Archive for February 2012

Chinese Language Bible Study in Grand Forks

Blue Moose of East Grand Forks

Who would have thought that one would find a native Chinese language Bible study in Grand Forks, North Dakota? Let alone at a LCMS campus ministry? Yet at Wittenberg Lutheran Chapel on the University of North Dakota, a campus ministry of the North Dakota District of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, a Mandarin Chinese Bible study meets every Friday evening. Rev. Dr. Mark Bucchop, pastor of Wittenberg Lutheran Chapel, tells how the Chinese Bible Study began some 8 years ago in the short video clip below.

Pastor Bucchop told me that he did not have an intentional plan to do out reach to Chinese speakers, but rather it happened accidental. Yet the “accidental” way in which the Chinese Bible study began at Wittenberg Lutheran Chapel might indicate what an intentional effort might yield.

The Lamb Over Me Is Righteousness

Pastor Bucchop’s first Chinese confirmand gave him a plaque that reads “The Lamb Over Me is Righteousness.” From that first encounter, almost a decade ago, the Chinese language Bible study has met at the campus ministry. Pastor Bucchop, himself, does not ordinarily lead the Bible study (although he has lead them in the past). Usually, a native Chinese speaker leads the study. However, it has been Pastor Bucchop’s practice to meet regularly with the Bible study leader and to have a Bible study with him in advance of the Friday evening study.

On the snowy evening I attended the Chinese language Bible study, there were about 25 people in attendance. We had a chance to become acquainted and to ask questions of each other. One person told me that where she was from in China was very cold and that North Dakota felt like home to hear because the climate was nearly the same. Another young woman said that she was born in Medan, Indonesia, and eventually made it here to study. When asked how did you find out about this Bible study, a young man said, “I Googled, “Chinese church,” and came up with a Chinese Christian church in Fargo. When I phoned them, the people told him about the Chinese language Bible study on the campus of the University of North Dakota.” The ages of the Bible study ranged from children to college age to nearly 80. Nearly everyone had a personal connection, be it family, or in this case professional/academic. Others heard about the Bible study from her roommate or at the Chinese New Year Festival. The people who attended were originally from nearly every provence of China and most of them intended to return to China one day.

Pastor Buchhop at his desk

One young woman said, “It will take some time to get to know us, but once you do you will find that we are friendly.”

Campus Ministry Board

Who would have thought a person could find a Chinese language Bible study at a Lutheran campus ministry in cold and snowy Grand Forks, North Dakota? Certainly, not I. How pleasantly surprised I was.

— Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations

A Whole New Can of Worms

On Thursday, February 16, 2012, several clergy members were invited to respond to the Health and Human Services (HHS) recent mandate requiring employers to provide access to health insurance that covers most forms of birth control, as well as drugs that induce abortion.

Rev. John T. Pless, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, accompanied Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, to Washington D.C. as he testified in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee concerning the mandate.

“The HHS health care plan over reaches the divide of separation of church and state and President Harrison did a wonderful job of articulating our Synod’s opposition to the HHS policy on the basis of the Lutheran understanding of the Two Kingdoms,” commented Prof. Pless. “Lutherans have no choice but to resist this intrusion of the government into the internal life of religious communities. Rehearsing LCMS contributions to the welfare of our nation, Harrison noted that the HHS would impair this involvement to the detriment of our nation’s citizens.”

In a previous statement President Harrison said, “This action by HHS will have the effect of forcing many religious organizations to choose between following the letter of the law and operating within the framework of their religious tenets. We add our voice to the long list of those championing for the continued ability to act according to the dictates of their faith, and provide compassionate care and clear Christian witness to society’s most vulnerable, without being discriminated against by government.”

CTS President, Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr., acknowledges this issue will certainly affect the seminary’s students as they prepare to minister to those in need across the world. Further, he stated, “We Americans have been blessed from our beginnings with freedom from government intrusion into our religious expression. We deeply appreciate the firm stand and bold witness of President Harrison and look forward to a continuing partnership with the President’s Office as we address matters crucial to the church and its mission.”

In response to the health care mandate, the faulty of Concordia Theological Seminary responded with the following statement titled:

 A Whole New Can of Worms.

Luther at the Diet of Worms by Anton Alexander von Werner

Standing before an assembly of princes at the Diet of Worms, Martin Luther famously said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against my conscience. May God help me. Amen.” When he spoke those words, the blessed Reformer knew that his life was on the line. His strong defense embodies not only the courageous spirit of Lutheranism but of Christianity throughout the ages. Indeed, the apostle Peter himself, upon threat of imprisonment and death proclaimed, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). This means that while we honor those in authority, our first allegiance must be to our Creator. This means that Christians understand their duty is to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. (Luke 20:25)

Christians gratefully recognize that temporal authority is a gift from God. We heed well the words of St. Paul who writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). Our Lord Himself did not come to establish an earthly kingdom but a heavenly one. While the government bears the sword, our only weapon is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Christians did indeed come to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:18), but their purpose has never been to foment revolution. Rather, we come to preach a message of forgiveness, a crucified and risen Savior, who has won for us salvation and who has taught us that every human life is precious to God.

Thus, as Christians and in accordance with Scripture, we pray for those in authority. We thank God for the gift of governance, and in all things we strive to act in accordance with the law. We seek in every way to be good citizens of this land and to fulfill our civic duties. Still, we must also say to our leaders and to the world that we are also subject to another law and answer to a higher court. We confess that on the last day Christ will come to judge us all according to His holy law. This law manifests itself in our conscience by which all people act according to their perception of what is right and wrong. (Romans 2:14-15) The conscience is the internal law, as it is written in our hearts. It is our perception of God’s will. Now, it is true that our conscience may be uninformed or ill-informed. As Christians, we recognize that the conscience can err and, therefore, must be informed by God’s Word, so that it may conform to God’s will. It is true that on certain ethical issues people of good will come to different conclusions. In the New Testament we see instances of some who thought that eating meat sacrificed to the idols was a sin. Whether or not such eating was a sin was open to debate. What was not open to debate was the fact that to go against one’s conscience is always a sin. To go against conscience is to say, within oneself, “I will disobey God. My will, not His, be done.” For this reason, we must be especially respectful of conscience, for in doing so we show respect for the integrity and dignity of one another.

Now, we come to the present day debate, brought on by the “women’s preventive care” mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS Secretary Katherine Sibelius issued this mandate with the endorsement of President Obama. According to this mandate, Catholic institutions, including hospitals, schools, and charities, will have to pay for both contraceptives and abortifacients. Some have tried to turn this into a debate on women’s rights and their access to reproductive services. And yet, we should be clear, this is not the issue.

This has been made clear by our Synod President, whose bold words echo those of Martin Luther. Appearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on February 16, 2012, Dr. Matthew Harrison, President of The Lutheran Church –Missouri Synod (LCMS), testified, “The conscience is a holy thing,” and then added, “We fought for a free conscience, and we won’t give it up without a fight.”

To some it may seem unusual to hear such words offered up by a Lutheran pastor in defense of a presumably Roman Catholic teaching. Now, we should say without hesitation that as Lutherans we stand firmly against abortion and recognize it as a grave evil and a national tragedy. On this position we are in full agreement with the Catholic Church. We who proclaim Christ as the life of the world hold all life precious, from conception to natural death. Yet, there is still another issue which is at play, namely, that of conscience and of the religious liberty proclaimed in the Constitution of the United States.

As LCMS Lutherans, we operate preschools, grade schools and high schools. We take pride in our university system as well as our seminaries, and we perform countless works of mercy through our many charitable organizations. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s World Relief and Human Care brings needed supplies and resources to victims of famines and floods. At the grass roots level, Lutheran congregations operate food and clothing banks, provide shelters for the homeless, hope centers for the abused and medical care to the indigent. Through these and so many other ways we express our Christian faith and bring Christ’s love to our neighbor.

According to this new ruling of the HHS, all employers will be forced to provide not only contraceptives but also drugs that induce abortion. Churchly institutions that do not serve primarily members of their own church would be subject to this new ruling, except with one “accommodation.” This accommodation would allow churchly institutions to opt out of paying for this service, with the proviso that their insurance carriers would then pay for these things themselves, providing them at no cost to those covered by the institution’s policy. Christians must recognize that this accommodation is not enough. Rather than an expression of freedom, the mandate is coercive. Indeed, the very idea of an “accommodation” is troubling. Thomas Jefferson asserted that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. Unalienable means that these rights cannot be given, given up or taken from us. According to our nation’s own founding documents, the government has no right to pass laws that would abridge the exercise of our religious freedom. Indeed, as Christians, we recognize that religious liberty is a gift from God. Our own church, the LCMS, was founded by men and women who left their homeland so that they could exercise their religion freely and in accordance with their conscience. And we are grateful for all the men and women who have fought to preserve this same religious freedom.

According to this unconstitutional mandate, Christians who own insurance companies will be forced to offer contraceptives and abortifacients. Christian institutions will be forced to buy insurance from companies that will also have to provide their workers contraceptives and abortifacients. While we do not share with the Catholic Church the same teaching on contraceptives, we do honor their right, according to the First Amendment, to practice their beliefs according to their conscience. Furthermore, we do stand with them entirely on the matter of abortifacients, which we hold to be the taking of human life. We fear that human life itself is being treated like a commodity. We are concerned with a mindset that thinks of human beings as a commodity, rather than as a precious good and a source of blessing in and of itself. At stake is the very dignity of our humanity.

Furthermore, this mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is by no means an isolated incident, but is part of a troubling trend in which governmental entities are demanding that religious institutions abandon their own biblical principles or else discontinue their works of charity. For instance, Christian adoption agencies are already being coerced into providing adoption services for same-sex couples. Due to conscience informed by biblical values, some agencies refuse, and as a result, adoption agencies are closed down, children are not adopted into loving families and the whole of society suffers. Terrible precedents have been set and, if allowed to stand, will forever alter the landscape of our society. Accordingly, we must ask some fundamental questions as to what type of society we wish for our children and grandchildren. Do we want to live in a world where social activities informed by religious conscience are systematically exterminated? Do we want to live in a world where the social fabric is torn apart, and an overreaching government harasses the very people who knit together our society through acts of charity and mercy? Do we want the public landscape wiped clean of religious hospitals, schools and charitable organizations?

The situation is critical. If this mandate is allowed to stand, the world will become a poorer place, those in need will needlessly suffer and our own message of Christ’s love will be silenced. This mandate, and others like it, must be resisted.

What then can we, as Christians, do? For one, we must stand in solidarity with those under assault. As citizens of this nation, we must remind our leaders of the First Amendment, which states that Congress shall make no law that prohibits the free exercise of religion. We must teach our people that we have a right to life that comes not from the government, but from God. We must support those who put themselves on the line in defense of this liberty. And we must ourselves also be willing to stand up and pay the price of our convictions, whatever that price may be. While we do all this, we will continue to be good citizens. We will continue to engage in acts of mercy. We will continue to offer up prayers and supplications on behalf of our nation and its leaders, even as we pray that they would rescind this mandate. So, finally, we say with St. Paul, may we “always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man” (Acts 24:16). May God grant us wisdom and courage in the days ahead.

Adopted by the faculty of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, February 21, 2012.

President Harrison's Lenten Video

LCMS, ELS, WELS presidents offer papers at Emmaus Conference

The presidents of three American Lutheran synods offered papers at the Fifth Annual Emmaus Conference Feb. 9-10 at Parkland Lutheran Church and School in Tacoma, Wash. Parkland Lutheran Church is a member congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.


 LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, Evangelical Lutheran Synod President Rev. John A. Molstad Jr. and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod President Rev. Mark Schroeder all offered presentations on the topic, “The History and Prospects of Lutheran Free Conferences.”

Harrison served as the lecturer for the Tacoma gathering; Molstad and Schroeder as “reactors” to Harrison’s presentation.

The conference marked the second time the three church executives met together to, in the words of conference organizers, “share information on a selected topic of interest to confessional Lutheranism in a setting outside the realm of church fellowship.”

Organizers added that “the conference is not to be viewed as having any official status of formal doctrinal discussions between church bodies.”

The organizers also expressed their desire that the gathering might lead to “the establishment of such official free conferences among confessional Lutheran church bodies in America.”

Harrison, Molstad and Schroeder also attended last year’s Emmaus Conference.

The idea of a “free conference” is not new, observed the Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, LCMS director of Church Relations — assistant to the president.

In 1856, the Rev. Dr. C.F.W. Walther, president of the Missouri Synod, first proposed the idea of free conferences to “bring together American Lutherans who unreservedly confessed the Augsburg Confession.”

The proposal was Walther’s “first major ecumenical effort,” Harrison noted in his presentation.

“The now-famous free conferences were proposed by Walther in Lehre und Wehre in 1856 and actually held during October 1856 at Columbus [Ohio], October 1857 at Pittsburgh [Pa.], August 1858 at Cleveland [Ohio]; and July 1859 at Fort Wayne [Ind.].”

Unfortunately, Walther was unable to attend the fourth free conference, Harrison said.

A large portion of Harrison’s presentation addressed the “historical trifecta” that threatened 19th-century Lutheranism: Reformed theology, Pietism and Rationalism. This “threefold battering ram,” was the impetus for the free conferences based upon the Augsburg Confession, Harrison explained.

Harrison concluded his paper with a statement by the Rev. F.C.D. Wyneken, who attended all four of the original conferences. “I offer it here as my deepest prayer and personal confession, as my deepest longing over against you who are my separated brethren,” Harrison said.

In part, Harrison noted, Wyneken said this:

Then why, beloved brothers, do we stand by one another? Why can’t we leave one another? It is because we cannot let go of the one truth that we, in fellowship with all the saints, have acknowledged, believe, and confess as it is in the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. These confessions bear witness to the truth clearly, plainly, and powerfully on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, against all the desires of Satan, to the whole world. …

Therefore, neither can we let go of the most insignificant portion of the Confession because the entire series of the individual teachings of the faith are for us one chain. This chain not only binds our understanding in the truth, it binds our consciences and lives. The loss of an individual part of the same would break this chain, and we would be torn loose from Christ, tumbling again into the abyss of anxiety, doubt and eternal death. Therefore we hold fast to our Confession, as to our very life’s life. [The full quotation may be found at the LCMS “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” blog,http://wmltblog.org.]

“While the early set of free conferences did not bring about the desired unity of doctrine sought by Walther, they did serve as a catalyst for a highly treasured blessing. A second set of Waltherian conferences [in the 1860s] led to the formation of the solidly confessional and endearing Synodical Conference of 1872,” Evangelical Lutheran Synod President Molstad said in response to Harrison’s presentation.

In his presentation, Wisconsin Synod President Schroeder thanked Harrison for his remarks and offered thanks to the members of the Missouri Synod for the many blessings that benefit “other Lutherans, even in those synods such as mine, which are not now in fellowship with the LCMS.”

Those who would claim the label “confessional” today have an “ongoing responsibility and opportunity to define carefully what that term means and what it means for the person and synod wanting to wear the label,” Schroeder said. “If free conferences and other discussions can help to clarify and solidify what it means to be truly confessional, then such discussions should take place with the prayer that God would use the power of His Word and the working of the Spirit to encourage faithfulness to the doctrines of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. It is only such faithfulness, confessed and practiced, that holds the promise of true unity and full fellowship. That is a noble and God-pleasing goal which all confessional Lutherans can strive to reach.”

“The conference attendees were greatly encouraged by President Harrison’s paper and the responses of Presidents Molstad and Schroeder,” Collver observed on the LCMS’ “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” blog.

“The emerging friendships developed and the clear confession of the Lutheran Confession at the Emmaus Conference is helping to overcome tensions that developed between the three Synods after the breakup of the Synodical Conference in the mid-20th century.”

Ultimately, Collver added, “every reformation of the Lord’s church, every reconciliation and restoration of relationships involves repentance and absolution. May the Lord grant repentance and His forgiveness to us.”

The provisional dates for the 2013 Emmaus Conference are April 11-12.

Posted Feb. 15, 2012 on LCMS Reporter


A Brief Catalog of Press Stories Regarding President Harrison's Testimony Before Congress on Religious Freedom

LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison’s February 16, 2012, testimony before Congress with representatives of the Roman Catholic, evangelical Christian, and Jewish on the threat to religious liberty posed by the contraception mandate recently promulgated by President Barack Obama’s Health and Human Services department has generated significant press coverage.

President Harrison testified in a hearing titled, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” 
President Harrison testified: “I’m here because there is a narrow but very significant provision in the HHS provisions that is, I believe, very dangerous to religious people with our kind of convictions — and it’s also dangerous to any religious people with unique convictions.”

Below is a brief catalog of press stories about President Harrison’s testimony before congress on religious freedom:

Saint Louis Post-Dispatch Story About President Harrison’s Congressional Testimony

Tim Townsend of the  Saint Louis Post-Dispatch wrote a story titled, “Lutheran leader sides with Catholics on contraceptives issue in fiery testimony.”

New York Times Coverage

The New York Times covered the event with a story titled, “Passions Flare as House Debates Birth Control Rule.” The NY Times writes quotes Harrison, “‘I pray for the president every day,’” Mr. Harrison said, even as he expressed ‘deep distress’ over the new policy and complained of ‘government intrusions into Christian conscience and practice.'”

Fox News Coverage
Fox News posted a story titled, “Contraception ruling: Democrats accuse clergy of complicity with GOP at hearing.” Fox News quoted President Harrison testifying, “While we are grandfathered under the very narrow provisions of the HHS policy, we are deeply concerned that our consciences may soon be martyred by a few strokes on the keyboard.”
CBS News Coverage

CBS News displayed its bias with a story titled, “Dems decry all-male House panel on WH contraception rule.” CBS News quoted President Harrison, “Religious people determine what violates their consciences — not the federal government. Please get the federal government, Mr. Chairman, out of our consciences.”

CNN Front Page Coverage

CNN posted a story on their front page titled, “Culture War 2.0: The New Front Lines.” CNN did not quote President Harrison.

Molly Hemingway wrote a clever-titled story, “A Lutheran, a Jew, a Baptist and a Catholic Walk Into A Hearing.” 
THOMAS MESSER, an LCMS pastor, wrote an op-ed piece, “Religious liberty on trial in America.”

Maggie Karner, LCMS Director of Life and Health Ministries wrote a piece titled, “Where the Women Were During the House Contraception Mandate Hearing,” for Christianity Today.

St. Louis Radio Host Interviews LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison on HHS Ruling

On Friday, Feb. 17, KMOX radio host Charlie Brennan interviewed LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison on his appearance before a House committee regarding the recent HHS mandate on health insurance and its mandatory coverage of contraceptives.

You can listen to the audio file of the eight-minute interview by clicking either here or here.
 


Right-click here to save MP3

President Harrison’s testimony before Congress can be seen here:

The LCMS Webpage also is maintaing up-to-date coverage at http://www.lcms.org/hhsmandate.

— Posted by  Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations