By Herbert C. Mueller Jr.

From the January 2011 Reporter Insert

Take a good look at the logo at the top of this page. witness, mercy, life together interlock around the cross. Our life together, our fellowship (koinonia), flows from Christ who received our sin and death on the cross so that He might give us His holiness and righteousness. Forgiven and made alive in His resurrection, we testify, bear witness (martyria) to all that He has done, confessing His saving truth before the world. Sent out with His name, we cannot help but show His mercy by serving (diakonia) others in His love.

If one is weak, the others shrivel as well. As each grows stronger, the others increase accordingly. However you may order witness, mercy, life together, each interlocks with the other two, and all of them flow from the cross and into each other. As witness grows, it leads to more works of mercy in the world and draws us closer in our life together. The Church’s work of mercy increases opportunities for witness and strengthens our life together. Our fellowship in the Gospel, our life together, draws us into God’s Word to forgive, renew, restore, and send us out in witness and in mercy.

witness, mercy, life together are helping us keep our bearings as we begin the work of restructuring the national office of Synod, for at the heart of each of them is the cross.

  • Jesus speaks of giving Himself, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever, and the bread which I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51).
  • Peter declared that Jesus “carried our sins in His body on the tree in order that dying to sin we might live to righteousness. With His wounds you are healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
  • In speaking of the faith of Abraham, which God counted for righteousness, Paul concludes, “It will be reckoned to us who believe in Him who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead, who was handed over on account of our trespasses and raised again for our justification. Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 4:24-5:1).

These three interlocking themes, then, grow from our justification by faith alone in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The heart of our witness for Christ must be the proclamation of Law and Gospel—namely, that the whole world is dead in sin and in need of resurrection. But God has done what we could never do: declared us righteous on account of Christ, covered our sin, and raised us to life in Him. The real motivation for mercy, then, is that Christ died for all, that all are precious to Him. Our life together also flows from our justification, for Christ Himself is our peace and the connection between us, since we are baptized into His body. Now cleansed and fed by Him, we draw our life from His body and blood in His Supper, from His “flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51).

So everything radiates from the cross, more specifically, flows from the means by which Christ gives the bene-fits of His cross—the proclamation of Law and Gospel, the life-giving water of Baptism, and the holy meal of His body and blood. These are not abstract ideas but concrete realities, for God sends flesh and blood pastors into His ministry to preach and teach His Word. And God makes it all real, so that we can see it and touch it for ourselves when He gathers His Church around pulpit, altar, and font: real, living, flesh-and-blood people, washed and absolved and fed with the real Word of God in real water, bread, and wine. It happens in local congregations, where God sends His people into the world to bear witness for Christ, to serve others, and to live together in love. witness, mercy, life together are concrete realities.

What does this mean for our work as a Synod? We could do many things, but as our two new policy boards write policy for the future of the national office, we need to apply our limited resources to building (and helping districts build) the capacity of our congregations and our international partners’ congregations in these core values of witness, mercy, life together. Several basic assumptions and leading questions follow:

  1. Lutheran congregations engage in Lutheran missions in order to plant Lutheran congregations. This ought be self-evident among us. Lutheran congregations are the places where God is at work in the Means of Grace to seek and to save the lost, to send people in witness and mercy, and where the people of God enjoy life together in Christ. What are the best ways to help districts, congregations and our partners around the world plant new Lutheran congregations and refresh old ones? In world mission, what are we doing to plant Lutheran congregations? How are we helping our partners plant Lutheran congregations? In national mission, how does the Synod help districts and congregations plant Lutheran congregations? How do we prepare our people to witness in their daily vocations?
  2. Lutheran congregations reach out in mercy because Christ had mercy on us. We demonstrate mercy simply because there are people in need. As a Synod, how do we help districts and congregations grow in mercy? Internationally, how does what we do help our partners show mercy through their congregations? How are our people moved to works of mercy?
  3. Lutheran congregations live together in love because we are connected in Christ and share one confession of Christ. How will the national Synod work to build fellowship (koinonia)? How do we help our partners grow in their capacity and their life together? How do we strengthen our colleges and seminaries for the sake of our life together? How will the Holy Spirit through us recruit pastors and commissioned ministers for our congregations and partners around the world? We have the best confession in the world, bringing the greatest possible comfort to penitent sinners. How do we clarify and strengthen our confessional witness around the world? How will God use our efforts to conserve and promote the unity of the true faith among us?
  4. Everything God does among us to build capacity for works of mercy and to strengthen our life together will also increase our capacity for witness to the lost. We have many congregations that are focused inward. How will Jesus, through us, call them to be focused outward in witness and mercy, so as to be God’s means for drawing others into the life together we have in Christ? What will you do to ask all these questions and more in your congregation?

These are only a beginning, but the Board for National Mission and the Board for International Mission are both at work, together with your staff in the International Center, to work out the details of the restructuring plan adopted by the Synod in 2010 Resolution 8-08A. To be sure, many judgment calls still have to be made, but our guiding question is this: how will God through our Synod strengthen our congregations and our partners in witness, mercy, life together in the Gospel?

May God show us the way to “make it real”!