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Posts by Jon Vieker
A Sermon for Good Friday 2015
But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
We’ve all been there, and if you haven’t yet, you will be. I’m speaking, of course, of the deathbed of a loved one.
A few weeks ago, I was visiting a dear friend in the hospital with some brother pastors. We were there to sing hymns for our beloved professor, and it was great visit. But as we were leaving his room, a woman about my age came up and quietly asked whether we might be able to come to her mother’s room and sing there as well. So we did. Her mother was ninety-two. She was frail and unconscious, clearly nearing the end. And there at her deathbed, she was surrounded by her many children and grandchildren. The family was all there. And so was Jesus. You see, Jesus takes care of his family.
St. John is the only writer to record this intimate account of Jesus caring for his mother. The only other place where Mary is mentioned in John’s Gospel is at the very beginning, at the wedding at Cana, where she is alerted to the impending shortage of wine and tells Jesus, who replies: “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” And yet Mary tells the wine stewards in faith: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:4). You see, Mary knew that Jesus takes care of his family.
Mary knew that from the very beginning, when the angel spoke into her ears the incredible news of a child to be conceived in her womb by the power of the Most High, a child who would be called “holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). And Mary’s faith received those words from the Lord, and the Son of God was thereby conceived in her womb. As we confess of Jesus,
“. . . conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified, died and was buried . . .” (Apostles’ Creed)
You see, Mary also knew of the pain that would come to her infant son. For at Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple at forty days old, Old Man Simeon had prophesied: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel . . . and a sword will pierce through your own soul also . . .” (Luke 2:34–35).
Here, at Calvary, when Jesus’ hour had finally come, that “dagger to the heart” came to Mary also, as she beheld the son she once cradled in her arms—now beaten, mocked, and crucified as a common criminal, bleeding, and dying in agony. Yet, in the midst of all of that, Jesus took care of his family.
And Jesus takes care of you, too. For Mary and the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” are a picture of you and me, a picture of Christ’s holy church, his family. “I will not leave you as orphans,” Jesus promised his disciples (John 14:18). And he has not left you abandoned and alone in your sin. He has not left you alone to face death. He will not leave you alone at the deathbed of your loved one. And he will not leave you alone at own deathbed. For Jesus has already passed through death, for you. By his death and resurrection, Jesus has swallowed up death forever in victory (Is. 25:8; 1 Cor. 15:54). And through your Baptism, you have been buried with him into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, you too might walk in newness of life. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:4–5).
Jesus takes care of his family. As he took care of Mary and John at the foot of the cross, so also takes care of you and me, His Church. For “that same heart which began to beat in Mary’s womb and had been silenced on the cross, once again began to beat in that cold dark tomb, and it still beats to this very day. It still beats for you and me” (O.P. Kretzmann).
Some 1800 years after Tertullian of Carthage wrote these words about Christian martyrdom at the time of Roman emperor, Septimus Severus, his prophetic utterance comes to mind at the news that radical Muslims murdered 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians on the same north African coast not 750 miles from Tertullian’s home. It is a sad reminder of the horrid conquest by Islam of the once thriving and dominant intellectual center of Christianity in North Africa. Pope Francis’ words were right. We, too, stand with all martyrs and confessors of Jesus, no matter what Christian church or confession. These men died with the words, “Jesus, help us!” on their lips. That is the fundamental confession of a genuine faith. We mourn with the Coptic community, not only in Egypt and North Africa, but here in the United States.
As Christians, we plead in prayer for secular leaders everywhere, and certainly for our own. We also plead in prayer for our brothers and sisters in the faith all over the globe, and particularly in the morass of the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Asia, Nigeria, and wherever else the irrationality of radical Islam and Islamic states threatens the lives of not only Christians, but also Jews and of anyone who dares to contradict the dictates of their insanity. As Christians we know Tertullian’s words are true. We know that, in the divine plan of the suffering and cross of Christ, the victory belongs to Christ. We know that martyrdom is the normal course of Christianity (Luke 21:12). “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:9–10). Even as we know the Lord’s recompense must come, we will continue to pray for the souls of those who are possessed of the devilish delusion that such murderous action is pleasing to God. “Pray for those who persecute you,” is a mandate of the Savior (Matt. 5:44).
We also stand and bear witness to the genius of Luther’s two-kingdom doctrine. Religion and government are distinct. “Our churches teach that lawful civil regulations are good works of God. They teach that it is right for Christians to hold political office, to serve as judges, to judge matters by imperial laws and other existing laws, to impose just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts to hold property . . .” (Augsburg Confession XVI 1–2). “The Gospel does not introduce laws about the public state, but is the forgiveness of sins and the beginning of a new life in the hearts of believers” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession XVI 58). “Therefore the two governments, the spiritual and secular, should not be mingled or confused” (Augsburg Confession XVIII 12). Governments do not possess authority over the mind and heart, and certainly not faith. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). We seek no Christian government per se. We seek governments that recognize the basic and universal dignity of all people, the right of free speech for all people, and the right of freedom of faith and worship for all people and all religions. Such freedom guarantees the free course of the Gospel. Islam’s “one-kingdom” dogma—that is, that state and religion are one—is a gross confusion of what God has determined ought be distinct and separate, and it threatens not only Christianity but free intellectual discourse as well as the rational functioning of the state in carrying out its divinely mandated and rationally determined functions. The state exists for the protection of life, property, and freedom. The governing authorities, according to the Bible, “do not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4). No soldier or government official is criticized for his vocation per se in the New Testament (Luke 3:14). Governments are to punish evil and wage just war. Wanton violation of the rights of Christians, and any and all citizens in this world, demands the recompense of legitimate authority.
By all accounts, Christianity in America is following the path it has taken in Europe. Luther, whose death we commemorate today (February 18), prophesied that the Gospel is like a passing rain shower, which comes for a time and then leaves. He correctly foretold that after a time in Germany, the Gospel would leave, and they would have Islam. That is coming true today, even as many German Muslims are converting to Christianity. The reason the Gospel passes away, according to Luther? Thanklessness (Luther’s Works, 23:261).
On this Ash Wednesday, and during this Lententide, may the horrid events of the past days in Libya and beyond, remind us of what a precious treasure the Gospel is and the freedom to believe and act upon it as we see fit. Lord, have mercy upon us, and grant us ever thankful hearts.
Matthew C. Harrison
February 18, 2015
The following report was presented by President James Baneck at the LCMS North Dakota District Convention, January 18–21, 2015, in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you (I Peter 1:3-4).
You might consider it rather trivial as to choosing a convention theme, but I take it rather seriously. Representatives from our district come together but once every three years, and if we’re going to take the time and expense to be together as Lutherans, then it should be for good reason under a good theme and focus for worship, for study, and for mission and ministry for the next three years in our great North Dakota District.
I believe our current Synod convention theme is quite genius – Baptized for this Moment. But as I look back at the last three years of our district triennium, there have been a number of ongoing discussions that led me to refine “Baptized for this Moment” to “Lutheran for this Moment.”
One ongoing discussion involved the five Holy Communion Conversations I led throughout the District. These conversations proved to me that our people are hungry for the Word – as every event had 50-70 people in attendance. And yet, there were some who became rather indignant against Scripture concerning our Lord’s teaching on His holy supper.
Another ongoing discussion involves conflict situations in the congregation where the circuit visitor and I strive to move the congregation toward reconciliation. While in various discussions, it troubles me of the lack of a basic catechetical understanding of basic Christian truths, especially from those who have neglected to be in the study of God’s Word.
And one final ongoing discussion gave me reason to stop and reflect greatly on what it means to be Lutheran for this Moment. The phrase “Lutheran DNA” came to the surface – and many stared at that phrase like deer in headlights, wondering what it meant. Perhaps we should not mix words of science with words of theology, but the phrase does force us to ask a couple very important questions, like “What is Lutheranism” and “what does it mean to be Lutheran?” I would imagine most of us would feel fairly comfortable with the phrase “Lutheran DNA,” as long as we’re the ones who get to define what it means. Have we come to a point where each of us gets to define, or re-define, what it means to be Lutheran? Have we come to a point where “everyone does what is right in his own eyes?” (Judges 21:25)
I would maintain that there is a Lutheran DNA. There is that something that encodes who we are as we develop and function as God’s people. To be a Lutheran Christian is unique and distinct from any other brand of Christianity or religion. I am a Lutheran because I believe it is the most correct confession of faith in this sinful and fallen world. I have instructed children and adults, that when they are making their confirmation vows, they too are giving public witness that the Lutheran confession of faith is the most correct on this earth, and that if they did not believe that, then they should go to the church that is more correct – because this is about their soul and their eternal life.
First and foremost, the Lutheran Church is a Christological Church. Certainly, we believe and confess the Holy Trinity; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe there is one God in three persons. However, with the fall into sin and damnation, apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ, you and I would have no salvation, and hell would be our eternal home. As Lutherans, we fix our eyes on Jesus, who is the Word made flesh, who comes to dwell among us. This is the Divine Logos. He became our sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we would be made righteous and holy and pure in the sight of the eternal God.
Our Lutheran DNA is loaded up front with Christ, and everything He is and does. Lutherans believe in the holy incarnation and holy nativity of Christ for a reason. Lutherans believe in the baptism, fasting, and temptation of Christ for a reason. Lutherans believe in the agony and bloody sweat of Christ, His cross and passion, and His precious death and burial for a reason. Lutherans believe in the glorious resurrection and ascension of Christ for a reason. Because in Him we are justified, made right with God, forgiven of all our sins, and promised and secured the gift of eternal life.
Searching the Scriptures concerning Christ’s three-fold office as prophet, priest, and king… concerning Christ’s power to share attributes from his divine nature to his human nature… concerning Christ’s fulfillment of every prophesy spoken of Him to the most minute detail concerning Christ’s ability to put Himself into the water of Baptism in the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion… concerning the mystery of Christ taking your damnation and giving you His righteousness… concerning His person and work to turn us blind, dead, and enemies of God into His holy people – THIS IS OUR LIVING HOPE!
What I have described to you is a part of our distinctively Lutheran DNA. Rome teaches that a person must do good works to earn salvation, to which the Confessions conclude, then there is no need for Christ. The Reformed Church teaches that Christ has done some of the saving work, but you have to do the rest. Some church bodies teach that Jesus is one way to heaven, but not the only way.
Jesus taught that He was the Bread of Life, Manna from Heaven, and that those who eat of His flesh and drink of His blood shall have eternal life. Then St. John tells us that when many of his disciples heard this, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” And After this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” And Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” And after Jesus’ ascension, Peter and John stand before the Council, he said, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) No one else teaches, believes, or confesses Christ the way we do.
Martin Luther says it this way in the Smalcald Articles, “The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification. This is necessary to believe. Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends. Therefore, we must be certain and not doubt this doctrine.” Dear friends – CHRISTOLOGY IS PRIME IN OUR LUTHERAN DNA.
The Lutheran Church is also a Scriptural Church. In his letter to Pope Leo X, titled “The Freedom of the Christian,” Luther writes, “One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God. The soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul.” Those are pretty sobering words for the Lutheran who does not go to church or for the Lutheran who refuses to learn the Holy Scriptures, that which makes one wise unto salvation.
No football team, no food for the stomach, no automobile, no piece of technology, no ego, no worldly power – can feed your faith and life at all. Only God’s Word can do that. And why should we trust mere words? More than being the inerrant, infallible Word of God – the Holy Scriptures is the very living breath of the Triune God that strikes dead the sinner and raises to new life the repentant.
And yet, while we claim the authority of the Word, we wonder who has the authority to interpret the Word. The Pope says he alone has the authority to interpret God’s Word. Time and again, I have heard people confidently acknowledge that they have every right to interpret God’s Word in a way that suits them best. Whole church denominations gather around the Bible, read a passage, and each says, “This is what this verse means to me” – allowing for a whole assortment of wrongs that damages the soul.
Lutherans interpret the Scriptures as Jesus describes in John 5, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; but it is they that bear witness about me.” Lutherans interpret the Scriptures through the lens of Jesus Christ, as we call this our hermeneutical key. So – when we study the Scriptures concerning salvation, we come out at a different place than Rome and their works-righteousness. We believe… through Christ – we are saved by grace alone through faith alone.
When we study the Scriptures concerning the end times, we come out at a different place than the Evangelicals and their millennialism. We believe… through Christ – we live in the end times now and He will come again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead.
When we study the Scriptures concerning Baptism, we end up at a different place than the Baptists and their age of accountability. We believe… through Christ – we are washed of our sins at infancy.
When we study the Scriptures concerning the office of the holy ministry, we end up at a different place than the ELCA and women’s ordination. We believe… through Christ – the pastor represents the God-man Christ to His people on earth.
When we study the Scriptures on creation, we end up in a different place than Rome, the Episcopal Church, the ELCA, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, and Methodism – with their teaching on evolution. Through Christ – the world was created in six 24-hour days.
And when we study the Scriptures concerning the Scriptures, we end up at a different place than liberalism and historical criticism. We believe… through Christ – the Word made Flesh who comes to dwell among us pours His inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of life and salvation into our ears and soul.
As a Scriptural Church, the Lutheran Church has fought and defended this strand of our DNA in the early 1970’s walk-out in St. Louis – coming out in the end of confessing the inerrancy of Scripture. During the sermons and Bible studies in this convention, every Sunday-morning sermon, the various Bible studies offered to God’s people – this is not extra-curricular or optional for the Christian – this is how Jesus gets into our ears and souls – through His holy, powerful, life-saving Word. There is no doubt – being a Scriptural Church is a part of our Lutheran DNA.
The Lutheran Church is a Sacramental Church. Being a sacramental church is more than just having sacraments in the church. But let’s start there. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “This is how one should regard us [as apostles or pastors], as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (I Corinthians 4:1). … Stewards of the μυστηριϖν of Christ. This word “μυστηριϖν” is the Greek word for “Sacraments.”
The question and answer part of Luther’s Small Catechism tells us that “At first, this word μυστηριϖν described all the saving truths of the faith, such as the Trinity, the incarnation, the redemption, and the church. Later it was narrowed down to this: A Sacrament is a saving act instituted by God in which God Himself has joined His Word of promise to a visible element, and by which He offers, gives, and seals the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ.
The Lutheran Church thrives and lives off of predominately two Sacraments – Holy Baptism and The Lord’s Supper, however the Confessions would readily include Confession and Absolution as well. These Sacraments are our life-blood, rather, Christ’s lifeblood coming to and in us. Baptism is the initiation into the eternal family of God. Here our sins are washed away and we are robed with Christ’s righteousness. This Sacrament is no way a dedication of a person toward God, but rather in every way this Sacrament is God pouring Himself over, in, and through the damned child of God, making Him righteous and holy in God’s sight. Holy Communion is the ongoing gift of Christ’s body and blood given to the repentant sinner for the absolute forgiveness of sins and eternal life, even as His blood now marks our door and death passes over.
Lutherans confess that these Sacraments is who they now are in Christ Jesus every single day of our lives – as daily we die with Christ in our Old Man and we rise with Him in our New Man. The power of Baptism is so strong that it even goes even to the grave with us – the deposit of Christ that keeps our remains to the day of the resurrection of the flesh when Christ calls us alive again.
Being a sacramental church is more than just having sacraments in the church. Being a sacramental church confesses and testifies to the truth that Christ is Immanuel, that He is “God with us” in His Very Presence – just for you! When water and the Word is poured over you – all of the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God washes over you and daily bathes you to be pure and holy as He is. When the bread and wine connected with the very Word of God goes into your mouth – the full infant, crucified, and risen God surges into your body, soul, and life. This kind of presence kills and damns the impenitent, but heals, forgives, and recreates the repentant in Christ Jesus.
Being a Sacramental Church is uniquely Lutheran. Rome teaches a sacrament that is ex opera operato – meaning man is doing the work, man’s work and sacrifice toward God. The Reformed and Calvinists Churches do not hold to the Sacraments at all, but rather believe that God is Sovereign, out there somewhere, but not Immanuel (God with us) for me! In you!
Lutherans do not hide the Sacraments to bring in seekers from the world; they teach and reveal the Sacraments so that the seekers desire the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. Lutherans do not bring out the sacrament for special occasions or limit it for the sake of time, but they eat this ordinary eternal ongoing meal at every chance and as often as it is served. Lutherans do not push aside the font, but keep it front and center or back and center so that we can run into our baptism as often as possible. Being a Sacramental Church is a part of our Lutheran DNA.
The Lutheran Church is a Confessional Church. You may very well be familiar with Luther’s famous words to the Emperor of Europe, Charles V. At the Diet of Worms, Luther was ordered to recant his writings and teachings, and up against the entire Roman Church, the Emperor, and the Devil himself, Luther confesses, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
This is the confession of every pastor, and for that matter, every Lutheran. At every ordination, at every installation, and even those sworn into office at the end of this convention will make confession of their Lutheran faith by publically accepting the statement and exposition of the Word of God as stated in the three ecumenical creeds and the Book of Concord.
We confess that we hold to the entire Lutheran Confessions because they are faithful to the Scriptures, not insofar as they are faithful to the Scriptures. As a confessional church, there are some things we believe, teach, and confess. And, there are some things we reject and condemn. To say you are Lutheran means you hold to all the articles of faith in the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, The Smacald Articles, The Power and the Primacy of the Pope, The Small and Large Catechisms, and the Epitome and Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord. We don’t pick and choose, rather, as Lutherans we say, “Here I stand.”
Being a Confessional Lutheran is to be Lutheran. It’s not an adjective to be ridiculed. It’s not a stereotype to be mocked. It’s not a title of which we need to be ashamed. Reading and studying the Confessions is good, right, and salutary for clergy and laity alike. It is the standard of Biblical confession we teach our children and pray into the dying. It is the standard of Biblical confession we preach from the pulpit and live in our lives. It is the standard of Biblical confession in times of disaster, war, and persecution. Being a confessional church is a part of our Lutheran DNA.
The Lutheran Church is also a Homiletical Church, which mean that we are a preaching Church. Preaching Christ, interpreting the Scriptures, speaking God’s Word in the ears and souls of the hearer, shaping Lutherans for generations to come – is all a part of being a homiletical church. Preaching is vital and it is important. Preaching is not child’s play – neither for the preacher nor for the hearer. Preaching takes a lot of work. Whether from the pulpit or the table around the Bible Study – the pastor is shaping and forming the Christian for faith and life. It involves clear, sharp, and penetrating law. It involves pure, precise, and applicable Gospel. The sermon kills the sinner and raises the penitent. It strips away all self-righteousness and clothes the hearer with the righteousness of Christ.
One of the fundamental components of preaching is pastoral care. The sermon certainly begins with Christ and the Scriptures. It is difficult, however, for the shepherd to intersect with the faith and life of the hearer if he does not know his sheep. As the pastor visits his sheep throughout the week, he learns of their worries, he is made aware of their temptations. He interacts with the troubled marriages and the new mother and her infant child. He sits at the kitchen table with his shut-in, which he sees is becoming more and more feeble with every visits. He sees the fear in the eyes of the usually grumpy member who is now receiving his fifth chemo treatment. He interacts with the youth and sees how they think. He visits the quilters and observes their joy of serving. The list goes on. And when he’s preaching about the Good Samaritan, the Widow at Nain, Abraham who is to sacrifice his son, or Jesus who rises from the dead – the pastor speaks God’s Word into the ears of His people for their faith and life.
And under the pastor are all the auxiliary offices of the church – the Lutheran School Teacher, the DCE, the Deaconess, the Sunday School Teacher, and more. From the pastor’s Christological, Biblical, Sacramental, Confessional preaching, teaching, and pastoral care, these auxiliary offices work with the pastor in Lutheran education, mercy care, working with our youth and families, caring for the aged. Being a homiletical (or preaching) church is a part of our Lutheran DNA.
The Lutheran Church is also a Liturgical Church. Who can deny that being a liturgical church is our history? It’s in our roots and it’s been a part of who we are for decades and centuries. While the liturgy is not our hermeneutic, our hermeneutic does guide and form our liturgy. Martin Luther definitely held to the liturgy of the Church – there is a whole volume of Luther’s Works devoted to this one topic, Volume 53. I contend that what Luther espoused concerning the liturgy in the Lutheran Church would make our liturgical guys look reformed.
The liturgy is meant to do a number of things. First of all, it places us in the right relationship with God, primarily God coming to His people with His gifts of Word and Sacrament, thus Divine Service. God needs nothing that we would offer Him, but we are beggars in need of everything that God offers and gives us, that is, forgiveness of sins, His holy Word, the preached Word, His blessed meal, just to name a few.
The liturgy also teaches the faith – the Advent of Christ in the Kyrie, the nativity of Christ in the Gloria, the Epiphany of Christ in the Creed, the Passion of Christ in the Agnus Dei, and the resurrection of Christ in the Sanctus. The colors, the vestments, the candles, the stain glass windows, the songs, the lectionary, the cross – is all meant to teach the faith. Whenever a custom and high liturgy is demanded – that is legalism. Whenever a diet of theologically reformed songs are sung – this is heterodox. While adiaphora is a topic of our confessions, yet the unity of life and practice is also.
Being a liturgical church does not force a certain hymnal or specified orders of service, and yet the Church works and lives together in “striving for uniformity in church practice, yet also to develop an appreciation of a variety of responsible practices and customs which are in harmony with our common profession of faith.” The church service is not about the pastor and his likes and his whims, but rather about Christ and His gifts and grace to His people.
One of the words used often in the Confessions related to the Mass is the word “reverence.” Another is the word “dignity.” The Divine Service is not the adoration of a sports hero in a public arena, rather it is Moses taking off his shoes at the very presence of God in the burning bush. Lutheran liturgy reflects the posture of creature standing in the presence of the creator; the sinner standing in the presence of the Redeemer; the unholy standing in the presence of the Sanctifier. Melanchthon writes in the Augsburg Confession, “Therefore, since the Mass (the liturgy) among us follows the example of the Church, taken from the Scripture and the Fathers, we are confident that it cannot be disapproved. This is especially so because we keep the public ceremonies, which are for the most part similar to those previously in use” (Art. XXIV). While the church on earth may continue to debate what it means to be liturgical, being a liturgical church is a part of our Lutheran DNA.
We have come together at the convention as a unique group of Lutherans called “The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.” As a district in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, we say that we are “synod in this place.” Within this context, we, who have come together in this place, are a Synodical Church. “Synod” means, “walking together.”
What did the Synod founders of the Articles of Incorporation on July 3, 1894 have in mind? The founders of Synod had in mind “to unite in a corporate body of Evangelical Lutheran congregations that acknowledge and remain true to the Book of Concord, to establish Lutheran congregations and preaching stations, to provide for ecclesiastical supervision of congregations and pastors, to support the establishment of theological institutions and institutions of higher learning, to spread the Gospel, and to provide resources for congregations. This is walking together to build one of the most influential and dynamic church bodies in the world with her theology, education, mercy, and more.
Being a part of Synod, or a member of Synod is voluntary. And yet, upon this voluntary membership, a pastor or congregation does indeed agree to walk together as we have charted our map with our Constitution and Bylaws. It is interesting, that even in this convention, we have no resolutions concerning Christ, or Scripture, or the Sacraments, or the Confessions, homiletics, or even the liturgy. Our resolutions come at this Synod level of the church with electing officers, talking about a business manager, and defining our outcomes of Witness, Mercy, and Life Together as a unified direction for our district.
There’s no doubt, we’ve had our speedbumps, bruises, and all-out battles in this Church body. Some of our Synod presidents have had nervous breakdowns, we’ve battled over the doctrine of election, the authority of Scripture, and worship. We’ve slung mud with labels such as bureaucrat, collared-guys, and liberals. And yet, we are the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Some have called us the sleeping giant. Others have called upon us for giant help in time of disaster. Church bodies all around the world are contacting us, saying, “what you have theologically, we want ” – Churches like Madagascar and Ethiopia with millions of Lutherans. We have some of the best pastors, educators, missionaries, teachers, and laymen with a host of vocations in the world – by the grace and equipping of the Triune God. Being a Synodical Church is a part of our Lutheran DNA.
And finally, we are a Missional Church. Missional is determined, directed, and influenced by all those preceding it. Missional does not define Christ; Christ defines missional. Missional does not define our Confessions; our Confessions define missional, and so on.
Being a Missional Church places us in the second table of the law. This is our love toward our neighbor. This is our mercy care at home, in our community, and all around the world. This is our auxiliaries in their superb work of “aiding the Synod, specifically in programs that extend the ministry and mission of the Synod.” This is every Christian in his/her vocation as a child of God in whom Christ dwells.
Missional doesn’t start here, but it finds its fruition from the beginning – that is Christ. Missional is shaped by the Holy Scriptures. Missional is the urgency to have the unbaptized baptized and the faithful communing at the Table of the Lord. Missional is defined by our Confessions. Missional is preaching the Word of Christ into the ears of God’s people. Missional is the passion to have all people stand in the liturgy of heaven, singing, “Worthy is Lamb who was slain.” And Missional is the ongoing activity of our Synod, described in the very objectives of our Church body’s constitution. Being a Missional Church is a part of our Lutheran DNA.
Being Lutheran for this moment is important stuff. And we have some pretty important Lutheran stuff to hear, discuss, and decide here in this convention. We will hear from campus ministry and the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. We will hear of the work of the Lutheran Laymen’s League and the Lutheran Extension Fund. We will hear from Shepherd’s Hill Camp and mercy care at Grafton State School. We will hear from our Lutheran Elementary Schools and development work in our District. We will decide on matters of Kenya, and Chile, and term limits. We will decide matters of church starts and Sudanese ministry. None of these things are autonomous or independent in and of themseles. They all come through the strands of our DNA. Each entity, every decision, our thought process and our words, our work together and our individual congregations – they all come through the DNA strands of our Christology, Holy Scripture, the Very Presence of Christ in His Sacraments, our Lutheran Confessions, our homiletics (or our preaching and teaching), the Liturgy of the Church, our life together as Synod, and our missional faith and life.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are indeed Baptized for this moment. And I am convinced that we are Lutheran for this moment. And while I understand the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saint, yet we are not Roman Catholic for this Moment. We are not Calvinsts for this Moment. We are not Pietists or legalists for this Moment. We are not The Emerging Church or the Evangelicals for this Moment. We are not Methodists or ELCA for this Moment.
We are Lutheran for this moment, and I believe being Lutheran is a very, very good and vital thing. I pray that we leave this convention with great Lutheran integrity – that we BE who we say we are! I pray that we return to our congregations with great Lutheran faithfulness – that we DO what we say we are! I pray that our Witness, Mercy, and Life Together in this new triennium will be lived out in Lutheran excellence – that we EXCEL at what we say we are.
Fellow Lutherans, Fellow Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod brothers and sisters in Christ, Fellow North Dakota District Baptized Children in Jesus Christ – YOU AND I ARE BAPTIZED LUTHERANS FOR THIS MOMENT! We are Christological, Scriptural, Sacramental, Confessional, Holimetical, Liturgical, Synodical, and Missional Lutherans for this Moment! Amen.
Because we know the Gospel of full forgiveness by the blood of Jesus, we also recognize the voice of our Savior in Holy Scripture. “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27). Saying “yes” to the Gospel in faith and to His voice in Holy Scripture, we must also say “no” to what is not true and to what the Scriptures reject (Titus 3:10).
At this moment, I would invite all of you to note what you, the church, expect of all members of the Synod, including review panels, and of the Synod’s President. What follows are excerpts showing how our church has put into practice (however imperfectly) the infallible directions of Scripture (including freedom and love).
Note especially the following words about the president’s duties.
(c) [The President] shall call up for review any action by an individual officer, executive, or agency that, in his view, may be in violation of the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod. [LCMS Bylaw 220.127.116.11 c.]
2. It is the President’s duty to see to it that all the aforementioned [officers, employees, individual districts, and district presidents of Synod] act in accordance with the Synod’s Constitution, to admonish all who in any way depart from it, and, if such admonition is not heeded, to report such cases to the Synod.
3. The President has and always shall have the power to advise, admonish, and reprove. He shall conscientiously use all means at his command to promote and maintain unity of doctrine and practice in all the districts of the Synod. [LCMS Constitution, Article XI, B. Duties of the President]
Note also that the bylaw on “dissent” from the doctrine of Synod does not grant any church worker the right to teach contrary to the Synod’s public doctrine.
1.8.1 While retaining the right of brotherly dissent, members of the Synod are expected as part of the life together within the fellowship of the Synod to honor and uphold the resolutions of the Synod.
1.8.2 Dissent from doctrinal resolutions and statements is to be expressed first within the fellowship of peers and then brought to the attention of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations before finding expression as an overture to the convention calling for revision or recision. While the conscience of the dissenter shall be respected, the consciences of others, as well as the collective will of the Synod, shall also be respected. [LCMS Bylaws]
What follows, for your study and consideration, are the pertinent words from our Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws, as they appear within their larger context.
LCMS Constitution, Article II (Confession)
The Synod, and every member of the Synod, accepts without reservation:
- The Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament as the written Word of God and the only rule and norm of faith and of practice;
- All the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God, to wit: the three Ecumenical Creeds (the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed), the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, the Large Catechism of Luther, the Small Catechism of Luther, and the Formula of Concord.
LCMS Constitution, Article III (Objectives of Synod)
The Synod, under Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, shall—
- Conserve and promote the unity of the true faith (Eph. 4:3–6; 1 Cor. 1:10), work through its official structure toward fellowship with other Christian church bodies, and provide a united defense against schism, sectarianism (Rom. 16:17), and heresy;
- Strengthen congregations and their members in giving bold witness by word and deed to the love and work of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and extend that Gospel witness into all the world;
- Recruit and train pastors, teachers, and other professional church workers and provide opportunity for their continuing growth;
- Provide opportunities through which its members may express their Christian concern, love, and compassion in meeting human needs;
- Aid congregations to develop processes of thorough Christian education and nurture and to establish agencies of Christian education such as elementary and secondary schools and to support synodical colleges, universities, and seminaries;
- Aid congregations by providing a variety of resources and opportunities for recognizing, promoting, expressing, conserving, and defending their confessional unity in the true faith;
- Encourage congregations to strive for uniformity in church practice, but also to develop an appreciation of a variety of responsible practices and customs which are in harmony with our common profession of faith;
- Provide evangelical supervision, counsel, and care for pastors, teachers, and other professional church workers of the Synod in the performance of their official duties;
- Provide protection for congregations, pastors, teachers, and other church workers in the performance of their official duties and the maintenance of their rights;
- Aid in providing for the welfare of pastors, teachers, and other church workers, and their families, in the event of illness, disability, retirement, special need, or death.
LCMS Constitution, Article VI (Conditions of Membership)
Conditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod are the following:
1. Acceptance of the confessional basis of Article II.
2. Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such as:
a. Serving congregations of mixed confession, as such, by ministers of the church;
b. Taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed confession;
c. Participating in heterodox tract and missionary activities.
3. Regular call of pastors, teachers, directors of Christian education, directors of Christian outreach, directors of family life ministry, directors of parish music, deaconesses, certified lay ministers, and parish assistants and regular election of lay delegates by the congregations, as also the blamelessness of the life of such.
4. Exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechisms in church and school.
5. A congregation shall be received into membership only after the Synod has convinced itself that the constitution of the congregation, which must be submitted for examination, contains nothing contrary to the Scriptures or the Confessions.
6. Pastors, teachers, directors of Christian education, directors of Christian outreach, directors of family life ministry, directors of parish music, deaconesses, certified lay ministers, or candidates for these offices not coming from recognized orthodox church bodies must submit to a colloquium before being received.
7. Congregations and individuals shall be received into membership at such time and manner, and according to such procedures, as shall be set forth in the bylaws to this Constitution.
LCMS Constitution, Article XIII (Expulsion from the Synod)
- Members who act contrary to the confession laid down in Article II and to the conditions of membership laid down in Article VI or persist in an offensive conduct, shall, after previous futile admonition, be expelled from the Synod.
LCMS Constitution, Article XI. B. (Duties of the President)
The President has the supervision regarding the doctrine and the administration of
a. All officers of the Synod;
b. All such as are employed by the Synod;
c. The individual districts of the Synod;
d. All district presidents.
- It is the President’s duty to see to it that all the aforementioned act in accordance with the Synod’s Constitution, to admonish all who in any way depart from it, and, if such admonition is not heeded, to report such cases to the Synod.
- The President has and always shall have the power to advise, admonish, and reprove. He shall conscientiously use all means at his command to promote and maintain unity of doctrine and practice in all the districts of the Synod.
- The President shall see to it that the resolutions of the Synod are carried out.
- When the Synod meets in convention the President shall give a report of his administration. He shall conduct the sessions of the convention so that all things are done in a Christian manner and in accord with the Constitution and Bylaws of the Synod….
LCMS Bylaws on the Duties of the President
18.104.22.168 The President shall oversee the activities of all officers, executives, and agencies of the Synod to see to it that they are acting in accordance with the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod.
(a) He shall at regular intervals officially visit or cause to be visited all the educational institutions of the Synod and thereby exercise oversight over their administration as it relates to adherence to the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod.
(b) He shall meet regularly with the Council of Presidents and, as deemed necessary, with individual district presidents or small groups of district presidents, to see to it that their administration is in accordance with the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod. He shall receive regular reports on this subject from the district presidents.
(c) He shall call up for review any action by an individual officer, executive, or agency that, in his view, may be in violation of the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod.
(1) If he deems appropriate, he shall request that such action be altered or reversed.
(2) If the matter cannot be resolved, he shall refer it to the Synod’s Board of Directors, the Commission on Constitutional Matters, and/or the Synod in convention as he deems appropriate to the issues and party/parties to the matter involved.
(3) This provision in no way alters the President’s constitutional duty to report to the Synod those who do not act in accordance with the Constitution and do not heed his admonition, as prescribed in Constitution Art. XI B 2.
“How ya doing?” I’ve been getting that question a great deal lately for some reason. And my response is almost always the same: “I’m doing marvelously. Truly blessed.” And I am. It’s a small handful who have some idea of what it’s like to be president of the LCMS. Four of them are living and breathing on this earth. The LCMS is a very large organization. Its operations and internal relationships are carefully (not perfectly!) governed by its constitution and bylaws. These documents are an imperfect, human attempt of a church body with a confession to govern itself according to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. I’ve often quipped that some historical critic needs to do a formgeschichtliche analysis of the bylaws of the Missouri Synod, which would demonstrate the history and polarities at the time of their convention adoption. It would not be difficult to demonstrate that ostensible reasons for their adoption were only half the real story of what was going on behind the scenes. I’ve tried to be honest about what I’m for and why, and will continue to do so.
What’s it like to be president of this great, often unwieldy, church body? First, it’s an enormously humbling reality. It takes a daily emotional, spiritual and physical stamina that pushes one to the limits and beyond. But I must be quick to add, I feel little different than I did struggling with challenging situations in my first little parish in Westgate, Iowa 25 years ago. Whether a portion of the locals are riled up over a pastor’s practice of close(d) communion, or detractors are trying to make national political hay and stir up opposition out of some issue, the stress level is virtually the same. The LCMS is just one big congregation. No pastor can please everyone. I approach all issues pastorally. I am to the core of my being a pastor. I try not to act rashly. I almost never act without some significant forethought and counsel. When I have or do, I make mistakes. When I make mistakes, I own them and apologize for them. Mistakes in this life are inevitable. I am not Jesus. To act pastorally means that change takes time and teaching. I have not been able to teach as much as I had preferred but I am taking steps to change this.
When I moved into the president’s office in the LCMS International Center, I moved most of my books and belongings myself. IC staff were distressed seeing this on several occasions, but I reassured them that I was doing this quite by intention. Some day I and all my books and “stuff” will be rolled out of that office, and it will be quite okay. God is the one carrying the Missouri Synod, and more often in spite of us and through us! And I don’t need to be president of the LCMS to be Matt Harrison. At some point the LCMS will get along quite famously without yours truly.
Joys abound, truly. I love what I do. I am thrilled that we are approaching the doubling the number of called international missionaries. And we won’t stop there. We may have to slow a bit in a few months, to make sure our systems of missionary care are in place, but Lord willing, we will continue to add men and women, lay and clergy, to our worldwide mission team. If our Synod actually focuses on this international work, giving it some priority or simply equal status with all the other mission trips and the dozens if not hundreds of other organizations our congregations support (some good, some less so), we can blow the lid off our all-time-high missionary number. A shout out to the LWML for providing so much help financially, as well as prayers and encouragement, and to CPH for being a marvelous partner in mission.
Since four years ago, we have reduced staffing in the IC by 70. Today we are doing more with less. I am thrilled with what is coming from the Office of National Mission. We are full steam ahead in developing the resources, training etc., for a large national effort at rejuvenating congregations (locally led) and evangelizing the communities around us. We have commissioned the most extensive demographic studies ever done on the LCMS in order to gain a precise understanding of our context(s) and how best to respond to our domestic challenges. I am enjoying this to the hilt. A very significant evangelism tool is now being developed which will help unleash the infinite potential of our marvelous laymen and women. Keep your eyes on Bart Day and the ONM!
Finances are always a challenge, but have also been a blessing. We’ve had the smallest reductions in unrestricted (plate to district to Synod) funding in decades. Thank you!
The Synod will continue to struggle with issues of doctrine and practice. Given the tumultuous events of the 1960s and 70s, it’s frankly amazing we are as united as we are. And things will become calmer still as 1974 fades into the past. I believe a consensus is emerging on issues of worship (though challenges remain to be sure). The penetration of LSB in nearly 90% of our congregations is a great sign. There is a consensus emerging, too, that while specific musical instrumentation is not commanded or forbidden, and a range of music may be acceptable (with appropriate Christological, sacramental provisos), the ordo (order) of the divine service should not be messed with. Confession and Absolution should not be ditched. The Creed should not be altered. The Lord’s Words of Institution are his, not ours to do with as we please. And we must have improved and improving preaching (more on that soon). If one speaks to a number of men involved in local Koinonia Project discussions, one will find that some amazing and stuff is quietly going on. We are at the tip of a new culture where we humbly discuss our differences, seeking truth in Christ and his Word. God help us. We have a long way to go.
Two years ago I requested of the CTCR a document to assist congregations in evaluating and improving their communion statements. We will release that very soon. We all recognize that there is “pastoral discretion” in communion practice—that is, discretion in communing individuals from time to time who, for a variety of reasons, may not be official members of an LCMS congregation or that of one of our partner churches. However, explaining our Lutheran teaching in a bulletin statement and then inviting all who believe this to commune without respect to church affiliation is not consistent with the stated and re-stated position of the Synod. I invite you to read, for instance, Dr. Walther’s, The Church and the Office of the Ministry, especially Thesis VIII on the Church. This is the official doctrinal statement of the Synod. I have been encouraging District Presidents and pastors/congregations to make sure their communion statements at the least require a person to speak with a pastor or elder prior to communing.
Since the restructuring of the Synod, narrowly adopted in 2010 (which I had opposed, ironically), the president has had responsibility for some $50 million worth of personnel and program. That on top of our aggressive effort to seriously visit every district headquarters, board of directors, staff, and circuit counselors forum, has meant that staff is stretched. But it’s good. The visitations have really allowed me and our regional VPs to get to know local challenges and people. What great folks we have! Daily we struggle with schedules. I have to turn down 98% of preaching/speaking requests. But we laugh daily. We laugh at ourselves. We laugh at the “crazy stuff” in Synod at times. And we marvel at the blessings all around.
The international moment unfolding worldwide for the LCMS is astounding, and I won’t rehearse it here. Suffice it to say, requests for our faithful seminary profs and other assistance are expanding exponentially. Lord, help us! Dr. Collver has so many requests from church bodies around the world he can’t even keep track of himself!
What is absolutely necessary for us is to continue to get our house in order. We have reduced internal borrowing for operations from some $16 million four years ago to just over $4 million today. We must get to zero. And we have achieved a three-month cash reserve for operations, the minimum for a responsible non-profit. We must revise our system of ecclesiastical supervision and adjudication. A church that holds to the inerrant scriptures and a quia subscription to the Book of Concord, cannot have public teachers for decade after decade openly rejecting the church’s teachings and or acting against them. There are church bodies where women are pastors, the Bible is not regarded as infallible, sexual preferences are optional, etc. etc. But this is not the LCMS, and to the extent I have anything to say about it, won’t be the LCMS. We must come to reasonable resolution of the issue of licensed lay deacons that has caused so very much dissention among us. Larry Vogel of the CTCR and a small task force have been working very hard on this issue, and there is light breaking at the end of the tunnel.
Well, this little communication written on a cold morning from Bread Co. in Ballwin, Missouri during the early hours of a day off, has gone on long enough.
Thank you! Thank you for your fidelity! Thank you for loving your pastors and people! Thank you for generosity! Thank you for the privilege of serving you!
I covet your prayers, and promise you mine.
Feb. 6, 2015