Koinonia The Impact

The Koinonia project is the flagship project of the new LCMS president Matthew Harrison.    It is the outgrowth of the It Is Time document, the Task Force For Synodical Harmony, etc.   It is published under the Office of the President on the official LCMS website http://www.lcms.org/page.aspx?pid=1041.

The current draft of the Koinonia concept document ( version 9.0 ) contains the quoted paragraph below in its opening sections.   This is a repeat of what this blog believes the sentiment of the It Is Time document was.   Particularly it is a shot across the bow of the conservative wing who took control of the synod in the 1970’s and has kept it on a conservative track ever since.   This has been achieved through discipline and enforcing the decisions made at the national level.

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. We also observe: the habits we learn in controversy (e.g. the 1960s and 1970s) may continue long after a particular issue has been resolved.

By contrast the Koinonia Project is a move to the opposite.   No longer is it going to be acceptible to vote and enforce the decisions.   That is now called politics.   In the following thought theology is portrayed as somehow distinct and is not subject to firm definition and enforcement but rather is something where there is freedom to disagree.

… the “Koinonia Project” cannot become a political process, that is, something determined by close convention votes with winners and losers, but must remain a spiritual and theological effort. … 

The document then lists a series of recommended actions.  Among these are the following :

1 ) Synod-wide studies of the Scriptures and the Confessions, including studies by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, covering specific topics such as; the 8th Commandment, a theology of diversity, Christian virtues and civility, the political culture of the church, accountability and harmony.

8 ) The dialog must include all positions, at every level of the church; within our congregations, circuits, auxiliaries, Synod-wide theological convocations and smaller focus groups as well.

The phrase “theology of diversity” should set off alarm bells if one has been paying attention to the theological drift of modern “mainstream” protestantism.   Suggesting that this theology needs to become part of the LCMS should be met openly and forcefully and it needs to be halted in its tracks.

Regarding the dialouge now having to include all positions.   That means that everything that has ever been silenced by convention vote, defining what the LCMS believes and what it doesn’t is now reopened again.   Now all discussion must include the condemened views and the endorsed views.   The discipline has been shattered.

The 8th commandment is “Thou shalt not bear false witness”.   The reason this is listed above is important.   While the authors of this document may have other opinions about its purpose this will become a tool for one party to insist that “no no we are not really saying that or trying to do that” when in fact they are.   It becomes a tool to silence anyone who is trying to expose the true agendas of the wolves who have crept in silently among us.

The document repeats again and itself marks the text below in bold face that we cannot enforce things anymore.

We cannot work by coercion in this project, but always by invitation, fraternal persuasion, and attraction, centered always in the Word of God and our confession, for the sake of the mission.

There is a highlight of Article VII of the Synod’s constitution followed by a comment about why this has been included.    The bold font in this quote are added by this website and is not in the original text.

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)

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. 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.  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).

The above is key to what the future holds if this path is followed.   Individual congregations are formally free to disagree with the national organizations decisions whenever they feel they have a local condition that makes compliance seem “inexpedient”.   Further the use of coercion in rectifying such variation is now said to be the incorrect approach.

The enforcement of the 70’s and onward is now not only not traditional Lutheranism from the times of Chemnitz (1500’s) but not even true LCMS Lutheranism.    The enforcement is now classed as a harmful abberation which must be changed.

This will not go well for the good ship Missouri.

Task Force For Synodical Harmony

The task force was formed when the Chairman of the LCMS Board of Directors and the Council of Presidents each nominated three people to the task force.  Each of these nominees picked one additional person to make twelve members.    Thus it was from the outset a small collection of handpicked people.   This group can and will have an impact.   Even if that impact is not the actual goal of some or all of the members of it.    They are very likely well meaning sincere people.

The task force solicited verbal testimony from 29 people and written testimony from others.   What those people said has been sealed for the next 25 years.   This presumably was to allow them to speak freely without fear of retribution.    Thus it can be assumed that at least some of the things said were things in contradiction to the current positions.

The task force mandate was formed in 2007 in the national convention as resolution 4-01A.  The taskforce itself was formed later in 2007.   Its preliminary report was referred to the 2010 convention in the Convention Workbook and was encouraged by resolution 7-01 to develop strategies to implement the report.   The report was presented to the Board of Directors and the Council of Presidents.   It is now published on the LCMS website under the Office of the President as a prominent part of the flagship Kononia project of current president Matthew Harrison.   It was published in its final form in March of 2011.

The point of the above being that the contents of this document are very important.  They have the authority of conventions, the approval of the board of directors and the council of presidents and the full support of the current president.   They are being acted upon.

Looking at the document what is noticed is a fuller detail what appears to be the same ideas expressed in the “It Is Time” document.   The focus of the Task Force document seems to be that the synod does not allow diversity of doctrine and practice.   Historically the synod enforced the resolutions that it votes in convention.   If a national convention declared something to be condemned then those promoting that idea were no longer allowed to teach it openly.    Due to the poster child event of the charges of Unionism filed after a LCMS pastor participated in the post 9/11 prayer session at Yankee stadium there has been a push to curtail the power of those from the extreme conservative side.   The damage to the entire conservative side however is inevitable.

The clergy are seen as the ones chiefly seeing to it that the doctrines taught comply with what the synod has voted.   In the document this appears to be seen as a problem, non christian, a sin even and this must be changed.   Opinions condemned at national Synod must still be allowed, indeed are going to be required, to be presented along side of the official positions at all levels from parish to national.

Pastors must be held accountable for saying to forcefully and directly that some peoples ideas are wrong,  they must not be allowed to state that some people are not being honest and pointing out their true intentions as doing so is sinful.   A code of conduct will be developed that will effectively silence those who are guilty of silencing in an unchristian manner those who have lost at the national convention.

Following are some excerpts from the task force final report with external comments added in parenthesis.

(The report is ) a specific plan for the sake of the whole church to restore harmony in our synod.

While disharmony in the synod is nothing new, in recent years it has deepend to the point of being destructive of both our unity in Christ and our concord in doctrine and practice.

Aspects of the present disharmony

Inability to Deal with Diversity : …such issues as; admission to Holy Communion, worship substance and style, the Office of Public Ministry and the role of laity, and the service of women in the church. … we have not learned how to address diversity among us — whether it is perceived to  be “doctrinal” or “non-doctrinal.”  
A Lack of Civility :  Simple Christian values like kindness and gentleness are often lacking in our dialouge, especially among LCMS clergy.
A Politicized Culture : National and some district conventions have become more politically charged than ever.  … the parties in power are perceived to proceed with a “scorched earth” policy, totally disenfranchising the loosing party.  Rather than valuing all the voices in the LCMS, the “losing” voices are silenced….
Primarily A Clergy Problem : …the problem of disharmony in the LCMS is primarily a clergy problem … While some clergy may contend that “anything goes” when fighting for truth, such an approach ignores both our unity and concord as Christians and as confessional Lutheran.  Is there something in the personality of some of our pastors that brings on an attitude of judgement, criticism, and elitism toward other pastors ?
Poor Communication : …we have lost the ability or the will to listen …
Lack of Accountability : Pastors causing disharmony by sinful attitudes and behaviors must be held accountable.   Currently no code of conduct exists for LCMS pastors, especially as it relates to collegiality and public behavior … there must be consequences for sinful behavior.
Distrust : The product of the above is a deep distrust among clergy.

Strategies (for implementation)

The dialog must include all positions, at every level of the church; within our congregations, circuits, auxiliaries, Synod wide theological convocations and smaller focus groups as well.

Random Quotes from the document….

“There are deep disagreements among us about diversity, what it means, and how to deal with it”
“Ultimately every Synodical entity, and every congregation needs to recognize and celebrate God-pleasing diversity.”
“Uncivil behavior is respectfully and fairly challenged”
“Differing opinions become assets for building the church”
“Greater respect in the Synod for differing points of view.”
“Clergy of the LCMS lead the way in defending others, speaking well of them and taking words and action in the kindest possible way and seek to understand and relate to thers especially in areas of difference”
“Ability to state the others position in a thoughtful, caring, and honest way.”
“Intentionally bring together known opposing parties in the church for open dialouge”
“Even those with opposing views participate in activities”

This is a very dangerous document and approach.   The full impact is not being loudly promoted and it is not on the radar of many people.   This document and approach will destroy the very foundations of the discipline that has kept the LCMS a conservative Christian church.   The national identity will be forever destroyed once everyone is free to march to their own drummer.   It will no longer be able to be said “The LCMS does not believe XYZ”.    Instead every issue will be up for variation at the personal, parish, and regional levels.   Those who take comfort in being identified as LCMS Lutherans instead of ECLA Lutherans will quickly not have that comfort.   They will be reduced to taking comfort that at least their particular parish doesn’t believe something and nothing further.

This requirement of “The dialog must include all positions, at every level of the church; within our congregations, circuits, auxiliaries, Synod wide theological convocations and smaller focus groups as well. ” is very significant.   What it means is that on every controversial issue, no matter what the historic votes have been establishing what the synod believes will be nullified.   The loosing voices promoting heterodoxy or heresy can now no longer be silenced and now have mandate to always be allowed to present their ideas in all discussions.    Those who get upset about the teaching of false [ or diverse ] doctrine will now be guilty of inappropriate and intolerant behavior and will themselves be silenced or disciplined.  This can very quickly lead to a purge of the conservative clergy who are vocal and attempt to rally the synod. 

With respect to the controversies named above much hinges on the understanding of the phrase “admission to Holy Communion”.     If understood as allowing open communion this would remove the only visible seperation between ELCA and LCMS.     While cooperation in externals is continued pulpit and altar communion is not.     Allowing open communion would mean that the ELCA and LCMS would be in defacto altar communion without ever having to say so.   The other manner of understanding the phrase “admission to Holy Communion” centers on who the synod allows to be a fully participating member of the local congregation.   On that point there is really only one one topic of contention today and that is with respect to the admission of alternative life styles as full and communicant members.    Deciding to allow that was the decision that the ELCA first made that sent it on the road it has travelled.

This may not be the intention of the authors of this document, however it remains a very possible outcome when it is implemented.

It Is Time

In 2010 Matthew Harrison was elected president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.   Part of his campaign for election included the document “It Is Time” published on the http://itistime.org/ website.

The document opens with the analogy of a ship in which 20% do not agree with the direction, and what to do about it.   The idea the voting and winning just over 50% of the vote and then forcing the others to abide by the decisions does not create unity.

This document is a shot across the bow aimed directly at the conservatives who were responsible for causing the Seminex controversy in the 1970’s.   It is a declaration against Preus and those who continue to dominate 40 years later.   The stated goal is to undo the conservative coup in the LCMS.

The seminaries, particularly the St. Louis seminary, suffered great devaluation in the church’s life as a result of the controversy in the 1960s and 70s. It’s time clearly and actively to reverse that trend. (p.5)

The vision is to have LCMS seminaries begin to interact with every Lutheran Seminary in the world.   This is indeed a reversal since the trend had been to separate in the name of doctrinal purity, in the face of social and theological issues that keep LCMS from unity with ELCA and the Lutheran World Federation.

This document says the manner of resolving issues is not to vote, win with a slim majority and then compel everyone who disagrees to abide by the vote.   That method is what has caused the problems.   The approach of Preus and the conservative coup is not traditional Lutheranism.   Instead the path of Chemnitz is the example.    In this example we will just continue to talk about the things we disagree on openly until eventually we come to unity.

No one group in the Synod has moral hegemony or superiority. We are all pure sinners, in need of pure grace. ( p. 8 )

It is time for a serious, decade-long effort—a non-politically organized and driven effort to regain theological and practical unity in the Synod.23 This route is the hard route. It will take time and effort. It will take courage. It will take men and women of integrity. It will also result in a Synod 85% united and on the path to even greater unity, precisely at a moment when such unity is needed like never before (p. 10)

The upshot is the synod will be unified on the non controversial things and that will be good enough.   The synod will agree to agree on what it agrees on, agree to disagree but keep talking about what is disagreed about.   The hedge that was built on the controversial issues will be torn down in the name of unity.    In the new world the leaders may feel strongly that something is wrong, and even say so.   They will however at the same time they say so allow others to hold and profess the other side publicly.

Simply put this path will be the destruction of the discipline that kept the LCMS on its conservative track.   It will now run on conservative and liberal tracks at the same time.   The traditional Lutheran approach doesn’t mean conservative evangelical values, rather the traditional Lutheran approach means agreeing to disagree and keep talking about the divide.