- Sunday after Sunday in Church, as well as whenever we open our Bibles, we open up a treasure chest of Spiritual riches.
By Christ’s poverty on the cross, by His sacrifice, we are now RICH! And when we receive that treasure, when we receive the forgiveness of sins, when we believe the promise and Christ gives His righteousness, He makes us RICH beyond measure!
St. Ambrose first told the story of St. Lawrence, a leader of the church in Rome. When the emperor’s representative demanded that he turn over to him the riches of the Church, he asked for three days to gather them up. First, he gave away to the poor all the money the church had, then he gathered all the sick, the blind, the lame, the hurting, the poor, all the people who had been gathered into the church and said, Here are the riches of the church!
You see, the true treasure of the church is the forgiveness of sins in the Lord Jesus, the life of Christ given to us. These riches are the possession of every believer in Jesus. For the true riches of Christ’s Church are not measured in dollars, but are measured in people who know the Lord Jesus Christ, who are baptized into His name, and are living in His forgiveness. The riches of the church are given by the Lord Jesus Himself when he forgives us, makes us His own, and fills us with His Spirit. And these riches of Christ are given away through you Pastors as you proclaim the Word of God and forgive sins.
That’s also why, the real riches of the Church are present here, here in the people Jesus has forgiven, that Jesus has given His Church. YOU are a treasure to the Lord Jesus because He shed His blood for you. So the treasure is here in you, dear pastors… And here in you, dear ladies, whom we are recognizing today.
You are being trained as deaconesses. You are part of the treasure of the Church. For you know the Lord Jesus. You are giving away the riches of Christ’s love, the riches of His mercy and His care for poor, hurting sinners. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty, we might become rich! (2 Corinthians 8:9).
And in this way also, the Church is One… As St. Paul was seeking to demonstrate. For the Lord has raised you up, dear ladies, through the congregations of the LCSA. You have been gathered and prepared and sent here.
And another part of the Church has provided training and help through people like Deaconess Grace and others.
So the Church is One… Because we receive the same gifts of Christ. He makes us rich.
And now these deaconesses in training are being blessed and given to the Church, to learn and to grow in service, to work with the Pastors and congregations, to be servants in the Church, to be the hands and feet of Jesus to care for people, to help bring the riches of Christ to His people.
We thank God for you today… We thank God for these ladies:
So the Church is One, and it is rich in receiving and giving the gifts of the Lord Jesus!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
+ Herbert Mueller
LCMS First Vice President
28 October 2011
The following ten points summarize the theological foundation for the Church’s work of mercy and care for people in need.
- The Holy Trinity – Diakonia (“mercy” in our threefold emphasis) has its source in the divine and eternal relationships of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
- The Incarnation – Diakonic love in the Holy Trinity is made real in the incarnation and the humiliation of Christ. In Jesus Christ, the eternal God takes on our human flesh and completely identifies Himself with sinful humanity, so that He might have mercy on us. Having the mind of Christ, the Church is likewise called to identify with and humbly to serve those in need.
- Universal Atonement – “God desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Christian service and love flow from the fact that Christ has atoned for all the sins of all people, so that every human person is precious to Christ and to His Church. Receiving the mercy of Christ, the Baptized are released into a life of loving service.
- Forgiveness Begets Mercy – The Good News of salvation in Christ crucified and raised from the dead brings forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. People who receive these gifts of grace are led by the Spirit of God to be merciful.
- Christ’s Example – Christ’s example of love for the whole person remains our highest example for life in this world, and for the care of the needy in both body and soul. When Christ walked this earth visibly, His giving of Himself combined both the forgiveness of sins and acts of mercy, care and healing. So too His Church.
- A Corporate Life of Mercy – Therefore, mercy is an essential part of the Church’s life together as the body of Christ. He is the Head. All who believe and are baptized into Christ are members of His body. So “when one member of the body suffers, all suffer” (1 Corinthians 12:26). This means that works of mercy are not only the responsibility of the individual believer, but also of the Church as Church, as the body of Christ, as congregation and as Synod. Our works of mercy flow from the sacramental life of the Church and become a living out into the world what happens in the divine liturgy. Brought into the body, we receive mercy from Christ Himself, in Baptism, in Absolution and in the Supper. And this mercy we have received must overflow into the lives of others.
- The Lutheran Confessions – Our Lutheran Confessions also assume that the Church will have a corporate life of mercy and repeatedly state that the work of diakonic love is an essential part of the Church’s life:
- Smalcald Articles II.4.9 – “Therefore, the church cannot be better ruled and preserved than if we all live under one head, Christ, and all the bishops – equal according to the office (although they may be unequal in their gifts) keep diligently together in unity of teaching, faith, sacraments, prayer and works of love, etc.”
- As Broad as the Need of the Neighbor – The vocation (calling by God) to live in love and mercy is as broad as the need of the neighbor. Baptized into the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2) we use the gifts God has given in service to the neighbor. In order to meet these needs, Christ not only gives a wide variety of gifts to His body, He also calls a wide variety of people, of members of His body, to many different varieties of service, in and through the Church. These callings are flexible and are determined by the needs surrounding the church (as in Acts 6). Within the Church and in connection with the Church’s mission to reach out to others, proclamation of the Gospel, faith, worship and care for those in need ought always come together.
- Beyond Members of the Church – The Church’s work of mercy also extends beyond those in the Church. Just as the Gospel itself reaches beyond the Church and is intended for all, love for the neighbor cannot and must not be limited only to those in the fellowship of the orthodox Lutheran faith. Works of love will often prepare the way for the Gospel to be proclaimed.
- The Whole Person – Proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments are always primary (Christian fellowship is always in the Church’s marks) but the Church’s God-given work of mercy demonstrates and “puts a face on,” so to speak, the love of God for the whole person. People are created by God as body and soul. We believe in “the resurrection of the body,” both for Christ and for us. Christ came as a human being, body and soul, to redeem all, body and soul. So today, mercy in the life of the Church must bear witness to Christ’s Gospel, and Christ’s promise to come again to raise us to life, body and soul, the whole person.
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.
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.