Herb Mueller presenting our "Theology of Mercy" (with Sandra, our interpreter) in the Martin Luther Church in Daugavpils, Latvia.

 

 We are in Latvia this week providing, in three locations, a conference on the Church’s work of mercy for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, a partner church of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.  By “we” I mean Deaconess Grace Rao and Rev. John Fale of LCMS World Relief/Human Care; Pastor Bryan Salminen of St. John’s Lutheran Church in St. John’s, Michigan; Deaconess Sara Bielby of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Macomb and University Lutheran Chapel, Ann Arbor, Michigan; Professor John Pless of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana; myself and my wife, Faith.  Our conferences include work on the theology of mercy and pastoral care, the role of the deaconess in the church’s life, pastoral care of the sick and dying, as well as issues of marriage and sexuality.  Deaconess Rao is our leader.  Thus far we have presented in Daugavpils, the second largest city of Latvia.  Tomorrow we will present in Riga, the capital, and on Monday in Liepaja, on the Baltic Sea.  We have also visited, on behalf of the Synod, with Bishop Einars Alpe of the Daugavpils Diocese, one of three dioceses of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Latvia.

 

The following ten points summarize the theological foundation for the Church’s work of mercy and care for people in need. 

  1.  The Holy TrinityDiakonia (“mercy” in our threefold emphasis) has its source in the divine and eternal relationships of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
  2. The Incarnation – Diakonic love in the Holy Trinity is made real in the incarnation and the humiliation of Christ.  In Jesus Christ, the eternal God takes on our human flesh and completely identifies Himself with sinful humanity, so that He might have mercy on us. Having the mind of Christ, the Church is likewise called to identify with and humbly to serve those in need.
  3. Universal Atonement – “God desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).  Christian service and love flow from the fact that Christ has atoned for all the sins of all people, so that every human person is precious to Christ and to His Church. Receiving the mercy of Christ, the Baptized are released into a life of loving service.
  4. Forgiveness Begets Mercy – The Good News of salvation in Christ crucified and raised from the dead brings forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.  People who receive these gifts of grace are led by the Spirit of God to be merciful.
  5. Christ’s Example – Christ’s example of love for the whole person remains our highest example for life in this world, and for the care of the needy in both body and soul.  When Christ walked this earth visibly, His giving of Himself combined both the forgiveness of sins and acts of mercy, care and healing. So too His Church.
  6. A Corporate Life of Mercy – Therefore, mercy is an essential part of the Church’s life together as the body of Christ.  He is the Head.  All who believe and are baptized into Christ are members of His body.  So “when one member of the body suffers, all suffer” (1 Corinthians 12:26). This means that works of mercy are not only the responsibility of the individual believer, but also of the Church as Church, as the body of Christ, as congregation and as Synod. Our works of mercy flow from the sacramental life of the Church and become a living out into the world what happens in the divine liturgy.  Brought into the body, we receive mercy from Christ Himself, in Baptism, in Absolution and in the Supper.  And this mercy we have received must overflow into the lives of others.
  7. The Lutheran Confessions – Our Lutheran Confessions also assume that the Church will have a corporate life of mercy and repeatedly state that the work of diakonic love is an essential part of the Church’s life:
    • Smalcald Articles II.4.9“Therefore, the church cannot be better ruled and preserved than if we all live under one head, Christ, and all the bishops – equal according to the office (although they may be unequal in their gifts) keep diligently together in unity of teaching, faith, sacraments, prayer and works of love, etc.”  
  8. As Broad as the Need of the Neighbor – The vocation (calling by God) to live in love and mercy is as broad as the need of the neighbor. Baptized into the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2) we use the gifts God has given in service to the neighbor. In order to meet these needs, Christ not only gives a wide variety of gifts to His body, He also calls a wide variety of people, of members of His body, to many different varieties of service, in and through the Church. These callings are flexible and are determined by the needs surrounding the church (as in Acts 6). Within the Church and in connection with the Church’s mission to reach out to others, proclamation of the Gospel, faith, worship and care for those in need ought always come together. 

    Sandra interpreting Rev. John Fale discussion of the pastoral care of the sick and infirm.

  9. Beyond Members of the Church – The Church’s work of mercy also extends beyond those in the Church. Just as the Gospel itself reaches beyond the Church and is intended for all, love for the neighbor cannot and must not be limited only to those in the fellowship of the orthodox Lutheran faith. Works of love will often prepare the way for the Gospel to be proclaimed.
  10. The Whole Person – Proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments are always primary (Christian fellowship is always in the Church’s marks) but the Church’s God-given work of mercy demonstrates and “puts a face on,” so to speak, the love of God for the whole person.  People are created by God as body and soul. We believe in “the resurrection of the body,” both for Christ and for us.  Christ came as a human being, body and soul, to redeem all, body and soul. So today, mercy in the life of the Church must bear witness to Christ’s Gospel, and Christ’s promise to come again to raise us to life, body and soul, the whole person.