National Bishop Raymond Schultz

Rev Raymond Schultz, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, writes a regular column for each issue of Canada Lutheran.

ELCIC congregations are welcome to republish this material in their church publications. Please acknowledge its original publication by including the credit line:

Canada Lutheran, October/November 2005

Further Reading

More of Bishop Ray's writing can be found in From the Bishop including texts from sermons and addresses.

National Bishop's Turn

Balanced Tension

The first joint on my right "pinky" finger is bent. I took a football on the end of that finger years ago which tore loose the ligaments from the topside of the joint. Even though my doctor attached a splint to hold the joint straight, the ligaments never re-attached, with the result that as soon as the splint came off, the bottom ligaments pulled at the joint without resistance from the other side and the end of my finger became skewed. The ends of your fingers stay straight because of balanced tension between upper and lower ligaments. Tension is good when it has purpose.

The Lutheran reformers recognized that a similar principal applied to theology and led them to state many doctrinal formulas as balanced tensions. One example is the familiar statement that we are simultaneously saints and sinners. Another is that we live under both law and gospel. When the tension between those opposites is kept in adjustment, a straight path can be maintained. This practice led Martin Marty to call the Lutheran Church the church of the "radical middle."

Marty's description is one of those famous serious jokes of his. Radical middle sounds like a self-contradictory term, but it is not. Ignoring the doctrine of grace leads to a church of legalism and moralism. Faith dies when relationship with God is focused on human behaviour rather than divine initiative. On the other hand, ignoring law leads to a failure of discipline and institutional integrity. The church fails to distinguish itself in a pluralist world and falls captive to social idols. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. Those who are locked in history tread where they have always trod.

To use a fairy-tale metaphor: Imagine walking down a road that has demons living in the ditches to right and left. As you drift near one shoulder or the other, the demons grab at your ankles and try to pull you down. If you're strong enough, you can pull free on your own. A Christian way to stay centred is to grasp hold of your companions on the other side of the road and cling to each other. Each can pull the other out of the grasp of its particular set of demons.

We are a communion of the baptized who, among us, have considerable ability to be agents of God's mission. We dissipate that strength when we refuse to engage each other's gifts and strengths. Engagement can involve us in creative tension. We don't like tension; we like relaxation, but only controlled tension will give us the backbone to witness to God's radical interaction with human beings. Communion is the key element. Not conquering. Not abandoning. Not controlling. Not indulging. Those are attempts to release tension and sit pretty. Communion is a way that the saint and sinner inside us and the saints and sinners among us coexist in the body of Christ as a living entity through which the risen Christ speaks a living word. Finding a framework for this engagement is crucial for the future of our mission and ministry.

Remember, none of this is for us. We are the people of the promise. We already have inherited the gift of grace. We do this because we are In Mission for Others.

Bishop Raymond Schultz

Canada Lutheran, October/November 2005