In the Office of the President we are presently engaged in a series of visits to all of our 35 districts of the Synod. This is part of the work of visitation our Synod as a whole seeks to strengthen throughout our life together – see 2013 Synod Resolution 7-01A.
Visitation of the districts consists of several elements. The district visitation team (consisting of the President of the Synod or the First Vice President, plus the appropriate regional Vice President) meets with the district board of directors to hear what the Lord is doing in that district and to communicate how God is at work through our joint efforts in the national Synod. We talk about what we can do to support one another in the work God has given us. We also spend time with the district president to encourage him (from the Word of God) in his difficult work of visitation and ecclesiastical supervision. Depending on local circumstances in each district, we spend time with the district staff and/or circuit counselors/visitors and in some cases have conducted an open forum for anyone interested.
In all cases, our main purpose is to listen, to encourage from the Word of God, and to listen even more. We seek to foster evangelical visitation throughout our life together as a Synod, in the spirit of the apostles who said,
“Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are” (Acts 15:36).
As our Lord animates our witness and mercy, so visitation is part of our life together.
This visitation is not in the way of the law as though our primary purpose is to come and check on you to see where you are wrong. Instead, visitation is in the way of the Gospel, through which we strengthen one another in the Word of God, as Paul sought to do with the Church in Rome,
“I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11-12).
It is in the way of Christ Himself, in whom God was visiting and redeeming His people (Luke 1:68; 7:16).
Christ is our life. We visit one another to share in that life together He gives in His Word. We visit one another to encourage one another in witness and mercy so that more will receive life in Jesus. We recognize much visitation already takes place, in districts and congregations, but we pray that it may grow and increase. As of this writing 3 districts have been visited. That means we have 32 more to visit this year and next! Pray for us. Pray for your district president. Pray for your pastors in their work of visitation with the Word of God.
Yours in the peace of Christ,
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
On a recent trip I noticed the roadway sign “CONTINENTAL DIVIDE,” the point where the flow of North American rivers changes direction from eastward to westward. I happened to think that our Synod right now is crossing its own “contiventional divide,” the time when the flow of our Synod-wide activity changes directions from backward to the 2013 convention to forward to the 2016 convention.
Yesterday (March 1) marked the final official action remaining from our Synod’s 2013 convention, i.e., the deadline for congregational ballots to determine whether the constitutional amendment changing the word “counselor” (as in “circuit counselor”) to “visitor” (as in “circuit visitor”) throughout our Handbook was supported and ratified by two-thirds of the congregations that returned ballots. All that remains now is to prepare the report and announce the results, a first order of business this coming week.
But already during the past two weeks the Board of Directors and the Council of Presidents, turning their attention forward, have met to determine the designation of regions for the 2016 convention elections (a determination to be made at least 24 months prior to conventions). The board and council agreed that the same regional boundaries designated for 2013 convention elections will also be the regional boundaries for the 2016 convention.
And so we begin our sometimes-whitewater journey toward the convention of the summer of 2016. Already meetings are taking place to determine how better or best to navigate the flow of pre-convention requirements provided in our Synod’s Bylaws. My intention is again to alert the congregations of the Synod via a series of appropriately timed postcards of the next turns of events that will require their participation.
We have managed this flow of events once before, and we have learned a few things that should be helpful in making our way even more smoothly through certain frothy areas. But the entire process is still quite new and begins with expectations that will beg our attention almost immediately, as districts prepare for their own conventions in 2015. Let’s enjoy the ride.
Are sinners really welcome in our churches? Well, of course! Lutherans know this instinctively. Our Divine Service almost always begins with a clear confession of sin followed by absolution. If we ask if some are better off than others, we know the Scriptures:
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).
In other words, we know that when we say the creed, we can believe the “holy Christian Church” is “the communion of saints” only because of the next phrase in the creed: we believe in “the forgiveness of sins.” So… there’s only one kind of people: those who every day need the forgiveness of sins.
Is there any class of sinner excluded? Well, no. We take the Gospel everywhere we can. We go with Jesus into prisons, into hospitals, wherever there are broken people (since we are all at some point broken). We take the Gospel to the streets, wherever the Lord leads. Are we always good at doing so? If we’re honest, no we’re not. But theoretically, at least, we know that if any class of sinner were to be excluded, then we might someday also be excluded.
All sinners are welcome. That’s why with our mercy work we care for people, all people in need. We cannot ask first – do you have faith? – before we extend care. We seek to help PEOPLE with the church’s work of mercy. That’s how some are drawn to Christ, because someone cared when they were hurt or broken.
What about becoming part of the church? A full professing member of the body of Christ? Are sinners welcome? Of course! Every member of the church is a member of the body of Christ for one reason. The Spirit of God is leading them to repentance and faith in Jesus. When Peter finished his sermon on Pentecost, his hearers were cut to the heart and were asking, “Men, brothers, what shall we do?” To that Peter responded,
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself” (Acts 2:37-39).
That’s the way it’s always been. That’s the one way in. Repentance and faith in Jesus!
So we welcome sinners. But we do not welcome or condone sin. We cannot excuse sin, for if we do, we miss out on forgiveness. We can never minimize sin, for living in unrepented sin can separate us from God forever. The Scriptures say,
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you! But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of The Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Our hope is only in Christ. So there are two sides to our answer. The church welcomes sinners – always! The church cannot welcome sin – not ever.
For if we minimize sin, or if we say that something God has called sin really is not sin, we are saying that Jesus is not really needed for that part of life. I don’t need Jesus to be Lord there, but I can be in control of that aspect of life myself. Minimizing sin, we minimize Jesus, the Savior from sin.
Whoever we are, whatever we have done or not done, there is only one way to stand before God, and that is by faith in the shed blood of Jesus. Anything we put forward ourselves will be swept away as tainted by sin. Only in Jesus, God in our flesh, crucified and raised from the dead for us can we stand. Again, here’s the Scripture in Romans 3:
“There is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith” (3:22-25).
Propitiation means Jesus stood in our place, took our punishment, suffered our death. That’s why it’s all gift, all grace, and it’s all for you. It covers every sin.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
So yes, sinners are welcome! All of them! Even you. Even me. Every day through repentance and forgiveness in Jesus. It is just as Jesus said to a woman caught in sin,
“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).
Every day, we live by God’s grace alone in Jesus. Every day, the Word of God leads us to repent of sin. But even more, every day His grace abounds.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Now go revel in that grace – it’s for you!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President – LCMS
God is light, and there is no darkness at all in him. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true. If we walk in the light, as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son purifies us from all sin. – 1 John 1:5-7
Lutherans have lived in a variety of cultures and countries. Our faith has guided our lives and living in society, and we have made significant contributions to society as a result of our convictions. Yet, not every culture has welcomed the values that Lutherans share as Christian people. Stumbling blocks persist, most notably regarding the cornerstone of the faith — the person and work of Jesus Christ. In spite of this, we continue to proclaim Christ crucified, Christ risen, Christ coming again. And, we continue to love those who are our neighbors.
As society morphs and shifts, it is all the more important for us to sustain our culture as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Identifying and articulating Synod’s core values highlights the importance of sharing and shaping a culture that is rooted in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. This “Lutheran ethos” permeates the teaching, preaching, caring, living and witness of our church.
Temptations abound for compromise. Sometimes temptation is a matter of convenience. Sometimes it is for gain. Sometimes it is rooted in fear. In every case, compromise of the faith has led to failure. History is replete with the drift of God’s people from the one, true faith. Time and again, God has patiently called his people to repentance. Even so, He calls us today.
Faithfulness to the Scriptures and the Confessions has anchored the Synod during a time of cultural change and global challenges. Her fidelity has been a catalyst to enhance relationships with church bodies within the United States and abroad and within and among congregations. Faithfully sharing Christ through Word and Sacrament has never failed the Church.
Let us find assurance in this faith rooted in Christ our Lord and confessed by the Church. Let us stand firm on the finished work of Jesus whose grace and mercy shall never fail.
Gregory K. Williamson
Chief Mission Officer
Yesterday, I received my copy of a new book from Concordia Publishing House, The Diaconate of the Ancient & Medieval Church by Caspar Ziegler. The book was translated by Richard Dinda with a Forward by Matthew C. Harrison. The editors were Charles P. Schaum and Albert B. Collver. The book provides a detailed history of deacons and deaconesses in the Church. It is an invaluable read if you are interested in this topic.
From the book jacket:
Caspar Ziegler details how Christians have shown mercy to a lost and dying world from apostolic times to the Reformation.
Ziegler’s detailed study engages at least 500 primary sources to illustrate expertly the life of the Church as recorded and discussed by interpreters of canon law. That explains the underlying tradition of the Lutheran Confessions and helps answer the question, “Why do we do that?” Indeed, by showing differences between Western and Eastern traditions, Ziegler points out medieval problems that helped lead to the Reformation. He appeases the Lutheran tradition in light of the greater Western context, resulting in a greater appreciation of both.
Order the Book at CPH here: The Diaconate of the Ancient & Medieval Church CPH Order
Download the Book to your Kindle here: The Diaconate of the Ancient & Modern Church Kindle Edition