How shall we be church?" I suggest this is the question before the ELCA. The New Testament tells us that the church is instituted by Jesus Christ. It exists for his sake and by his authority. The church is where the gospel is proclaimed in its purity and the sacraments rightly administered (Augsburg Confession, VII). There the Spirit works to bring people to faith and unite us in Christ's body.
In a presentation to the ELCA cabinet of executives, Mark Allan Powell, New Testament professor at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, said: "We don't have to strive to become the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ. We are all part of one body .... What happens to one of us affects the whole body whether we realize it or not. The mission of the church ... is not to achieve unity but to act as the united entity we are."
As Lutherans, being church means naming again what we hold in common as central to the Christian faith. The ELCA is built upon the strong girders of the Lutheran Reformation. Given that foundation, how shall we be church?
It is my prayer that we as the ELCA shall seek to be church this year. Many decisions facing the August Churchwide Assembly have to do with how we shall be church. Our recommendations, conversations and actions between now and the assembly will give witness to our being the body of Christ. We will discuss Renewing Worship and the next generation of worship resources, two ethnic ministry strategies, and recommendations for the structure and governance of the churchwide organization. We also will consider the recommendations of the ELCA Studies on Sexuality, to be released Jan. 13 (see page 44).
Let us receive and consider these decisions in a manner that reflects how we seek to be church. By the Spirit's power, under the authority of Scripture, we humbly seek to discern God's will and ways. We may not be of one mind on several issues, but we share one faith, one baptism, one Lord and Savior of us all.
How shall we be church? Could it be that the ELCA — engaged in prayerful discernment and lively debate, reflecting our unity in Christ amid our diversity — is one sign of our being church?
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers