Theological Values and Commitments
For serving the Promise of the Mission of Luther Seminary
We live in a world of six billion people at the close of the 20th century. Immigration and migration patterns worldwide continue to expand the mixed character of local communities across the globe. An emerging global economy provides new possibilities for international community, but is in tension with stark racial and economic disparities both within nations and among nations. The recent collapse of some political ideologies and the renewed vigor of ethnic and religious communities continue to offer new possibilities for identity while also confounding the effort to establish a lasting peace. The ecological health of the earth is facing ever-greater challenges. Changes in information technology offer promise for new forms of learning, even as they call many present practices into question.
In the face of these realities, and in accord with the Lutheran Confessions, we confess that the triune God is the creator of all things, and that God cares deeply about all persons and all of creation. We acknowledge that the problems we face reflect the reality of sin, death, and evil. But we have hope, and we trust the promises of God. The triune God who created all things remains on a mission in all of creation. God continues to create in the face of chaos and desires reconciliation with all that is created. Through the cross of Jesus Christ, God is reconciling all that is created. God is carrying out this work of reconciliation through the faithful preaching of the word of the cross and administering of the sacraments in the church. This ministry of reconciliation is the unique confession and mission of the church. The church is a community of people who confess God’s reconciling love in their own lives and warmly invite others to place their faith in the living God through Jesus Christ. It is a community that nurtures its members into full participation in the life of Christ. The church is called and sent by the Holy Spirit to participate with all people in God’s work in the world—doing good and confronting evil.
The church in this nation is going through tremendous change. Many older denominations are in rapid decline with aging memberships. Many new denominations and independent congregations are showing rapid growth. The familiar patterns of what once might have been called a “churched culture” have substantially eroded. The pressures to privatize the faith are substantial for all who call themselves “Christian.” The number of persons who no longer profess or practice any religious faith continues to increase dramatically. Many of these persons remain upon our church rosters; some are the children of those who left behind church participation in early adulthood. At the same time, other faith communities, notably Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, continue a rapid growth. Along with this, key assumptions about our world, reflected in movements often referred to as “postmodern” and “new age,” continue to undergo massive shifts within our society.
Likewise, the church throughout the world is passing through significant change. The majority of Christians are no longer European in ancestry. Of significant growth in the world church is the Pentecostal charismatic movement. Challenges that face the church vary from region to region. For example, in Latin America Protestant, especially Pentecostal, alternatives now challenge the Catholic church for domain in many countries. In Africa, the commitments of large segments of the population are poised between Islam and the Christian faith, even in the midst of a renewed emphasis on traditional tribal religion. In Asia, the church almost everywhere exists as a small minority amidst a variety of traditional alternatives, even as these societies go through massive social change.
Amidst all these realities in the church and the world, we confess that the triune God is doing a new work in our day. Everywhere God is providing the church with a fresh opportunity to understand that it is in a mission location. In all its diverse locations and differing circumstances, the church’s mission opportunity is tremendous for bearing witness to God’s reconciling love, for warmly inviting others to place their faith in the living God through Jesus Christ, and for confronting evil and for doing good in the world. In order to engage in such a mission effectively, many Lutheran congregations, as well as those of other Christian traditions, need to reclaim their heritage that the “church is always to be reforming.” We believe that God is leading us through a process of dying even as we serve the promise of new life for the church, whether it be “after Christendom” in our context or as a vital faith in a “religiously pluralistic” context in other places in the world.
Both here and around the world, while we affirm our core commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, Christians must, in order to proclaim that gospel effectively, rethink church structures, patterns of ministry, edu-cational processes, discipling approaches, and basic assumptions about our cultural context. Churches world-wide can learn from one another as they do this. In our own context, if we are to be obedient to the Great Commission, we must make the development of new congregations and the redevelopment of older congregations a high priority. An image that expresses our commitment and vision is that we intend to prepare leaders who are deeply rooted in the Christian tradition and also supple (flexible) in the storm. These same types of leaders are needed throughout the global church, as well, where they must provide leadership for helping the church find its identity in diverse contexts.
For this new era of mission, Luther Seminary is called to steward the vocations of all who seek to share in its mission – especially its students. We assist the students and their congregations in discerning their call to various offices within the church. The discipleship of students includes the whole of their seminary experience. Luther Seminary graduates are sent as leaders into Christian communities in mission. We are committed to learn from their successes and failures how we might better steward all our vocations and support them in their lifelong vocations in a missional church. Such evaluation of our ability to steward their vocations commits us to a continuous process of change.
We are mindful of five things as we go through this process of change:
First, we believe the Spirit is guiding us as we take this journey. We actively seek to discern the Spirit’s leading as we make decisions to become more missional in our understanding of what it means to be the church and, for Luther Seminary, a school of the church.
Second, we are committed to examining carefully our biblical and theological foundations. We actively seek to draw on these in shaping our missional response to our changed local and global context.
Third, we recognize that the process of change is painful and that many will struggle with it, some will feel hurt, and a number may even become angry. We actively commit ourselves to be pastoral and understanding, while also seeking to be courageous and faithful to the new future that God is creating.
Fourth, we are aware that we are not alone in this process of change. We will seek to implement ways to learn and share together with churches around the world as each faces its own unique mix of change and opportunity.
Fifth, we acknowledge that the way into the future is not clear. We have entered uncharted waters and must exercise all the arts and wisdom of Christian leadership. We actively place our faith and confidence in the living God to guide us even as we look toward that day when all things will be made anew in the new heaven and the new earth.