Archive for May 2014
Today is the day of Commemoration of Rev. C.F.W. Walther who was the first president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and arguably one of the most influential and important theologians of our church body.
Here is a fantastic article about Walther excerpted from the November 2011 The Lutheran Witness. The article is written by Iowa District East President, Brian Saunders. Thought I would pull this article out today and read it again. Enjoy!
C. F. W. Walther: A Man for the Ages
by Brian Saunders
The Rev. Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther and the Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison have more in common than their love of music and singing. Both have filled the role of president of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Indeed, Harrison sits in the same office that was held by Walther in the mid-19th century. It is good that we take this issue of The Lutheran Witness to pay homage and tribute to C. F. W. Walther, a leader who rose from meager beginnings but left behind the legacy of a faithful church body.
The cultural context
The conditions of Germany at the time of Walther’s birth in 1811 were chaotic. The Napoleanic Wars were drawing to a close, and Europe had been devastated by death, plaque and financial hardship due to those wars. By 1813, Napolean had been driven back to France, but the consequences of war had left Europe in ashes. It is amidst these ashes that Walther was brought into this world.
Born at a time of suffering, Walther was no stranger to difficult times and struggles, both in life and faith, for the remainder of his days on earth. From inner conflict with his relationship with Christ to his struggle to defend the orthodox faith from false doctrine and practice, Walther was labeled a “Servant of the Word.” According to LCMS historian August R. Suelflow, “Walther was a devoted scholar of Martin Luther’s writings and had mastered the Lutheran Confessions as well as or perhaps better than anyone in America during the 19th century.” It is as a student of Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions that Walther’s voice articulated the clarity of the universal church here on earth for all the ages, including our church today.
The religious climate
The Lutheran Church in Germany at the time of Walther had many of the same characteristics as the religious climate in America today. The climate was and is a climate of Pietism. Simply defined, Pietism attempts to secure a Christian’s relationship with Jesus based on personal experience or an inner feeling. Pietism claims a dedication to the Bible but does not rest the certainty of salvation on an objective promise of God, such as Baptism, Absolution or the Lord’s Supper. Walther suffered a spiritual crisis in this climate of Pietism. He questioned whether he truly believed in Jesus, and worse yet, He wondered whether God truly loved him.
Walther’s college and seminary training were wrought with teachings of Pietism that eventually gave way to Rationalism. During the prevalence of Rationalism, Christ’s atonement, justification by faith, the fall into sin and related doctrines were rejected. Sermons became mere discourses on current events, science, hygiene and the necessity of planting trees. They were profoundly lacking in the comfort of the Gospel.
Walther found solace at the counsel of the Rev. Martin Stephan, a Lutheran pastor in Dresden, Germany. Stephan pointed Walther to the promise of God and encouraged him to take comfort in the work and merit of Christ for him rather than Walther’s efforts to create and identify an experience with God. This had a profound impact on Walther, such an impact that when a colony of Germans from Saxony, led by Stephan, emigrated to America, Walther sailed across the ocean with them.
But conflict soon plagued this Lutheran colony. When it reached a critical status, Walther was asked to settle the issue with the publication of what would become known as The Voice of the Church on the Doctrine of Church and Ministry.
Walther knew if he was going to produce a document concerning the Lutheran understanding of the doctrine of church and ministry, he could not rely on the scholars of the Americas, perhaps because he realized already what anthropologist Margaret Mead later noted. She characterized America as a place where first-generation immigrants strive to cling to old country traditions, the second generation is compelled to reject the old traditions and the third generation accepts the American way of David M. Potter’s “upward mobility” and “the pursuit of happiness.” Of these, Walther was more concerned about the pursuit of faithfulness to the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions. For Walther, it was not about achieving something spectacular but more about being Lutheran. That may very well be our challenge as Lutherans in America and around the world today.
The most important work of Walther was bringing a new understanding of what it means to be Lutheran to America. He located the origin of Lutheranism in the Word and found the explanation of the Word in the Lutheran Confessions (the Book of Concord). In an essay delivered to the Western District Convention in 1858, Walther said:
A subscription to the Confession is the church’s assurance that the teachers have recognized the interpretation and understanding of Scripture that is embodied in the symbols as correct and will therefore interpret Scripture as the church interprets it. If the church therefore would permit its teachers to interpret the symbols according to the Scriptures, and not the Scriptures according to its symbols, the subscription would be no guarantee that the respective teacher understands and interprets Scripture as the church does. (Matthew C. Harrison, ed. At Home in the House of My Fathers, [Lutheran Legacy, 2009], 128.)
Walther was making a point: that the Lutheran Confessions are a true exposition of Holy Scripture and a correct exhibition of the doctrine of the evangelical Lutheran Church for all time. He was very careful not to elevate the Confessions above the Bible. Instead, he said that whatever the Bible declares to be true, that is truth, even if the whole world would declare it to be false. On the other hand, whatever the Bible declares to be false and erroneous, that is false and erroneous, even if the world would declare it to be true.
At the same time, Walther made it clear that Lutherans understand the Word through the Lutheran Confessions. Walther brought to the American Lutheran scene the ability for the Lutheran Church to say what is true and what is false. That declaration differed from others in his time because it was not founded on contemporary opinion but on the eternal truth given by God to His Church. As Walther once published in the Der Lutheraner, a Lutheran periodical:
The Bible is the question of God to man: do you believe My Word? The symbolical writings (Lutheran Confessions) are the answer of men: yes, Lord, we believe what you say! The Bible is the chest in which all treasures of wisdom and the knowledge of God lies hidden. The symbolical writings are the jewel room in which the church has deposited as in a spiritual storeroom all the treasures which in the course of hundreds of years she has with great effort drawn and dug out of the treasury of the Bible. The Bible with its teachings is the handwriting of God concerning our salvation, which Satan always wishes to falsify and declare as unauthentic. The symbolical writings contain the records which have been laid down, from which one can see how the church has believed these teachings from time to time and has ever held fast to them. (Jan. 23, 1849)
Walther’s ongoing influence
Walther answered that very question in the same issue of Der Lutheraner:
Oh, let us, then be on guard against those who refuse to build on the building of the church’s past but would build something new. Consider what the apostle wrote in Ephesians 4 that there is one body, one faith, one baptism, hence also one true church and one correct doctrine, which does not have need to be found for the first time, but which always was and will continue unchanged until the end of days, so that all new doctrines and new churches are false doctrines and false churches . . . Thus we participate in the victory of all true contenders for the unadulterated Word of God and become fellow heirs to the full blessings of the Reformation.
Walther’s clear thinking and confessional, biblical focus remains vitally important for the church today. The path he followed in a culture that was not sympathetic to a confessional, biblical view also points the way for us.
When a church body such as the LCMS stays focused on Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions on a regular, daily, devotional basis, then a unity of confession is followed by a unity in practice. True unity is found only in the true Word of Christ. It is centered in and predicated on that which does not, will not and cannot change. It is the same in every period of history. Thanks be to God that He raised up a man like Walther whose intense focus on Scripture and the Confessions can continue to guide the church today.
 Lutheran Service Book, page xii. Read more about why we have commemorations and their meaning in the LCMS.
President Matthew Harrison (translated by Rev. Gerson Lindon — pictured above) gave the keynote presentation at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil’s (IELB) 61st convention. The IELB is celebrating their 110 year as a church in Brazil. His presentation was titled, “The Challenge to Preserve Confessional Identity” based upon Martin Luther’s On Counsels and the Church. The Brazilian Convention of approximately 1500 delegates have President Harrison a standing ovation.
A significant moment of the Brazilian convention came when the IELB signed a protocol document with the Lutheran church in Uruguay for altar and pulpit fellowship. The IELB also
committed to doing church planting in Mozambique.
In between sessions of the IELB convention, the ILC conducted strategic planning. A significant part of the time was spent planning the next ILC World Conference to be held in South America in the fall of 2015.
Over 7,000 people who arrived by the bus load came for the worship commemorating the 110th year of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil. The choir alone numbered in the thousands. Last year the IELB had over 5,000 people attend a mission festival. This sort of attendance is reminisce of the sorts of crowds who came to events in the Missouri Synod 50 years ago.
– Posted on 4 May 2014 by Dr Albert Collver using BlogPress from my iPhone
ILC President Hans-Jörg Voigt talks to Rev. Ted Krey, LCMS Latin American Regional Director, about the situation of the church in Latin America. The ILC Executive Committee met in Acracuz, Brazil for the 61st Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB) where Rev. Egon Kopereck was re-elected as President on 2 May 2014.
The ILC Executive Committee was interviewed by press for the IELB and brought greetings. (Pictured above in top frame: Dr. Albert Collver, ILC Executive Secretary and Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, President of the Lutheran Church Canada). Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, attended as a special guest of the ILC.
The ILC exists for the purpose of encouraging, strengthening, and promoting confessional Lutheran theology and practice centering in Jesus Christ, both among member churches and throughout the world
▪ by providing opportunities for the joint study of contemporary theological issues.
▪ by giving mutual support and encouragement to the heads of member church bodies.
▪ by encouraging and assisting member churches in planning for mission outreach.
▪ by strengthening theological education through conferences of theologians and seminary teachers, mission staffs and those involved with human care.
▪ by facilitating communication between confessional Lutheran churches of the world through the publication of ILC News.
▪ by stimulating and facilitating the preparation and publication of confessional Lutheran literature.
The ILC Executive Committee containing representatives from around the world continues to meet in between attending the Brazilian convention. The ILC Executive Committee members (pictured above left to right): Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, ILC Executive Secretary; Archbishop Christian Ekong of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria and ILC representative for the Africa region; Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK), Chairman of ILC; President Egon Kopereck of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil and ILC representative for Latin America Region, President Matthew Harrison of the LCMS, ILC special guest; President Robert Bugbee of the Lutheran Church Canada, ILC Vice Chairman and ILC representative for the North American Region; Rev. Jon Ehlers, Chairman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England and ILC representative of the Eurasia Region; Rev. Gijsbertus van Hattem, President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB) and ILC Secretary; President James Cerdinõla of the Lutheran Church of the Philippines and ILC representative for the Asia Region.
– Posted on 3 May 2014 using BlogPress from my iPhone
The Rev. Timothy Yeadon, president of the LCMS New England District, recently preached the following sermon at the LCMS International Center, Kirkwood, Mo.
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord‘” (Ezek. 37:1–14).
I would like to begin this message by expressing my sincere thanks and gratitude for the privilege of preaching here before you today. I never thought a day would come when I would actually be standing here in the International Center because a kind chaplain in Pastor Weedon asked me to give the message for today. And I do so standing before my fellow district presidents, President Harrison and the members of the Praesidium who are the men I respect more than any others on the planet. Plus there are all of you saints here today, my brothers and sisters in Christ. May I also say that as a result of this that I am scared to death, and I pray to the Lord that He might make me worthy of such an honor and request. To be fair, Pastor Weedon helped me out today because when he gave me the text for this morning from Ezekiel he did it with the words that it was indeed a “juicy” text considering the fact that we have just celebrated Easter. I believe I know what he meant by that description of the prophet’s words.
But I have to tell you that as I read from Ezekiel 37 there is not a lot of “juiciness” in these words. In fact, we are talking about death and death as dry and lifeless as you can get as we stand in the valley of dry bones today. I don’t know if you folks have ever seen the movie “The Princess Bride,” but a scene comes to mind. The band of heroes has lost their champion, and they are carrying his lifeless body to a character in the movie named “Miracle Max.” Miracle Max is reputed to be one who can do wonders so they go to him in the hopes that perhaps he can revive their leader. When they get there he says to them, “Now let me first ask you a question. Is this person somewhat dead or is he really dead?” They ask him what he means by “somewhat dead.” He replies, “Well, if he’s only somewhat dead then maybe we can do something here.” “But what if he’s really dead? What do you do then?” “You check the body for loose change.”
These bones in the valley are not just dry. They are “very dry.” The wording in Hebrew is the same as when God looked over creation in Genesis at the very beginning and pronounced that things were not just good but “very good—tov Meod” in the original Hebrew. These bones are not just dry — “yveishot” — they are “yveishot Meod” — very dry. The people of which these bones are the remains are very dead.
And that was a picture of God’s people when Ezekiel prophesied to them. Ezekiel was a prophet who did his work for the Lord in far-off Babylon after the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had invaded the land, burned Jerusalem and the temple in Jerusalem to the ground, destroyed the last vestiges of the royal monarchy in Judah and transported the God’s people off into exile. For them, all that they knew was gone. Their kingdom was gone as well as their freedom. The city of Jerusalem was in ruins. The temple where the sacrifices occurred and where the High Priest intervened for the people before God was gone. Their homes were gone. It was all gone. It was all dead.
And that is the condition of all people in the sinful human race before God. They are not spiritually challenged. They are not spiritually crippled. They are spiritually and eternally dead. One of the greatest lies that the devil puts before us, and it lays embedded in our fallen human psyches, is that we can do something to get alive before God on our own. Something inside of us can choose life on our own. Even we saints of the Lord sometimes look within us for some power and even just an inclination to choose life on our own, thinking that somewhere deep within us must be something that can be done, just like the Philippian jailer of Acts 16 who speaks for all humanity when he asks St. Paul and Silas: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” There has to be something I can do.
But do you take seriously the Word of God in Eph. 2:1 that reads, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins”? Dead people do not choose to come to God. There is a popular contemporary Christian song out there that I’ll confess I like to sing to, and I’m not here to put down the song per se. But one of the lines in it that drives me crazy is, “I choose to be . . . holy.” Dead people do not choose to be holy. Dead people do not choose anything. They do not choose to come to life. I know of only one Man in the history of mankind who did that who said of His own life and death: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18), and His name was Jesus Christ. On our own, you and I have only one thing to say, and it is the words of the prophet Ezekiel: “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, we are indeed cut off.”
Our only hope is in the same God whose word of power brought all of creation into being. It is the God Who once said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. It is His Word that can raise up dead people like you and me. And this is Jesus who saw what we were, and He came to be one of us. He took on flesh and bone and lived the holy life we never could, and He gave us His holiness and in exchange He took our dryness and our deadness. When all hope was gone, He gave us hope, and it was because He became the One who on the cross echoed the words of the sinner: “We are indeed cut off.” He was cut off from His heavenly Father as He, willingly and with love for you, took on your forsakenness and your death and your hell. He did it because of that verse that is fast becoming my favorite in the entire Bible. On Maundy Thursday night, which we all just celebrated as Jesus was facing the worst hell and death that could ever be, He did it because as St. John told us in John 13:1: “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
And Ezekiel under inspiration wrote about the day when death would lose its final grip on you and me as these very dry bones come to life with the word of God: “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people.” I honestly cannot imagine what that will be like or how Jesus will do that as He calls your name to you just like the Risen Lord did for Mary at His own tomb. But a resurrection is coming for you and me, the hope of every single person in this room who had to say a goodbye in Christ to someone they love, to a mother or a father or someone dear to them, to every single person who was told once that there was no earthly hope of living, that cancer was going to win the battle, that sickness and illness and despair would have the final say. But Jesus Christ has the final say.
I don’t know how the Lord will do it. But the Spirit the Lord puts within us as Ezekiel says makes us to know that He is the Lord, that He has spoken and He will do it. It’s like the story of the Amish family that finally had to make a trip to the local mall to buy something the family needed. The wife went off to find what they needed, and the Amish father and his young son went to the center court of the mall to wait for a while. While there, the young boy looked at the elevator that was located there although he had no idea what an elevator was since the Amish avoid anything modern and technological. “My father, my father,” he said, “What are these silver doors in front of us, and what do they mean?” “In truth, my son,” the father replied, “I do not know.” They watched and soon an elderly woman came with a walker, and she slowly approached the elevator and pressed the button. The doors opened, and she walked in and the doors closed behind her. “My father, my father, what has happened now?” “Again, my son, I do not know.” They watched as the numbers rose, and then they paused for a moment, and then the numbers went back down. Suddenly the elevator doors opened and out walked a rather young and spritely and attractive young woman who quickly came out of the elevator and ran off. “My father, my father, again, what has happened?” The father replied, “Again, in truth my son. I do not know, but go get thy mother.”
What will it be like on that last day when the risen Jesus returns and calls His own from the grave to everlasting life that completes the joy their spirits already know in heaven with Him? I cannot explain it, but in the words of my predecessor in New England, Pastor Jim Keurulainen, “On the last day I want to be down in the cemetery, because that’s where all the action is gonna be.”
I cannot imagine the hows and the whys of Ezekiel’s beautiful hope that he gives you and me today under inspiration. I can even say, “I don’t get it.” But then there is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that I get. I know that it’s a done deal. For in that certain Easter resurrection of my Redeemer, I know my fears and my hurts and my terrors are answered because He lives. His resurrection was not only for Him as wonderful as it was; His resurrection was for you and me, for as St. Paul said it so clearly in Rom. 4:25 He was raised for our justification. For the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate proof that your sins are forgiven and that you no longer stand under the judgment of sin and the power of the death and the devil.
Why? Think about what God’s Word says: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Where there is sin, there is always death. And on that cross, God for our sakes made Him to be sin who knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21). On that cross, Jesus had in Himself every sin that you and I ever committed or will commit and He died for you bearing your death: the wages of sin that should have been yours and mine. Now think about it. On that Sunday morning as His body lay in that tomb, if there was one sin of yours left in Him for which He had not entirely won God the Father’s forgiveness, if there was left one single, rotten sin of yours and mine that His blood did not cover and pay the price for, then Jesus Christ stays dead. Where there is sin, there is death.
But Jesus Christ lives, and because He lives, your sin is gone and your death is gone and your hell is gone. He could not have risen to live if it was anything else but your entire and absolute forgiveness that you have today and the eternal life that is surely yours of which Ezekiel proclaimed so long ago. That is the joy of Ezek. 37:1-14, and that is what we celebrate today for there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
In my life, I have had the privilege of travelling outside the United States to Africa. In fact, it is the only place I have ever gone when I have traveled, and it has include places like Kenya and recently Liberia. Personally I want to go on a mission to Paris, France, under the theme, “The French need Jesus too, you know.” But until then I have the memories of so many wonderful saints in Africa, and among the most awesome are those from the times I have been able to worship with them. Something about the way Africans worship has filled me with awe. Whether it was Kenya or Liberia, when I sat in their ramshackle churches of mud walls, dirt floors and corrugated tin roofs, I remember the start of a Sunday worship where a robed parishioner began by processing into the church carrying a cross. He did it with such reverence and solemnness that you could not help but be moved. Slowly and with strength that comes only from God, that huge cross of our salvation entered into our midst, and you knew that Jesus in His glory , the glory of the cross and the empty tomb, was among us. I know I was not the only one among our band of missionaries who was not fighting back tears as we saw that cross of the Savior handled in such a beautiful way. But then behind that person was the choir of African saints. And when they entered the church to begin worship it was with the words: “Embelle!”
To my dear brother district presidents, President Harrison, Praesidium members, to whom again I say with no false humility on my part to be the men I admire and respect more than any other human beings in my life, and to all of you, may the awe and reverence of the cross of victory, your victory, be yours today. And may the joy of Jesus’ resurrection, which is your resurrection and the resurrection of your moms and dads and Christian grandparents and loved ones and friends who died trusting in Jesus, may that awe and that joy be yours until that day when very dry bones rise up with flesh and blood and life to praise the One who lived, died, rose again, ascended and reigns forevermore for us to the honor of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Amen.