Last week, pastors of the Wyoming and Atlantic Districts of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod met to discuss theology. The discussions were part of the Koinonia Project, “an initiative by the office of the President of the Synod designed to foster theological discussion under the Word of God which we pray will strengthen our joint witness… and bring greater unity.”
Now, it would be a shame if the first result of the Koinoia Project is that its participants redefine a word.
In this case, the word is “secret.”
You see, the pastors involved have agreed to keep the specific issues they discussed a secret for now. That’s fine. But, the Koinonia literature, and now the pastors participating don’t want to use that word: secret. They insist the discussions aren’t secret.
Secrets don’t make friends. But making friends isn’t the goal of the Koinonia Project. The goal is honest identification and discussion of our differences. If the specifics of the recent Koinonia discussions between the Wyoming and Atlantic Districts need to be kept secret for now so that those discussions can continue unconfused by public comment, that’s OK. That sounds like a good thing.
If part of the Koinonia Project is secret for now. Let’s not say that it isn’t. Let’s call the thing what it is.
On May 23 Concordia Theological Seminary will present Jeff Schwarz with its Miles Christi award. The name means “Soldier of Christ.”
Anyone who has spent even 15 minutes with Jeff already knows how absolutely perfect that is.
I’ve spent the last 15 years working beside him. Here are my thoughts on the occasion:
There is a good reason the guests on Issues, Etc. spend more time talking to Jeff Schwarz off the air than to me on the air. Jeff is more interesting. He never paints, gets to the point and tells the truth.
As someone has written about American founder James Madison, Jeff Schwarz has “a mind that races up a flight of steps two at a time.” I am always running to catch up to him in conversation. He is able to see the downside of any idea instantly –my ideas, guests’ ideas, his own ideas. Every good idea we ever had was his first. Jeff is the “Thinking Christian” we talk about so often.
The Miles Christi is a fitting recognition of his 20+ years work as Producer of Issues, Etc. In the war-room that is our 500 square foot office/studio, Jeff is chief military strategist and general all in one. The objective is always the same: preserve and proclaim the Gospel. He never stops fighting.
As much as I have learned from the many expert guests in 15 years of hosting Issues, Etc., I have learn the most from Jeff. On my deathbed, should I still be able to recall, I will count among God’s greatest gifts in life the opportunity to have known and worked with Jeff Schwarz.
The Church needs to stop trying to impress the world.
As it is, the Church just looks desperate: Making the world mix tapes; buying the world coffee and concert tickets; calling and texting at all hours, “you up? want to hang out?”
It’s just creepy and stalkerish. It needs to stop. The Church isn’t called to woo the world.
The world doesn’t need our unwanted advances, our flattery or unrequited crushes. It needs Jesus.
If the Church wants to give the world something, let it be the crucified and risen Jesus. It will not impress, but it will save.
“Are we really united?”
“Do we actually agree?”
“Do we truly confess the same thing?”
Questions like these are considered divisive in the Church today. Asking such questions divides, it is said.
I disagree. A unity that cannot be questioned cannot be real. A unity that cannot be questioned is an assumed unity. “We simply assume that we are united. To do any less would be divisive.”
Nonsense. Unity assumed is unity denied.
Pastors and congregations that are truly united around God’s Word don’t fear such questions. They welcome them as an opportunity to agree in God’s Word, as an occasion to confess the truth together.
And, isn’t that a mark of true unity?
“Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
The people were afraid of division. Their solution? Take matters into their own hands. They proposed a project: A city, a tower, a name.
From high above in the heavens, God had to stoop low to see how their little project was progressing.
“Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”
Their unity was real. It had limitless potential. There was only one problem. It was all man-made.
But God disposes.
So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. The very thing they feared most, division, dispersal, a half-built city, not a trace of a tower, and a name that means “confusion.” What man makes, God unmakes. Man-made unity, God-made division.
Fear of division (real or imagined) is a terrible reason to unite. It will never produce anything more than a man-made unity.
True unity isn’t the product of man’s proposals, but of God’s promise. He disposes of our proposals, plans and projects. He leaves us with nothing but his promise and his unity.
I had just concluded a presentation to an LCMS district pastors’ conference. During Q & A, the first hand up was that of a retired district president. He was visibly indignant. At first, he only sputtered adjectives:
“Disrespectful, insolent, arrogant…”
Collecting himself, he proceeded to give me a severe talking-to before the hundred or so pastors assembled there.
Yes, my presentation had been a rant. I had referred to “the pinheads at the International Center” (for which I apologized). I had questioned the claim of “courageous leadership” coming from our then synodical president. I may have even given his book Waking the Sleeping Giant a less than positive review.
Afterward, the retired DP approached to shake my hand, now all smiles. What he said next said it all.
“I love our synod warts and all. I proudly served it for 50 years. No matter what, it is still Our Beloved Synod.“
Maybe once, when you ran the synodical logo up the flagpole, everyone would salute and say “Our Beloved Synod.” But now, that kind of love-of-synod-right-or-wrong is found mostly among retired DPs, or pastors who dream of someday becoming retired DPs.
I don’t think beloving Our Beloved Synod was ever a very good idea. It’s not love; it’s brand loyalty.
And, there’s a difference.
So, your pastor doesn’t think of himself as a shepherd. He prefers to think of himself as a CEO, life coach or entrepreneurial leader. Whatever.
Although, I do wonder, is that how your pastor wants you to think of Jesus too? A CEO, life coach or entrepreneurial leader?
After all, the two are inseparable: What your pastor thinks he is and what he thinks Jesus is. Your pastor is what he is because Jesus is what he is. Jesus is a shepherd, and he called your pastor to be a shepherd too. Your pastor really isn’t free to rewrite his job description to suit himself. Still, many pastors do.
Just remember, when your pastor rewrites his job description, whether he means to or not, he is rewriting Jesus’ job description too.