At last summer's national convention we gathered under the theme
Sing to the Lord a New Song.
It was a theme that called upon our church
to be more aware of the changed world
in which it is called to be in mission.
The theme was inspired
by the theology of the Evangelical Declaration of 1997 and
by the societal challenges we face in the 21st century.
Here's a recap of the thoughts I shared with this church before the convention:
We have maintained a solid grounding in our 16th century roots, but have found it hard to adapt them to a society that is asking different questions of this church.
The earliest Lutheran settlers in Canada started churches for themselves. These settler churches were located in a new land, but they were still part of the old world.
In Isaiah's vision of the New Jerusalem, the people of other nations streamed to Mt. Zion because they were so inspired by the faith and zeal of Jerusalem's people. Wouldn't it be something if the diverse people of our society saw us in that way?
We are called by God to move outside our religious self-preoccupation and live our lives for the sake of others. The gospel call is not only to those like us, but to all, including those unlike us. How we express this is a part of how we follow Jesus' call to mission.
The outcome of spiritual formation for mission is the growth of a person who is free from anxiety about his/her relationship with God and with others; a person who is freely open in the presence of God and open about his/her inner self. We are challenged to find ways to appropriate the self-esteem God offers to us through the gift of salvation by grace through faith.
Psalm 96, Sing to the Lord a New Song, was written for a people who were struggling to remain faithful in the midst of a multi-religious society governed by hostile powers. There was a time when they hung their harps on the willows of Babylon and wondered whether it was possible to sing the Lord's song at all in an alien land. But each time Israel was dragged down into a time of captivity, the people came out of it with a fresh outlook and a fresh faith. God was giving the nation a foretaste of the resurrection that the world would one day see in Jesus Christ. It was in times of such loss of control; such uncertainty, that God's people learned the true meaning of grace, mercy and salvation for all. It was when the emptiness of their sacred cows and cherished idols was exposed that they learned how to be a community that more closely reflected the love of God promised to them in the Covenant.
We are called to reconsider the mission of this church in the context of our contemporary Canadian society. It is time to name the idols we need to renounce and time to recognize where the hunger for the gospel is being expressed in our society. It is time to let Jesus' scandalous openness to the people of his society be a guide for planning how we will be such a blessing in our society at this time.
At the convention itself, I preached this:
Confident in Jesus' promises, I have a hope for this church.
I have a hope that this church will break away from
its idolization of the domestic church
and follow Jesus Christ into the public life of this land.
I have a hope that this church will understand this saying:
…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.
I have a hope
that we will announce freedom and reconciliation to people
out of the insight God gave us through the Reformation,
but that we will identify the forces of today that enslave people
to the guilt and meaninglessness of this present era
and bring them the gospel of grace
to liberate them from today's conscience-controlling forces.
We are not facing a Roman monopoly on salvation today,
but a monopoly on specificity by the ideology of pluralism.
Today's question is not whether there is salvation
outside the church of Rome,
but whether anything means anything more than anything else.
It is time to sing the world a new song:
To sing praise to the God we adore;
To sing a lament where there is pain;
To sing a protest song where there is injustice;
To sing a lullaby to those feeling afraid;
To sing a love song to those who are outside the circle.
These are the songs that the Spirit sings.
Of course, it takes more than the National Bishop's earnest words
to make something like that happen.
It takes a church that wants to transcend its own self-interest
for the sake of the gospel's evolving mission.
It takes leaders to engage in planning and careful description of
the outcomes we want to see.
It takes the daring to envision that which does not now exist.
Therefore, National Church Council has adopted a set of strategic directions
for the national expression of this church.
We began the process with the mission of this church, as it is stated in the National Constitution. It says:
as an expression of the universal Church and as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, [the ELCIC] is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people in Canada and around the world through the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments and through service in Christ's name.
We are not a stand-alone church:
we are an expression of the universal church, that is,
the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
We cannot go wherever we want.
We are required to account
to our catholic and apostolic tradition for what we do.
And we are to be a church that shares the gospel with people.
The gospel is not ours to keep
but an endowment to give to others.
God invested the principle in Jesus Christ:
we are to share the proceeds with all who hunger and thirst.
Finally, we are to be a serving church.
For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
Having observed these aspects of our mission statement,
we then moved on to our vision.
What does that mission look like
1. at the present time,
2. in the Canadian secular context,
3. in the church-wide expression of the ELCIC?
We concluded that it means:
To be a church in mission for others.
That is the focus for this time:
To be a church in mission for others.
If we can be clear about that,
then we are ready to articulate our strategic directions.
So, what we've said is that, as a church, we want:
1. To be a public voice of the Lutheran Church in Canada speaking to the compelling questions and issues facing our global community.
2. To share our energy and gifts as a church to reenergize the ecumenical movement in Canada and internationally.
3. To identify and raise up an apostolic model of leadership beyond the congregational models of pastoral leadership.
These are not all the ministries there are to this church.
These are the most strategic ministries
for the national expression of this church
to develop at this time,
given our current resources.
The National Staff,
with the assistance of Dr. Les Weber of the ELCA,
did the initial planning and writing of this plan in April.
A Bishop's Advisory Committee will/has process(ed) the material in May
in preparation for presentation to National Church Council.
National Church Council will give its final approval in September.
Additional components of this planning process include:
the Millennium Study of Leadership and
the Communications Review Task Force.
These will be completed in time for the September National Council meeting.
These are Strategic Plans for the church-wide mission of this church.
Working out a strategy for each local situation;
each synod and congregation,
will have to engage in its own planning, taking into account:
the Evangelical Declaration,
the Mission Statement in the constitution and
the local context of each ministry site.
On the brochure in our display downstairs,
you will see the three strategic directions paraphrased in popular jargon:
1. To be public about who we are and what we believe in.
2. To contribute our Lutheran uniqueness to the interchurch community.
3. To raise up strong leaders who can inspire, engage and equip others to share in leadership.
That's the kind of church we hope to be.
You can let us know in June of 2005 whether you agree.
However, as we strive for unity of direction and purpose,
We are threatened with division over issues of human sexuality.
More letters than I can reply to arrive on my desk every week,
the majority of which describe unalterable opinions
on both the right side of the political spectrum and the left.
There is also a strong opinion among some that
the national church has a secret agenda and
is using the various discussions and deliberations we have advocated
as clandestine ways to bring about pre-planned results.
For some, changes in relation to sexual orientation
will make or break the case for Biblical authority.
In the face of these and many other theoretical scenarios,
I want to say publicly what
I also have been saying in individual letters:
There is no secret agenda.
The Leaders of this church are as widespread in their opinions as everyone else,
but they share a common concern for the unity of the church
and a commitment to a responsible process for deliberation.
Individual opinions of leaders do not take precedence over
the Constitution and Bylaws, nor over
the decisions of councils and conventions of this church.
I say to you now what I said many years ago at a BC Synod Convention:
"We do our business in each other's presence out in the open."
Maintaining the unity of the church
in the face of viciously fragmenting forces in our society
is a priority for this church's leadership.
We confess in our creeds that the church is not ours,
but a creation of God's Spirit.
If we act in ways that destroy the unity and central purpose of this church
so that we can dominate those with whom we do not agree,
then we are guilty of ignoring the very scriptures over which we fight—
at least the Gospel of John,
the Acts of the Apostles and
the writings of Paul—
all of which plead with church members to
act with originality for the sake of the whole
and not to think of themselves more highly than they ought.
All of these writings describe attempts
to bring about a religious society that can contain within itself
opinions that cannot be reconciled to each other
in the world of winners and losers.
We cannot avoid discussing these matters
because our society is changing and
our mission is to serve Christ within this particular society.
The church is not a theoretical entity, but an incarnation,
germinated by the Holy Spirit
out of the substance of the society in which it finds itself.
Governments are redefining marriage and writing individual rights legislation
that does not coincide with the traditional expectations of many church members.
That is the substance of the society in which we now live.
We are being challenged to retain our own integrity in this changed context.
The way we engage each other in the process
is as much a witness as what we finally decide.
These issues are not simple ones.
Many factors, each difficult in itself,
are part of decision-making related to human sexuality.
- The Lutheran understanding of Biblical authority
- The unity of the church
- Our relationship to other full-communion partners in the LWF
- Societal issues of justice and equality
- Study of the social and scientific phenomena of human sexuality
- Openness to dissenting points of view
- Response to legislation and judicial opinion
- The necessity of prayer as the source of discernment
If we gloss over any of these factors in a superficial way, we are not being responsible.
When the bishops quoted from the 1970 social statement
entitled Sex, Marriage and Family in their pastoral letter,
the Conference of Bishops was accused of making new policy,
whereas the Bishops understood themselves to be interpreting existing policy.
There were several challenges to the authority of that document.
Therefore, National Church Council has
"request[ed] the National Bishop to provide a report to the September NCC meeting advising on the process to develop a social statement for the ELCIC on sexuality, marriage and the family."
A newer statement with a clearer mandate is required and
the National Bishop is to suggest a process
for producing such a statement.
I hope that helps you understand why National Church Council requested
the constituency of this church to develop ways to talk about these issues;
to pray about these issues.
No statement of this church can be made without reasoned input.
It will not be possible to determine
what can be contained and what is church-dividing
unless the baptised membership of this church
helps inform the leaders in constructive ways.
There is so much mission waiting for us.
We are on the brink of an opportunity to
make new discoveries of faithfulness and
May God grant us the courage to pursue both possibilities without fear.
Thank you for the many expressions of support and cooperation
that you have given the National Bishop's office.
It can be disillusioning sometimes to endure
the anger, and the accusations of some of our members,
I believe the majority of our members are looking for
a new kind of leadership
that is willing to offer strong direction and
that is eager to engage with the contemporary world.
I get an equal number of letters urging me in that direction.
Thank you for the encouragement.
Raymond L. Schultz, National Bishop
back to strategic directions
The apostles of the New Testament were individuals who had been with Jesus during his earthly ministry and whom he sent into the world to proclaim by word and deed the good news of God's dawning rule. "Apostles are disciples in whom the vision of God becomes visible." (Being Disciples and Making Disciples, A Study Guide for the Evangelical Declaration of the ELCIC, p. 80)
When understood in connection with leadership in the church, "apostolic" refers to an outward looking, mission-driven "sentness" resembling Jesus' own mission into the world at his father's direction. Its concern is evangelization of the church, where the church has lost its sense of mission, and of the world through the church. It calls for vision, risk, creation of new approaches and interacting in the public arena as a witness to the Gospel.
An apostolic model of leadership is to be distinguished from congregational models of pastoral leadership, where tending to the needs of the congregational flock occupies the majority of the attention and energy of the called shepherd and the resources of flock itself and where the congregation exists primarily for itself alone. All Christians and not just those called to Word and Sacrament ministry are candidates for apostolic leadership by virtue of their baptism.
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