Archive for August 2011
Today, Rev. James Fandrey, Executive Director of Lutheran Heritage Foundation, and Rev. Walter Otten, Chairman of the Lutheran Heritage Foundation Board, visited the LCMS International Center. They presented President Harrison and some of his staff with a translation of the Book of Concord into Swahili. This project has been in the works for some 15 years and was begun and was a significant focus of Dr. Anssi Simojoki’s work in Africa. This is a great accomplishment and will be of potential service to the 100 million Swahili speakers worldwide.
This is a fine example of the synergy between the LCMS and LCMS Recognized Service Organizations (RSO). RSOs according to the Synod’s bylaws “fosters the mission and ministry of the church, engages in program activity that is in harmony with the programs of the boards of the Synod, and respects and does not act contrary to the doctrine and practice of the Synod.” (LCMS Handbook 2010, Section 6.2.1, page 204) The production of the Book of Concord in Swahili complements the work of the LCMS, LCMS missionaries, LCMS partner churches and even non-partner churches such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT). LHF has translated Lutheran materials into nearly 100 languages in nearly 80 countries. Such works have been of great service to missionaries, professors, and partner churches.
Also discussed were ways that LHF and the LCMS could work together in better ways to maximize the resources of both organizations, which are provided as gifts from the Lord’s people. In some ways, this is a follow up to the Global Impact Meeting held at the end of June with the LCMS seminaries, LCMS Mission department, and Lutheran Hour Ministries. The RSOs and Auxiliaries of the LCMS are a great blessing to the church and have tremendous potential to maximize our work and Life Together. These sorts of meetings also provide for the opportunity to discuss areas where better coordination and cooperation can occur and how past and future problems can be avoided in our Life Together. We look forward to more meetings such as this in the future. Thank you Jim and Walter for visiting with us.
–Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations
Note: A short commentary on this topic will also be published in Reporter. Here I offer some more extensive observations and reflections. HCM.
At the invitation of Rev. Dr. Mark Hanson, presiding bishop, I attended the second half of the 12th Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Aug. 15-19, in Orlando, Florida, to represent The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). Everyone was very cordial and gracious, repeating several times how glad they were I was there, so I’m very thankful to Dr. Hanson and his staff. No opportunity was given me to speak to the delegates, but I was introduced along with about 20 leaders from other church bodies, including the following: Grady Parsons, Presbyterian Church USA, who brought greetings on behalf of the ELCA’s full communion partners; the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churches general secretary; plus representatives from other groups such as the Reformed Churches of America; Christian Church Together in the U.S.A.; Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada; the World Council of Churches; the Episcopal Church; the Mennonite Church; the Disciples of Christ; the United Church of Christ; the Moravian Church; and Rev. Martin Junge, the general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation. Interestingly, after we had left the stage, a representative from the Islamic Society of North America, with whom the ELCA has had discussions, spoke and brought greetings of peace.
Though the ELCA is about twice our size, fewer voting delegates (about 1,000 compared to our 1,200-plus) made up their assembly. They debated a shrinking budget (their assembly adopts an overall budget for two years) and reductions in funding campus and youth ministries. It adopted a social statement on genetics and the church body’s own anti-malaria campaign, separate from the Lutheran Malaria Initiative.
Our Synod has always recognized many other Lutherans in North America and works toward greater doctrinal concord, seeking deeper relationships on the basis of the Word of God. We have our long-time partners in the Lutheran Church – Canada (whose congregations historically were members of the LCMS in Canada). We are also growing into our relationship of altar and pulpit fellowship with the Association of American Lutheran Churches declared several years ago after thorough theological discussion. In addition, we have our many partners around the world in the International Lutheran Council. We also have ongoing conversations with a number of others, and of course, we continue to meet twice a year with the leadership of the ELCA in the Committee on Lutheran Cooperation.
What gave me a persistent melancholy feeling observing this Churchwide Assembly, however, is the sense that the ELCA is simply on a different course than the LCMS, particularly with regard to the authority of Scripture. In 2009 the ELCA, rejecting the prohibitions of God’s Word, recognized “life-long monogamous same-gender relationships” and allowed non-celibate homosexual ministers to serve as pastors.
In essence, some members of the ELCA still hold the position that such homosexual activity is sinful. Other members of the ELCA hold the position that such activity is acceptable to God. Officially, both positions are allowed by the national body, but in effect, the latter position has become the norm. There was no sign at this assembly of any move to reconsider these actions.
As a Synod, we believe these decisions represent a clear contradiction of the Word of God. Most of us in the LCMS are deeply grieved by this because we believe the ELCA, in effect, has allowed, contrary to Scripture, the pernicious idea that homosexual activity is just as pleasing to God as sexual activity within Holy Marriage.
What makes this discussion even more painful is that, in the recent memory of many of us, we were much closer to parts of the ELCA. The American Lutheran Church (ALC), one of the predecessor bodies of the ELCA, and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod lived in altar and pulpit fellowship for 12 years. I remember well the close relationship enjoyed thereby between St. James – ALC and Holy Ghost – LCMS, two blocks apart in Bergholz, New York, when I served my vicarage at Holy Ghost. The two congregations jointly supported a parish school. During the year I was there, on Ascension Day 1978, the congregations celebrated their first joint Communion service, and there was not a dry eye in the house. Personally, I have close family members who belong to ELCA congregations. Many more folk in both church bodies are able to tell of countless long-standing connections of family and friendship. Yet now, tragically, the LCMS and the ELCA are traveling roads that diverge rather than converge.
What does this widening gap mean for cooperative relationships between our churches? The 2010 Convention of the LCMS asked the leadership of our Synod to prepare theological criteria for evaluating these cooperative ventures, mostly in the area of social ministry and the care of hurting people. These criteria have been prepared, and we have begun an extended process of examining carefully these ventures. Where we conclude we can in good conscience continue without compromising God’s Word, we will do so. However, where we conclude the differences make cooperation impossible, there will, in time, be a careful and orderly disengagement. As a confessional Synod we simply cannot participate in efforts that imply any agreement with the positions taken by the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
Why is this necessary? Our Synod maintains the position that God Himself has reserved the act of sexual union for marriage between one man and one woman. On the basis of God’s Word and evidenced by 2000 years of Christian teaching, we believe that fornication, adultery, and homosexual activity are all sin before God1, sins which need to be confessed as such, so that they can be forgiven, as the Scripture says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”2 Some may dismiss our position as biblicism or legalism. Yet the Word of God remains true. In the wider context of this verse we can see how these issues DO affect the Gospel:
This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.3
This is the only way any of us are able stand before God. We claim nothing of our own, but can only plead the merits of Jesus Christ. All else is darkness and leads away from the truth, for if we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us. Only Jesus can save us, for only Jesus is the sacrifice that bears in our place the full wrath of God on account of our sin.
This is why we cannot call good what God has called sin. Accepting homosexual activity as good (which is the effect of the ELCA’s 2009 action) promotes a false security about behavior God has forbidden and from which He longs to redeem us. It leads to self-justification rather than that justification God has promised all who trust His forgiving mercy through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
This is not a happy situation. We humbly recognize we in The Lutheran Church––Missouri Synod have many faults, many of which are often more visible to those outside than to us insiders. But we are also bound to the Word of God. We pray that the Lord would enable us to love every sinner enough to be honest with them about the Word of God regarding both repentance and forgiveness. We pray that by His Spirit we drink deeply of His Word and joyfully keep the Gospel of forgiveness central to our life together. We pray for our brothers and sisters in the ELCA, and for all of us, that the Lord would preserve us and that we may both humbly seek and boldly confess Christ and His Word before the world.
Peace in Christ,
+ Herbert Mueller
1 See 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, et al. Yet we have much work to do to improve our ministry in these areas. Discussion is under way to develop helps for pastors and congregations to serve folks in these situations.
2 1 John 1:9
3 1 John 1:5-2:2
There are still a few spots left on the Advent 2011 tour to Germany with President Matthew Harrison and Rev. Jon Vieker, November 30-December 11. It promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip to see Luther and C.F.W. Walther sites with President Harrison.
Deadline to send in your deposit is next Monday, August 29. The cost has been reduced to $2490, plus air.
The year of our Lord 2011 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of C.F.W. Walther, founding father of the Missouri Synod. What an appropriate time, then, to visit the fatherland of this “American Luther,” along with the birthplace of Luther himself and the Reformation . . . all during one of the most beautiful and holy seasons of the Church Year!
As your tour guide, President Harrison has visited virtually all of these sites before—some of them several times—and has studied and translated Luther and Walther all of his professional life. Truly at home in the house of his fathers, President Harrison would be honored to serve as your host and friend as we travel together, dine together, worship together, tour historic sites, and shop the beautiful Christmas markets. And then, as the pièce de résistance, we will conclude our travels together with J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio at the St. Thomaskirche in Leipzig. What a truly beautiful, meaningful, and memorable time we will have together! Won’t you join us for this incredible trip? We would love to have you with us for a little “Walther, Wittenberg, & Weihnachten!
“Brothers [and sisters], if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)
As a pastor and later as district president, I would often reflect in mind and heart on this Scripture when working with someone caught up in sin. Any pastor worth his salt will tell you some of the most difficult situations to resolve involve people trapped in activities our culture today calls good but which God in His Word has called sin. Whether we are dealing with fornication, adultery, homosexual activity, divorce, etc. the culture excuses these things, even calls them good, while God in His Word has reserved the act of sexual union for marriage between one man and one woman. More and more people in our nation are adopting a “live and let live” philosophy at the very least, with many embracing heretofore unthinkable practices such as same-gender marriage. Even a great number of church people now accept the fact that their children will probably “try each other out” and live together for a while before they get married.
How does the church respond? How do we provide pastoral care? One extreme is be “easy” and “loving” to all. This approach might be called “the gospel of inclusion.” Jesus loves all people and therefore wants all people included in His church. Straight, gay, lesbian, couples living together without marriage, divorced folks, people in all sorts of sinful situations, Jesus loves them all and accepts them all. We as the church can do no less. We ought be tolerant toward everyone (except toward those whom the culture has labeled intolerant). Yet, in the long run, when weighed against God’s Word, this really isn’t the loving approach it appears to be.
Another extreme is simply to condemn the “sinner” and/or ignore him. Make him an outcast until he “sees the error of his ways.” But this approach often does nothing to restore the brother or sister, nor does it seem anything close to “pastoral.”
There is, of course, a modicum of truth in both approaches. Certainly Jesus loves all people and wants all to be included in His Church. Of course, we are called to protect from violence those who are different. And of course, by way of contrast, the Word of God condemns sin. However, if we take seriously God’s Word of law and Gospel, following either of these extremes still leaves us in our sins. If we call good what God’s Word has called sin, we are seeking to justify ourselves rather than seeking that justification worked by God’s grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus and received by repentance and faith. In the same way, if we just deplore the sinner, we have done nothing to help him or her out of the sin.
The truly pastoral approach is always the more difficult path. It runs counter both to the prevailing spirit of our time and to either of the approaches described so far, but is truly, when examined carefully, the way of Christ and of His Word. This is what St. Paul speaks of in Galatians 6, a pastoral care under the cross of Christ that is honest about sin, not to judge and to condemn, but to restore by leading to repentance and trust in Christ’s forgiveness. God desires to have mercy on all. Christ died for the sins of all people. Jesus rose again as the sign of the forgiveness of sins for all people. In Christ, God desires to bring all to repentance and faith. A true pastor receives people as they are but works to help them see the real nature of their sin so that it can be confessed before God and forgiven. As the Scripture says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgiven us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9).
This approach, though faithful to God’s Word, is often more complex and nuanced than either condemnation or simple inclusion. We can easily say “Jesus loves you and accepts you just the way you are,” even if you never change and even if you demand that God accept your actions as good when His Word clearly calls them sin. It runs counter to our culture and is often much more difficult to expose the sin SO THAT it can be confessed and forgiven, covered in the cleansing blood of Jesus. Yet in the long run, this pastoral approach gives much greater comfort, for it is not centered in a vague hope that God approves of what I’m doing, but is centered in the sure and certain work of Christ to redeem us from all our sins. It is focused in Christ and His cross. It calls sin sin and at the same time unfailingly points to Christ the Savior from sin. Here we find our comfort, our peace, our life, not in what we are doing but in everything Jesus has done for us in His death and resurrection. Here I come before God, not demanding that He accept me as I am, but the Spirit brings me to God with hands open and empty, ready to receive all that He gives in Jesus.
This is the real Gospel of inclusion. All of my sins and all of your sins were included with Jesus Christ on His cross. He took them all. You were included in His death and resurrection. Now by faith you are included in the holiness of God and the righteousness of Christ given to you. Now by faith in His promise you and I are included in Jesus’ Word to the woman caught in sin, when He said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).
Having said this, we have much to do as a Synod. It is clear to me that we have to do more to help one another respond faithfully and lovingly to the real needs of people caught in sin, seeking to restore brothers and sisters under the cross of Christ. Society will demand that we take the easy approach, what I have called the “gospel of inclusion,” but we must remain firm in the truly pastoral approach of leading folks to repentance and forgiveness, confession and absolution for the sake of Christ. Much more work needs to be done to help both families and individuals caught in these sins. Teaching resources, pastoral care resources, etc. need to be updated and developed, published and put to use. May God help us respond faithfully according to His Word of law and Gospel. It is more difficult, but it is what God has called us to do, and it is the truly pastoral approach that brings lasting comfort and peace in Christ. Now let’s get to work.
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod
As conventions season approaches, we are faced with a bit of a Synod-wide dilemma. How shall our congregations become informed in a timely manner of convention- and election-related changes made by the 2010 convention, some of which are very significant?
Usual Channels of Information
District presidents surely will want to share some of this information at Fall Professional Workers Conferences, which will then be shared with congregations by the pastors and teachers. And circuit counselors surely will want to keep pastors and congregations informed in their circuits.
To facilitate this sharing of information, the Council of Presidents has set aside a bloc of time during its September 2011 meeting to review the changes that have taken place. District presidents will want to provide this information to their circuit counselors for distribution on the congregation level.
But will this provide enough notice? And will it be timely enough to enable all 6,000-plus congregations of our Synod to actively participate, especially since some of the changes have almost immediate consequences as 2012 district conventions approach?
Unusual Channel of Information
As Secretary of the Synod, I hope to lend my hand to this communication effort. With the help of my staff and others, I am putting together a mailing campaign that hopefully will provide timely information directly to congregations to help make certain that no congregation is left unaware.
On September 1, the first in a series of 18 5 ½ x 8 ½ postcard mailings (clearly labeled as official business) will be mailed to all congregations, circuit counselors, and district presidents. These mailings will provide the information they need to know at the time they will need to know it. An article in the September Reporter will alert the Synod to the receipt of these mailings over the next 20 months.
The first postcard, calling congregations’ attention to “District Convention Delegate/Alternate Delegate Elections,” will describe the change in the manner in which the President of the Synod will be elected beginning in 2013—by direct participation by the congregations of the Synod. The postcard will call attention to the important rules for participation.
The second postcard, calling attention to congregations’ need to elect their representatives to their circuit forums (which must take place prior to their 2012 district conventions) is scheduled to be mailed on September 15. The third, scheduled for September 30, will address the new process by which the 2012 circuit counselor nominations and elections must take place.
Becoming-the-Usual Channel of Information
The recognition behind the mailings is that the U.S. Mail is still the most dependable method at this time to make certain that every congregation is reached. However, recognizing that the Internet is the preferred source of information for increasing numbers of people, the content of the postcards will be posted on the Synod’s Website at www.lcms.org/convention/procedureupdates following each mailing.