Unity in mission and ministry seems to be the pleas I've been hearing from around the ELCA as of late, especially in the face of deep divisions over the sexuality issue. The Presiding Bishop, the Executive Director for Evangelism Outreach and Congregation Ministry and even leaders of Lutheran CORE have called for unity in mission and ministry. Here are some examples:
Presiding Bishop Hanson wrote in a Pastoral Letter to the Rostered leaders, "my greatest sadness would be if we missed this opportunity: to give an evangelical and missional witness together to the world. Therefore, I urge each one of you to make this a time to engage one another with honesty and respect in renewed and deepened theological conversation informed by an evangelical and missional imagination."
Bp. Bouman Executive Director for Evangelism Outreach and Congregational Ministry recently wrote in an Open Letter to Lutheran CORE, "The church, in all of its flawed and diverse forms this side of heaven, is about God's mission to the world if it is to be a church. The old and new testaments bear witness to the centrality of mission in the church and I believe that as a movement within Lutheranism, your DNA will be determined by the priority you place on mission."
Ryan Schwarz at the Lutheran CORE convocation told us, "And both for those who leave and those who stay, Lutheran CORE is committed to helping them find ways to work together in common ministry, for the sake of a united and powerful proclamation of the Gospel."
It seems everyone on all sides is intentional about unity in mission and ministry, but what exactly does that mean? Certainly Lutheran CORE and the ELCA HQ are not talking about the same thing, are they? Yet what I lack hearing from those at Higgins Road and in a smaller way from CORE is unity in faith. I've always tended to believe that unity in faith is in some way necessary for any common unity in mission and ministry. Doesn't unity in "the faith" shape and focus a common vision of what the apostolic mission is? Does a lack or break of unity in the faith result in a broken vision of what the mission of the church is? Unfortunately words like "gospel" "mission" and "ministry" lack clear, unified, and common definitions.
I fear that what the ELCA HQ has put forward for our way together "unity in mission and ministry" is nothing more than unity in the law or worse simply unity in mission support. I fear that unity in the law will fail, because ultimately the law cannot sustain us. The law cannot give our church life and sustenance let alone a fruitful life-giving unity. I have some of the same fears when it comes to Lutheran CORE as well, although to a lesser degree. Lesser in that there seems to be more of a unified understanding and sharing of definitions as to what the gospel, mission, and ministry are. There is a better shared understanding of The Faith although not perfect. The big elephant in the room and the greatest hindrance to CORE's success continues to be ecclesiology.