Portland Daystar Conference
January 17, 2000
As the Christian Church greets the 21st century, it does so with some trepidation and gloom. The old idea of a “Christendom” where Christians set the agenda and sought to translate their values into the society is almost gone. Instead, active Christians find themselves in a minority position throughout the world. Decisions made in business, politics, education and entertainment are made largely without reference to the Christian faith. Loyalty to the churches and their ministry is eroding; confidence that the church has the definitive answers to the issues raised by the contemporary world has all but disappeared.
A Hurting Ministry
While the whole church is feeling the effects of this great change, those in the ministry are suffering the results of this transition most acutely. Many of the traditional methods of ministry are no longer working. Clergy are experiencing more job dissatisfaction, burn out and broken marriages than ever before. For these problems, some members blame the pastors, others the seminaries, still others the lack of committed Christians in the congregations. However, the problem is larger than that; it is of another magnitude altogether. The dilemma facing the church throughout the world is not just that of poor pastoral leadership. It is rather that we may have the wrong form of ministry for a time like this.
Everywhere in the world the church finds itself in a missionary situation. No longer is “mission work” confined to far-off exotic spots in Asia, Africa and Latin America. With the erosion of “Christendom” in Europe and America, Loren Mead says, “the front door of the church is a door into mission territory.” Kenneth Callahan asserts, “The day of the local church is over. The day of the mission outpost has come.” According to George Barna, the church that fails to realize this new reality will be like the “Frog in the Kettle,” so oblivious to the fact that his environment was changing that he perished.
Will the old model of the pastoral ministry succeed in this new era? Though there continue to be contented pastors and people in prosperous parishes, there is evidence that fewer parishes will be able and willing to support such a ministry. If this is true in the industrial world, it is even more so in the poorer nations of the world. In addition, the new missionary setting of the church is having a profound impact both on pastors’ self-understanding and their work in ministry.
Already in the fifties a crisis was developing in the parish ministry. H. Richard Niebuhr pointed out that neither ministers nor the schools that nurtured them were guided by a clear-cut, generally accepted conception of the ministry. This lack of direction led Joseph Sittler to write on the “Maceration of the Ministry.” According to Sittler, parish pastors were literally being “chopped up” into little pieces by the expectations of their parish, their denomination and their own self-image. The newly ordained pastor, who had diligently prepared himself for the “office of the ministry,” suddenly found himself expected to “manage” the office, see to the plumbing and administer the parish program. Though such pastors were sometimes able to balance competing job descriptions, they suffered most acutely from their own inner compass, which told them that they had prepared for a different ministry than the one in which they found themselves. Sittler believed that it was a sense of vocational guilt that had led to a variety of clergy crack-ups of varying degrees of severity.
How pastors and members of their congregations viewed the role of the pastor became the study of the Association of Theological Schools sponsored research, Ministry in America: Report and Analysis. While this research, led by David Schuller, former professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, indicated a number of popular and acceptable models of ministry, it also indicated that there was no clear-cut conception of the ministry that was widely accepted by both clergy and laity.
Meanwhile the maceration of the ministry accelerates. Just viewing the titles of some books on the contemporary ministry is alarming. Pastor X writes a book on the ministry titled How to Murder Your Minister. Another pastor authors a book titled Can I Make It One More Year? Overcoming the Hazards of the Ministry. Still another title is The Vanishing Parson. Even more alarming are the figures that fifty percent of all seminary graduates are leaving the ministry within ten years after graduation. The current maceration of the ministry has also discouraged children from pastors’ homes to study for the ministry. As a result there are fewer children from parsonages who wish to follow in the footsteps of their pastoring parent.
The future looks even grimmer. From being a high status/low stress occupation the ministry is now thought of as a low status/high stress profession. As a result fewer qualified young people are looking to the ministry for a lifelong career. This has had significant impact on the ways in which seminaries recruit students. Barna points out that the financial vulnerability of most seminaries means that they pay much more attention to the quantity of new students than to their quality. Seminaries that in the past admitted only fifty percent of their applicants are now admitting ninety-eight percent of those interested. What will happen to new seminary recruits when they face the challenges presented by the new missionary environment? How will they cope with a new set of expectations? How will they succeed in congregations that are struggling just to survive?
A Struggling Church
Although overall giving to churches has increased, 97 percent of that increase has gone into congregational finances, not into missions or charity. Although large churches continue to be built in the suburbs attracting new families and their offerings, individual percentage offerings to the church are down, with the average church family contributing only 2.5 percent of their income to church. Membership in the mainline Protestant churches also has been steadily slipping. The percentage of regular churchgoers continues to slide from 45 percent in 1968 to 39 percent in 1996. “By the middle of the next century, local congregations will have become clubs, with all of the income going to support the activities of the members.” So says Sylvia Ronsvalle, of the Empty Tomb, a religious research institute.
Outside of those flourishing congregations that appeal to young families, many mainline congregations are aging rapidly with struggling Sunday schools. A visit to the majority of our Northwest District congregations will find a graying, aging membership. Already it is tough to find younger people ready and willing to take a congregational office or participate in church activities. As the membership ages, declines and dies, it becomes harder and harder to support the services of a seminary trained pastor.
Because of figures like these and the mood they engender in pastors and people alike there is a sense of tiredness, a feeling of stagnation. Few churches have an exciting evangelism program. Most members hope that their pastor is good at evangelism because they don’t want to be bothered. In many congregations the chill of death has settled into the institutional bones. Yes, thank God, the people still take care of each other, but will all of the income go just to support the activities of the members?
In her better moments the Church has taken on all institutions, including her own and has held them up to the searching scrutiny of God’s Word. The Christian Church, harbinger of change, champion of the oppressed, proclaimer of the Kingdom, is but a tired image of her former self. What has happened that we face declining membership, dwindling influence? Why are most church bodies so dull, uncreative, downright boring? Why are our children some of our worst critics?
The Boxification of the Faith
This morning we wish to look briefly at the “boxification” of the Christian Faith. “Boxification” is sort of a new word that says we have “put into boxes” huge parts of our Christian faith. One box is the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, a familiar box, a box that seems to be getting smaller, but a box that shapes much of our concerns, language, status, yes, and faith. Another box is our idea of ministry, professional ministry, called ministry, ordained ministry, ministry of Word and Sacrament. There is a certification for that ministry, qualifications, privileges, limits to that ministry, things you cannot do without that ministry.
Then there are parish boxes, rubrics for worship, for fundraising, for governance, for activities, prestige and status within the congregation, who might be a likely member in the congregation, who probably would not be interested. What type of person is a good “congregational fit,” who probably wouldn’t qualify, who is outside of our box?
Most of us live our lives with reference to these boxes. Some of them shape our lives, our expectations, our hopes and dreams. They give us support, shore up our identities, shape and define our faith. They are fine boxes, are they not? Yes, they are, but for a moment see the material out of which they are made. They are made out of traditions, customs, constitutions, standard operating procedures, things that might be called “law.” Because they are made out of “law,” they act as catalysts with our sinfulness to produce a host of negative results.
Sinfulness working in our institutional boxes produces both arrogance and despair. If we do good work within our boxes, if we are good pastors, good lay people, good churchmen and women, we are doing okay. If we get our doctrine right, if we use the right words, if our loyalties are in order, then we can rightfully condemn those with whom we disagree. If someone disagrees with us, uses different words, has different loyalties, we know what to do. We kick them out of the box. Then they are someone else. We no longer have to worry about them. Our box is clean, well swept. Yes, it is a bit smaller, but it is our box.
Sinfulness working in our institutional boxes also produces despair. There is congregational despair when things don’t seem to be working, when conflict breaks out and disturbs the peace. There is synodical despair when arrogance erases compassion, when coercion is employed rather than persuasion, when thousands of our brothers and sisters have been so turned off by synodical affairs that they retreat into their congregational boxes where there is at least some measure of freedom and safety.
Sinfulness working in our institutional boxes also produces divisions between people, divisions that in many cases become chasms. ELCA Lutherans and LCMS Lutherans, Lutherans and Methodists and Presbyterians and Roman Catholics. Should the walls between the boxes be breached, as they almost were in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, in panic our president’s office seeks to make the walls higher and stronger lest people look over the box to see their brothers and sisters in Christ.
And there are boxes for clergy and lay people, boxes between men and women, church growth folk and high church folk. Identities beget divisions, divisions beget defensiveness, defensiveness begets fear, fear produces stagnation, and joy departs from the church…. And then Christ comes.… he comes and breaks down our boxes.
The Box Breaker
When Jesus announced the coming of the Kingdom in Mark 1:15 he broke down the boxes and continues to break down the boxes to this day. The Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the good news of the Kingdom. Suddenly echoes of the Kingdom promises are all around. Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). There will be food and wine in abundance (Isaiah 25:6). Water will flow in the desert (Isaiah 43:19). The eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped and the lame will leap like the deer (Is. 35:5,6). They will beat the swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks (Micah 4:3).
The Scribes and Pharisees in their boxes said this would only happen when people keep the law perfectly. The Zealots in their boxes said this would only happen when the Romans are driven out. The Sadducees in their temple box were already spending their Kingdom revenues. The Missouri Synod administration says, in effect, the Kingdom will only come when we get our doctrine straight. And how did Jesus break down the boxes? He called lay people to get involved in the Kingdom, fishermen, a zealot, a tax collector, plain ordinary folk, a man in whom there was no guile. Later he touched a Pharisee, some special women, and through these common folk he would bring his Kingdom. As people joined the Kingdom movement, the boxes fell apart as zealot and tax collector communed with one another and women and men announced the resurrection.
The breaking of boxes continued under Paul. If Gentiles could receive the Kingdom, they could come to the synagogue. Then the boxes between Jews and Gentiles would be breached. But for some that could never be. It would challenge their identity, their safety, their security and their control. So Paul in most cases had to begin again and planted churches in homes. Following the example of Jesus in his mission strategy, he appointed and blessed elders to care for the small churches he planted. In some cases he probably was not with these little churches for more than six weeks. There was not much instruction for those church leaders. Yet from that humble beginning began a movement that filled the entire earth and continues growing to this day. Maybe there is something we can learn from the example of Jesus in calling disciples and Paul in planting churches and ordaining elders that can help us break out of our boxes today.
The foundation of all that box breaking was nothing less than the Gospel. For Paul, because we are justified by faith in Christ, no one will be justified by the works of the law (Gal. 2:16). That meant that the stuff out of which our boxes have been made, the laws of customs, traditions, canon law and standard operating procedures, couldn’t justify. Confronted with Christ’s no to our divisions, we stand in wonder to his divine yes to new communities, new vocations, new approaches to mission, new understandings. For us the Gospel is God’s gigantic clutch freeing the gears for a time so that they can re-engage in new customs, new traditions, yes, and even new canon law. The Gospel does not obliterate that law; it just frees us from it so that we can continue to be a part of God’s new creation.
Theses for Today
Here then are the first six theses of the “Ninety-Five Theses on Church Control” that many of you have received. I have received a variety of comments to the theses. Let me outline my argument so that you can understand what some have considered to be rather “outlandish” statements. The argument is this. In the Gospel we have been given freedom to minister. Thus we are free to call and appoint locally trained people for word and sacrament ministry as Paul did in the New Testament. However, in case some would object and say that such a practice would destroy many aspects of the church as it has come down to us, the answer was so….? So what? Some of those things may need to be re-examined.
No, these theses were not designed to tear the church down. They were merely intended to free up our concepts of the church and ministry that we might better carry out our Lord’s mission. If institutions and practices in the church like using seminary-trained pastors enjoy the support of good Christian people, they will continue to prosper. Freedom for ministry cannot hurt them. If, however, there is little support for those things and we must depend on coercive church control to maintain them, they need to be re-examined. If they cannot stand in the face of our Gospel freedom to do ministry, let them be discarded.
Now let us look at the first six of the Ninety-Five Theses on Church Control and see how they can help us restore real joy and vigor in our churches:
I. In the joy and freedom of the Gospel, Christians can call locally trained ministers of the word and celebrants of the sacraments who have scriptural qualifications for leadership and the willingness to do Christ’s work for little or no remuneration. Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9.
This is what Paul did, and in the freedom of the Gospel this is what we can do even in the face of denominational disapproval. Not only is this in accord with the freedom we have in our Christ, it also has excellent Biblical and historical precedent. As we call locally trained Christians for ministry, some very good things will happen today as they happened in the book of Acts.
First of all, the church can again grow as it did in New Testament times. Then the growth took place both externally and internally. Externally after Paul began a congregation he could move on. He was not captive to the concerns of the church, nor did he have to remain in a given place because if he left they would have no one to serve them. No, very early he instructed the elders, as he did the rest of the congregation, so that they could both communicate the word of God and also administer the sacraments. Within a few years congregations were planted around the Eastern Mediterranean.
In our day we can call circuit riders to serve existing congregations, plant new ones and train people for word and sacrament ministries wherever they go. Instead of closing small rural congregations that cannot afford a pastor, we can serve those that exist and plant new ones. Among various ethnic groups we can begin small study and worshiping groups and educate a variety of people for leadership roles. In meta-churches lay pastors can be equipped not only to lead in Bible study and discussion groups but also to celebrate the Eucharist. Yes, they can also hear confessions and announce the absolution.
In the New Testament congregations also grew internally. Early congregations could not survive with a spectator mentality. Nearly everyone was involved. In the early lists of ministries in Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 there are a wide variety of ministries mentioned. If the congregations were small enough to meet in people’s homes, probably most of the members did one ministry or another. And as they prepared to preach, teach and serve, they grew in the knowledge of the word and in the Spirit. If persecution came, they had the capacity of going elsewhere, and most of them could start a new congregation. The persecution of the early church was like stomping on a cherry tomato. Seeds flew everywhere, and each one was fertile enough to begin a new plant.
Check with our lay assistants in the Northwest District how they have grown as they prepared sermons, Bible classes and worship services. Check with people who have been to Alaska conducting vacation Bible schools in remote villages. What joy one sees in their faces as they return from teaching and preaching the word of God.
Not only did the congregations grow externally and internally, the congregations and their messages were also relevant to the culture into which they were planted. Greek culture and Greek philosophy soon became the cultural and linguistic vehicles by which the faith was spread. (The fact is that Western theology has never quite recovered from Greek categories and terminology.)
By equipping lay people with the basics of the faith, we let them absorb and apply the Gospel within the culture at which they are at home. Alaskan natives communicate in that culture, and middle class American teenagers communicate within their culture. Academics should be able to use that culture, as should construction workers within their frameworks. In a world of diverse cultures the freedom to apply the Gospel in any culture should not only be a live option, it is almost an imperative. But within that looseness, that lack of seminary instruction, what will happen to our denominational doctrine, our identity and our boxes?
If we call and ordain locally trained people for ministry what will happen to our seminary-trained pastors? Won’t it undermine their identity and their calling? Won’t they fiercely resist such a plan? If others in a congregation might be authorized to baptize and celebrate the Eucharist, won’t that just bring more confusion into the already confused role of today’s pastor?
No, we argue that it will bring clarity. What really does a seminary education prepare a pastor to do, just to say the words of institution or the words of baptism? Of course not! A seminary education is designed to equip ministers to teach, to warn of false teaching, to comfort the afflicted and to teach others how to do the same. Have we not read the Scriptures? Jesus did not baptize; only his disciples did (John 4: 2). Paul claims that in Corinth he only baptized Crispus and Gaius and someone from the house of Stephanus (1 Cor.1: 14-17). Who then did the baptizing? Probably it was Crispus and Gaius.
Might not our present and future pastors see their calling in a clearer light as they become missionaries, bishops and theological educators. Already our many lay assistants in the Northwest District and on Daystar are calling out for deeper theological education to enable them to carry out their ministries in the church and the world. Is not that the real calling of those privileged with a residential seminary education?
We stand at a unique place in the history of education. Web-based courses have increased over 70 percent in the past few years. An entire law school will soon be available on the Internet. Helping local pastors in their education of lay people for ministry are the tremendous resources of Internet based education. The Concordia University System is already putting an entire academic program online. With relatively few funds we can begin putting courses online in the Lutheran Confessions, hermeneutics, advanced systematic theology, comparative symbolics. Furthermore, sitting in this audience are the people who can both write these courses and serve as mentors to the students taking them.
II. In the joy and freedom of the Gospel, Christians at the local level can decide about doctrine. Further, they can converse with Christians of other denominations and determine for themselves, on the basis of Scripture, if there are grounds for fellowship.
At first there seemed to be a real downside to entrusting the Gospel to locally trained people in the New Testament. Were there not tremendous doctrinal problems? The Galatians almost lost the Gospel to the Judaizers. The Corinthians made a mess of church discipline and ruined their celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The Thessalonians gave up working to wait for Christ’s Second Coming. See…. if you don’t stick with seminary training and that certification for ministry, that’s the type of doctrinal aberrations you can get. But on second glance, in the New Testament the doctrinal problems become foils to better doctrine. Distance learning in the first century came through letters, letters we still cherish and read devoutly to this day. Yes, there was false doctrine, heresy even. But rising to meet it was a truer doctrine. Later in history we see that for every heretic there arose a church father. But within our doctrinal boxes there is little room for false doctrine and almost none for a church father and maybe that is why among many of the laity, church doctrine has the reputation of being not only boring but utterly useless as well.
New Testament congregations themselves had to wrestle with doctrine and theology. The Galatian churches had to re-examine the teachings of Paul when confronted by the obvious sincerity and churchmanship of the Judaizers. The Corinthian congregation needed to wrestle with church discipline, the Eucharist and the Resurrection. The Thessalonians with Paul’s help had to deal with a delayed Second Coming of Christ. Why cannot our congregations make the definitive decision for themselves about women’s ordination and Eucharistic fellowship with other Christians? Were it done with pastoral assistance and advice from the church body, what group is better able to judge than the local congregation?
Unfortunately lay people today do not feel qualified to judge theology, since traditionally that has not been considered as part of their calling. Yet lay people are quite good at judging both doctrine and questions of fellowship by the quality of another person’s life. Such judging takes place nearly every day of a lay person’s life. Lay people need to hear again that this is Christ’s criterion in talking with other Christians when he said, “by their fruits you will know them” (Matt. 7:16). Hopefully, we will see happening among the laity that which happened among the participants in the great ecumenical conferences of the 20th century. Then both the confession of faith and the quality of other people’s Christian life mightily impressed people who engaged in ecumenical discussions. Why cannot people again know a true unity in Christ that comes from fellow Christians who confess a common faith and live according to the teachings of their common Lord?
What if we had more locally trained pastors who ministered without benefit of a seminary’s denominational spin. One of our lay assistants put it this way. We were talking about fellowship with other Christians in a tiny town in Oregon. “If you would just let us lay people take care of that fellowship issue, I think we could handle it quite easily, and do it to the glory of Christ.”
In the centuries following the Reformation, Christians killed each other because of denominational differences. Countless others have died because Christians could not and would not work together. Even when we tried to bring Christians back together in the Ecumenical Movement, people had to belong to a participating denomination before they could be part of the Lutheran World Federation or the World Council of Churches. Even if denominations joined at the top it had little to do with local congregations who often competed with one another because of the economic bases of their congregations and their clergy. The realization of a far greater unity of the church is at hand if we but permit local congregations both to call some of their own elders to word and sacrament ministries and to engage in fellowship discussions with other Christians in their communities.
(Perhaps, however, there is also another point to be made. What if the DayStar network petitioned both the Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches to permit congregational and individual memberships? Not only would this permit some of us to become active in those bodies, it might also restore to them some of the vigor and vitality they need to remain true to their mission.)
III. In the joy and freedom of the Gospel, Christians can join with their fellows of other denominations and together witness, raise social consciousness, carry out projects and support institutions for the benefit of their common community.
What Christian institutions are now serving the communities in which we live? If they are under our denominational control, we should open them up for others. If they are under another denomination’s control, let us offer to support them for our common benefit. If new institutions are needed, let us begin them with the widest denomination base possible.
But what do we do if Christians of our denomination and other church bodies are not even willing talk about these joint endeavors? Here we must again speak as the oracles of God. Let us challenge our brothers and sisters to speak and work with us. We have Christ’s words on our side. We must speak to them firmly, yet in love. If many will not hear, we will work with those who will. Only those institutions can be maintained or begun that have the support of many people. If there are only a few in a community who wish to work jointly, they will only be able to do a little work. However, where there are many such Christians, they can fund many institutions and agencies for the common welfare.
IV. In the joy and freedom of the Gospel, Christians at the local level can take the initiative in carrying out the great commission without waiting for denominational action or approval.
In New Testament times there were no mission boards. Yes, there were sending congregations like that of Antioch in Syria and others Paul thanked for sending him on his way. If Christians have the freedom to discuss issues of fellowship with other Christians, why could not congregations or groups of congregations be the chief sending units for missions. This will not take anything away from mission boards. They can continue to be coordinating agencies. However, they should not have the power to discourage church fellowship in overseas areas where there is a Gospel foundation for such a fellowship.
Care should be taken that not all of a local group’s energy be given to the challenges of the local scene. A very large world needs the ministry of Christian people in many distant communities. Where there are Christians in communities overseas, they might be helped to see their common oneness in Christ and work together to witness to their faith in him. Where there are no Christians, let us send one of our number to such communities to make disciples of our common Lord. Christians on the local level can do this. This was the pattern of mission work in the New Testament and there is no reason why it should not work today.
V. In the joy and freedom of the Gospel, Christians may create new institutions at home and abroad better suited to meeting contemporary needs and may, with clear consciences, divert funds from denominational coffers to support these new institutions.
The Gospel for today is that the church does not need any money. Were we to begin copying the shape of the ministry in the New Testament, we would see that no money is needed for clergy or for buildings. No money is needed for denominational administration or mission work; none is needed for children’s education. This is the bottom line: God does not need money for the church to exist or grow.
Once this is acknowledged, we can have real joy in raising and spending money for God. Now it comes from a grateful, hopeful heart rather than from necessity. Would it be good to have a seminary educated pastor teaching lay leaders in a congregation? Let’s give him a good salary. Shall we send a missionary to Kazakhstan? Let’s do it. Shall we support the local Methodist College that is doing such a great job training workers for international disaster relief teams? Yes. Shall we establish a Christian school for ghetto kids who don’t have it so well? By all means.
We are against neither church institutions nor institutionalization. We are rather against the tired and dead ones that need to be propped up with controls and endless appeals for funds. We need new, innovative institutions that once again will capture the imagination and support of Christian people as they see what is being done and have a very real part of deciding on what should be done to advance the cause of the Gospel and Christ’s Kingdom.
Unfortunately, new institutions are very hard to begin and support because of the grip that the old institutions have on people’s loyalty and resources. This is why there should be a re-evaluation of a Christian’s loyalty and to what purpose his or her offerings are given. This is not only true of individuals but of congregations and other groups as well. How much of our mission offerings actually go to help people outside of our own organizations, and how much is siphoned off in administrative costs and for institutional self-aggrandizement? If a denomination is doing little or nothing for other people, we can cut off our support and aid more worthwhile endeavors. Actions of local Christians in reassessing priorities are a powerful move against denominational control. Church administrators and leaders understandably will be nervous when actions like this are taken. Then they will see that that the real decisions are again being made at the grass roots of the church. We will always need some coordinators and administrators, but let us put them on notice that they are to serve local groups throughout the world and not the other way around.
VI. In the joy and freedom of the Gospel, Christians will not sorrow overmuch concerning the problems and frustrations of denominations or groups, knowing that Christ carried out his mission quite well without them in the past and can certainly do so again in the future.
We are inviting the death of denominational Christianity as we know it. We do so with the natural misgivings of children who have been nourished by these groups. Yet we learned from them that the cross of Christ means life from death. We know that as we die to ourselves, it is at that very point that we first live. They have taught us this. Now we invite them to practice what they have preached. Let the denominations die to their pride, their offices, their institutional concerns and the loyalty they inculcate in their people. Let them do this willingly and freely as even Christ let go his life for us.
But is not the breaking down of this last box, our denominational box, too much? Will it not leave us exposed to an “anything goes” kind of religion? Will this not be the worst type of the “least common denominator” kind of Christianity? Will we not drift into the worst kind of non-denominationalism in which the culture dictates the faith and we are carried about by every wind of doctrine or worse yet, every fad? These are very real dangers and very real fears. But the New Testament, itself, may show the way to proceed to avoid these perils.
Both Jesus and Paul received their nurture from the synagogue and the Jewish faith. Both attended the synagogue and participated in Jewish festivals. Both began their ministries in going first and foremost to their Jewish compatriots. However, as they translated the Gospel into their care and concern for those outside of the Jewish community, real tensions developed with the rulers of the Jews. Jesus brings his burning concerns into the very temple itself and in a righteous anger strikes out at those who misused their office for tyranny and financial gain (Matt. 21:12).
Paul picked up the same cross and proclaimed the Gospel to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. In most cases he was opposed by the synagogue, thrown in prison, stoned and made a victim of pain and hundreds of indignities (2 Cor. 11: 24-30). For Jesus and Paul it was the Gospel that broke down the boxes, and … it was the Gospel that served as the foundation of a new gathering, a new church. Then and now the Gospel was that we are justified by grace, through faith alone in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. That Gospel is so important that it becomes the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae, the article by which the church stands or falls.
But where does that leave us, most of us members of the Lutheran Church –Missouri Synod? Can we invite denominations to die while remaining a vital part of the denomination to which we belong? Perhaps our relationship to the LC-MS might be the same as that of Jesus and Paul to the synagogue? Can we not continue to attend, observe the festivals, preach and teach as we are asked, receive the gifts of money when it is offered? But, must we not also put first the Gospel? That Gospel invites us to meet and worship with other Christians, to call and ordain locally educated people for ministry, to join with other Christians to witness in word and deed to what Christ is doing in our lives and in the world.
As the Jewish faith and the synagogue were great launching pads for Jesus, Paul and the Gospel, so is the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Through its struggles most people in the synod have remained loyal to the Scriptures and the Gospel. We can still quote the Bible and know we will not be scorned; we can speak the Gospel and know that hearts will be warmed. That is the treasure hidden in our denomination’s field. Oh, it can also be found in other denominations, but we know where that treasure is hidden in our field. There is more.
Because it was built on the foundation of the Gospel, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is only advisory. Oh yes, we know that our current canon lawyers say that the advisory nature of synod does not apply to doctrinal resolutions or bylaws, but then again Luther himself was not particularly bound to the interpretations of canon law in his day. The Missouri Synod also has a congregational form of government. What better denomination might serve as the foundation of a more locally oriented Gospel movement in the one holy catholic and apostolic church?
Shall we leave the LCMS when the Gospel begins to conflict with the institution? Some may have to do just that to proclaim and act on that Gospel. We will miss them and want to wish them God’s richest blessings. But for the rest of us, let’s do our ministry in the LCMS in the freedom of the Gospel. When appropriate, let us multiply ministers by calling and ordaining locally trained pastors. At both the national and local level let us decide about the ministry and ordination of women. Let us talk with other Christians at all levels of the church and determine, especially at the local level whether there is a basis of fellowship.
Let us also get serious about the evangelism of the kingdom. It is so well stated in the Mission Affirmations that the whole Church is Christ’s mission to the whole man and the whole society. And let us proclaim that freedom for ministry to our fellow members of the LCMS as we teach and preach and serve and chose leaders who support that freedom.
Where is Daystar in all of this? Daystar is a network of people and congregations concerned about the primacy of the Gospel in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The Daystar network can support those pastors whose ministries are threatened by finding them friendly congregations. It can lift up those in other positions like Orv Miller, Dave Benke, and Matt Becker. It can speak a strong word of God’s reproof against the assumed dictatorial powers of any administration. It can speak to the lay people of our synod of their calling to ministry. It can continue to serve as an exchange of ideas and just a place to vent when that becomes necessary. In addition, maybe the Daystar network can take a leading role in providing Internet courses to upgrade the theological education of lay people. Here it would assist local pastors in their education of their lay people for ministry.
But Daystar people might also be found among communities of other Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Pentecostals and others. Oh, they might not call themselves that, but that is what they are. What would happen if we would make connections with those other “Daystar” communities and, like fishermen mending our nets, tie the knots stronger to make the net whole, to gather in all God has chosen to be part of his kingdom? God grant us the wisdom and perseverance to do just that.