Rev. William Shimkus
Editor’s Note: Rev. Shimkus graduated from Christ Seminary-Seminex in 1977. He has served parishes in Illinois, Washington, Idaho, Hawaii, and Oregon. In addition, he served 23 years as a chaplain in the Army Reserve, primarily in hospital ministry. He has also served on the board of Holden Village. In his retirement he serves on the speaker’s bureau for Lutheran World Relief.
Recently, several members of the Daystar Journal editorial board were discussing the passing from this life of a long-time Daystar listserv contributor. It had been suggested that, given this person’s many contributions, not only to our email discussions via the Daystar listserv but to the church at large, that we consider some way to memorialize him and others who have made significant contributions in the past.
That suggestion didn’t go very far. But it did open up a wider discussion about who we are as Daystars, where we have been and where we may be going in the future. What has Daystar stood for? Why have we continued this conversation for nearly twenty-five years? What was it that brought all these people together in this way? Many of us have been labeled by others in synod or have self-identified as “moderates.” But that isn’t necessarily true for us all. Daystar has been a pretty big tent.
What difference has Daystar made? One of the blessings of the Daystar online conversation over the years has been the opportunity to listen in as some of our more theologically well-informed and pastorally proficient members have discussed issues affecting church and society. A frequent comment in Daystar postings in the past praised the value of the theological education we were receiving. One of our past presidents once described Daystar as “a theological seminary without walls.” Simply looking back at the names of all who have contributed articles to the Daystar Journal in the past highlights that fact.
A second aspect of our Daystar experience has been the mutual support that our participants have both received and shared. Sadly, our Missouri Synod has a long history of hostility directed against those who ask questions or advocate a different practice from what’s been done in the past. In the essays related to the “Statement of the 44,” it was noted that “more important than unionism is the question whether we shall become a legalistic body in which men can be accused and attacked even behind their back without the least regard to friendship as soon as they transgress some abstract principle in our Synod, without being guilty of violating any Word of God on which that principle is built.” That was in 1944 and, as many Daystars can testify from personal experience, the situation is little changed almost 80 years later. For those who have borne the brunt of such “churchly” animosity, the prayers and encouragement of fellow Daystars have been a tremendous source of comfort.
Not all Daystars live in “friendly” district or circuits. Many serve in the “hinterlands,” isolated from sources of accurate information about what is going on in the church at large. For such individuals, Daystar has often been a source of reliable news – often sooner and with less editorial “spin” than provided in the official media of the synod. A recent example of just that was the news regarding the sale of our church’s property in Hong Kong. Little to nothing was mentioned in synod’s Reporter about the impact that that sale would have on our Asian outreach, although that concern was more fully discussed on Daystar.
Given the “big-tent” nature of Daystar membership, I have always appreciated the many ways in which we were able to discuss controversial issues with mutual respect, instead of heavy-handed legalistic put-downs. To be honest, that didn’t always happen, particularly when the discussion drifted into the area of secular politics. But I believe that the evangelical discussion of such problematic issues was the goal of many of us on the list and served as a stark contrast to the way in which similar issues were being discussed in many synodical circles.
Sadly, regarding many of the problems that our synod has faced over the years, there has been little to no positive change. One area to which Daystar has continued to point throughout its history has to do with the relationship between the hierarchy of synod and the local congregation and its ministry. As stated in “Speaking the Truth in Love,” the essays related to the “Statement of the 44”: “The first point to be noted here is that the una sancta and the local congregation are divinely instituted, while Synod, with its officers, boards and committees, is a human institution…. Our relationship to Synod, furthermore, must be freed from all fear, fear of the bearing down of officials, fear of the criticism of the brethren, fear of disciplinary action. The officialdom of Synod…is never to assume police duty or to tell the members of a group what they are able to do or not to do…. Synod’s business is not to control but to advise and help. Its officials are its servants, not its masters.”
In many cases compliance with synodical bylaws and convention resolutions has become more important than the proclamation of the gospel. Fear that they may be transgressing some synodical boundary paralyzes the efforts of local congregations and their workers to care for people in their need. This problem, while endemic to Missouri, has increasingly become a problem in other church bodies as well, and thus needs to be addressed to the church beyond our synodical circle.
Where does that leave us? When I shared these thoughts with one of our Daystar colleagues, I was told that it sounded like a eulogy. Perhaps. It’s easy to feel a little discouraged as we see our numbers dwindling, as many of our stalwarts of the past have died or have simply retired from active participation in our discussions. If we ever had any illusions that we might achieve victory in the “Great Lutheran Civil War,” they are long gone. The foreseeable future of the synod only suggests more of the same.
But this is a eulogy only if we choose to make it so. The issues that we have raised in the past continue to be problems that need to be addressed today if our synod is to be true to its gospel heritage. For that to happen we must continue to support and encourage our sisters and brothers in Christ who run afoul of synodical officialdom in the pursuit of mission and ministry objectives. We must also maintain a continuing open dialogue with those with whom we disagree, doing so with a “winsome witness,” without anger, ridicule, or hostility.
For Daystars who are still willing and able, there continue to be contributions that we can make to a more gospel-centered approach to ministry for the church. It consists in planting and nourishing seeds. In “old Missouri,” new ideas were often viewed with suspicion. We Daystars need to find ways to support such innovative mission starts.
We should take advantage of opportunities in circuit pastoral conferences, parish Bible studies, and meetings to reintroduce our people to what may be for many the forgotten “classics” of the Promising Tradition – “The Statement of the 44,” the “Mission Affirmations,” H. C. Schwan’s “Propositions on Unevangelical Practice,” Theodore Graebner’s “The Burden of Infallibility,” and others, such as appear on the Daystar Journal website.
It has been my experience that many newer/younger pastors have often been taught the “party line” in seminary, but have never considered other, equally biblical approaches to issues like women’s ordination or eucharistic hospitality. We can raise the question for them and point them to resources that can help them to honestly consider other points of view.
Finally, we can do what we can to encourage those who are trying to change the direction of synod for the better. An example of that appeared in the report of the recent New Jersey District convention in the July issue of the Reporter. There it is reported that the convention voted to “Declare that LCMS Bylaw 2.14.5.a-e, which grants authority to the LCMS president as a ‘suspending ecclesiastical supervisor’ with the power to suspend a member of Synod, contradicts the LCMS Constitution and Bylaws.” Such a resolution is in keeping with the long-standing tradition of the LCMS regarding the proper relationship between the synod and its members and would be a step in the right direction to curbing some of the abuses that we’ve experienced in the past.
Quo vadis Daystar? Where are you going? It’s been said that faith is planting trees from which we may never see the fruit. As God’s people, we have been called to share the good news of God’s love for all in word and deed. We will probably never see the fruit of such efforts. Yet we proceed nonetheless – faithful to our calling, faithful to our Lord!