To say the reformation is near and dear to the hearts and minds of Lutherans would be an understatement like, “It’s chilly in Inuvik in January.” We think of the reformation as a time, way back 500 years ago, when Lutheran proudly stood his ground and declared he would stand behind scripture, rather than politics will or canon law. It’s a lot like when we read scripture and forget about Jesus humanity – there wasn’t a glowing halo around him (not that was reported by anyone at the time), and people didn’t just flop down in front of him and start worshiping. In fact, even though he was standing right in front of them, people refused to believe that He was who He said He was.
The reformation isn’t a sleepy, dusty, historical moment in the history of the church. I mean, it is, but it really isn’t. Even now, Lutheran Church – Canada is in the throes of restructuring; and not a moment too soon.
Last week I was stateside for board meetings. As usual, the topics of the day lead to make inquiries about our own national church body. Only a couple of short conversations later – one with an LCMS District president – it was clear that LCMS actually lives up to its structure. It’s a synod: one church body, with Districts that do the synod’s work in convenient state-sized parcels called Districts. The Districts are agents – branch offices – of synod. And while Districts are sometimes none too pleased about what the synod is doing, the structure and governance in the bylaws and handbook are followed pretty closely.
Lutheran Church – Canada hasn’t really operated that way. Ever. At least not in my experience. LCC has always behaved more like a federation of districts. Each District has its own office which is more or less unmolested by the desires or wishes of Synod. And while the Districts are separate corporations – a point driven home repeatedly by Synod in the past 9 months – they’re not governed independently. At least, that’s not what the handbook says. Districts operate at the pleasure of Synod.
As we watch little children skipping along collecting candy, festooned in Martin Luther’s Augustinian robe with little tonsure-caps, and the girls all dressed like Katie Luther…wearing herring-barrels filled with candy (dare to dream I always say), now is the perfect time to remember that sometimes “church growth” doesn’t mean bigger. In the case of LCC, church growth means growing as brothers and sisters in Christ – growing in faith together, even in times that seem ridiculous, but no more ridiculous than having a death warrant on your head, having to dress up like a knight after being kidnapped by a friend and benefactor, and then having to come out of hiding to help put down a rebellion. As complicated as our lives sometimes feel, it’s all the same – just a different set of problems.
So where do we go as a church? Personally, I’ve wondered why only pastors ever meet at winkels. It couldn’t hurt to get elders together once every few months to talk about what’s going on in their congregations. That way we might actually know about each others’ struggles. Then maybe we could come together to help the people and congregations needing the most help. We worry about our pews filled with seniors, but we don’t get all the youth or young adults together locally – and once every few years for district or national gatherings isn’t going to foster lifelong relationships in our church body. It’s actually possible, as Christians, to gather together, have some pizza, play some cosmic 10-pin bowling. Then, having made some friends, go home and be grateful for them. See what I did there? There wasn’t any “bowling and then a bible study.” It was just “bowling.” Go out, have fun, get to know your fellow Lutherans, and then go home and plan the next get-together. And even, later, plan a retreat or study. It’s not like these are wildly radical ideas. The best plans need two people to talk on the phone, to lead the charge, and then welcome others to follow.
Revolutions are ugly – they’re fast, shocking, and generally cause confusion and casualties of one sort or another. It’s what ABC District is experiencing right now. The reformation of our church could start small. It could be as simple as learning to love and trust each other again (in some cases that’s understandably a tall order). A second step would be to actually read our handbook and bylaws, and then operate according to them. And while we’re at it, some teaching on the proper distinction of law and gospel as well as the differences between the kingdom of the left (temporal power) and kingdom of the right (the heavenly kingdom) wouldn’t hurt.
I’ve talked to a lot of people in the past couple of months and, in spite of the past 10 months of real chaos in the church, I’m hopeful. Our faith in Christ as savior transcends culture and politics. However, we’re going to be stuck if we don’t forgive each other. There’s nothing that says, “You should only forgive AFTER someone has apologized/repented.” From experience, I know it’s hard, especially if you feel betrayed. I’ve spent my life apologizing to the people I love the most. Jesus forgave the soldiers who nailed him to the cross – and there’s no record of them apologizing. The one centurion recognized Jesus’ godhead, but only after he died. It’s never too late for forgiveness. After all, Christ is THE reformer. Forgiveness is eternal; causes and accountability are more temporal questions that will be answered, eventually. We’ll have to wait on the Review Task Force for updates on that.
Andreas Schwabe is editor and publisher of SolaGratia.ca, and an Edmonton-based multimedia & communication strategist and producer. His focus for SolaGratia is on administration, governance, and issues of faith. For clients, he writes or produces just about anything.