What is Needed for Koinonia?
Clarity and Transparency!
As all of us know, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod is presently considering a proposal which has come to be known as the Koinonia Project. According to the latest edition of the proposal it says:
"In essence then, the Synod is a fellowship (‘koinonia’) of congregations, pastors and commissioned ministers who share the same confession of faith." (Koinonia Project Concept Paper, June 2013, p. 12)
The theological divisions in doctrine and practice that we know as our current reality might force some to conclude that the LCMS is not a Synod at all because we no longer share the same confession of faith. This is the reason the Koinonia Project was proposed in the first place, for the reality is that if all the members of the Synod actually did share the same confession of faith, then there would be no need for the Koinonia Project! Hopefully this means that we are at least beginning the process of acknowledging that we are not really a Synod at this time, and that it is toward this end the Koinonia Project is expending its efforts.
The real challenge before the promoters of the Koinonia Project is to find a way to help those with a divergent view of our Synod's official doctrine and practice to come to a God-pleasing agreement under Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions which reflects the faith expressed in them – and then to deal with those who will not agree to such concord.
While it is true that we must have faith in the power of God's Word to bring our diverse views of doctrine and practice into concord, at the same time we must also recognize the reality that not everyone is going to be willing to do this. It is at this juncture that the measure of an orthodox Lutheran church body will be seen. Will the Synod place a higher value on keeping the institutional "peace" by making room for contradictory doctrines and unbiblical practices to exist alongside one another? And will we value pure doctrine over institutional peace by doing what has been done time and time again throughout the history of the Christian Church – that is, by agreeing to part ways with the unrepentant erring?
Some hints have come to us from the Koinonia Concept Paper. Its self-described purpose is stated thusly:
"...the goal of this project is to help our people, by God’s grace and Spirit in His Word, perceive more clearly our unity in Christ and to express with greater unanimity the concord (the oneness in doctrine and practice) Christ desires for us under the Word of God for the sake of our witness before the world." (Koinonia Project Concept Paper, June 2013, p. 6)
Does perception create reality? Is the problem in the LCMS simply that we do not rightly perceive our unity in Christ, or is it that we do not have unity? Likewise, we are told that we seek to "express with greater unanimity the concord (the oneness in doctrine and practice) Christ desires for us...". How great a degree of unanimity is required to establish unity in doctrine and practice, or is this an admission that we do not actually expect true unity among the members of the Synod? Is this a "dumbing down" of the expectations of doctrinal agreement among us?
Then there is the matter of transparency during within Koinonia Project. As the specifics of how the process is to work with the formation of multiple groups of 10-12 individuals it is stated:
"The study groups must be developed as “safe places” for honest theological conversation . . . people need to be able to participate in the conversations of the “Koinonia” groups without fear of retaliation. Immediate accusations of false teaching within a group, for instance, will quickly lead to the breakdown of the group." (Koinonia Project Concept Paper, June 2013, p. 16.)
Since when do true Lutherans need to be "safe" in taking a stand regarding what we believe, teach, and confess? If this were the case, then Martin Luther never would have made his stalwart confession before his opponents at the Diet of Worms.
Holy Scripture tells us: "But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation." (James 5:12)
If those participating in the Koinonia Project groups are so timid that they have to have a promise of safety before they are willing to express their faith, then frankly, we don't need these groups! Say freely what you believe, and then have the courage to defend it! What our Synod needs is an honest truthfulness, not some version of "political correctness" that requires we dare not declare the truth of God openly and freely before all the world. The maintenance of pure doctrine is what is needed, not the maintenance of covert discussion. And what if someone denies the deity of our Lord in these discussions? Are the other participants to politely keep quiet and not call the error out for what it is? Would such a course of action show true Christian love for the one who is in error? Of course not! Honest theological dialog must be open theological dialog.
At the time of this writing the pastors of the Wyoming District are meeting jointly with the pastors of the Atlantic District. Sadly, under the guideline of "safety" the Synod will hear nothing of what these apparently diverse groups will say or conclude. What of the various pilot groups that have been meeting in selected districts of the Synod for some time now? Does anyone know what has transpired among them? Is any progress being made? Are they at impasse? How are we to bridge the gap between these "safe" places of discussion and actually be informed as a Synod regarding how the Koinonia Project is working?
I truly wish the Koinonia Project effort well, but it has some enormous hurdles to overcome. Many of them are unfortunately of their own making.
Rev. Richard A. Bolland
Gloria Christi Lutheran Church
Note: While the Board of Directors of the ACELC has reviewed and approved the content of this message, it does not necessarily reflect the position of the ACELC member congregations.