As you might imagine, I am somewhat preoccupied at the moment with the ELCE as Synod –rather than as congregation (such as Ascension or Good Shepherd or Redeemer). We have the convention of Synod this week and there have been lots of talk this past year about our structure. It is a matter of how the laws of the land impact us as organisations and how we comply and still be ‘Church’. The work is not completed at this Synod (not by a long way) but hopefully we’ll take a step in the direction we believe God wants us to go –a very important step. Nevertheless in all the talk and work I am reminded –I have it laminated in my study –of the concluding section of a sermon Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached in 1933. (I’ve shared this before nearly 10 years ago but it is good to keep in mind.)
But it is not we who build [the Church]. He [Jesus] wills to build the Church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to de-stroying it; for he will build a temple to idols with-out wishing or knowing it. We must confess –he builds. We must proclaim –he builds. We must pray to him –he builds. We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that at times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of building. It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down. It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province. Church, do what is given to you to do well and you have enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions, don’t ask for judgements, don’t always be calculating what will happen, don’t always be on the look-out for another refuge! Church, stay a church! But church confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord, from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds.
We can be church in many structures. That’s what a Synod needs to remember. We can be a Christian in any society. Our forthcoming Synod is about using our sancti-ied common sense and asking for God’s wisdom how best to work together to live the Gospel –together –and to confess Christ. And the wonderful news is –we never do this alone for Jesus is with us! GS