Although it was written nearly one year ago (October of 2008), I have only recently been made aware of Matthew C. Harrison’s paper addressing the woeful divisions of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod entitled, “It’s Time: LCMS Unity and Mission”. Knowing Matthew to be a man possessing both conservative, sound doctrine as well as a genuine heart for seeking and saving the lost (as evidenced by his lengthy and excellent work with LCMS World Mission), I immediately set out to read it and e-publish a review, and I must say from the outset that I’m extremely glad that I did.
Matt opens with a compelling illustration; an ocean-going ship that is occupied by a crew that is one small part bitterly opposed to her course, one part radically committed to her course, and a large majority that are apathetic as regards to the ship altogether. What can be done?
Immediately, upon the first page, Matt’s paper has won my respect. For he acknowledges that while simply putting the matter to a vote and accepting the will of the majority may be fine for an actual ship, it nevertheless is destructive and divisive when the metaphorical ship is in actuality the church. Or perhaps the crew majority could simply rid themselves of the impure influences of the losers? Ridding ourselves of opposition by jettisoning all mutineers and extra baggage through force is acceptable upon the high seas, but it is the very antithesis of the redeeming and reconciling truth of the Gospel that we hold to in faith. The answer, Matt rightly points out, is not coercion, but consensus.
It is this point of consensus and not coercion that he expands upon, revisits, and in some ways revises throughout the rest of the paper. Matt takes the historical and present challenges of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod along with a refreshing splash of respected Reformers (such as Luther and Chemnitz) and an explicit reliance upon the Scriptures as the rule and norm of faith, and wonderfully and expertly weaves together into a tapestry that reveals that the fundamental problem we face in the LC-MS today is not one of structure nor of power and control but, as Matt says, a “lack of faith in the power of the Word to unite even us.”
And BOOM! . . . Matt nails it. Look at the divisions that persist in the LC-MS. Look at the things we argue over. And then look at how we try to resolve them: Through vilifying one another in internet forums and blogs, through campaigning for the “right person” to be elected into Synodical office, through resolutions that seek the full compliance of other parties and factions . . . in other words: through coercion. We have long since stopped believing that the Word of God is living and active and able to bring about the good and pleasing unity that God desires.
Matt’s answer is as radical as it is simple: That we first repent of our own sinful divisiveness, that we actively listen to the Word of God for guidance, and then that we actively listen to one another. Simply put, Matt Harrison dares to offer the radical, unheard of suggestion that we actually rely upon the Word of God, and in particular His Gospel, to be our rule of faith and life at home, in our churches . . . and even in our Synod.
That, my friends, is profound. It is provocative. And it is the very reason why I’m heartily recommending Matt’s paper to you to read for yourself. His is a clarion call back to what matters most: Christ at the center of all.
What if we were to embrace that notion? To really, truly embrace it? To repent of our own lack of faith in the transforming power of God’s Word, to repent of our own feeble and weak attempts to fix Synod through restructuring, through programs, through solicitation of financial support . . . and instead say with radical, uncompromising, unfaltering conviction that Jesus Christ IS at the center of every single one of our decisions, and that we will heed His Word in every aspect of our lives together?
I’ll tell you what would happen: exactly what Matt suggests will happen. That we will come to be missionally doctrinal and doctrinally missional. That both active mission endeavors and pure doctrine will be held in high, high regard. That we will be able once again to express our given unity in Christ to one another and for the benefit of the world that looks on.
“It’s time for us to be united in doctrine and mission, doctrine for mission in order “to seek and save the lost.” It’s time to be about mission and mercy. It is tme to tend the fellowship (koinonia) we have been given in Christ, and to care for one another. Christ is with us, and the world is before us. It’s time to face the real problem and to address it once and for all. “Let’s go!” (Mark 1:38). It’s time!”—Matthew C. Harrison
Matthew C. Harrison’s paper “It’s Time: LCMS Unity And Mission” can be viewed and/or downloaded at http://www.itistime.org/