Friday, February 26, 2010

The Seven Marks Society: Vision Statement

Late in the evening of Wednesday, 30 September 2009, after Compline at the General Retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity, nearly three dozen pastors (members and non-members of the Society) gathered together to discuss a common response to the actions of the previous month's ELCA Churchwide Assembly and Lutheran CORE's recasting itself as a movement for the renewal of Lutheranism in North America.

By midnight, we'd established both Yahoo! and Facebook groups, and within a week some 75 pastors had signed on to form what was soon called the Seven Marks Society — referring to Luther's seven Marks of the Church that had been the focus of the STS General Retreats 2007-2009. We planned to constitute the Society at a convocation in Nashville on 29-30 January 2010, but icy weather conditions caused its postponement to a later, yet undetermined, date.

The Seven Marks Society is being launched nonetheless, and the Chairman of its initial Steering Committee has shared his

Vision Statement

The Rev. Dr. Timothy D. Hubert
January 30, 2010

Grace and peace to you, from God, our Father, and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Is it only pure nostalgia that brings us together tonight? Is it the looking backwards with our rose colored glasses, remembering a time when, we believe, the churches we belonged to, though different, all acted more alike than the single church we belong to now acts through its unity in diversity culture?

Do we really remember a time when the behavior of pastors and congregations were noted and carried consequences? Do we really remember a time when divorcing pastors were summarily removed from their congregations? Do we remember a time when a congregation would likely be removed for going their own way?

Do we remember when clergy enjoyed meeting together, learning from each other, helping each other in our parish ministries? Do we remember when clergy spouses called each other friend?

Do we remember when the church’s publishing house actually produced a faithful and usable catechism curriculum? (A few years ago, a popular, and expensive, catechism program denied real presence when it taught about Holy Communion.)

But, of course, the reality is that the seeds for the ecclesial discontent were planted fifty or more years ago. I remember a tract, (Do you remember tracts that we used to put in the narthex for visitors and members)? This was back in the days when I was in the Augustana Synod, yes, that paragon of virtue and faithfulness that I never tire of publically remembering. About 1958 a tract was published by Augustana that tried to explain the Holy Trinity. On the face page was a pleasant graphic. Page two talked about God the Father. Page three talked about God the Son. And page four was blank.

We gather today because we and the churches we serve have become confused, disoriented and depressed. Today we are energized by potlucks, by doing things our own way and by doing mission locally, but not evangelically. Deep down we know something is wrong.

Today we are frightened whenever anyone talks about congregations working together. We are terrified that someone will ask us to go the extra mile, to actually be evangelical (so that our name accuses us), to be Christ’s presence in the market place. We are terrified because we have no models, no resources, not even a clue on where to begin.

This is where those of us who call ourselves evangelical catholic Lutherans are encouraged to jump in with both feet. But, let’s get something straight. We are not individuals, nor even individual congregations. We are the people of God! You are my spiritual flesh and spiritual bone and I am yours! Your faithfulness in ministry is my faithfulness and mine is yours! Your frustrations, fractures and fumbles are mine and mine are yours.

We are the Seven Marks! Word and Sacrament gather us together in the mission and ministry of the church. We are not gathered because it is fashionable or because this is our support network or because it makes us feel good. It is Word and Sacrament that gathers us. It is Jesus Christ who gathers us together. It is Jesus Christ, in Word and Sacrament, who gathers us to be His body, to do His mission through the ministry of His church.

This mission and ministry is guided by bishops and pastors and lay leaders. Christ Jesus instituted the holy office of ministry and we call to serve those who love Jesus, are well trained and equipped with spiritual and practical gifts for ministry. This is an honorable office because it is Christ’s office.

The office of pastor is not an afterthought. It isn’t an embarrassing necessity. It isn’t occupied by hirelings who neither care for nor love the sheep of that particular fold. It can’t be filled on the spur of the moment even by people whose only credential is good will. The office of pastor is occupied to those who will show us heaven, who will encourage us to come closer to our heavenly Father, who will point to the signs of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

The office of pastor is occupied by those who will point us to the holy and life giving cross, who will lead us in sacrificial service, who will champion the poor among us. It is the role of the pastor to remind us that justice is doxology, not the touch stone of our confession.

Is this pure nostalgia? Is this idealistic nonsense? Or is this the goal, the vision, for faithful ministry among us? Do we gather here tonight because we are theological fossils or because we are living vessels holding tightly to a precious and holy treasure?

Did we come all these miles and spend our own money in order to indulge our common delusion of a bygone and largely forgotten era? Or have we been called by a living God to remember how His Church was formed and spread around the entire world? Are we not the spiritual descendants of the Petrine epistles (a la Ray Brown)?

How can we give this up? How can we turn our back on our faithful ancestors? How can we say no to Jesus, who gathers us in and through the seven marks of His church?

In a culture that emphasizes the individual, as if happiness can only come when we are true, Socratic-ally, to our own selves, do we dare to be silent? In a culture that champions democracy over faithfulness, do we dare to be silent? In a culture that calls evil good and good evil, do we dare to be silent? In a church that can’t separate philosophy from the faith, do we dare to be silent?

No! Our presence here tonight is not silent. We are here because we are faithful bishops, pastors and laity. We are here because we are held captive to the Word of God. We are here because there is nowhere else to go.

We are here to live out a full and faithful church life, where we counter the cultural pull and live out the seven marks. We are here to begin an evangelical outreach, celebrating our Petrine catholicity, carrying our vision into the public market place. We are both faithful and accountable. We do mission for mission’s sake. We love sacrificially. We help each other, because, to be faithful we can do no other!

This Society exists because the Lutheran churches need us. This Society exists because Lutherans around the world want to know there is someone they can talk to in this country, who understands their concerns, who shares in their vision of ministry.

This Society exists to be a light in the wilderness, to produce faithful and confessional programs and materials and maybe even tracts with all three persons of the Holy Trinity. We are being challenged to produce faithful, scriptural, traditional materials for youth groups, women’s groups, men’s groups, councils, evangelism committees, parish councils, stewardship committees, Sunday Schools. We are being challenged to provide solid training in forming lay leadership. This Society exists to help in the formation of bishops, pastors and deacons.

This Society is meant to be a missional home for those of us who have nowhere else to turn, to help congregations in many different Lutheran and Christian church bodies to be faithful to the Great Tradition in which we were born.

May God, the Father, +Son and Holy Spirit bless us and be a blessing through us! Amen.

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