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President Harrison, the LCMS, and Ecumenical Dialogue » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog
By Matthew Block
This past Saturday, the 2.2 million strong Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod announced the re-election of Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison as President.
President Harrison was first elected in 2010. The same convention which elected him also adopted new policies for the election of the president—namely, that the presidential election would take place in the lead-up to future conventions, rather than at the conventions themselves (which is why we’re talking about this now rather than during the National LCMS Convention July 20-25).
Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a short article reflecting on President Harrison’s first term, noting some of the positive and negative events that were part of it. In recounting President Harrison’s service so far, Townsend mentions his participation in resisting the Health and Human Services mandate, quoting Harrison’s testimony before congress during which he said he was pleased to “stand with our friends in the Catholic church” as they opposed the excesses of the mandate.
That last topic brings to mind another topic worthy of discussion in considering President Harrison’s first term—namely, the LCMS’ increasingly friendly relations with other church bodies. We’ve seen some of that, of course, in the reaction to the HHS mandate. In addition to testify with other Christians at congress on the matter, President Harrison has been a signatory to a number of letters along with other religious leaders expressing concern about the mandate, most recently a few days ago. It’s led to especially collegial relations with Roman Catholics, with President Harrison writing a letter in June of last year thanking the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for their defense of religious freedom. (The growing relationship between confessional Lutherans and Catholics around the world is something I’ve addressed elsewhere on First Things. Up here in Canada, something similar is going on as Lutheran Church–Canada and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops recently began talks).
But the LCMS’ relationships with other churches have also been growing over the past few years as well. In particular, the LCMS, along with its sister church, Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), has developed good relations with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), publishing last year a joint statement rejoicing that they can “jointly affirm core teachings (articles) of the Christian faith shared by our church bodies.” Similarly good relations have been developed with the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), with whom the LCMS and LCC are in continuing talks. Representatives of these four church bodies (ACNA, NALC, LCC, and LCMS) recently met together for an ecumenical summit on marriage and sexuality, publishing a joint affirmation on marriage (signed by the heads of all four churches) shortly thereafter.
The LCMS’ growing interchurch relations are not restricted to North America either. While the LCMS has long been part of the International Lutheran Council, the church is more and more developing relationships with biblical Lutherans outside this group. In particular, churches like the 6.1 million member Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), who earlier this year cut off ties to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Church of Sweden, have begun seeking new relationships with the LCMS and other confessional Lutherans. In March, for example, the EECMY’s General Secretary visited LCMS leaders in St. Louis to “strengthen the relationship” they’ve already been building. And the LCMS held an “International Conference on Confessional Leadership” last year in Atlanta, Georgia, with more than 120 Lutheran church leaders from around the world attending.
If the past few years are anything to go by, this growing interest in strong relationships between the LCMS and other confessing Christian churches is likely to continue into President Harrison’s second term. I for one couldn’t be more pleased.
And now our Synod must wait for the results of the election of its President for the 2013-2016 triennium. Waiting may seem unnecessary or unreasonable, but our bylaw is clear: “(b) Two weeks prior to the convention, the Secretary shall notify the candidates of the results of the ballots. He shall thereafter also make the results know to the public” (Bylaw 220.127.116.11 [b]).
The election process has been a long haul, one that began well in advance of our 2012 district conventions. It caused greater care on the part of district presidents to regulate district convention representation; it required greater diligence on the part of district secretaries to monitor their convention registration processes; it resulted in a major task for the Synod’s Rosters and Statistics Department to load detailed data for more than 8,200 voters into the computer system and maintain every detail of the voter list for more than a year; it included identifying and working with an outside vendor capable of providing electronic balloting and tabulation; it included a major effort to achieve and maintain contact with delegates with computers (or not) and email accounts (or not), given the many variables involved in computer hardware and email software; and it required the education and preparation of voters for an entirely new experience.
Thankfully, all went well. Every voter interested in voting should have been able to participate successfully. Efforts to contact and provide voting information were duplicated all along the way with email transmissions and tests, postcards, and regular mailings. An email address and telephone number to obtain help were provided prior to and available throughout the balloting period (June 22-25), and every call for help was handled appropriately by Election-America, Rosters and Statistics staff, my office, or, when voter list concerns surfaced, by me personally as the one ultimately responsible for providing a “secure and verifiable method” of electing the President (Bylaw 18.104.22.168).
And now we wait until July 6, two weeks prior to the convention. On that date, as required, I will first notify the candidates of the results of the balloting, after which the results will be made known to the public using every means at the disposal of our Synod’s Communications Department. While we wait, special thanks are in order to Election-America of Garden City, NY, provider of the electronic balloting service and much assistance. Equally special thanks to district and national Synod staff for their diligence and cooperation, and to the voters who were patient and cooperative and willing to participate in this entirely new manner of electing the President of the Synod. And above all, thanks be to God for providing the necessary resources and blessing.
[Note: This sermon was preached in the chapel at the International Center on June 25, 2013 as we commemorated the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession and installed Reverend Peter Jacob Haugen in the missionary office to which he has been called by the Board for International Mission to serve as a career missionary for the LCMS in partnership with the Gutnius Lutheran Church in Papau New Guinea. + Herbert Mueller]
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
A few days ago, Pastor Haugen, you made a vow, in front of family and friends in Texas, when you were ordained. In a few moments you will repeat it for us.
This vow puts you with Lutheran confessors gathered before the imperial council in Augsburg, Germany, June 25th, 1530, exactly 483 years ago today. In a meeting of princes with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Chancellor Christian Beyer read out in a clear voice for all to hear this confession of the pure Gospel.
-We believe that there is one divine essence, which is called and which is truly God, and that there are three persons in this one divine essence.
-We believe all people born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin.
-We also teach that the Son of God became man, and that the two natures, divine and human are so inseparably united that there is one Christ, who was born, lived, suffered, died and rose for us.
-And we teach that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith…
-And so that we might obtain this faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is provided the Gospel and the sacraments. [from the first five articles of the Augsburg Confession]
Now you are sent into the mission field with the badge of this confession. You are a Lutheran Pastor, pledged, as every Lutheran Pastor is, to preach and to teach only what accords with Scripture as explained by this confession.
It is not forced on you. But you take it freely, in the power of the Holy Spirit, for the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of the people you will serve. This is where you stand.
But you will never be able to do it on your own. You are NOT able, not at all, not one bit.
In English where you have two negatives, in a backhanded sort of way, it turns the statement positive. But when Greek piles on the negatives, it just makes it stronger. That’s what John does here in bringing the Words of Jesus:
I am the Vine. You are the branches. The one who abides in me and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit, because (literally, it says) apart from me you are not able to do NOTHING.
Apart from me…
There are going to be times, Pastor Haugen, when you are going to wonder – what did I get myself into? Maybe already? When you or your dear wife and family will feel VERY ALONE. When you will feel completely inadequate, undone, and there will be a deep fear creeping up your spine that you are about to be discovered.
There will be other times when you think things are going well and – my goodness – wasn’t God really wise to place you where He did…!!!
EITHER WAY – you will be acting like a branch WITHOUT the Vine. And a branch without the Vine … is … dead.
Apart from me, Jesus said, you cannot do one single thing. So ABIDE IN ME, Jesus says, and let my Words abide in you.
This is the Word I have spoken to you, the Word that makes you clean.
In other words, YOU, dear Pastor, and you dear family – YOU live by the same Word of Jesus you are pledged to bring.
You know that the Apology says that the highest worship of Jesus is to receive the forgiveness of sins. You also are called to worship frequently at that altar, the altar of the forgiveness of sins in Christ, for you cannot give away what you have not first received.
Abide in Jesus’ Word.
Repent of any self-reliance.
Whenever it appears – give it up. It will get you nothing.
But hear again the Word of Jesus: “I am the Vine – you are the branches…”
I am filling your dead and sinful self with My life.
My Word speaks you righteous.
My Word makes you clean.
Jesus makes this comparison, of course, the very night before He went and did what His words say. When the Word of Divine judgment and condemnation for sin fell on HIM, not you. When, for you – He went to the cross – for you.
All the world thinks everything is run by KARMA, that is, you get out what you put in.
But here at the cross, it’s not Karma, but grace. You and I put evil in, but God sent that all to Jesus on the cross, not to us. So that NOW, there is only GRACE – undeserved favor – left for you. So Jesus says, YOU ARE CLEAN! Clean by my Word!
Yes, you! Each of you for the sake of Jesus.
There’s the Good News you are pledged to bring, Pastor Haugen, in partnership with the Good News Lutheran Church in New Guinea.
And there is the Word of Jesus that will sustain you and yours through everything.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
At the time these personal reflections are posted (composed this past Sunday afternoon), the first electronic ballot for President of Synod has been completed, though the results are not yet known. But all is in God’s hand, as the Word of God implies: “For not from east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting one down and lifting up another” (Psalm 75:6-7).
Daniel 2:21 has a similar thought – we serve at God’s pleasure, wherever we are. God places us where He desires that we serve Him. Certainly, as Lutherans, we believe God works through the means of His church, through means such as elections, whether in congregation or Synod. Of course, at one time it may be that God works through us, or sometimes in spite of us. But that’s His business.
One great comfort for called pastors, I believe, is the confidence we serve where God wants us to be, not where we have placed ourselves. Yes, we are called to trust that God knows where to “put one down and lift up another,” in the words of the Psalm, and He is able to do that no matter what means we might use.
To apply that personally means that I have been given the privilege of serving as pastor in three different congregations, as a district president for 16+ years, and now for the last three years as your First Vice-President. However God wishes to use me in the future has not yet been determined, but it IS in His hand. My preference is to continue to serve where I am now, with the people He has given. But MY preference doesn’t count. God will make His judgment. His will, will be done, and His will for us in Jesus Christ is ALWAYS for our good.
So who will be elected? Again, that’s God’s business. We may have our personal desires, but God will truly have His way. In our present process, He is using the electors of our Synod to place whom He wants where He wants. May He give each of us grace to serve Him faithfully wherever and whomever HE lifts up. After all, it WILL be good. It’s all in His hand.
Yours in Christ’s peace,
+ Herbert Mueller
The Christian Church, wherever she finds herself and in whatever position she has in a given culture, is called to do one thing above all else: to stand with John the Baptist and to point to Jesus Christ, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). This is the beginning of the same song all the redeemed will sing gathered around the throne, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10). This song is of the same piece as the apostles in Acts, who said “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard,” namely all that Christ has done by His death and resurrection. (Acts 4:20). In the same way we are baptized to bear witness to the One with whom we have died and have been raised to life (Romans 6:2-4).
Our Lutheran Confessions, which always drive us into Scripture to keep Christ at the center, provide great resources for the Church to bear witness to Christ. That’s because we believe the Holy Spirit works through the proclamation of Christ and His work for us to give “faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel. [The Gospel] teaches us that we have a gracious God, not through our merit, but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V, Kolb/Wengert edition, p. 40). This message is not just for some, but is for ALL, because this message is the only way to come to know Christ and to have life in Christ.
Luther, in the Large Catechism, writes:
Neither you nor I could ever know anything about Christ, or believe in him and receive him as Lord, unless these were offered to us and bestowed on our hearts through the preaching of the Gospel by the Holy Spirit. The work is finished and completed; Christ has acquired and won the treasure for us by his sufferings, death and resurrection, etc. But if the work remained hidden so that no one knew of it, it would have been all in vain, all lost. In order that this treasure might not remained buried but put to use and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to be published and proclaimed, in which he has given the Holy Spirit to offer and apply to us this treasure, this redemption (LC II.38f, Kolb/Wengert, p. 436).
This is why, whenever we say, “Thy Kingdom come,” Luther says we are actually praying,
Dear Father, we ask you first to give us your Word, so that the gospel may be properly preached throughout the world and then that it may also be received in faith and may work and dwell in us, so that your kingdom may pervade among us through the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit and the devil’s kingdom may be destroyed so that he may have no right or power over us until finally his kingdom is utterly eradicated and sin, death and hell wiped out, that we may live forever in perfect righteousness and blessedness.” (LC III.54, Kolb/Wengert, p. 447).
So also now when you pray the Lord of the Harvest to send workers into his harvest field (Matthew 9:38), know that the Lord will also send you! To testify to Him in your calling! Know that when you pray for the Word to be proclaimed, the Holy Spirit will fill also you, as the believers in the book of Acts “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:41). That’s why our Confession says “we must always firmly and rigidly insist that, like the proclamation of repentance, so the promise of the gospel is universalis, that is, it pertains to all people. Therefore, Christ commanded preaching ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations’” [Luke 24] (FC SD XI.28, Kolb/Wengert, p. 645). Far from bottling it up, Word of Christ’s work must be spoken far and wide, wherever possible.
We always come back to Christ, then, and to His saving work for us. That’s what must be taught, proclaimed, evangelized, spread, spoken wherever those baptized into His name may go. He is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). By our testimony to Him, his Spirit gathers “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…” (Revelation 7:9). “Who are these? And from where have they come?” John is later asked. “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:13-14). That’s you. That’s me. That’s all who will hear and believe.
Until that day, we keep going. We keep speaking. We keep repeating the message we have been given: “Behold, the Lamb!”
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice-President, LCMS