We commit ourselves as church, through prayer, study and conversation, to discern what it is for us to live faithfully under the cross at this time and place, seeing the world through the event of the cross. We will enter into the lives of people in our local, national and global communities. (Evangelical Declaration, Commitment 2)
O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples.
The people for whom this psalm was written sang it with gusto and enthusiasm in their worship. In it they expressed admiration for and devotion to God, who had been faithful even though a great deal had happened to them and to their social setting. They had once been enslaved to Egypt; they once had been exiled in Babylon; the monarchy that began so gloriously under David and Solomon had degenerated into mere self-serving despotism. There were several major competing religious systems to which their members continued to be attracted.
Those people were struggling to remain faithful in the midst of a multi-religious society governed by powers hostile to the followers of the God of the Jews. The traditional governance of the religious institution had been destroyed and those who sought to put it back together encountered fundamental disagreements among themselves. There were disagreements about who retained legitimate membership credentials. They had to find ways to bring the local synagogue model that developed in Babylon together with the restoration of the centralized national Temple in Jerusalem—a little like the tension we experience between congregationalism and central church authority in our church. Also like us, they argued the legal aspects of their faith over against the spiritual and relational aspects of it.
The Lord’s song had not always been sung so jubilantly in Israel’s history. There was a time when they hung their harps on the willows 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 those fearful and depressing times of captivity, the people learned something new about the faithfulness of God and came out of it with a fresh outlook and a fresh faith. It was in the rescue from Egypt and the release from Babylon that God was giving the nation a foretaste of the resurrection that the world would one day see in Jesus Christ. There, in the wilderness, they learned about God getting ready to do a new thing and were given the eyes with which to see it. Daniel Erlander, in Manna and Mercy , called that the Wilderness School. It was in times of chaos, when God’s people were themselves victims, that they learned the true meaning of grace, mercy and salvation for all. It was when sacred cows and familiar idols were stripped away that they learned how to adapt and reorganize their religious community in ways that more closely reflected the love of God promised to them in the covenant. Freedom from idols brought new freedom to allow God centrality in their lives.
We Christians have learned to appreciate these scriptures through our reflection on the cross of Christ. We have given special attention to Isaiah 40 (Comfort, O comfort my people), Isaiah 43 (I have called you by name, you are mine&38230;I am about to do a new thing), and Isaiah 52 (The Suffering Servant passage) . The covenant history is marked by wave after wave of the falling and raising of the people of God. Psalm 30 is a kind of summary of this history. In a continuation of these covenant experiences, Jesus went down to chaos and was raised. And out of that dying and rising came something new: God’s reign took a new shape among the outcast and Gentile society, a society of people who were deemed to be outside the saving range of Israel’s religion.
Today we Christians find ourselves facing challenges to our own religious establishment. We have lost our religious monopoly on Western society and are shrinking in size at the same time as our sisters and brothers in the southern world enjoy increasing numbers in their churches. Ours is a pluralistic, multi-religious and secular society in which almost every idea on the human spectrum competes for validity. No one value system has predominance over others. The religious people our missionaries tried to convert in Africa and Asia now live in Canada in growing and thriving communities far outnumbering the smaller Christian denominations in Canada.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in this land that has become so strange to us? How can we face the future with confidence when we are shrinking in size and resources? Is there a blessing in all this humiliation? How shall we sing to the Lord a new song in these changing conditions?
Part of my own answer to this rhetorical question is that I think the humiliation of the church is not a bad thing. The stripping away of our cultural dependencies—the idols of once having been privileged—shows us how incapable of giving life those idols were. In fact, they took life from us. Now we are becoming ever more free to turn to God who created and transcends these cultural formations and alone is the source of all life. The Holy Spirit has already written the new song. The challenge to us, as Jesus so often taught, is to have the ears to hear!
The Office of the Bishop has four major functions:
- To oversee the administration of the National Church;
- To lead the church in its ecumenical and partner church relationships;
- To facilitate partnerships with and among the synods; and
- To be a symbol of the unity of the church.
We have been twice blessed as evangelicals within the catholic family in the past few years. We signed The Waterloo Declaration with the Anglican Church of Canada at the last convention and entered into a full communion relationship with them. Two years prior to that, the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church issued a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification and each church rescinded its 16th century condemnations of the other.
It is important that we continue to explore our working partnership with the Anglican Church wherever it is better to work together than to work separately.
It is important for the unity of the church that we continue to study and talk with the Roman Catholic Church and advance the progress we are making in our mutual understanding and greater acceptance of each other.
Due to limited financial and personnel resources we have not replaced the Lutheran representatives in conversations we have been holding with the churches of the Reformed family: United, Presbyterian and Christian Reformed. For the same reason, we have not initiated conversations with the Canadian component of the Moravian Church, which has a full communion relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). With more assistance available, the Bishop’s Office will be able to revisit these provisional decisions.
All of this is the ordinary ecumenical agenda of the church, however, the other faith communities of this country beckon to us as well. While it is not full communion that we seek, there are issues of a relational nature that are crucial.
I am delighted to have recruited the Rev Paul N. Johnson, Assistant to the Bishop for Ecumenical and International Relationships to help our church in these ministries.
We are a church that thinks globally but acts locally, to borrow a phrase from the social action movement. By this I mean that we have national goals, objectives and policies for ministry and mission, but we implement them at the synod level to fit the conditions of each of our country's regions. We have found, through experience, that one size does not fit all when it comes to programming for congregations in this church. Synods vary in size and social conditions. For example, the entire baptized membership of the BC Synod is only slightly larger than the membership of the largest congregation in Minneapolis! Unlike that Minneapolis congregation, the BC Synod employs over 60 pastors, an entire synod staff, and over fifty church buildings. The overhead for such a small number of people is enormous. On the other end of the spectrum, the Eastern Synod comprises over 40% of our national membership of some 190,000 baptized. It covers four provinces and as many distinct geographic and cultural regions as the four synods in the west taken together.
The wide variance in size and conditions of synods has led us to develop an operational model that involves national policy and consultation on common standards and mission values, but synodical autonomy in developing methods and approaches. Instead of generating programs for evangelism, stewardship and other congregational programs out of the National Office, we bring synod representatives together to consult on common concerns and objectives, and then support them in developing their own programs. Our National Office coordinates communication, helps key people collaborate from synod to synod and monitors the progress of ministries across the church.
Church-wide communication is the major "product" of the National Office. Assisting synods to work together toward a common vision of mission and keeping the national agenda before the church are primarily communication functions. To this end, we employ a multidisciplinary staff that are not "boxed" into bureaucratic departments, but team up in various combinations to address tasks that assist synod committees, the Conference of Bishops, or any other unit of the church, to engage in the front-line ministry to which they are called.
Major tools for facilitating this communication assistance include the Internet technology employed through the Rasmus central data system, the information posting available on the national web site and Canada Lutheran. Due to continuing cutbacks in support from congregations and synods, we operate these programs with about half the staff necessary to meet the demand expressed by the constituency. I commend our hard-working people, not only for their constant labour, but their ability to assess available resources and set priorities.
I am delighted to have recruited the Rev Elaine Sauer as Assistant to the Bishop for Synodical Affairs to assist in these ministries.
This is a very different model of organization from the one with which this church began in 1986. We began as a church of Divisions, headed by Directors, governed by separate Boards and assisted by support staff. These Divisions had independent mandates to generate initiatives, programs, materials and policies. Today we have balanced initiatives between synods and National Church. Initiatives and polices are generated by the National Office and Church Council, while programs for ministry and implementation are generated by the synods. This has reduced the cost of operating the National Office and added to the workload of the synods.
The current operational model was not devised unilaterally by the National Church, but represents a consensus arising out of church-wide consultations involving synod and national leaders. The process was begun in 1995 when the national convention adopted resolution NC-95-11, which delineated the distribution of initiatives between the National Church and synods. Interim and ongoing Working Groups formed a bridge to the present in order to provide a transition to the current model. In October 2001, a consultation of national and synod officers reviewed and revised the terms of NC-95-11 and proposed the current operational model (see Attachment 1).
We have divided the National Office’s agenda into two sets of initiatives: those pertaining to the domestic and internal ministries of this church reside with the synods; those that pertain to nationwide, global, ecumenical and international ministries reside with the National Office. Further to this main division of responsibility, there is the acknowledgement that each of the synods and National Church has overlapping interests that will involve mutual collaboration from time to time. Within the National Office there are further internal divisions related to policy, personnel, communication and financial management.
In areas where national programming and coordination is required, we have appointed standing Program Committees. These committees are responsible for implementing national program plans as well as recommending programs and policy to National Church Council (NCC). They are supervised by the Bishop’s Office and report to NCC through the bishop. Unfortunately, due to reduced benevolence support, the National Office is no longer able to provide staff support to these committees and has had to limit them to one face-to-face meeting per year. These constraints make it hard to implement very much hands-on programming. I commend the dedication and hard work of the committee members and marvel at their patience, but I must stress that this is a situation we cannot sustain over the long term.
The National Office operates on about one quarter of the buying power of the operation that was formed in 1986 (see Attachment 2). In the current term, we have sustained approximate cuts of 7% in 2001–2002 and 4% in 2002–2003. I believe that we require a church-wide development initiative to stabilize the income of the National Office at a sustainable level. It is my opinion that if we strengthen the resources of the National Church in order to increase the presence of these ministries in the synods, the new level of effectiveness and interaction will contribute to increased support.
I began work at the National Office the week that commercial airliners were crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. Those events seemed to be a harbinger of more chaos to come. Shortfalls in income required reductions in staff. Then the National Secretary resigned to accept a position with the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva. Staff in the Treasurer’s Office, Canada Lutheran and Group Services resigned. Then Pastor Cindy Halmarson, Assistant to the Bishop, was elected Bishop of the Saskatchewan Synod and resigned. Most recently, Pastor Kenn Ward, editor of Canada Lutheran resigned to accept a call to a parish ministry. These turnovers in senior staff required postponement of many activities, reassignment of responsibilities and provisional measures. A major National Conference of Worship and Mission had to be called off. Many emails and phone inquiries have gone unanswered because we simply have not had the resources to respond. Support staff members have carried on their work with minimal supervision.
I believe we have now, with the recruitment of two assistants to the bishop, stabilized operations and have our staff back up to a complement affordable at this time. It is not enough staff, but we will make do.
Due to issues that have arisen at Augustana University College this past year, I have received a "crash course" in this area of church governance. In the process, I have become aware of the lack of shared mission between the church and its schools. One of the national staff asked me, "Bishop, where do the schools fit into your mission vision?" I recognized that question as a crucial issue needing to be addressed and one that is presently unanswerable except by conjecture. Arriving at an answer to that question will require a demanding and protracted process of consultation. While it is my role to initiate a vision for mission, that mission will receive acceptance only when the decision-makers in the schools are asked for their input.
I further believe that an ongoing dialogue with the seminaries is essential to the accomplishment of this church’s mission goals. While the seminaries are under the governance of the synods that own them, they are highly important instruments in the realization of our mission planning. Leadership preparation and leadership performance are key elements of our future faithfulness. It takes more than theological and methodological education to make effective leaders. Vision, courage, spirituality, imagination, and other character attributes are equally important.
A key task of the National Bishop is to articulate the church’s vision for mission. Sometimes this task involves speaking for the consensus that already exists within the church; sometimes it calls for the bishop to stimulate thinking in new directions. I have been doing some of each in this first term in office.
I think that the new working arrangement between the synods and National Church has been a positive and productive one. History may show that we have decentralized more than we should have, but at the present, this seems to be good for the church, so we have decided. In that regard, my role is to explain, encourage and assist the model to which we have all agreed.
However, I have also been trying to arouse a new national vision through the theme of this convention. I feel that our church has been too ingrown, too self-preoccupied and too denominational in its focus. It is time for us to become a more mature organism. We have our Lutheran identity firmly in hand as articulated in the Evangelical Declaration, and we have created an administration that is stable and sustainable in its current operating model. Now it is time to share our gifts with the world in which we live.
The Lutheran vision of Christianity is a gift. I do not believe it is the only valid expression of Christianity and I do believe that we experienced considerable loss in our centuries of separation from the mainstream of western catholic Christianity. However, we also learned and evolved an evangelical expression of the faith that is unique among the denominations. That is our gift. It is a gift that need not be limited to our possession. It is a gift that can be shared without requiring others to become one with us in culture, church governance, membership or doctrine. It is time to abandon our defensiveness and become more proactive in dialogue with others. No one is more encouraging of this than our full communion partners, the Anglican Church of Canada!
The uniqueness of the Lutheran way of balancing law and grace is a gift that can be shared in a broader circle than that of the Christian family. I believe that we have a strong contribution to make to interfaith dialogue. Mohandas Gandhi never became a Christian, but he was deeply influenced by the gospel stories of Jesus, particularly the political implications of Jesus’ understanding of the ways that make for peace. It is imperative for us to share our understanding of the God of grace with other religious communities, not to convert them to Christianity, but so that the nature of God can be witnessed to them in ways that will affect their examination of the revelation that they have received and influence them in their own communion with God.
We also need to become much more skilled in our ability to dialogue with the social and political structures of our society. I hear constantly people in our church being labeled as "liberals" or "conservatives", or "right wing". This is not the language of the church. This is the language of secular politics. Secular politics is full of adversarial methodology that has infected the church and resulted in polarizations that are destructive to the community gathered around a Lord who chose compassion over the righteousness code as the dominant strategy for his expression of the reign of God.
Christianity is not a solitary religion. One of the essential marks of the church is ekklesia , a Greek word meaning "the people gathered." Being able to be a people gathered in spite of differences is a key sign that the gospel is operative in the community. Our Christian scriptures contain two of the letters St. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church on this subject. Neither liberalism nor conservativism serves the church. Each is an ideology that has sold us short and compromised our confession of faith when we have tried to employ it in our mission planning. As a result, we have squandered our energy in squabbling among ourselves when we should have been working to provide redemptive models for the social good of the people among whom God has brought us to live.
Our own confession of sin needs to include an analysis and examination of the ways in which we have allowed the ideologies of the world to shape our understanding of Jesus Christ. This goes for people on both ends of the political spectrum. Neither end has been anything but a tool to create division among us.
Our own confession of faith needs to include a willingness to let the Holy Spirit speak without our interference and call us to ways of thinking and acting that seem dangerous to our present religious stability. This Spirit speaks both through individuals and through the church gathered. One tests and balances the other. There were many doctrinal differences among the disciples who gathered around Jesus Christ. Pentecost brought about a revolution through which they were freed to embrace the very actions for which Jesus was crucified and condemned by the leading religious authorities of his day for being such a criminal.
Constantine domesticated that dynamic and dangerous church—swallowed it up into the belly of Western European society. Now we are being spit out on the beach like Jonah, with one more chance to witness to Nineveh, the great city. We are outside the safety net of secular approval, but we are also free to think outside the box and let the relentless newness of God’s imagination create anew a process that leads to the reign of God over all people.
If that doesn’t result in some new songs to sing, I don’t know what will. May this be for us the gospel of the Lord.
+ Raymond L. Schultz
- Attachment 1 ELCIC National and Synodical Responsibilities
- Attachment 2 Receipts and Benevolence
- Attachment 3 Report of the Assistant to the Bishop for Synodical Relations
- Attachment 4 Report of the Assistant to the Bishop for Ecumenical Relations
- Attachment 5 Report of the Lutheran Office for Public Policy (LOPP)