Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
What does it mean to be a member of a church that espouses a definite confession of faith in Christ? What does that mean for pastors? For congregations? For individual members? Bottom line is that we look to the Word of God to give us what we are to confess.
Walking among the pagan temples on the slopes of Mt. Herman in the region of Ceasarea Philippi, Jesus queried His disciples, “Who are people saying the Son of Man is?” “Some say you are John the Baptist come back from the dead. Others talk about Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” So our culture also has many, many different ideas for who Jesus is, ranging from a “fairy tale,” to a “good man,” to a purveyor of whatever cause we believe in, as though we can pour Jesus into a mold of our making. Yet everyone seems to have this instinctive sense that they have to do something with Jesus.
“But who do you say that I am?” Jesus pressed home the question that comes to us all. Peter confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” You are the Anointed One of Old Testament promise. You are the son of the Living God, not a son of these stone dead idols scattered about on this mountainside, but the God of life, the only One who gives life. So we profess Christ, who is the living God come into our human flesh. Jesus answered Peter, “Blessed are you Simon, son of John, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father, who is in heaven” (see Matthew 16:13-17). In another place, Jesus said, “No one can come to me except the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44).
Then Jesus went on to promise, “I tell you, you are Peter (Petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her” (Matthew 16:18). A “petros” is a rock or stone you can pick up and throw. The “petra” is the bedrock, or a multi-ton foundation stone, for instance, the word Josephus used to describe the foundation of the temple. So the rock on which Jesus promises to build His church is not Peter, but Peter’s confession of faith, that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Still, the confession needs confessors, people to confess Christ’s name before the world. Where this confession is made, that “Jesus is the Christ — God in our human flesh, crucified and raised from the dead for us,” Jesus promises to build His church. And “the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.” Sometimes the church is on the offense, charging into the world with the Gospel message. Sometimes the church is on defense, under attack for her Gospel proclamation. No matter. “The gates of hell shall not prevail.” She is built by Christ Himself on the rock of this confession.
No sooner had Peter made this confession that Jesus began to tell them what He, if He truly is the Christ, must do. “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21). Peter, of course, having just verbalized this wonderful confession, would have nothing of the sort. He began to rebuke Jesus saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” You have to be the kind of Christ I am looking for!
But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:22-23). If Jesus is the Christ of God, then He MUST die on the cross and rise again, because that’s what WE needed. For “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Even as we confess that Christ died and rose “to be a sacrifice not only for original sin but also for all other sins and to propitiate God’s wrath” (AC III, Tappert, p. 30).
With the church of all places and all times we insist that Jesus Christ is “God of God, Light of Life, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father, By whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven And was incarnate of the Virgin Mary And was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate,” etc. (Nicene Creed). Among all the options the world sees, we confess Christ as God in the flesh, crucified and raised from the dead for us.
How is this confession lived out in the life of the Church? It means that the Church lives only by repentance and forgiveness. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). When people refuse to repent, the church, particularly through her pastors, is duty bound to warn them that, until they repent, their sin is bound to them. They’re stuck with it. But whenever and wherever people repent, the church and her pastors have only one thing to do — set them free in Christ by the forgiveness of sins. For the church is Christ’s bride, whom Christ loved, and for whom He gave Himself, that He might make His church holy, “having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27).
This does not mean that the church accepts sin, or turn a blind eye to sins, for sin unrepented, or sin excused and explained away is still sin, bound to us. No, the church welcomes all sinners, no matter what the sin, on one basis, through repentance and forgiveness. We all stand on the same ground, sinners forgiven, covered in the redeeming blood of Christ. This confession does not minimize sin, but sees sin for what it truly is: an affront to God that, left unconfessed or unacknowledged, will damn us forever. But confessed before God, the sin is removed from us, as far as the east is from the west, for Christ on the cross is the sacrifice that “takes away our sins, and not ours only, but the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
Sometimes it is said that the church should receive everyone, no questions asked about sin or sexual morality, because “Jesus doesn’t say anything” about sex outside of marriage, whether hetero- or homosexual behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth. First, Jesus taught clearly on marriage, “… He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).
The only marriage taught in Scripture is between a man and a woman. Nothing else can be called marriage. Second, Jesus condemned sexual lust: “everyone who looks at woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Third, these Scriptures actually catch us all, whether we are talking about the “serial monogamy” of our divorce culture (even in the church!), or about the rampant pornography of our times, or the trend of living together without marriage. We are all on the same footing — always in need of daily repentance.
That’s why we do not excuse the sin and say, “it’s OK, we all make mistakes,” and then blissfully keep on living in the sin. No, we are called to repentance, to turn from sin, and to receive Christ’s forgiveness and hear His command, “Go, and sin no more.” The true challenge from our culture today is that so many will excuse sexual sins, both hetero- and homosexual, and make the judgment that they are no longer sin. Indeed, many wish to celebrate the sin, not repent of it. There’s the rub. Remember the Scripture says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Some will say, “but this is the 21st century, and we know more today than Moses or Paul” (both of whom condemned sexual sins). But isn’t that a 21st century version of Gnosticism, where we have some kind of special knowledge that trumps Scripture? The real danger is that this so called knowledge leaves the person in sin, for Scripture does not change, nor can the Word of God lie to us.
What about Jesus and the woman at the well? People will sometimes ask. In John 4 Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman about her sexual behavior, revealing to her that He knew she had “had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband” (John 4:18). He speaks to her, receives her, loves her, but does not accept or excuse her behavior. Instead, He leads her to repentance and faith, so that she tells her neighbors, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). To another woman caught in sin, Jesus said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:10-11). Jesus never excuses the sin, but always leads to repentance, so that the sin can be forgiven, and the person sent on his or her way to “sin no more.”
So with Peter, we confess Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” the one who gave Himself into death for our sin, and rose again for our justification. That’s why the Church welcomes all sinners, through repentance and forgiveness. But we do not give in to any of the world’s lies that seek to excuse sin or explain it away. Instead, we find ourselves in this Word of God from the pen of St. Paul: “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you! But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). For that reason, Paul says, “flee from sexual immorality…” (1 Corinthians 6:18). And, “you are not your own, you were bought with a price, so glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). In other words, go and sin no more.
The church lives only by repentance and forgiveness in Christ. This is the confession we are given to make before the world today. And this is the promise Jesus gives, “upon this rock,” this confession, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her” (Matthew 16:18). So take heart! Go! Love people, love them extravagantly in Jesus’ name, care for people in their need, and always confess Christ, crucified and risen, for you!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Pictured (Left to Right): Dr. Collver, Rev. Nathaniel Bol, Rev. Russell Shewmaker
On 30 July 2015, Rev. Nathaniel Bol, the leader of the SSELC, visited the International Center to present his request for fellowship with the LCMS. The South Sudan Evangelical Lutheran Church (SSELC) was formed on June 12, 2011 in Bor, Jonglei State, South Sudan.
Prior to June 2011, Rev. Nathaniel Bol was an Anglican priest and theological educator for 27 years in the the Episcopal Church of Sudan. He and 16 other ordained Anglican priests left the Anglican church to form this emerging Lutheran church body. The group did not attempt to take their congregations with them, but rather formed a small congregation consisting of 21 people at the church’s founding. Rev. Nathaniel Bol and the 16 other ordained pastors left the Anglican church over matters of Biblical interpretation, particularly the sexuality decisions made by the Anglican church. Rev. Nathaniel Bol also found the ecumenicalism of the Anglican church, particularly, worshiping with Pentecostals, Methodists, Baptists, to be unionistic and syncretistic. The reason this group departed the Anglican church according to them was for doctrinal reasons and no other reasons. Rev. Nathaniel Bol indicated that prior to departing the Anglican church, they studied what church body might hold a similar view of Scripture and an understanding of doctrine as they did. As a result, they found the Lutheran church, the mother of the Reformation, Eventually, over the internet they located the Missouri Synod. Today, the church has about 3,000 members.
In December 2014, there was a conflict in Bol, South Sudan. many of the church members had to flee from the rebel fighters. The church members scattered to places in South Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya.
It was good to meet the leader of an emerging church in South Sudan. The fellowship request goes to the CTCR for further discussion in September.
— Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations
The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) held their 63rd biannual convention at the Michigan Lutheran Seminary in Saginaw, MI, from 27-30 July 2015. The Convention theme was “One in Christ.” The Wisconsin Synod invited LCMS observers to attend. The WELS convention is reminisce of how the Missouri Synod used to conduct their conventions. For instance, nominations for the president happened from the convention floor and elections were conducted with paper ballots. The convention by all accounts has been peaceful with the delegates enjoying visiting with one another.
Opening worship was held at St. Paul’s in Saginaw. The service was completely packed with standing room only in the narthex of the church and in the basement of the church. President Mark Schroeder served as the presiding minister, while Prof. Paul Koelpin of Martin Luther College served as the preacher. The sermon text was based off of the Easter propers in particular 1 Corinthians 15:50-58. Pastor Paul Koelpin is an excellent preacher. A particular poignant line from his sermon was, “The greatest irony of Jesus’ life is the more Jesus loved, the more Jesus forgave, the more he was hated.” Pastor Koelpin not only divided Law and Gospel in his sermon but he captured the theology of the cross, and the victory of Christ’s resurrection.
The convention proper began the next day with the “Presentation of the Flags” by the Lutheran Woman’s Missionary Society. The WELS LWMS is similar to the LCMS’ LWML group. The “Presentation of the Flags” highlights the states and the countries where the Wisconsin Synod is active in Mission. As each flag is presented, the women relay the story of how the flag relates to mission work. It is a very nice ceremony and a good way to remind delegates of the mission work of their church.
The Wisconsin Synod has been active in worldwide mission work for over 100 years. Back in the days of the Synodical Conference, the LCMS and WELS did cooperative and joint mission work. The Wisconsin Synod has engaged in missionary work in places where the LCMS currently does not have a mission outpost such as Pakistan, Nepal, and Ukraine.
During the convention, I had the opportunity to meet Bishop V’yacheslav Horpynchuk from the Ukraine. Over the years I have had the opportunity to correspond with Bishop Horpynchuk about developments in Lutheranism in the Ukraine and regarding the struggles of the Lutheran church in Ukraine. Many in the Missouri Synod know of Bishop Horpynchuk due to the decade long “Russia Project” at Concordia Theological Seminary. It was a pleasure to see Bishop Horpynchuk face to face, with the hope of visiting in the Ukraine in the future.
Other good news from the Wisconsin Synod convention was the reelection of President Mark Schroeder. President Schroeder has severed as the WELS President for the past 8 years. He has been instrumental in beginning the informal decisions between the LCMS-WELS-ELS over the past four years.
President Schroeder and the WELS CICR (the equivalent of the LCMS’ CTCR) presented to the convention the informal discussions between the Missouri Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the Wisconsin Synod.
During the report about the information conversations between the former synodical conference members, the photo from the third meeting was displayed with the comment, “Our conversations are informal and so is the dress.” The Wisconsin Synod expressed how much it appreciated contact with the Missouri Synod.
Of course, every convention has business and reports. A significant report was on the financial condition of the Wisconsin Synod, which over all is good. The report noted how the “Ministry Financial Plan” formerly was “resource” driven but now is “ministry” driven. Given the size of the Wisconsin Synod, approximately 400,000 members, the church gives about $10 million for international mission and about $9 million for domestic mission each year. This is a tremendous stewardship commitment. The WELS also faces challenges similar to the Missouri Synod such as declining demographics and flat offering plate giving. WELS and Missouri face the same social pressures and potential restrictions in religious freedoms as well. All of these items were discussed at the convention.
Another highlight of the convention was the Convention Essay, “One in Christ” based on the book of Ephesians by Rev. James Huebner. Pastor Huebner has been a part of the group having informal discussions with the MIssouri Synod. He has a vibrant intercity ministry in Milwaukee and is an excellent preacher and speaker. The WELS press described his essay as follows:
The essay focused on the book of Ephesians. “In my work as a parish pastor, I have taught Ephesians often enough, and that book is really about being one in Christ,” says Huebner. “As diverse as that congregation in Ephesus was, we are also diverse. And yet the apostle wrote that you are one—thanks to Jesus—with your God and in faith and in purpose.”
Huebner says he decided to design the essay to be more like a sermon than a formal scholarly essay. For that reason he memorized his hour-long presentation. “From my heart to yours, this is what God has to say for you to think about,” he says.
It truly was an inspirational and excellent essay.
The WELS convention “One in Christ” was a pleasure to attend. The Wisconsin Synod folks showed great hospitality to the Missouri Synod observers. The convention also featured “branded” water bottles for the delegates. May the Lord bless WELS.
LCMS individuals meet with the Mekane Yesus Fellowship board
and LCMS pastors who originally came from the EECMY.
The Ethiopian LCMS Annual Pastors’ Conference and the Mekane Yesus Fellowship Board meet at the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Retreat Center in Newhark, Ohio, from July 22-26, 2015. Approximately, 150 people attended the conference mostly consisting of LCMS Ethiopian pastors and their families. Four delegates represented the EECMY from Ethiopia also attended.
Attendees at the conference engaged in worship, fellowship, and discussion. Ethiopia is the second largest African nation by population after Nigeria and is expected to become one of the most populous nations in the next 50-100 years. Unlike some African nations, the Ethiopian diaspora is well organized in the United States and in other parts of the world. Ethiopians constitute the second largest African immigration group in the United States after Nigerians. As both the white and african american population declines demographically, the Ethiopian population increases in the United States (See article “As Black Population Declines, Little Ethiopia Increases.”) The large number of Ethiopian immigrants makes it an important focus for the LCMS national mission as well as a potentially significant population group for Christianity in the West.
Dr. Yared Speaking About the Importance of LCMS Support for the EECMY
The group had the goals of exchanging ministry experiences, organizing the diaspora community, and to strengthen the LCMS-EECMY relationship. Items discussed the working relationship between the EECMY and the LCMS, the EECMY’s Diaspora Mission Awareness and Opportunities strategic conversation, Raising awareness and support in the diaspora community, and confessional and theological discussions toward the future. LCMS representatives included (in alphabetical order): Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations; President Terry Cripe, Ohio District President; Rev. Bart Day, Executive Director of the Office of National Mission; Rev. Roosevelt Gray, Director of Black Ministry for the Office of National Mission; Dr. Detlev Schulz, Director of Graduate Studies Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne; Dr. Brent Smith, Representative from the South East District; Rev. Mark Wood, Director of LCMS Witness & Outreach Ministry.
Pastor Wondimu Mathewos, Dr. Albert Collver, and Dr. Tilahun Mekonnen Meet before Conference
Pastor Wondimu Mathewos is the Director of the International Mission Society (IMS) for the EECMY in Ethiopia. The EECMY is best known for its domestic mission which has taken the EECMY from about 25,000 members in 1959 to about 7.2 million members in 2015. Until recently, the EECMY had been focused on domestic proclamation of the gospel. The formation of the EECMY International Mission Society mark the Mekane Yesus’ church’s effort to proclaim the gospel internationally.
Dr. Detlev Schulz listened to the needs to train EECMY pastors both at the B.TH and Masters level in Ethiopia. Dr. Schulz spoke about his experience teaching in Ethiopia and about the Ethiopian students who are attending LCMS seminaries in the United States.
President Abraham Mengesha
Pastor Abraham Mengesha, President of the Central Ethiopian Synod, presented a paper at the LCMS’ mission summit in November 2014 on the “Factors That Contributed to the Growth of the EECMY in General and the Central Ethiopian Synod in Particular.” The paper may be helpful to those in the LCMS desiring to understand some of the history and background to the Mekane Yesus Church, the largest Lutheran church in the world. The EECMY report 7.2 million members. The paper was published in the Journal of Lutheran Mission (JOLM). The paper was published in the June 2015 issue found here. A copy of the paper is provided below:
Note: The following sermon was preached in the Chapel at The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s International Center on July 23, 2015, by Rev. Kevin Robson, Synod’s Chief Mission Officer, for the installation of Rev. John Fale as Executive Director of the Office of International Mission and Revs. Ed Grimenstein and Dan McMiller as associate executive directors of that Office. The text was Isaiah 52:7-10. + Herbert Mueller.
+ JESU JUVA +
Let’s face it! You are podiatrically challenged! I mean … have you considered your feet lately? They are not those cute, cuddly little piggly-wigglies that you were born with. Now it’s calluses and corns. Hangnails and hammer toes. Hairy digits that splay out in every direction, looking more like they belong on a chimpanzee than a human being. Cracked heels and fallen arches. Skin so thick and rough that it would make an alligator’s mama proud! Cracked nails, yellowed nails, missing nails. Tired, achy, sweaty … and pungent. Yeechh!
But here’s the thing: God’s man, Isaiah, is given to see things in a different way — a much different way. And over seven centuries later, Saint Paul picks up from the same cue sheet: beautiful. Something lovely to behold. Completely fitting the intended use. The feet of the messenger, fleet and strong, running, flying like the wind, ascending effortlessly upon the lofty mountain. Feet simply beautiful …to the eyes of the one who beholds them.
So … do you? Do you behold such beauty — with the eyes of faith?
Bring it, O Herald of the Almighty. Publish your message of peace among us who continue so selfishly, so egotistically, so sinfully to wage war against one another. Fighting still, and still destroying. In this corrupted worldly life — war never ending, another war still and still yet another, war never ending, war always beginning. Bring your good news, O Sent One, and let our gaze be lifted up to that which is so lovely and beautiful. Lift up our eyes to the mountains upon which You intently travel, the hills from where our help comes. Set our vision upon Your humble Servant and Him alone … this Prince of Peace, the One who suffers alone upon the mountain called Calvary, in our place, on our behalf, the One who finally keeps us from all evil, yes, keeps our very lives in the peace that surpasses our human reason.
Bring forth your powerful Word, and preach the fitting good news, O Divine Evangelizer. The beauty of Your return, Your resurrection in victory, speedily, thankfully overtakes us who were trodden down in the dust of today’s Babylon, Babylon here and now, a contemporary exile of our own making. Let us convicted sinners hear this Gospel again and again: Yahweh has redeemed His chosen people, His Israel. Let us redeemed sinners simply shout out in sheer joy, as watchmen from the rooftops, with one voice — “Our God reigns.”
Where once all appeared lost, where we exiles had plunged ourselves into the deepest depths of darkness, where we had been drowning in a self-made cesspool of rebellious transgression and chaos, where hope was seemingly absent, where we were dead … the Son, in Jesus Christ, has joined us, stood in solidarity with us, and now, in Him, a new and confident hope, genuine hope, appears. We were outcasts, and so is He. We were faced with a quagmire of unfamiliar surroundings, and so is He. He stands with us in the cauldron of our wounds and sadnesses, our fears and losses. And although He is sovereign and free, He has willingly submitted Himself, entered into our marginalized community, and has led us, walked us out, to the Promised Land, once again.
Announce it, O “Gospel-er.” Publish this good news of salvation so that every corner of the earth can see it. Your saving us. Not us saving ourselves; that was never in us. Lay bare your holy arm, and let the world see Your muscle, but not in the way that the world expects. Let them see Your bared arm … extended, stretched out in willing obedience, nailed upon that horrible instrument of humiliation, punishment, and death. For in this way, You have “brought down the rulers from their thrones and lifted up those of humble estate” (Luke 1:52). In this way, in this way of Your holy cross, and this way only, what was utterly ruined is restored, finished, perfected, complete. Behold, it is good, it is very good, it is … beautiful.
Today we are given to behold something like this, something beautiful: the prayerful consecration of three men, a triad called by our merciful Lord, to go forward in their performance of sacred duties given them as heralds, evangelists, “gospel-ers.” Under the watchful eye of Yahweh, strengthened by His Spirit, their running task under God’s grace is to continue to support and further the proclamation of the peace that has come in Jesus Christ: to publish His salvation quite literally to the ends of the earth, that all might be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
Dear brothers, it has so happened under God’s foreknowledge and plan that your feet have been rather well-traveled in the years that He has already granted you. You’ve stepped upon distant continents. You’ve been given to walk in many different places and through varied circumstances that at times, I’m sure, have either wildly joyful as if in a dream … or tragic and terrifying, as if in a nightmare.
The road has been easy in some places; hard, lonely, exasperating, and perplexing in others. Such is life in this mortal flesh. We have not walked in your shoes, but we know what it is to follow together in the footsteps of Jesus, and we are all continuing, day-by-day, to learn what it means to sojourn through this life (and our new identity given us in Holy Baptism) under His cross.
So please, dear heralds, evangelists, “gospel-ers.” In all your leading, in all your contending for the faith, in all your planning, in all your labors, please be sure to keep on telling us the story. Bring it. Announce it. Preach it. Publish it. We who hope, we who are awaiting the return of our King, need to be reminded.
Please know that we are praying for you, in compassion, as you go about this most sacred task. And please know something else. Your feet — though they bear the marks of the fallen-ness and corruption that we all share — your feet have been made beautiful. Fitted to the task. Tireless, nimble, speedy. Turned toward their intended purpose, that for which they were created, that which was ordained by God from before time ever began.
Your feet are beautiful, not in and of themselves, but because of the beautiful path upon which they have been set — because of the beauty of Him who has stooped down to wash them — because of Christ’s beautiful, brutally bruised heel, driven through by the serpent’s bite, a fiery iron spike forged in the crucible of our transgressions, the very same heel of our almighty Savior that came down to deliver the singular, final death blow upon the head of our greatest enemy. And thus, “Our God reigns.”
“How beautiful the feet that ran
To bring the great good news to man” (LSB 834).
Something beautiful, indeed, in the name + of Jesus. Amen.
+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +