Symbiosis is defined by Webster as 1) "the living together in more or less intimate association or close union of two dissimilar organisms” and 2) "a cooperative relationship (as between two persons or groups).” Two Greek words shoved together create a word that means “living together.” In biology, this can be seen in two primary ways, either as mutually beneficial (mutualism) or one organism living off the other one (parasitism). The former is positive, the latter is negative. Even the human body, made up of many members who excel at some things and do not excel at others, works best when all our organs work harmoniously. This is precisely why St. Paul uses the body as such a powerful metaphor for God’s people, the body of Christ, in 1 Corinthians 12. We function best when we work together, even those of us who excel at seemingly opposing tasks and gifts.
There is a conversation in Western Christianity, especially among those of us who claim the name of Luther, about being “confessional” versus being “missional.” One person might say, “I am a confessional Lutheran.” Another might say, “I’m a missional Lutheran.” Maybe you’ve heard snatches of this conversation here and there. Someone who would lean toward the side of “confessional Lutheranism” might sprinkle their conversations with phrases like “biblical inerrancy,” “faithfulness to the Confessions” or “doctrinally sound.” Those on the opposite end of the spectrum as a “missional Lutheran” might use words like “Jesus' heart for people,” “reconciling all creation to God,” or “Spirit-led fulfillment of God’s redemptive mission.”
Now, let’s start to get this all out in the open, if it isn’t already. All of these things sound like good, solid parts of a Christian worldview, right? Nobody who has begun to know the heart of God would argue against faithfulness to God and His Word on one side or engaging in His redemptive mission to draw all creation back to the heart of the Father. So why the divide? Why the polarization and politicization of two things that are both critically important to the life of God’s family?
I think a big part of it is that both are clearly under attack in our season of the church (and maybe they always have been). Furthermore, our enemy has always used the most elementary military tactic in his war against us: divide and conquer. If he can get us to quibble over one matter or the other, the infighting saps our energy: the strength, power, and authority that Jesus gives us in abundance both to stand on His Word and to be about His mission.
I like to think about these often polarizing points like shoes. A good, heavy set of boots makes it easy to stand firm, to stay put…but they’re terrible for running. And shoes that are designed for speed are not usually also designed for finding a solid foothold in uncertain terrain. Some Christians might say we Lutherans have cement boots. Then again, we might look at them and think them too footloose-and-fancy-free for their own good.
Or maybe we go with a quote often attributed to Billy Graham, that the Lutheran church was a “sleeping giant” that needed to “wake up.” Whether this quote is an urban legend or not, the sentiment rings true: the theology we stand on, that we believe, teach, and confess, makes us a giant in the American church. How is it that we allow ourselves to doze off and not enjoy the adventure of following Jesus into a broken world, to participate in His redemptive work?
So, I wouldn’t be surprised if you had asked yourself the following question as you’ve read this article: I wonder which “kind” of Lutheran my pastor is? Which “team” does he play for? Is he a confessional Lutheran or a missional Lutheran? And I hope it doesn’t surprise you too much to hear my (whimsical) answer: yes! Or, more clearly, both! Will these two live in tension, both in my inner wrestlings with God, and also externally as we seek to follow Jesus as a confessional, missional church? Absolutely! Is it a good idea to forsake either our confession or our mission in favor of the other? Not a chance! What I believe God wants is a healthy symbiosis of these two frames of reference. From what I can see, our confession drives us into the world to represent Jesus, and our mission is to call people back to the conviction, the confession that God is for us, comes to save us, and loves us to death and beyond.
Jesus has given us a perfectly sound vehicle for our voyage through this life: the ark of the Church, complete with its confessions. He’s also given us a mission and purpose, to seek and save the lost. This isn’t a pleasure cruise. So the question I have for you is, how far out of the boat are you willing to lean to save someone who’s drowning? Do you trust the other people in the boat to stabilize you? And what happens if you fall out of the boat in that attempt? I sometimes worry about that. But I also know a Guy who can walk on water. So do you. His power to rescue is unbeatable, and He alone can lead us to be solid in our confession and passionate about the mission He left us. So lean out of the boat! Trust that it’ll support you! Find the life you were designed for you as you Join Jesus in the world. After all…
Adventure is out there! Pastor Aaron