“Lutheran Ecclesiology for the Third Millennium: Beyond Walther” was the title of the 19th annual Theological Symposium, held Sept. 23-24 on the campus of Concordia Seminary. Over 450 pastors, students, faculty, and laypeople were in attendance. The main presenters for the event were Seminary faculty members Dr. William Schumacher, dean of theological research and publications, and mission associate professor of historical theology; Dr. Robert Kolb, mission professor of systematic theology; and Dr. Joel Okamoto, associate professor of systematic theology.
The 2008 Theological Symposium continued the theme of ecclesiology begun at the 2007 Symposium. Last year’s major presenters from outside The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), Robert Putnam, a Harvard researcher, and Rev. Tim Conder, an emerging church leader, helped participants understand the culture and wider church in which LCMS pastors serve.
The American Lutheran understanding of what it means to be the church has been shaped by theological heritage and a complicated and ambiguous relationship with American culture. Although the influences of Walther and Loehe, the most important 19th century figures of American Lutheran ecclesiology, are still felt today, the contemporary situation is not the same as it was during Walther and Loehe’s time. Consequently, their insights do not adequately answer the questions posed to Lutheran ecclesiology today.
The Symposium began with a presentation titled “Understanding our Roots—Continuity and Discontinuity” by Dr. William Schumacher where he identified significant issues in the contemporary situation which require fresh Lutheran thinking on ecclesiology.
Dr. Robert Kolb discussed “missional ecclesiology” as a viable way to answer the questions, “What is a church?” and “What is the Church?” in his paper, “The Church and her Mission: Toward a Missional Ecclesiology.”
“The Church and the Churches,” presented by Dr. Joel Okamoto, explored the identity of a church and her relationships to other churches.
The Symposium concluded with “The Shape of the Church: What Does All This Mean for the Organizational Shape of the Church on the Local and Transparochial Level?” consisting of a panel of the presenters responding to questions submitted by audience members via computer kiosks in the lobby throughout the Symposium.
Sectional presentations explored issues like: Was Walther Waltherian? Is Synod a Church? What does membership mean in the post-denominational age? What was New Testament ecclesiology like? How do the new synodical proposals for restructuring fit into these themes?