I am often asked what my vision for the future is, or what goals I have for my tenure as National Bishop.
I have two:
Helping our church become a church in mission;
Forming people who can lead us in that mission.
These two goals are tied to each other, and each is crucial to the success of the other.
Our church is shaped by the Holy Spirit, who calls us through the Gospel to be the people of God. Martin Luther's catechism for families says of the third article of the creed,
I cannot by my own understanding or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts and sanctified and kept me in the one true faith.
The church is not our possession. The church is the creation of God, shaped on the move, as its people live out their calling amid the changing times of world history.
Whenever someone tries to solidify a particular expression of the church and declare that expression to be the ultimate sacred shape, the Holy Spirit will open the ears of someone with imagination to hear the needs of that generation.
If the church listens, the solid will begin to melt and a new shape will emerge which responds to the hunger for the gospel being expressed by the people of that place and time.
That's what our church did in the Reformation. The Reformation is, for me, a feast of the Holy Spirit, who does not let our obsession with building towers of Babel, interfere with the joyous evangelical mission of Christ to declare release to captives, vision to the blind, healing to the sick, and joy to the brokenhearted.
The story of the people of God, as we have it captured in our scriptures, is the story of a people on a move. It begins in a garden and ends in a city.
The ancient Hebrew creed says:
A wandering Aramean was my ancestor. The ancient saga includes a sojourn in Egypt and an exile in Babylon. Israel becomes the vassal state of Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans.
Those Jews who follow Jesus soon find themselves outnumbered by Gentiles. They fall into a captivity centuries long, although they do not know it at the time, for they are celebrating Constantine making Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.
It is only when the politics of the empire co-opts the church into its ambitions and divisions that the darkness is revealed.
The church of the East and of the West go separate ways. The church of the West fragments into 16th century divisions of Lutheran, Calvinist, Anabaptist and Anglican expressions. It's the story of the Tower of Babel all over again.
However, in each of these apparent disasters, someone among God's people saw light in the midst of darkness and rediscovered the calling of the Spirit to proclaim the unconditional love of God to those who were hungry to receive it.
Those days in exile were among the most fertile and productive in Jewish history. They learned to get along without the Temple and they learned the skill of preserving the faith through rituals observed in the family.
We, once again, live like people in exile. We are strangers in a foreign land.
Harvey Cox went to bed one night, dreaming happy dreams of The Secular City, but when he awoke, he found that the city had turned mean.
People spoke an unfamiliar language and worshiped other gods. Dorothy wasn't in Kansas any more.But I believe that history is now calling upon us to revise our fixed ideas about the church so that we can minister effectively to the upcoming generation of youth in this country.
Our youth have been parented and grandparented by people who have sought fulfilment in secular materialism.
The Baby Boomers tried to be hippies and idealists who dreamed of changing western society, but they degenerated into establishmentarians in business suits and corporate offices.
The children of the Boomers became more entrepreneurial, but their values systems were extremely self-centred.
Both generations ceased participation in the church. The Boomers at least knew which church it was they didn't attend, the Gen Xers couldn't tell one from another.Neither of those generations has spoken to their children about personal faith and belief-- even those who have remained in the church.
What they have shown their children is that their materialist achievements have not brought them peace of spirit. And so the young are curious and open... and hungry and restless. They are good kids ready for God to show them a way of life.
At the same time, they have inherited a very different world from the one their forbears grew up in. They have inherited a pluralistic world. Every idea is equal to every other idea in their world.
Particularity is a heresy. The previous generations fought against the church, the current generation only sees it as one among many choices, the church has become an option, not a comprehensive way of life.
To many, it is irrelevant.The youth of the Millennium Generation hunt and peck among these religious options they snip and paste, the same way they write school papers using material they find on the Internet.
It is a generation raised on word processors and graphics software. They know how to rotate, paint, retouch, massage, and layout a message.
You can no longer attend a movie and be sure that the face on the screen actually looks like the digital image it has become. They can make Jim Carey's eyes bug out of his head and give Jack Nicholson a grin otherwise seen only in comic books. Although that may be entertaining, it isn't reality. It is only virtual reality.
You can't eat a virtual sandwich or treat a wound with a virtual bandage.Here lies the calling of the Spirit: to share the gospel with a generation that is hungry for it out of sheer spiritual malnutrition. Virtual spirituality does not satisfy real hunger.
Here lies the challenge: will we do this simply because they need it, or because we desperately want to recapture the glory days of our declining churches?
Do we need to possess the people we evangelize?
Here comes the reforming: the questions our youth ask will be in words and concepts we traditional church members do not presently understand. They will be asked out of a context we do not experience.
Will we find faithful ways to translate ourselves?
Perhaps this paradigm will be helpful:
We are a church built on immigration. Our members live in little enclaves of like-minded people. We are able to find people of our own kind, who use our own kind of language, so we do not need to learn the language of the land.
The German Lutherans of south Edmonton had their own lawyers, their own doctors, their own shopkeepers and travel agents. Some of the older people never learned a world of English, because they could get everything they needed in the area called "Little Berlin." They saw their church the same way. They were not only Lutherans, they were German Lutherans.
The church taught their children and grandchildren German and catechized them. Their self-identity was very strong. But they had trouble with mixed marriages and other intrusions by outsiders. They were very particular. So are we.
Our scriptures declare that Christ is the one and only way through which we come to communion with God. We hold ourselves to be a distinct society that can dialogue with other faiths, but cannot agree that all are alike or equally effective.We are particularists in a pluralist landscape, our children are surfers on a boundless sea. We are land-lubbers, they are mariners.
In order for us to hear their questions, we will have to learn a new vocabulary and become familiar with a religious inventory that comes from unfamiliar communities most of us have never visited. Those who reach out to the world with the gospel will sound less and less like our familiar comfort food.
But our newest generation values friendships with a passion and our young people hope to have enduring marriages and families. That is the land on which they hope to build their homes. The practicalities of relationship are high on their list.We have the gifts to help them build those homes.
Community through communion in Christ is how Dietrich Bonhoeffer described it. We teach an understanding of love that is not a transient feeling, but an enduring policy of meeting the needs of the other. We worship a God who reshapes religious communities, so that they can serve the Spirit's ends.
Our poetry is full of images of the God who does these things:
God is a potter,
God is a mother giving birth,
God is the new-born child,
God is a whirlwind,
God is utter silence.
These are images of life-changing experiences.
Some call for submission of the will, others call for a new plan of action. God asks us to sit in dark silence and listen, God asks us to gird our loins and get going.But whatever God asks will not be shaped by our need for order. God is always driven by the unencumbered passion to love every one of us with an unconditional fondness that defies reason and practicality. That is why we keep needing reformation. Institution-builders are practical rationalists.
God is Don Quixote, dreaming the impossible dream.
The dreams I have for you, my Lord, are only a shadow of the dreams you have for me; only a shadow of all that will be, if I but follow you.
So here we are, in a context we never experienced before, needing leadership skills we were not trained for.
What will we do?
We can turn to the church growth movement and learn the methods and skills of the business community. But then religion becomes a product and ministry becomes salesmanship.
Not a good model for a church which understands itself as inclusive community that distributes food which can be bought without money.Or we can turn to exile theology and learn how to cope with a God whose destruction of our idols may be painful, but whose promise of a future is without question.
We live in Babylon now. How will we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?We will do so through a different definition of mission and through the preparation of a new kind of leader.
This is why we need campus ministry. Young people come here who have no Christian memory to study at an institution that is itself becoming an anachronism.
The revolution in learning, and in our understanding of the universe is every bit as drastic as the changing religious paradigm. The linear model of critical thinking runs up against the multidimensional character of a quantum universe.
These young people need to be rescued from both solitudes. These young people need to be called into vocation.In order for our church to enter the future that already exists, we will need to recruit a new kind of person who is not encumbered by our preoccupations.
We must learn to see the qualities in them while they are still young, 10 or 12 years old, and begin to scout them for the team. They will not want to say yes, because almost every other aspect of society will welcome them more than their own people will.I share this with you because Campus Ministry has been a place where free thought about the church has been encouraged.
It has never been a destructive exercise because it has also engendered love for the church in the students and faculty it has served. Campus Ministry is probably our single biggest source of leaders. Take any gathering of leaders, a synod council, a seminary board, and ask how many participants are Campus Ministry alumni. The hands will go up and will go up with pride.
My call to ministry came when I was nine years old! My home congregation in rural Alberta was holding a mission festival.
During the lunch break my mom introduced me to Julius Bergbusch, president of the Western Canada Synod. He patted me on the head and said, "Well Raymond, maybe some day you will be a pastor."My class mates in junior high school all "knew" I would be a pastor, even though it was too uncool for me to admit it.
Then, at Camrose Lutheran College, my call to serve the church was confirmed and off I went to seminary. But before that happened, I became involved with the Maple Leaf Region of the Lutheran Student Association of America.
The mission of free thought for students those days was to defy the separatism of our Lutheran denominations and come together as one community. Those commitments and attitudes fed into the Lutheran merger talks that brought our church together. Leading us into the charge were Chaplains Don Voigts and Herb Keil.
The ministry at UBC brought together three Lutheran bodies, who eventually shared one building and worshipped in one service.Campus Ministry was also a haven of consent for students who came out of the anti-intellectual pietism of our church. We learned how to put reason in the service of the gospel, and we learned how to explore ideas without being afraid that the prowling devil would devour our faith.
My first meeting as a member of the LSA executive was here in Saskatoon, in the original house. My participation continued while I was a seminary student: I attended vespers and I spent a lot of time dreaming dreams with my classmates.Support for Campus Ministry was always a tough sell.
It was always seen as something on the side that was the hobby horse of a minority. Now, nearly 50 years later, it is recognized for the great gift to the church it has been. Not that support habits have changed very much.
In fact, funding for these ministries is being cut across the church. Nevertheless, it is one of the places in our church where we can prepare leaders who know how to be prophets of imagination and hope as we live in this current exile.
We need a new generation of mariners who are not afraid of the pluralist sea. So far we are training landlubbers who occasionally go fishing. What do you think we can do about that?
This address was prepared by Ray Schultz, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada for three campus ministry support events: Saskatoon, Edmonton and Calgary, during February/March 2002.
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