Archive for November 2012

Warsaw Meeting


We arrived in Poland to meet with the Bishop Jerzy Samiec of the Evangelical Augsburg Church in Poland. The church today has about 70,000 members. At the end of World War II, about 200,000 Lutherans remained in Poland. Since WWII, most of the decrease can be attributed to a low birth rate and the departure of Lutherans to other countries for better opportunities. Prior to the World Wars, approximately 1,000,000 Lutherans lived in Poland.

In our conversation, we explored for discussion between the LCMS and the Evangelical Augsburg Church in Poland. The meeting was positive. In the evening we drove to Slovakia, for a trip to Budapest.


Important Dates between 1573 and 1919.


Important Dates between 1920 and 2002.


Old Town Market In Warsaw.

– Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Sládkovičova,Žilina,Slovakia

“Be consistent with our theology of salvation,” says Buba

{The Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba of the North American Lutheran Church presented on the topic of “Our Mission Today and Tomorrow” at the recent International Conference on Confessional Leadership in Peachtree City, Ga. A transcript of his presentation follows.}

Dr. Gemechis Buba of the North American Lutheran Church

I would like to quote three people before I go into my presentation or my message. The first one is . . . I heard the word martyria and read the word martyria, or witness, for the first time when I was a seminary student in Ethiopia. That word was written on an article drafted and shared with the church in Ethiopia by the late Reverend Budina Tumsa, who was the general secretary of the Mekane Yesus Church. Reverend Budina Tumsa wrote the word martyria saying, “Our witness is both in life and in death,” and the word martyria is the original word for “witness” and at the same time, for the martyrs. Eventually he left this word, and in the Communist days, he gave his life for the witness and ministry of the Church.

The second person I would like to quote is when I was serving in the ELCA as Director for African Ministries. We were in great turmoil and trouble in 2009, and during those times President Harrison was interviewed on the radio, and the word that you spoke stuck with my spirit where you said, “We just have to confess our way through this storm.” “We have to confess our way through this turmoil and through this storm.” And that really stuck in my spirit. That is, for me, what confessional leadership is all about.

And the third person is our own Bishop, from the North American Lutheran Church, John Bradosky who always says, “Whether we believe it or not, whether we like it or not, we are a confessional church, and we need to confess Christ in this day boldly and confidently and constantly.” That is confessional leadership.  We are in those trying times. We are in those situations and in those moments where Christ requires of us to be a community that witnesses and confesses Christ boldly in the face of change.

The topic that was given to me says, “Our mission today and tomorrow.” I tried to describe it in such a way that our mission in the first century and our mission in the 21st century, and I named it, “The same mission and the same mission field.” So many people tried to say it is a different mission and it is a different mission field. It is the same.

“Mission in missiological discussions have evolved to a great exchange with the changing seasons and with the blowing wind of human civilization.” There are many churches and church leaders that are severely impacted and swayed by cultural shifts, paradigm change, worldview evolutions and social transformations of the world around us. These are all external shifts around us. The change has developed very, very strong muscle to the extent of shaking and moving even some unmovable institutions with dogma and doctrines and identities like the Church. These external shifts, the kind of internal/external rearrangement of the Church’s mission, is being described in many, many situations as “structured” flexibility. And some even quote it. Now we have to leave in this change within the Church with some catchy phrases such as “living together with bound conscience,” bound conscience to two different theological polarities. One is through the Scripture, and the other one is through the neighbor. Bound conscience.

I come from Ethiopia. In my country of origin, there is a saying that says, “If someone wants to buy everything and doesn’t know what they want to buy, don’t send them to the shop.” Dancing on the fence, on the fence or playing with a beast of fleshly temptation. Trying to make peace with the world and denying the existence of the devil in the name of doing mission is becoming the trend of the day. Theologians are devoting a great deal of time, energy and resources in coming up with catchy phrases and trendy phrases such as “structured flexibility,” “bound conscience,” this and that, in such a way that the Church would have a superficial unity on a foundation that does not exist.

Christian mission is precise. Christian mission is concise. Christian mission is clear. Christian mission is targeted. Christian mission is unique. And Christian mission is unchanging. Everything may change around us. Everything may be shifting, or at least may look like it is changing, but there is nothing new under heaven. Let me read a Scripture from the book of Ecc. 1:9: “What has been will be. What has been done will be done. And there is nothing new under heaven.”

In Christian mission, there is nothing new under the sun. There are many that are trying to reinvent Christian mission in the name of contextual realities. That is why many mainline denominations in North America, Europe, Asia, Latin America, including Africa, are going astray in the name of looking for a new message and new methods to carry out their new mission. That is what I call “revisionist missiology.” It is a global threat: “revisionist missiology.” It is a global threat that is growing and expanding like a wildfire around the world. It has been there since the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s. Now it is putting its final seal on the change and on the shift that it has been trying to achieve. It is succeeding in the Episcopalian Church, in the Lutheran Church, in the Presbyterian Church, in the western frontier, in Europe and in North America. And now it is exerting its power in Africa, Latin America and Asia, trying to put its final seal of approval of changing the Christian message and mission in the global Church. The last five to ten years, these gigantic votes and revolts in change and revisions that have been taking place in the Western Hemisphere are the next reality and the next phase for the other churches: “revisionist missiology.”

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday,today and forevermore. He was, He is and He will forever be sufficient for our salvation and for our redemption. He is the sole authority behind the mission of God’s saving power. Based on these promises, one can draw some points from the life of Jesus, and I will be reflecting on things from Matthew 9, one of my favorite verses when it comes to missions. This Jesus had a mission and routine, something that He liked to do repeatedly. I call it His mission and routine. In Matt. 9:35–38, we see Jesus doing His missional routine. You can catch it in seven small words. One: It says he was going from towns and villages, and He was moving. Going and going and going. Jesus did not have a central mission station. His mission station was the towns, the villages and the homes. He was moving.

The second one: Jesus was teaching. Jesus was a teacher. And Jesus was preaching. Jesus was healing.

Jesus was casting vision and leading.  And I will describe more in all that. But before speaking of the mission of Jesus in missiology, the first thing that God sends because the word mission is to be sent. The first thing that God sent into the world is His Word. In Genesis chapter 1, God created the heavens and the earth, and then the reality described was four words: it was formless, it was empty, it was dark and it was deep. What does that describe to us today? Formless, empty, dark and deep. That was a pre-human creation reality. That was the reality of human form. That was the reality of Babylonian rebellion. That was the reality of Israelites under the captivity of Egypt and under the captivity of Babylonia. That was the reality of humanity when Christ was in mission and in the apostolic age. That was the reality of humanity during the 1,000 Dark Ages. And that was the reality of humanity and modernity and more crystal clear in post-modernity. Formless today. Empty. Dark and deep. That is human circumstance. That is reality that is facing us today. How did God deal with it?

The Bible says the Spirit of God was hovering over all this. That is why Jesus said, “The Spirit is ready,” but waiting for one thing—the Word, the Logos, the Rehma—to be spoken.  “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’” The Word of God came. And the Spirit of God struck that darkness off the planet. What do we have today? The Word. Is the Spirit ready? Absolutely! Is the world formless, dark, empty and deep? Absolutely. So what is our responsibility? Speak the Word! Let there be Light! It is not a negotiation. It is not a plea. It is not begging. It is a Word of authority in the world. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, North American Lutheran Church, Mekane Yesus, churches from the East, from the West, from the North and from the South, Africa or Asia, altogether commit to stand up and speak the Word. That is our mission: Speak the Word.

That Word became flesh in John 1:14. That Word became not a missionary, but continued the mission of God. Mission is not the duty of Christ. It is the identity of Christ. He did His missional routine in those ups and downs, up and down through Judea to Galilee. He was doing His missional routine, which was the office of visiting and teaching. One thing that the LCMS is known for in the circles that I know is the quality and integrity of the office of teaching. I am extremely thankful in my own context that about seven or eight PhD students graduated. If your students graduated from Fort Wayne, it was a phenomenon for us. It has to even multiply more because revisionist seminaries are working so hard and so fast in producing revisionist theologians for Asia, Africa and Latin America, to export, distort and corrupt the mission of Jesus Christ around the world. How can we stop that? How can we change that? How can we pre-empt that? How can we get ahead of that?

We have to move every institution that we have in orthodox churches, such as the LCMS, to produce more and more biblical, theological scholars so that we can go out and produce and teach and keep confessional and biblical integrity around the world. I would think that would be a major, major missional duty and responsibility for your church.

Jesus was doing His missional routine constantly. After doing His missional routine, in the middle of His daily teaching, preaching, healing, visiting and touching and comforting and having dinner in people’s homes, Jesus did one thing: He looked. He broke out of His routine to look at the crowds! And the Bible says, “He saw a crowd.”

Leadership is what we have been talking about. In the New Testament, Jesus said one extremely important thing about leadership. One. And this is what He said: “If a blind (man) leads a blind (man), both of them will go into a ditch.” For Jesus, leadership is vision. Leaders see. Leaders look. The difference between Saul and David as two different leaders is a difference of vision. Both of them faced the same challenge and the name of the challenge was Goliath. Both of them were looking at that. For Saul, Goliath was a scary challenge. But for David, it was an opportunity to reveal the power of God.

What do you see today? One billion unbelievers in India. One billion in China. The entire Middle East. The entire North Africa. Secular Europe. Secular United States.  This gigantic four-plus billion people around the world without the Gospel of Jesus Christ . . . what do you see? When you see that Goliath, do you see a scary challenge or do you see a great opportunity? That is the difference between David and Saul. That was a question to the priest from Anatoth by the name of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah. God asked him a question, “What do you see?”

Brothers and sisters in this room, respected leaders, bishops, archbishops, theologians, what do you see every day? Are you depressed, stressed and tired by looking at the statistics that are always shifting, the challenge that is always growing, the muscle that is being developed against the Church? Do you see a challenge, or do you see an opportunity? Do you have your five stones in your pocket?  Are you willing to speak the Word and to throw the stone, just like David, so that the glory of God may be revealed? What do you see? Jesus saw the crowd. And then the Bible says He had compassion for them. Vision plus compassion, [and] you have mission. No compassion, no mission. Compassion connects your soul to the soul of your mission field.

Jesus had compassion because the people He saw had three problems. The first one was they were harassed.  They were harassed. Why were they harassed? Who is harassing their soul? Let me tell you: Satan is loose. Luther was very crystal clear in saying the satanic fall. There is something by the name the devil— Satan, evil spirits, Diablos, Lucifer— that spirit is still working. Go and read Ephesians 2. In the life of every unbeliever, people are harassed day and night. I have a small television ministry three days a week, broadcasting out of London from satellite into Africa, all the way covering the Middle East, North Africa and the entire sub-Saharan Africa. And on that television ministry, we just started something as a sample for the first time. We said we would put three telephone numbers under the screen and invite people to call for prayer. Ahhh! Ohhhh! The number of people hungry for prayer! People are harassed in their homes, in hospitals, in prison, on the street side, in refugee camps, in the Middle East, in South Africa. Everywhere you go, there are people hungry for what we have! Hungry for what we have, hungry for the touch and the visit of the Holy Spirit. Jesus looked at them because they were harassed.

Second, they were helpless. Who is the greatest helper in the New Testament? The Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit. Life without the Holy Spirit is easily described as a helpless life. That is why Jesus gave us a command in Acts 1:4 that says, “Do not leave Jerusalem unless you are covered by the power of the Holy Spirit.” It was not a suggestion. The New Testament Acts 1:4 says, “He gave them a command.” That is a stout, deep, critical [command], allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to lead, to comfort, to strengthen, to inspire, to guide, to illumine, to encourage, to chastise, to rebuke, to admonish, to guide our life. May the Holy Spirit be loose in the Church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century.

“And they were like a sheep without a shepherd.” Ahhh. Jesus, in John 21, over and over and over speaks to Peter, “My sheep. Take care of My sheep.  Take care of My sheep.  Take care of My sheep.” We have to restore a compassionate heart and a passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the pastoral office in the 21st century.

Institutions and seminaries and churches should not only produce and manufacture theologians, but compassionate pastors, pastors who love their sheep. I once asked . . . there was an election in the Mekane Yesus Church. I once asked Dr. Dubela, one of our theologians, I asked him what is the requirement of election for president in the Mekane Yesus Church? He said, “A shepherd that is willing to lay his life down for the sheep.” Period. Do you love the people that you lead to the extent of laying down your life for them?

Our late general secretary Budina Tumsa was begged by President Niereri of Tanzania to leave the Communist Ethiopia. He even sent in his private jet to Addis Ababa to airlift him out of a Communist junta in Ethiopia. But Budina Tumsa said, “I will never leave my sheep. I will die with them.” And in a few days, he was taken into a dark room, and he was hanged and killed. That day Africa lost a great theologian and a prophet. Restoring that compassionate heart in the pastoral leadership, in the confessional leadership. Confessional and compassionate. Loving the people that you lead, loving the sheep of Jesus. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me?” Peter said, “Yes.” “Take care of My sheep. Live for them.” And then Jesus was very clear. After having this conversation with His disciples, He looked at the sheep and framed the missiological reality of the first century, which is exactly the missiological reality of the 21st century. He said, “The harvest is plentiful; the workers are few.” I would bet anything to ask all of you as church leaders . . . I am sure none of you will stand up and say, “The harvest is few, and the workers are plenty.” All of you would frame your missiological reality with words exactly like Jesus. “I have an abundance . . . “ The missiological harvest field in the United States, in Bangladesh, in Lithuania, in Ethiopia, in Nigeria, from wherever you came from, you have the same missiological reality. That is why I said the same mission, the same mission field. The harvest is plentiful. The workers are few.

So, what shall we do? What shall we do? That is the question. I have changed cities since I have come to the United States. I have lived in Atlanta, in Philadelphia, in Chicago and now in Columbus. Every time we change cities for life, we are always having a challenge in finding places and directions. My wife and I ride in the same car, and I am usually the driver and I get lost. And I don’t like to do what you all men don’t like to do, which is ask directions. And my wife says, “Why are we spending all this time?” And then I say, “What shall we do?” “Ask!”

Ask. Church of Jesus Christ, don’t try to figure out mission and strategies and plans. Ask! Be on your knees. Let us be a praying church one more time. Jesus never outsourced missional leadership to anyone. It is in the hand of the Holy Spirit. There is no guru. There is no missiologist. There is no bishop or archbishop or pope or president or missional expert who knows how to do mission. The master plan of mission . .. the designer and the leader, His name is the Holy Spirit of God. That is why Jesus said, “Ask! Pray!” Pray, brothers and sisters, pray.

My Jesus spent most of His days praying. Isolated places. Mountaintops. Gardens. People’s homes. Upper rooms. Lower rooms. He was praying. Asking God. A church that prays will be powerful. A church that does not pray will be powerless! It is as simple as that. That is why Jesus said, “In the face of a very well-framed missiological reality, where the workers are few and the harvest is plentiful, your solution is to pray.”

There is a difference between Lutherans and Pentecostals. That difference is [that] we Lutherans are very strong in the Fourth Article of the Augsburg Confession, where we say, “Salvation by grace through faith alone!” There is no negotiation on that. That is our identity, our foundation, our salvation, our trademark. That is what we proclaim. But when we go out into the mission field, we think that mission is by muscle and not by grace. The same grace that saves us is the same grace that works out mission. As we rely on the grace of God for our salvation, we also have to rely on the grace of God for mission. Pentecostals preach works salvation. You have to do this. You have to keep this law. You have to keep the regulation. But when they go out into the mission field they say, “We rely on the Holy Spirit.” There is some inconsistency. Lutherans, we have to be consistent with our theology of salvation and theology of mission, relying on the power of God’s grace and a prayer-centered life.

Finally, Jesus framed it, and He says, “Ask the Lord of the harvest.” Jesus is the Lord in the Middle East, in North Africa, in Asia and wherever there are Christians and non-Christians. He is the Lord. Not only the Lord, He says He owns the harvest field. And He sends us into that harvest field. It is the same mission. And it is the same mission field. Why? God is still the Lord of the harvest.

Number two: The harvest is still plentiful. The same.

Number three: The workers are still few.

Number four: The message is still the same. First century or 21st century, the message is still the same: Law and Gospel. Repentance and forgiveness. Confession and absolution. The same message. The method is still the same: Word and deed.

Then what is new? Nothing. We are just trying to make, “Ohhh. The first-century people had it easy.  We are facing an insurmountable challenge that has never been tried before.” The challenge in the first century and the challenge of the 21st century is the same. The difference is the first-century apostles were absolutely dependent upon the power of the Holy Spirit. They were praying people. They preached the Gospel fearlessly. They were willing to lay their life, and they were sacrificial. They were doing it as they learned it from Jesus.

In the 21st-century, the Church is a different mode. But now, we are in a different situation. Look at this room. United States is not sitting in this room planning to send missionaries to Africa. African bishops are here now. It is not the 18th century, the 16th century, where we say there is light on this side and there is darkness on the other side. There is light everywhere: light in Asia, light in Africa, light in the Middle East, light in North Africa, light in North America, light in Europe. It is a different situation. We have become global. We are all in this room as children of God.

It is a different time. It is a different season. We are a different people. Lithuania spoke to us yesterday. Kenya spoke to us yesterday. Korea spoke to us yesterday. America spoke to us yesterday. Germany spoke to us yesterday from the same pulpit, from the same platform. We are in a different global situation. We are positioned. We are blessed. We are empowered. Let us do one thing: Let’s have a clear vision. Let us sit at the crouch. Let us acknowledge that the world in which we live is formless, is empty, is dark and is deep. Let us acknowledge that there is a Holy Spirit ready and hovering, always ready to go, waiting for us.  For me and for you, to open our mouth boldly and confidently to say, “Let there be Light in the middle of darkness.” Speak the Word of God fearlessly, and that is our mission.

The mission is the same. The mission field is the same. Now, let us get out and make the difference by speaking the Word faithfully, confidently and boldly in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Thank you very much.

 

LUTHERANISM IN POLAND

LUTHERANISM IN POLAND

As I sit on the Last Sunday of the Church Year in the airport in Minneapolis waiting for a flight to Poland, I had opportunity to read a bit about Lutheranism in Poland. The initial reach of Lutheranism on Poland began in 1518 when some adopted the Reformation message early. Lutheranism in Poland has a sorted history of union and persecution. Before WWII, an estimated 800,000 to 1 million Lutherans lived in Poland. After WWII, the number decreased to 200,000 as reported by the Christian Century 28 August 1946.


The struggles of the Lutheran Church in Poland call to mind the Gospel Reading for the Last Sunday in the Church Year when Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

Below is an article by J.T. Mueller on Lutheranism in Poland from 1951.

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Mueller, J.T. “Lutheranism in Poland.” Concordia Theological Monthly (March 1951): 204–207.

Of the uncounted Christians who in Eastern Europe suffered persecution under the tyrannical rule of anti-Christian totalitarianism, Lutherans admittedly form a very large part. German, Polish, Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, and other Lutheran believers were subjected to almost unspeakable torments by the forces of darkness which by God’s permission were unloosed during the past decades.

In England the escaped Polish Lutherans, in 1940, founded the Polish Research Center, with headquarters in London, which so far has published about a dozen brochures on the various phases of the great tribulation which Polish evangelicals had to endure. One of these, which bears the title The Protestant Churches in Poland and includes an account of the vicissitudes of Lutheranism in Poland, was added to the list in 1944. A copy of this interesting study was submitted to the writer by the Rev. W. Fierla, senior pastor and spiritual leader of the Polish Lutherans in England. It is from this instructive narrative of how Lutheranism fared in Poland that the following historical facts are taken.

Before Lutheranism came to Poland, there had been introduced into the land Protestant influences stemming from Wiclif and Hus. Hence, when Luther began his work of Reformation in Germany, he soon had ardent followers also in Poland. In 1518 the Dominican James Knade adopted Luther’s teachings in Danzig, which John Laski, the primate and archbishop of Gniezno, tried in vain to suppress. In 1523 King Sigismund opposed Lutheranism, but the movement by this time had become so potent that he was unable to enforce the order which he had published against the new religion. A chief defender of the new faith was Seklucian, who in 1540 published the Augsburg Confession, which was widely read by the people because it was written in a clear and simple style. Thus the Lutheran Church in Poland very soon lost its exclusively German character, especially when it was adopted and advocated by the Polish gentry. At the Diet of Cracow, 1536—1537, the gentry demanded equal regulations for clergy and gentry, especially in the matter of military service, the secularization of the ecclesiastical estates, the limitation of dues paid to the Holy See, the safeguarding of the higher ecclesiastical offices for the gentry, and others. This shows the strength of the evangelical movement.

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However, since the wealthier Polish gentry sent their sons for the completion of their education not only to Germany, but also to Switzerland, there were infused into the Polish Lutheran movement also Zwinglian and Calvinistic elements; and owing to eminent Calvinistic teachers, the Polish gentry in many cases abandoned Lutheranism for Calvinism. In 1552 there appeared the New Testament in a Polish translation by Seklucian, who later published also his sermons that greatly stimulated the Lutheran Reformation movement. The complete Polish Bible appeared in 1563. Since it appeared in the city of Brest, it became known as the “Brest Bible.” Thirty years later, in 1593, the Jesuit priest Wujek, in defense of the Romanist teachings, published his own translation under the auspices of the Roman Curia. By 1555 Protestantism had become so powerful in Poland that Pope Paul IV applied to King Ferdinand for protection of the Catholic religion in Poland against the new and false Lutheran teachings. By this time the Polish Protestants had become so active in spreading their faith that almost all Poland seemed ready to embrace the doctrines of the Reformers. In 1556 there began a movement to settle the doctrinal differences between the Lutherans and the Calvinists; but while the Protestants united to free themselves from the Roman ecclesiastical courts, the Lutherans in general were disinclined to give up their faith.

The Protestant movement in Poland was greatly threatened by the coming of Unitarian teachers who, forced out of Italy since 1542, sought new mission areas in Eastern Europe. At this time Poland enjoyed so much freedom of belief, speech, and press that it was known as the asylum haereticorum. The rapid spread of Unitarianism caused the Polish Protestants: Lutherans, Calvinists, and Bohemian Brethren, to publish in 1570 the so-called Consensus of Sandomir, an agreement that was political rather than religious. It was followed by The Confession, which was supplementary to the Consensus and was published by the same Synod of Sandomir. The rise and spread of Unitarianism also strengthened the Romanist Counterreformation, which directed itself with no less fury against the Protestants than against the Unitarians.

As a result of this Counterreformation the gentry largely became Calvinistic, while the masses remained Catholic. Among the gentry Unitarianism, however, found many protectors, while Lutheranism was engaged in a continuous struggle with Catholicism, Calvinism, and Unitarianism to defend and maintain its teachings. This fight for the Lutheran faith continued till the close of the eighteenth century. When in 1817 the Prussian Union was introduced in Germany, also the

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Polish Lutherans were affected, for also in Poland the United Church Movement led to the founding of a United Evangelical Church.

In 1828 a General Protestant Consistorium for the Lutherans and the Calvinists was formed in Warsaw. But in 1849 the Czar of Russia, who then administered Polish affairs in large areas, renamed this the Lutheran Consistorium, while for the adjustment of Calvinistic affairs a separate body with synodical administration was set up. Since then the spiritual direction of the Lutheran Church was in the hands of a general superintendent. In 1874 the Lutheran parishes of Poland were divided into four dioceses, at the head of each of which was a superintendent. In 1901 there was added a fifth diocese, Piotkrow. In 1897 there were about 350,000 Lutherans in Central Poland, which number far exceeded that of the Calvinists.

The effect of the First World War, 1914—1918, weighed heavily on the Lutherans in Russian Poland. Before its outbreak the Russian government ordered a mass transfer of Lutherans from Polish lands to the depth of Russia on ground of “Germanophilism.” The deportation was marked by extreme brutality. But such Protestants as escaped deportation to Russia were persecuted by the occupying German forces who strove to destroy the limited independence which had been assured to the Polish Lutherans by the Russian edict of 1849.

From 1919 to 1939 Lutheranism in Poland enjoyed a period of freedom and prosperity. In 1937 the Lutherans in Poland numbered more than 600,000, while the total number of Protestants at that time was estimated at no more than 830,000.

The sufferings of the Polish Lutherans during the Second World War, however, were far greater than those during the First World War. According to Nazi philosophy, a Lutheran could not be a Pole, and a Lutheran who was unwilling to be a German must be destroyed. In agreement with this principle a sixteen-year-old Protestant boy who told the German authorities that his name had been put on the list of Volksdeutsche without his knowledge and against his will was shot on the spot. More than 10,000 Polish Lutherans were imprisoned and brutally treated because they had not voluntarily declared themselves Volksdeutsche. In the diocese of Teschen not a single Lutheran Polish pastor was left, though almost 100,000 Poles had belonged to the Lutheran Church in that area. In Lodz Gustav Geyer, a well-known textile owner, was condemned to death for refusing to enroll his name on the list of Volksdeutsche, and his factories were confiscated. When the booklet was written, the Second World War was not yet over, nor had the tribulation of the Polish Lutherans come to an end. Nor are they

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ended today. God only knows to what ceaseless and indescribable sufferings the Lutherans are subject who have fallen into the hands of their atheist Russian conquerors.

These few historical facts, gleaned from a monograph rich in details, show, however, how Lutheranism asserted and maintained itself in a land where Catholicism, Calvinism, and Unitarianism constantly waged war on it. The average student of history perhaps knows far too little of Lutheranism in Poland and the Baltic countries. It is only now when Lutheran refugees and displaced persons are telling the story of their Church and its remarkable survival in the midst of perpetual terror that Lutherans, far removed from such horrors, listen to their saga of fortitude and heroic faithfulness to their belief. The Lutheran World Federation is doing much to alleviate their hard lot in life. It also does much to instil into them a new Lutheran consciousness and a new conception of the glory of their being numbered among the thousands of followers of Dr. Martin Luther. Much of this could be sensed at the theological conference at Leicester, England, where we met some of these Lutherans who had come out of great tribulation.

J. T. MUELLER

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Location:Glumack Dr,Minneapolis,United States

Harrison Paper on Lutheran Diakonia Today Available

{LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison recently presented a paper, “Lutheran Diakonia Today,” at the International Conference on Confessional Lutheranism, held Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 2012, in Peachtree City, Ga. His comments are found below. The Greek is transliterated.}

LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison presented to 120 confessional Lutheran church leaders, representing more than 20 million Lutherans around the globe.

 

After the 2010 convention, which found me in a new position and a number of individuals assembling in the staff to move forward, we were given a large challenge of restructuring The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and the President’s office had a large task to achieve in doing that. And in that process, Dr. Collver—we were thinking about the theological reasons and rationale for what the structure would look like in the Missouri Synod and what its work would look like, so far as we were given responsibility. And at one point, Al Collver brought a piece of . . . a crumpled piece of paper, like he had been carrying it around in his back pocket, with three circles on it, and the three Greek words—martyria (bear witness), diakonia (of mercy) and koinonia (fellowship, life together)—all intersecting in the middle on a cross. We had some contention for a little while. Jon Vieker, who is an assistant wanted to put leiturgia (liturgy) in there, but then we would have a quaternity and not a trinity and we cannot do that (laughter).

What we were interested in was getting to the basics about who we are as a church, and then with a conviction that we must understand first who we are before we figure out what we are supposed to be up to. So, these three stuck. I began running through the New Testament with my Schmoller’s Handkoncordance zum Griechischen Neuen Testament and just looking at the occurrences of martyria and the noun and verb forms of the other words and discovered just such richness. It was right from the earliest days: The apostles bear witness. “You are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem and to the utter ends of the earth.” The witness to the apostles was one of bearing witness to the truth, what they had seen with their own eyes. And so, right away our preaching is informed from the Book of Acts. You crucified the Lord of glory; God raised Him from the dead. That is the witness. We have seen it with our own eyes; now we tell it to you. “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, and times of refreshing will come.” That fundamental martyria, witness, is essential to the Church’s life. Without witness, we have no reason to exist. We bear witness to Christ.

We also have what we are going to talk about today, but we also have diakonia. We have titled this technical term diakonia, of mercy. Of course, it is more properly “service” in the New Testament and is used in a variety of ways, from the Office of the Ministry to Paul’s collection for Jerusalem. And we will talk some more about that. Believing that fundamentally in the New Testament, you see not only in the life of Christ, which is programmatic for what the Church is, but you see in the life of the Early Church right away from Acts 4, Acts 6 and right through Paul’s great collection for Jerusalem, you see the Church has an ordered life of mercy. It is an ordered diakonic life. This was key for me, because I think I had a very excellent seminary education at Fort Wayne in the eighties, extraordinary seminary education. However, I think as a reaction against what was believed to be a social gospel prior to that, and kind of the years of the Missouri Synod prior to the big challenges we had in the sixties and seventies, the idea that the Church should be involved in caring for people in need was somehow viewed as a liberal idea, and post-walkout Missouri didn’t want to have anything to do with anything liberal. The trouble is, I got out in the parish and in my first parish, a rural parish, I worked hard, visited people, was in the lives of people, did the best I could preaching and caring for people and catechizing, but something nagged at me. I was in an area with a lot of rural welfare, a lot of hurting families, a lot of alcoholism, a lot of young people addicted to alcohol and struggling with all that, a lot of marital problems, live-in situations. And I came away from that first parish after four or five years thinking, “You know, there was something missing.” Certainly not the Gospel. Certainly not the Sacraments. But yet, there was something missing.

Commission on Theology and Church Relations executive director the Rev. Joel Lehenbauer and LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison listen to presentations at the International Conference on Confessional Leadership.

Then the second parish was an inner city parish in Fort Wayne, Zion in Fort Wayne. Within a block and a half of the congregation, there were about 45 vacant, dilapidated buildings—commercial buildings and residential homes just rotting, empty and rotting. A lot of drug activity. And here in the center of that, you have this fabulous German Gothic sanctuary, a wonderful congregation. A large percentage of the church was African American. A number of other ethnic communities represented. I think, just out of practical necessity, our sights got turned to a building across the street from the church. A drug-infested building known for prostitution and other issues, and I, and the neighboring Roman Catholic priest, decided we would set our sights on knocking that blasted thing down.

And low and behold, it happened! And then we went after others. And after a time, we got hold of about 100 properties in the neighborhood, and we pulled together. It was the right moment, and a lot of good-minded citizens—Lutheran, Christian, non-Christian, great Catholics—and we were able to attack the whole neighborhood issue with vigor. There were a number of issues going on. A congregation in America is incorporated. That church was Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession Inc. (laughter)

And a corporation is a public citizen and I became convinced that you know, if in my neighborhood, everything is going to hell in a hand basket, I wouldn’t simply be quiet and allow that to happen. Matters of justice were involved, too, because for every dilapidated home next to a homeowner, they were robbed of virtually the entire value of their home. Unjust. All kinds of racial issues were swirling about. And so, I was dragged into this realm of diakonia with no real theological intent. It was after starting to think about those things, then being called to St. Louis to work with LCMS World Relief and Human Care, and Bernie Setter was early on in that board. Bernie, back there. And we came up with these theses: The board for its international work of human care, which is vast, had merely the thinnest rationale for Lutherans to be involved in any way in the lives of people with mercy. And so, I was convinced there had to be a much deeper theological rationale and I began looking at sort of the basics of the faith from the perspective of diakonia and mercy, and I just remember Bernie at those early board meetings just say, “Go, go! Let’s go!” And we worked on this together. It really changed my life in extraordinary ways. So we will share a few things here.

A little introduction: Love, care and concern for those in need. Diakonic mercy, or love, are actions motivated by the Gospel. When faith, that is, fides qua creditur, the faith by which we believe, apprehends the righteousness of Christ and His merits unto eternal life. The Gospel thus lays hold of, produces, love. Love seeks and serves the neighbor. Love for the neighbor, while an action mandated by the law of God, is a reflection of the very being of the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7–8).

It is who God is. This love finds its source and motivation in the deep Gospel matrix and totality of the true faith—the fides qua creditur, the faith which is believed. Thus, diakonic love has its source in the Holy Trinity. The Son is begotten of the Father from eternity; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Such begetting and procession are trinitarian acts of love, expressing the communality of God. In these acts, the triune God from eternity and in time has found humankind as the object of divine love and mercy. So God acts. “For God so loved the world that He gave.” He sends. “Be ye merciful, as your Father in heaven is merciful.” It is an ontological matter. It is about being exactly who we are insofar as we are connected with the Father.

L-R LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison; the Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, LCMS director of Church Relations; the Rev. Jon Vieker, senior assistant to the president; and the Rev. Rod Zwonitzer, executive director of KFUO, reflect on a presentation during a break at the International Conference on Confessional Leadership.

James 3:17: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy.” The wisdom from above.

And look at 1 John 3:16, for instance: “In this we have known the love”— definite article love (την αγαπην)— “that this one (οτι εκεινοσ)hoti ekeinos.” It’s almost Pauline language, in John. This one, for us, laid down His life, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. Whoever has the βιον του κοσμου bion tou cosmou. Whoever has what it takes to sustain life.

“And behold, his brother, having a need, and closes his τα σπλαγχνα splagchna.” Of course, we translate that “heart,” but it is the great splagchna word of Jesus. Jesus had compassion. The blind man came to him, “Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy on me.” And Jesus healed him. When the crowds came to Jesus, he had compassion on them (εσπλαγχνισθη) esplagchnisthe. Visceral compassion cannot standby and do nothing.

If you close your splagchna, how can the love of God remain in him? You see “being” again. Children, let us love in not just word and tongue, but in deed and truth.

So, I would assert that you cannot deny diakonic love. You cannot turn away from your neighbor without rejecting the holy trinity. Diakonic love reflects the very being of God.

Second, diakonic love is born of the incarnation and humiliation of Christ. In Christ, the eternal God became man. Such identity occurred that Christ might have mercy upon His brothers (Hebrews 2). Christian service of the neighbor finds its source, motivation and example in Christ incarnate, in His redeeming, atoning love. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name” (Phil. 2:5–9). Have this mind in yourselves: to empty yourselves for service.

It is my conviction that you cannot deny love, mercy and care for your neighbor without denying the incarnation. God would have all come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved. I put this in here because so much of social ministry in America, particularly connected with Lutheran agencies, has over time often floated away from its first love. That’s because much of the money, almost all of the money, that is used for these institutions to continue is government money. With government money comes government restrictions on what you can say and not say and whom you can serve and not serve, et cetera. And it is very easy, especially in America. It used to be the case that all these institutions were led by theologically trained clergy. Now, virtually none of these institutions is led by theologically trained clergy. It is not impossible to remain evangelical and with one’s Lutheran compass, but it is extremely difficult.

“God would that all come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved” (1 Timothy 2). A biblically and confessionally faithful theology of mercy clearly confesses that The Father has decreed from eternity that whomever He would save, He would save through Christ, as Christ Himself says, “No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). And again, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved” (John 10:9). That whole section is from the Solid Declaration, 1166. I wanted a double-whammy! Bible and Confession.

L-R The Rev. Gregory Williamson, LCMS Chief Mission Officer; Deaconess Cheryl Naumann, president of the Concordia Deaconess Conference; and LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison listen to the Rev. Jobst Schoene of the Independent Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Germany.

The fundamental truth of the Bible, that there is no salvation outside of faith in Christ and His merits, animates the Church’s work for those in need. If this is not so, such work becomes merely secular and may be performed by any entity in society. And it may be quite valuable. It is kingdom of the left, valuable. And there are good reasons to bring about health and stability in society. But what is the Church’s forte in the intersection of mercy?

The Gospel gifts bring forgiveness and beget merciful living. Lives that have received mercy and grace cannot but be merciful toward the neighbor. Love. Thus, the merciful washing of Baptism, being buried therefore with Christ by Baptism into His death, produces merciful living. I began noticing that sacramental texts in the New Testament were often followed right away with parenetic text, or text about the importance of living and loving in one’s vocation toward one’s neighbor. So, Romans 7: “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ (aka Baptism), so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God” (Rom. 7:4).

In absolution, the merciful word of the Gospel begets merciful speaking and living. Just look at the parable of the unmerciful servant or steward. The master has compassion on him, (εσπλαγχνισθη) esplagchnisthe, and forgives his whole debt. And the man goes out right away, grabs his fellow servant by the neck and says, “Pay what you owe! Pay what you owe!” It can’t be.

In the Supper, Christ gives himself for us, that we might give ourselves to our neighbors. This koinonia of the body and blood of Christ, then quickly in 1 Corinthians 12, is described very directly in ethical terms. We are one body together. Paul says, I believe in Colossians. And if one member suffers, do not all suffer with it? This is said specifically in relationship to the Lord’s Supper. And Luther takes off on this at length, at least in 1519, on the sacrament. “Repentance ought to produce good fruits. The greatest possible generosity to the poor” (Apology 12: 174). Therefore, it is my contention that we cannot turn away from the needy, particularly in the church, but we cannot turn away from the needy without denying the very sacraments of Christ.

Christ’s mandate as an example of love for the whole person remains our supreme example for life in this world, and for care of the needy—body and soul. Christ’s Palestinian ministry combined proclamation of forgiveness and acts of mercy—care and healing. Just look at the first chapter of Mark, for instance. Mark 1:34 says, “And He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” And, of course, the demons knew who He was. And then verse 35, He gets up early in the morning, goes out, and He is by Himself to pray and they come upon Him again. Then Jesus says “Agomen (let’s go)! For this I came to preach.” Then, right away, while He is preaching in their synagogues, the whole of Galilee comes out to Him, He is casting out demons and there came to Him a leprous man, kneeling down and saying, “If you will it, I can be clean.” And then, splagchnisteis, having compassion on him, Jesus reaches out and touches him and says, “I will it. Be clean.”

L-R The Rev. Jobst Schone of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany, the Rev. Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium and the Rev. Matthew C. Harrison stop for a photo following the Reformation Day service held during the conference.

So, what do we see in the life of Jesus? He goes proclaiming and caring. And it is the case that virtually nobody who comes to Jesus with an empty hand goes away empty-handed. Sure, the rich young ruler goes away empty-handed, but nobody who comes to him goes away empty-handed. I used to think that when I preached these texts that had to do with bodies in trouble . . . I preached, for instance, on the friends letting the paralytic down through the roof, I preached on that text only about the forgiveness of sins. But, does it not mean something that Jesus not only forgives his sins, but He says, “Take up your mat and go”? He healed the man! Now, certainly Jesus is the Messiah. He’s breaking into time as the Messiah. The Kingdom of God has its advent. But is not the Church the continued presence of the Kingdom of God on this earth? And if it is, then we are the body of Christ and the speaking of the Gospel is part of what the body of Christ does and also the caring for people in need. It is absolutely essential to this body.

Christ likewise sent forth the apostles to proclaim the Good News and to heal (Luke 9). Christ mandated that His Gospel of forgiveness be preached to all, Matthew 28 and Mark 16, and that all nations be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Christ also left His church a feast of His body and blood under forgiveness, life and salvation. In describing the events of the Last Day, Christ noted the importance of mercy in the life of the Church. “Whatsoever you have done to the least of these My brethren, you have done it also unto Me” (Matt. 25:40). The Church has a corporate life of mercy.

There is absolute support in the New Testament for acts of mercy, love and kindness done by individuals within the realm of individual vocation, whether in family, church, community or home. Moreover, the Old and New Testaments clearly bear witness to a corporate life of mercy of the people of God. Indeed, “corporate” comes from “corpus,” that is, “body.” As in hoc est corpus meum. Through the body of Christ, incarnate and sacramental, Romans 6 and 1 Corinthians 11 and 12, the body of Christ mystical is created. Thus, when one member of the body suffers, all suffer(1 Corinthians 12).

Acts 6, the creation of the protodiaconic office, and St. Paul’s collection for the poor in Jerusalem clearly bear witness to the Church’s corporate life of mercy based on these theological foundations. Acts 6 occupies the Church. The Church has a specific need. The apostles say, “We don’t have time to respond to this need. Let’s set up a special order to take care of it.” The people choose the deacons, the apostles lay hands on the deacons for the task. It is ordered. It is intentional. It is specifically a corporate act to meet the need of the church. Both Leah and Walther and Gearhardt, by the way, all say that part and parcel of the apostolic witness is concern and care for the needy within the Church, and that specifically the apostles freely give this task because of the arrangements they had to deal with. They give this task to a diakonic office.

I had never read that in seminary. I had never seen it for some reason. Even though Dr. Walther in his pastoral theology says, “within the officium” within the official duties of the pastoral office is care for the poor, the needy, the weak and the orphan. And he uses specifically these passages: Acts 6, and also references to Paul’s great collection for Jerusalem. Paul in Acts 11 and 12, after persecution occurs, the Church is spread far and wide in the late forties, and they’re preaching in Antioch and what happens? Through the apostles’ preaching among the Jews, some who are non-Jews begin to believe. This changes everything because now all of a sudden you deal with all the laws of Moses, the purity laws. Must one become a Jew to become a Christian? As you know very well, what do they do? They immediately called to Jerusalem. Jerusalem sent Barnabas down to check it out. Barnabas says, “Yes, these are really Christians. They are former pagans, but they are Christians.” And then he says, “We need somebody to help us take care of this problem and understand it. We need an expert in the law. I will travel north and get a guy named Paul.” He goes up and gets Paul, brings him south. Paul says, “Yes, it’s true.” And then before they went back to Jerusalem, I am convinced it is Barnabas’ idea, but Barnabas says, “Okay, we’re not just going to go ask for koinonia from the apostles. We are going to take them some money, because they are suffering.” And I will give you a hint. If you come to the Missouri Synod with money, asking for fellowship, it will go much more quickly. Much, much more quickly.

The apostles accepted the diakonia, the koinonia it is called. The charis. The great collection, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is called a charis, a grace. In it the greatest words of the New Testament are used to describe the collection for the poor: a grace, a diakonia, a leiturgia, a koinonia. And Paul occupies himself after that protocollection, and ends up on his third missionary journey, but he occupies himself for the better part of the decade collecting money for the poor in Jerusalem. As a demonstration, both of the eschaton, that is the collection coming from the Gentiles, and also the koinonia, the fellowship of the body.

So, Lutheran Confessions explicitly and repeatedly state that the work of diakonic love, alms, charity, works of love, is an assumed reality in the Church’s life. So the Confessions don’t go on at length about this. However, there are certain specific passages that are indicative. Like Smalcald Articles, articles 249. The Church can never be better governed and preserved than if we all live under one head: Christ. All the bishops should be equal in office, although they may be unequal in gifts. They should be diligently joined in unity of doctrine, faith, sacraments, prayer and operum caritatis, works of love.

The vocation of mercy is addressed in the Church at all levels according to the New Testament whether local, regional or international, and we participate in that. I will pass over that and make these available to you later.

Let me just make a couple of notes as we end. There is a multiplicity of diakonic vocations in the Church. And the Church, according to Lutheran tradition and the New Testament is free to create offices for specific need. There is one absolutely necessary office in the Church’s life and that is the Predigtamt, the Office of the Ministry. Beyond that, everything is for good order and for the bene esse, the well-being of the Church. We have created in the Missouri Synod, following a long historical precedent, the office of deaconess. And this office is, for us, a great blessing. You see deaconesses represented: Cheryl Naumann is here and Grace Rao was here. These women have received thorough seminary-level education. It is an opportunity for women to be trained at the same theological level as the men. And as we get more and more women serving in congregations in specific areas of need. Also it is our deep desire that women more and more become the founders and those who actually administer and run institutions of mercy. So much needed in our context.

“If we dare to combine a rigorous orthodoxy with rigorous care for those in need, that is a powerful, powerful combination for our day.” – LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison

For those of you who have ordained women or have struggled with the ordination of women, the office of deaconess is a wonderful opportunity to be faithful and yet give women every opportunity to study theology at the highest level and to participate in the life of the Church. And by the way, it is much easier just to have one of the women come up and tell why you shouldn’t have women pastors.

The Church’s work of mercy extends beyond its own borders. Much of the New Testament bears witness to the responsibility of Christians to love each other. However, just as the Gospel goes out, “fFor God so loved the world that He gave,” you are sent. The first verse, the first word of the first verse in the Ordination rite is, “Go, therefore unto all nations.” We go, as Church. We go out. We go to the highways and byways. We go to where people are hurting and are in need.

And finally, the Church cooperates with others in meeting human need. We have, in the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms, great freedom in what we call cooperation in externals. Without altar and public fellowship, nevertheless, we can join together with other Christians, other individuals of good will and go at issues that are common concern in responsible ways.

I would like to see us, for instance, come to a common agreement with conservative Anglicans or the Roman Catholics on a comprehensive, some sort of pastoral approach to live-in and marriage situations. It could be a way where we support one another very much, and we are not requiring altar and public fellowship. I am sure there is something we might do together. I have been increasingly disturbed about having to stand up and say “no” to homosexuality while knowing full well that the Missouri Synod has very little to offer those who struggle with same-sex attraction and their families. I would love to see us cooperate in the area of providing care, responsible care, to those who are challenged by same-sex attraction. There are many different areas where we can cooperate with other Christians of good will, and even beyond that, with non-Christians.

So, these are just a few thoughts that came over a number of years and ended up being some strong guiding principles and conviction. I think the danger of Confessional Lutheranism is that we concentrate on dogma, proclamation and administration of the Sacraments, which are the sine qua non of the Church’s existence. Nevertheless, if we do not love our neighbor, if we do not dare to get dirty, Luther says, “Jesus becomes incarnate in our flesh, and we take on the flesh of our neighbor when we serve our neighbor in love.” If we refuse to live an incarnate life, a life where we become incarnate in our neighbor in need, we render the Gospel a clanging cymbal, I am afraid. The powerful piece for us, I believe, is to combine, as so many of you know, even much, much better than the Missouri Synod—Madagascar for instance, India—many places you see it far better than in the Missouri Synod. If we dare to combine a rigorous orthodoxy with rigorous care for those in need, that is a powerful, powerful combination for our day.

Thank you.

 

International Mission Board Chair Reflects on International Conference

 

From Revelation 7: “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God,Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God forever and ever. Amen.”

When All Saints Sunday comes around, I always wonder what that would sound like, every tribe and nation and tongue and people speaking praise to God.  Would it be a cacophony or is there is special, heavenly angelic language that all will speak?  Would that praise be in their language of origin?  If so, what would that sound like?

I had a chance to find out at the International Conference on Confessional Leadership in the 21st Century.  To hear the Lord’s Prayer in so many different languages from Latvian to Spanish and Chinese to German was truly an inspiration.  I want to thank all who made this event possible and all who attended.

Some of the insights that were gained from a gathering like this are equally as inspirational.  After the results of the election and the various dissections and interpretations, I have to believe that we live in an absolutely secularized culture in which the Government has appropriated the place once held by the church.  To hear from confessional Lutherans around the world who have lived in that reality for years was fascinating and informative.  To see Lutheran theology as a means to bridge the gaps in our culture is a concept that we must seek to master, because according to many, Luther is uniquely able to make the connection that is needed in a secular culture that still seeks answers to religious questions.  One of the speakers said that we need to have a “critical reappropriation” of our heritage so that we can translate it into our culture.

One of the more haunting statements was this: “Spiritual bewilderment is perfectly acceptable in Lutheran theology.”  I am personally happy to hear that because I spend a great deal of my time bewildered.  I am bewildered by what I see around me.  I am bewildered by suffering and the foolishness I see.  I am bewildered that I would think I would find something different in a fallen world and I still look for the good.  I am bewildered when we fail to act as what we are, the Body of Christ.  The phrase resonated with me in the work that I see needs to be done among our pastors.  There is the belief that when you are called into a congregation you are the “theologian in residence” and you had better have all the answers.  Many of us get into problems because even if we don’t have the answers we act like we do.  There is a place for bewilderment.

Robert Preus once commented on how bewildering it must have been for Christians behind the iron curtain to pray the Lord’s Prayer and ask that God’s Kingdom come and God’s will be done for a generation all the while in political bondage.  Yet their pastors and leaders entered that bewilderment with them, and they were blessed.  Lutheran ministry is blessed when our people see us as leaders that enter with them in their suffering and perplexity, not necessarily with answers, but with the same questions they have.  Our leadership, at least what is helpful, is always to bring them to Christ.  Lutheran’s have a unique ability to live in perplexity, and that is the theology of the cross.  It resonates as some have said, because of the existential realities that come from this world that is in the “gray and latter days.”

Existential problems cause misery.  We all experience it. When things go great, we’re happy. When we suffer, there is unhappiness. It is God who allows us to suffer afflictions for the purpose of pruning us so that in that misery we would turn back to Him “with our whole heart.” This is why Paul wrote that, “We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character, and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:3–5).

Although it was not really a topic, there was another theme that I have been personally interested in for years and that is preaching.  The centrality and importance of preaching was undergirded again and again by different speakers from different perspectives, but it was there.  Preaching is what “gathers and transforms” when it is centered on Christ and Him crucified.  The church is not constituted managerially or institutionally but by the preaching of Christ.

This is another existential reality that we need to focus on as pastors and teachers.  There are all kinds of issues and problems in our churches here in the United States that take an inordinate amount of time and treasure to ameliorate (if we would spend time listening to the issues in emerging world countries we would be ashamed) and our answers are usually managerial in nature.  Management techniques, someone said, may be helpful, but what is essential is preaching and the faith handed down once and for all to the saints.  Our President Harrison has been quoted as saying about some problem or another that, “We just have to confess our way through it.”  Far be it from me to amend President Harrison’s words but when we pastors confront problems in our congregations we need to “preach our way through it.”

The themes of Witness, Mercy and Life Together held the conference together and set the table for the presentations.  The reality of the Witness given by partners and friends around the world is amazing.  The place for Mercy here and around the world was reiterated over and over again.  The reality of our Life Together was made concrete and personal.

To spend time with these Lutherans from around the world was fascinating and exhilarating.  Some of the stories are sad, and some are inspirational.  Some of the participants have fought for the faith once and for all handed down to the saints all of their adult lives, and in some cases since they could go to church and worship on their own.  Some are beginning to see the time coming when they might be persecuted for what they believe, teach and confess.  Yet all of the ones that I talked to, and most of those who spoke, believe that whatever comes we must “confess our way through it.”  What else can we do?  Where else can we go? Only Christ has the words of eternal life!

By the way, what did it sound like to hear all of those people praying the Lord’s Prayer in their own language?  At the risk of sounding corny, it sounded glorious!

 

The Rev. Bernie Seter is the chairman of the LCMS Board for International Mission.