By Gretchen Roberts
ST. LOUIS (July 24, 2013) — In the fourth and final essay delivered to the delegates and others at the 65th Regular Convention of the LCMS, the Rev. Dr. Steven P. Mueller, professor of Theology and dean of Christ College at Concordia University, Irvine, Calif., deftly wove together the fabric of Baptism and koinonia, the gift of fellowship together as Christians given by God Himself.
“In the beginning of our human story, there was koinonia — life together,” Mueller began. It was “not good” for Adam to be alone (Gen. 2:18). “Neither Adam nor Eve was humanity by themselves. Adam and Eve shared holy life together, and they had koinonia with the Almighty, who walked with them in the garden.”
Soon, Life Together was shattered in the fall. “We excel at creating schism, hatred and discord. How readily we divide into us versus them. Partisanship, factions, power and selfish control. We’ve mastered the pathetic art of Life Alone,” Mueller said.
But God was not satisfied. “When someone is truly cut off, the only way to reach out to him is to go to him. God does not wait for us to climb to Him. That could never happen. God in His mercy comes to us, just as Romans 5:6 says: ‘While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.’”
In Baptism, Mueller said, “we step into the water as isolated individuals; we rise reborn into God’s family, placed by God into Life Together.”
Christ Jesus redeemed us and reconciles us with the Father, and His reconciliation forges horizontal relationships, Mueller continued. That is the reason why we baptize in the presence of saints whenever possible. “The whole family wants to be involved —family in Christ.”
A Muslim graduate student at Concordia University, Irvine, Calif., came to faith in Christ through her business professor. She was baptized not privately, but in the community that shared Jesus with her. What followed was the ripple effect of the waters: “God used her Baptism to open doors, and several other students were baptized not long afterward,” Mueller recounts. “Her Baptism became part of the witness that led even more people into life together.”
In practice, this “life together” isn’t free from sin and human influences, or struggles over persons, personalities, ethnicities, languages, places and traditions, Mueller noted. Even the early church was not immune, but Acts 2:42 tells what members did to live in their Baptisms and in Life Together: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
“Maybe you are asking yourself, ‘What happened?’ Perhaps this doesn’t sound like our Life Together today,” Mueller said. Like those early saints, we have received God’s gift of Baptism into Christ, which is not merely a personal relationship. We are baptized into the body of Christ, the Church. Like those early saints, we are plagued with sin, with an old Adam that must daily be drowned.
“We would be a lot better off in the church if we would remember it is not a social club, but a family. We don’t get to choose God’s children for Him. He does that, and he calls us into relationships with each other,” Mueller said. “We are going to spend eternity with each other, and He calls us to recognize that now and to begin enjoying the relationships He gives to us … Life Together in our congregations, circuits, districts, Synod and with our confessional partners around the world.”
Finally, Mueller concluded, we will have eternal koinonia together. Quoting Revelation 7:9-10, he said, “God strengthens us all in Witness, Mercy, Life Together that, on this earth, we may more and more look like our future, united in confession and praise with our eyes fixed on our Lord Jesus as we reach out to the world in mercy and witness.”
Mueller, in addition to his university duties, is an instructor in the CUENet colloquy program and serves as an assisting pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Irvine. He has published extensively, writing on C.S. Lewis, Christian doctrine, Bible-study curricula and a variety of other topics. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Concordia University, Irvine; a Master of Divinity and a Master of Sacred Theology from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.; and a Doctor of Philosophy in Systematic Theology from the University of Durham in England.
The 65th Regular Convention of the LCMS is meeting July 20-25 at the America’s Center Convention Complex under the theme “Baptized for This Moment.” Among convention participants are some 1,200 clergy and lay voting delegates.