Another brutal and senseless killing spree by a crazed gunman, motivated by racial hatred, sends our thoughts swirling between despair and numbness. Why were these nine Christians martyred as they were taking in the life-giving Word of God in Christian Bible study? We know and are too often reminded that there is horrid evil in this world, and an “evil one” who bedevils the minds of such killers. Jesus said it would be so (John 17:15).
As the world devolves around us from insanity to insanity, I’m reminded of the statement of John Adams that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Nowhere is that more true than in the case of the Second Amendment. As both religion and morality are on steep decline among us, we can only expect more of this insanity by individuals unhinged from the safety of families and a society normed by natural law and influenced by the genuine teaching of the Bible. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
No truth of the New Testament is so loudly stated by Jesus than that the Triune God is the creator of all people (Matt. 19:4); that God loves all (John 3:16); that all are equally indebted to God and valuable to Him (2 Cor. 5:14–15; John 8:12). Racism is a fundamental denial of the Word of God (cf. Acts 2:5ff.; Matt. 15:21ff.) and natural law. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” (Declaration of Independence). The denial of human rights, maltreatment of persons due to race, including the forbidding of the right for a man and a woman to marry without regard to race, is contrary to natural and divinely revealed law (Holy Scripture). It also contradicts the universality of the truth of the Gospel of Christ, who died for all (Romans 3:9–10, 19; 2 Cor. 5:19).
We mourn the loss of these dear Christians and pray for their loved ones. May they be consoled by “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” and the picture of heaven painted by St. John in Revelation of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).
We reject racism and racially motivated hatred in all its forms. We repent where we have fallen short, and we pray for strength to stand for what is good and right and true. We pray for the perpetrator and his family, even as we demand the swift execution of justice.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Pastor Matthew C. Harrison
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
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
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today is Ash Wednesday, when the Church begins her slow and measured journey to the cross, where we see Jesus: the Savior who hangs — bloodied and scourged — for us. It is a time of reflection and repentance for me and also for you, for all of us as the LCMS, and for the Church throughout the world.
And yet in the midst of our dusty Lenten ashes, we also look forward to Easter, when our Lord is raised from the dead, triumphing over sin and Satan, all for us. Yes, even during our Lenten fast, joy abounds!
That’s why I want to share two important things with you, so that you may see and know that our Lord is at work in and among each one of us, and is using us collectively as the LCMS to bear witness to Him.
First, our Synod treasurer, Jerry Wulf, shared at our Board of Directors meeting last weekend that together as the Synod we have reduced internal borrowing of restricted funds to cash flow operations from some $16 million four years ago to zero. You read that correctly. Zero! And we’re not stopping there. To get our financial house in order, we have also achieved a three-month cash reserve for operations, which is the minimum for a responsible non-profit.
Second, I’m delighted to announce that we are closing in on doubling the number of career missionaries internationally, which is a goal set by the Synod in convention in 2013. We are working to find a measured pace that will ensure that a sound system of missionary care remains in place but, by God’s grace, will also enable us to continue to add men and women, lay and clergy, to our worldwide mission team. The international moment unfolding worldwide before us as the LCMS is truly astounding!
So, thank you. Thank you for taking part in getting our finances in order so that we may be hearty stewards of all our Lord has to give. And thank you for being a part of our church’s mission work, that our fellow members may go to the ends of the earth to bear witness to Christ to those who have not yet heard that they are loved and whole on account of His death and resurrection.
Thank you. Thank you for your faithfulness to God’s Word and to the Lutheran Confessions. Lay people, thank you for loving your pastors. Pastors, thank you for loving your people.
Thank you for living boldly as the baptized children, loved by God, that you are. And thank you for the privilege of serving you. I covet your prayers and promise you mine, this Lenten season and always.
Under the cross,
Pastor Matt Harrison
President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
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 126.96.36.199 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
188.8.131.52 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