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
Today, on our last day in Madagascar, we attended Sunday worship at Ivato Lutheran Church (FLM) about 1.5 miles from the airport (immediately following the service we needed to catch an airplane for our return to the United States after more than three weeks of travel through Africa). The congregation was formed in 1994. It began in a house. Today, it has over 2,000 members and not enough seats on Sunday for all the members to attend. In total, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) has over 4 million members.
This morning at the 9 am service (which lasts for 2 hours), approximately 600 people were inside the church with several hundred people standing outside the church (a grand total of more than 1,000 in attendance). Every seat in the church was taken.
Note the three offering baskets. These baskets correspond to Witness, Mercy, Life Together (note the purple, red, and green ribbons). One offering is collected for missions. A second offering is collected for helping the poor and sick, while a third offering is collected for the needs of the congregation. As stated in the Witness, Mercy, Life Together Bible Study, the Malagasy Lutheran Church provided inspiration for the theme adopted by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod as a mission emphasis. One of the church parishioners brought a live chicken in a plastic bag for his offering. People give as The Lord has given them. The congregation presented a special gift to a family who recently had a family member die to assist with the funeral costs — Mercy.
The Malagasy Lutheran Church is liturgical, hardly deviating from the hymnal. At the same time, the Malagasy Lutheran Church is experiencing rapid growth, opening a new congregation every week. (A congregation worships between 1,500 and 3,000 each week.) The liturgy is based off the Norwegian Lutheran tradition but is readily recognizable to Missouri Synod people (Confession / Absolution, Kyrie, Gloria and so forth).
On the way to church, I bought a Valihy, a tube zither made of bamboo. Ironically, this traditional instrument, in fact, the national instrument of Madagascar, is not used in worship in Lutheran Congregations. I asked the pastor why the Valihy is not used in worship. He replied that it is used when traditional Malagasy people exhume the dead between June and September for ancestor worship. He said an instrument used to worship ancestors and demons is not fit for use in worship of The Lord.
You might have noticed that the church building lacks a roof. In fact, this situation is rather common in Africa. Most African Lutheran congregations can afford
to construct their buildings from local materials. In some parts of Africa, the buildings are made from bamboo and mud. Here in Madagascar, the churches are constructed of red bricks made from mud taken from rice patties and baked in a burning grass fire. However, they often have difficultly obtaining the tin roofs necessary to keep the congregation dry during the rainy season.
Because of this reality (difficulty of obtaining tin roofs for the congregations), 17 of the 21 Malagasy Lutheran Bishops requested that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod assist them by helping 22,000 congregations with tin roofs. Currently, we are waiting for a formal proposal from the church to see how the LCMS might assist.
Our stay in Madagascar was incredible. We were well received. We look for ways we can work more closely with the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM). Now we sit at the airport for our long journey home.
- Posted by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver on 9 February 2014 using BlogPress from my iPhone
See photographs from the Antsirabe blind school on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Madagascar. LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison visited the school, which was the recipient of an LCMS emergency grant after the Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations, learned that the children were malnourished due to budget cuts from European partners when he toured the school last October. Photographs by Erik M. Lunsford, staff photojournalist with LCMS Communications.
Click the photos to view captions