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Posts by Al Collver
The following was preached by the Rev. Dr. Raymond Hartwig, secretary of Synod, on Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, at the LCMS International Center. The text for the day was Heb. 4:14-16.
On this day on the Church calendar, we remember the Early Church father Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna.
Polycarp lived during the first and second centuries after Christ. He may have had, in his younger years, opportunity to spend time with John, the last surviving apostle; he may actually have been a disciple of John and he may have been ordained bishop of Smyrna by none other than John. In any case, he lived to an old age as the bishop of Smyrna, the location of one of the congregations of Asia Minor addressed by Jesus in the Book of the Revelation of St. John, chapter 3. Jesus had this to say to the congregation at Smyrna:
I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.
The congregation at Smyrna did suffer, and so did Polycarp, culminating in him being burned at the stake for not offering incense to the Roman emperor. He is recorded as saying — on the day of his martyrdom — when asked to deny Jesus Christ:
“Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? Bring forth what thou wilt.”
And then there is one other thing: History and tradition also suggest that he may have been involved with assembling the books of the New Testament, one of which is the Book of Hebrews, the source of our text for this morning, the second of our subjects to consider together.
This brings us to our text for our meditation this morning: Heb. 4:14–16.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Could it be that Polycarp was familiar with this text? If so:
- He certainly would have appreciated its imagery more than we. “Since then we havea great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God” (Heb. 4:14a). Even as the high priest in Old Testament times killed the bullock and the goat and delivered their blood through the veil into the Holy of Holies to sprinkle it on the mercy seat to remove the sins of the whole people, so Jesus, the great High Priest, delivered His blood, passing through the heavens to deliver the forgiveness of sins for all people. Polycarp could certainly have said, “How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?”
- He certainly also would have appreciated, especially when tempted on the day of his martyrdom to deny Christ, the words of verse 15: “For we do not have a high priestwho is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Polycarp was in good company, in company with his Savior and His Savior’s far greater sufferings. He could certainly have said, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong.”
- And he certainly would have found courage in the words of vv. 14b and 16: “Let us hold fast our confession. . . . Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Polycarp found that “grace to help in time of need” and the courage to say, “Bring forth what thou wilt.”
That leaves us to consider the importance of this text also for our day.
Ordinarily texts like this, especially from the Book of Hebrews, might strike us as rather obtuse, not commanding our interest. But in the context of this day on the church calendar and the things going on in the world in which we live, we may see otherwise. Here in this text, first of all, is the heart and core of our Christian faith — that Jesus has become one of us:
- to face temptations to sin that we often cannot withstand;
- to suffer far more severely than we ever will;
- to shed and then deliver to His Father in heaven the only blood that could suffice for our forgiveness of our sins.
Already in its first verses there is plenty in this text to cause us to sit up and take notice.
But it is also the encouragements to “hold fast our profession,” to “come boldly” and “find grace to help in time of need” that are taking on greater urgency and significance now every day. How rapidly things are changing for us as the bright conditions that we have been privileged to enjoy most of our lives begins to grow dim. In my childhood, the words “let us hold fast our profession” predominantly meant, “Beware of what they teach in that church down the street from our parochial school.” Or it meant, “Keep the faith while diving under our school desks for the latest nuclear bomb drill.” Now we are beginning to recognize that possibilities for personal suffering we once thought preposterous are no longer so; that we, too, might have to “find grace to help in time of need” because our Christian way of life and faith or even our lives might at some point be direly threatened.
I expect I will never get out of my mind the recent picture of the 21 Coptic Christians, young men dressed in orange, waiting to be martyred on the seashore. I felt I owed it to them, my brothers in Christ, to watch the video disseminated by their executors. I was disgusted, of course, but more so I was amazed — at their calm demeanor as they kneeled with knives at their throats and at the last word on their lips: the name of Jesus. I wondered how they could do that. But they, like Polycarp, had the encouragement of God’s Word. And they clearly had the last word: the name of Jesus clearly the last word on their lips. They are the best commentary of our text this morning: “Let us hold fast our confession,” to which the only thing more for us to say is, “Amen.”
The February 2015 issue of the Journal of Lutheran Mission is out. You can look at the entire issue here. Below is an overview of LCMS career missionaries from 1894 until the present. Many factors go into the increase and decrease of international missionaries including economic, theological reasons, and social reasons. This article examines some of those.
8 February 2015
About 1 year ago, during President Harrison’s visit to Ethiopia, the idea to produce significant quantifies of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus’ (EECMY’s) confessional documents was born. Tsegahun Assefa, the Director of Children and Youth Ministry Department of the EECMY, explained how Lutheran identity, especially among the youth was a challenge. This led to a conversation about the confessional documents which the EECMY subscribes.
According to the EECMY’s Church Constitution in Article II, the confessional basis is as follows:
The Church (EECMY) believes and professes that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments are the Holy Word of God and the only source and infallible norm of all Church doctrines and practice.
The Church adheres to the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, which were formulated by the early Fathers’ and accepted by ancient church.
The Church sees in the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, which was worded by the Church Reformers, as well as in Luther’s Catechisms, as a pure exposition of the Word of God.
Although it may seem strange to many people in the LCMS to subscribe to less than the entire Book of Concord, many churches around the world subscribe to the Ecumenical Creeds, the Augsburg Confession, and Luther’s Catechisms. As every other document in the Book of Concord is a further explanation of the Augsburg Confession and the Catechisms, there is no problem with not subscribing to the entire Book of Concord, provided that the other parts of the Book of Concord are not rejected. On the mission field, a challenge is that many churches that were started by European missionaries were never given the entire Book of Concord. It was only within the past decade that the EECMY had an Amharic translation of the entire Book of Concord, and that effort only provided 900 copies for the entire church. Another challenge for the church has been the lack of copies of these confessional documents. So the project was born to provide 30,000 copies of the EECMY’s confessional documents as an effort to increase awareness and knowledge of these books.
President Wakseyoum and Dr. Albert Collver exchange Catechisms, Creeds and Confessions. The book will be formally presented to the Pastors of the EECMY by Lutheran Heritage Foundation in April 2015. In the meantime, the books are being or will soon be distributed to the synods of the EECMY so that people can begin to use them. When Dr. Wakseyoum say the book he said, “Very good. Thank you. This will be a help to our church in strengthening her Lutheran identity.”
Last year after the LCMS delegation visit to Ethiopia in January / February 2014, discussions began with Dr. Matthew Heise, Executive Director of Lutheran Heritage Foundation (LHF). LHF was very eager to publish Catechisms, Creeds and Confessions. In the preliminary conversation, Rev. Heise explained LHF’s mission is to publish confessional works and he was happy to work with the LCMS to do so. In an email, Heise wrote, “LHF is committed to printing those materials that are most needed for Ethiopia, as well as the Book of Concord by the end of this year.” Catechisms, Creeds and Confessions was published on January 2015. (It is quite possible that I saw a copy of it before Rev. Heise.) The partnerships between the LCMS and her RSOs, like Lutheran Heritage Foundation, and other entities is a great asset and a significant factor in having an impact on worldwide Lutheranism. We look forward to this continued partnership.
7 February 2015
There is tremendous new opportunity for Lutheran Bible Translators in Tanzania and Ethiopia. Dr Mike Rodewald, executive director and Rev. Rich Rudowske, Director of International Programs are spending two weeks connecting with leaders of the two largest Lutheran church bodies in Africa. Lutheran Bible Translators, a recognized service organization of the LCMS, was founded 50 years ago through the vision of a Lutheran missionary who had to leave Nigeria for the health of his family. In the last fifty years, LBT missionaries and partners have translated 40 NT and/or complete Bibles reaching an estimated seven million people with God’s Word through their own language.
Dr. Jim Kaiser, LBT translation consultant arrived in Ethiopia three weeks ago to serve as consultant to five translation projects being accomplished by the EECMY and other partners in southwest Ethiopia. EECMY leaders have formed a translation board to advise and lead the church’s efforts in translation.
Dr. Albert Collver of the LCMS Office of International Mission (OIM), Dr. Mike Rodewald and Rev. Rich Rudowske of LBT, discuss areas of cooperation and networking strategy as both organizations seek to work in Ethiopia with the EECMY for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel. They are looking at a Ge’ez document titled, “Aleqa Meseret Sebhat LeAb” which teaches the doctrine of justification by faith and helped lay the foundation of the EECMY at the beginning of the 20th century. It will soon be translated into Amharic and English. The LCMS mission department and Lutheran Bible Translators (LBT) have had a long standing relationship where LCMS rostered workers are called by the Synod and seconded to LBT. Future opportunities in Ethiopia and elsewhere offer new avenues for cooperation.
The Ge’ez document “Aleqa Meseret Sebhat LeAb.” Ethiopia has a history of Lutheran Bible translation efforts going back to the 17th century. Dr. Peter Heyling (1607-1652) in 1647 translated the Gospel of St. John from Ge’ez (pictured above) into Amharic which was the language of the people. In 1652, Dr. Heyling departed Ethiopia and while traveling was captured in Turkey. Faced with the choice of conversion to Islam or death, Peter Heyling did not deny Christ and was martyred for his faith. There is apparently a direct line from Peter Heyling to the founders of the EECMY. Peter Heyling’s translation efforts in the 17th century helped give birth to the worlds largest Lutheran church in the 21st century with 7.2 million members.
To find out more about Lutheran Bible Translators, please visit lbt.org.
6 February 2015
“Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. The Mass is held among us and celebrated with the highest reverence, ” comes from the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV, said Dr. Fred Baue to his class on the Lutheran Confessions. “What is the mass?,” asked Dr. Baue, “The word is associated with the Roman Catholic church, but it simply means the chief Sunday service where the Lord’s Supper is celebrated.” Lutherans were falsely accused of abolishing the chief worship service in Martin Luther’s day. “Today, we need to consider if the charge of abolishing the mass, or the chief worship of Christ applies to us today, particularly here in Ethiopia. You as leaders of the church need to evaluate this for yourselves.” What ensued was an engaging lecture with excellent dialog in the class of about 36 people.
Part of the lecture was a demonstration and practicum on how to not “abolish the mass” included singing the opening versicles of Matins. The EECMY does not have Matins or Vespers as part of its liturgical tradition. The missionaries 90 some years ago translated the Divine Service with Holy Communion and a Service of the Word from German and Scandinavian languages into Amharic and Oromo, but they did not translate Matins or Vespers. When LCMS people began teaching on the campus of Mekane Yesus Seminary, they would hold a Matins service from time to time in the chapel. After seeing the service from the Lutheran Service Book a few times, the leadership asked if assistance could be given to put Matins into Amharic. The next EECMY hymnal revision may contain the order of Matins and Vespers. Dr. Baue is involved in bringing these services into Amharic by helping to put it in an Ethiopian context.
Dr. Baue’s demonstration of the opening versicles of Matins, prompted a discussion on “contextualization” and a discussion about how to properly contextualize worship both in the 21st century and in Ethiopia. Dr. Baue explained that the music and the instruments need to be contextualized for a given people and location, but the basic forms and content should remain consistent. This brought about a discussion on Lutheran doctrine. One of the students raised his hand and said, “Lutheran doctrine is nothing other than Biblical doctrine. The teachings of the Lutheran church come directly from the Bible.” Dr. Baue then asked, “What is pure doctrine?” as he began to draw on the chalk board.
The quality of the artwork aside, Dr. Baue illustrated “pure doctrine” with a glass of milk. He quoted 1 Peter 2:2, “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” Christian teaching is spiritual milk by which we grow up to salvation. He asked how many flies would have to be in the glass of milk before you refused to drink the glass of milk? Nearly the entire class said, “No flies!” Dr. Baue explained that reason, philosophy, culture, even contextualization that take us away from the cross of Jesus are flies in the milk. He said the reason we study the Augsburg Confession is to help us keep flies out of the milk. The class remained engaged in the lecture to the point of nearly forgetting to take a coffee break. At the end appreciation was expressed for the lecture. Dr. Baue will remain teaching for several months.
For the past two years, the LCMS has been actively assisting in the masters level theology program at Mekane Yesus Seminary (MYS). Support for the program includes scholarships, curriculum assistance, and instructors. Presently, there are about 65 students enrolled in the masters program. The master degree students are or will become Synod leaders and instructors at Bible schools and regional seminaries. Those who teach at the MYS seminary frequently study abroad, increasingly at LCMS seminaries. Funding for the MA student scholarships, for the instructors who teach at the Mekane Yesus Seminary (MYS), and scholarships to study at LCMS seminaries is provided by the Global Seminary Initiative (GSI). To see the opportunities the Global Seminary Initiative is meeting please visit: http://www.lcms.org/makeagift/gsi