All of us find our emotions reeling this weekend in the aftermath of the horrible destruction of innocent childrens’ lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Random senseless shootings are awful every time. Random senseless shootings of young children too small to defend themselves strike us as even more awful. Without wishing to minimize in any way this terrible tragedy and this weekend’s suffering by parents, siblings, grandparents, and community . . . just an observation.
In the earlier days of “legalized” abortion, there were warnings of the long-range effects on our society of wholesale abortion, of the careless destruction of the most defenseless among us, of its devaluation of human life. It was feared that a society that brutally takes the lives of its unborn children will become hardened and, in due time, reflect that brutality toward all human life.
There are, of course, many “dots” that can be connected to random killings–mental illness, violent video games and entertainment, etc. But can we sometime soon also connect the abortion dot? While violent killings are as old as Cain and Abel, random acts of violence against innocent human life continue to increase in number and horror, underscored by what happened on Friday. Brutality toward women and children, once shrugged off as a problem elsewhere in the world, now occurs too often in our own society not to connect this dot.
One of the great messages of this Advent Season is the coming of Christ again. We can only wonder how that will be. But the tragedy in Connecticult must also cause us to wonder how it will be if Christ does not come again soon. As Vice-President Mueller put it in his letter to the Council of Presidents on Friday, the evil one is “thrashing about” on this earth. Things can and may get really ugly.
However that will be, one thing we know for sure. For those who are in Christ, even the ugliest events of this world and life are always followed by a final dot, announced by that wonderful three-letter word “but” in St. Paul’s words to the church at Corinth: “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). It’s the final dot that counts the most.
A blessed advent to you and yours.
Each year as October 31 approaches, my thoughts return to a Lutherland tour nearly 30 years ago, when Tamara and I joined a group of American Lutherans to visit the sites of the Lutheran Reformation. This included three days inside East Germany where some of the most important sites were located. One in particular I will always remember.
On this particular day we visited the house where Martin Luther was born, restored by the East German government for the benefit of the thousands of wandering Americans interested in marking the 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth. Given the state and appearance of East Germany at the time, gray and impoverished and firmly in the iron grasp of an atheistic communist government, the house was like a Luther’s rose amid thorns, the only house with fresh paint and blooming windowboxes that we saw in Eisleben. Already the kind of thing you remember for 30 years.
But still not as memorable as our walk next door to St. Peter’s Church, where day-old Martin was brought by his parents to be baptized 500 years earlier. Its exterior showed the wear and grime of the passage of time. Its interior was massive, cold, museum-like. After being shown the portion of the baptismal font said still to survive from the day when Hans and Margaretha brought their day-old son, we had opportunity to walk through the church and view the chancel, with the pastor of the congregation serving as our guide.
In the chancel, along the wall on the left, we saw a row of eight chairs. I remember asking their purpose. We were told that those were for the congregation that meets on Sundays. Apparently more than enough chairs. Eight chairs would suffice. So sad. So memorable.
That memory again came to mind two weeks ago while reading an article in the October 14 St. Louis Post Dispatch, “Churches Seek to Reclaim the Religiously Unaffiliated.” The article by Tim Townsend covers a presentation at a local library by an apparently well-known “hero to the growing number of young Americans who are rejecting institutional religion,” Harvard professor Steven Pinker. A goodly number of these young Americans were in attendance.
The article also discussed a set of statistics released a day earlier by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, reporting that one of every five Americans today is a “none,” as Pew names them, persons claiming no affiliation with any religion. That number increases among young Americans under age 30: one of every three. Pew reports:
- Males comprise 56 percent of nones.
- A third of those under 30 declare themselves to be nones; this number drops to 9 percent among those age 65 and older.
- Among these nones, 71 percent are white, 11 percent are Hispanic, 9 percent black, and 4 percent Asian.
- While 27 percent of nones say there is no God, 68 percent say that they believe in God or a universal spirit, and 55 percent identify themselves as either spiritual or religious.
- Nones lean heavily democratic and are more likely than the nation as a whole to support abortion rights and gay marriage.
Perhaps most importantly, the Pew report found that its latest numbers show an increase of five percent since its last report in 2007. Which brings us back to those eight chairs in the chancel and Pinker, the Harvard professor. He believes they are inevitable. In his thinking, Europe always leads and the West will be catching up.
Whether that is so remains to be seen, but we certainly are noticing this trend away from the church among us and probably also in our families. We have no 500 years of theological undermining and a persecuting East German government to blame. But we do have a massive onslaught on the minds and hearts of our young people from many quarters, reminding us of words from Luther’s hymn: “Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us.” We will need to do what we can to stop their preying upon our young people and to help this young generation as much as we can, but we will also take comfort and courage from Luther’s words that follow: “We tremble not, we fear no ill–they shall not overpower us….The Word they still shall let remain.”
Ray Hartwig, LCMS Secretary
As a child attending Lutheran school, I remember our annual parading outside the school building on October 31, all children, pastors, and staff lining up on the west side of the building (facing the Roman Catholic church four blocks away) and singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” very loudly. It was an example of how we felt about things “Catholic” in those days. I guess we were hoping that our voices would carry those four blocks to their church and school in some meaningful way.
This aversion to things “Catholic” included the Bible they used. It included “extra books” that didn’t belong there, and we children knew better than ever to touch one of those Bibles, much less open it and read from it, lest our attention wander over to “those books.” At least such was my take from those childhood days.
I mention this to demonstrate how things have changed. Over the years, our attitude has softened considerably toward the Roman church. Not always, of course, as when key doctrinal differences are considered. But with a number of other important issues (e.g., abortion, homosexuality), we often recognize a closer affinity with the Roman Catholic Church than with those who share our name “Lutheran.”
And now, courtesy of Concordia Publishing House with its recent release of The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition With Notes, another old fence has come down. I was pleased to be asked to provide a review of this Lutheran publication of “those books” and did so from the perspective of one who has watched 60 years pass since singing as loud as I could every October 31 outside our Lutheran school.
This publication by CPH is far more than yet another sign of the softening of inter-church attitudes. This bold bringing of these intertestamental writings out of the shadows is a major gift to the Lutheran and Protestant world. It not only signals that these writings, rightly understood, are okay to read. It makes available to both clergy and laity alike an important aid for the study of the Bible itself. It provides a first-hand look into the historical context that God Himself regarded as “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4).
In his introduction to the publication, LCMS 3rd Vice-President Paul Maier writes, “Not only does [The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition With Notes] offer an unfailingly accurate translation of the various texts involved, via the English Standard Version, but it is also replete with scholarly notes and commentary to assist the reader–lay or professional–in every way possible….Simply put, this book belongs in every serious library, be that collection Evangelical, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Jewish. Why? No reply could be better than the introduction to the Apocrypha in the German Lutheran Bible: ‘Apocrypha, that is, books which are not held equal to the sacred Scriptures, and nevertheless are useful and good to read.'”
We are truly blessed as a Synod to have a publishing house in our corner of our Lord’s kingdom to provide a host of materials that we can confidently use to do the work of His Church on earth. And we are blessed with CPH leadership that looks continually for opportunities to provide helpful resources, such as The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition with Notes.
My contributions to this WMLT blog are often less than inspiring. While they address matters of our “life together,” in the minds of some they might better be called “blahgs,” for they usually have to do with life together according to bylaws.
But life together according to our Synod’s Bylaws is important, for this is how we have agreed to walk together. And this particular blog is particularly important for it is about FOEs. We often hear of FAQs. This is about FOEs, “Frequently Observed Errors” in the manner in which we prepare to send delegates to our Synod conventions.
Bylaws 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124 provide very detailed processes to be used to elect delegates to national Synod conventions. Every detail has been thought by our Synod to be important to the process. Here following are seven frequently troublesome areas.
(1) “Each electoral circuit shall meet….” [126.96.36.199 (a)]
The bylaw requires a face-to-face meeting to provide opportunity for discussion of candidates and ballot votes for elections. This can create hardship for some electoral circuits with many miles to travel, but our Synod has determined that this is worth the effort once every three years.
(2) “…not later than nine months prior….” [188.8.131.52 (a)]
Circuit counselors, it is important to plan early for this meeting. It will be ideal also to establish an alternate date, in case unforeseen circumstances make the agreed-upon date for the meeting impossible. The bylaw offers no opportunity for exceptions to this date.
(3) “…one pastor and one layperson from each member congregation….” [184.108.40.206 (c)]
Representation at circuit forums is different from representation at district conventions. In the case of circuit forums, each congregation of the circuit is entitled to send a voting lay representative to the forum in addition to its pastor. This includes each congregation of a multiple-congregation parish.
(4) “All pastors who are not advisory pastors….” [220.127.116.11 (d)]
Sole or associate pastors of congregations are eligible for election as delegates—not assistant pastors or other pastors not in charge of congregations. Bylaw2.13.1 (b) (1) also adds specific ministry pastors to the list of those not eligible. While they are indeed pastors in charge of congregations, they are ineligible to serve as voting delegates to national Synod conventions for other reasons.
(5) “…each congregation shall nominate one layperson….” [18.104.22.168 (e)]
This is truly a FOE. Nominations of lay delegates may not take place at the circuit meeting. While each congregation should nominate a layperson from within the congregation or from another circuit congregation prior to the circuit meeting, these names must be provided to the circuit counselor prior to the day of the meeting. If there are no layperson nominees prior to the day of the meeting, there can be no lay delegate elections. Circuit counselors will want to make certain that they have received names of nominees well in advance of the day of the meeting so that a slate and ballot can be prepared for the meeting.
(6) …eligible for election as an alternate.” [22.214.171.124 (f)]
It is essential that circuits elect alternate pastoral and lay delegates. Each triennium, a goodly number of elected delegates are unable to attend the convention when the time comes. Only when an alternate delegate was elected who also cannot serve can the district president step in and appoint a replacement.
(7) “…selections must be completed at least nine months prior….” [126.96.36.199 (b)]
This final FOE pertains to the selection of ordained and commissioned minister advisory delegates. If such selections did not take place at recent district conventions, they will need to take place at official district ordained and/or commissioned minister conferences. Hopefully those conferences will take place on or prior to October 20, the deadline for advisory delegate selections.
Call this a “blog” or call it a “blahg,” but call care taken to avoid these frequently observed errors very important to our life and walk together. Thanks for reading.
With many district conventions meeting this month, we are close to reaching the first milestone in preparation for the 2013 convention. This is already quite an achievement, given the activity required by changes adopted by the 2010 Synod convention. I take this blog moment to thank at least some of the people most responsible for successfully reaching this milestone.
A word of general thanks…
- …to the Synod’s 6,000+ congregations, all of whom were required to meet to select representatives to their circuit forums, to nominate candidates to serve as circuit counselors, to consider mission and ministry emphases for the Synod for the next triennium, and to elect delegates to their district conventions;
- …to the Synod’s 600+ circuit counselors, each having to arrange circuit forums to select circuit counselors for the new triennium, to help their circuits identify mission and ministry emphases to propose to their districts for the Synod’s next triennium,, and to assist their circuits in contemplating other business to send to district and Synod conventions; and
- …to the Synod’s 35 district presidents, whose extra-ordinary efforts to keep their congregations and circuits aware of the many significant changes in bylaw expectations adopted by the 2010 Synod convention played a key role in reaching this first milestone.
A word of more specific thanks…
- …to the administrative assistants of our 35 district presidents for their tireless efforts to bring district rosters up to date with increased Synod expectations, thereby to foster uniform delegate representation at all 35 district conventions, critical for the election of the President of the Synod four weeks prior to the 2013 Synod convention;
- …to these same administrative assistants plus district secretaries and registration officials for their cooperation in developing district convention registration procedures to incorporate additional expectations associated with developing an accurate voters’ list for the 2013 presidential election; and
- …to the Council of Presidents for willingly undertaking the sometimes difficult and unpopular task of consistently applying new standards for voting representation that have directly affected multiple-congregation parishes and congregations served by retired pastors.
And a word of personal thanks…
- …to my office staff for their tireless labors to provide order to the huge task of providing the 35 districts with timely information and materials required to develop the 2013 presidential election voters’ list, this in addition to the host of other ongoing responsibilities associated with the Secretary’s Office;
- …to the Rosters and Statistics Department for developing a reliable process to obtain and maintain a credible and dependable presidential elections voters’ list, again in addition to their considerable other responsibilities for maintaining the official lists of the Synod; and
- …to the design, copy center, and mailroom staff of the International Center for their timely assistance in publishing and mailing the postcards that have and will continue to alert congregations to essential changes adopted by the 2013 Synod convention.
Finally, thanks in advance to all of the above…
…for we have only just begun. Still to come, along with the usual Synod convention preparations, will be significant changes to the nominations and elections processes, as well as the preparations required to carry out the presidential voting process. These will require continued attention and cooperation as we make our way down the pre-2013-convention path, one milestone at a time.
Ray Hartwig, Secretary of the Synod