There are still a few spots left on the Advent 2011 tour to Germany with President Matthew Harrison and Rev. Jon Vieker, November 30-December 11. It promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip to see Luther and C.F.W. Walther sites with President Harrison.
Deadline to send in your deposit is next Monday, August 29. The cost has been reduced to $2490, plus air.
The year of our Lord 2011 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of C.F.W. Walther, founding father of the Missouri Synod. What an appropriate time, then, to visit the fatherland of this “American Luther,” along with the birthplace of Luther himself and the Reformation . . . all during one of the most beautiful and holy seasons of the Church Year!
As your tour guide, President Harrison has visited virtually all of these sites before—some of them several times—and has studied and translated Luther and Walther all of his professional life. Truly at home in the house of his fathers, President Harrison would be honored to serve as your host and friend as we travel together, dine together, worship together, tour historic sites, and shop the beautiful Christmas markets. And then, as the pièce de résistance, we will conclude our travels together with J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio at the St. Thomaskirche in Leipzig. What a truly beautiful, meaningful, and memorable time we will have together! Won’t you join us for this incredible trip? We would love to have you with us for a little “Walther, Wittenberg, & Weihnachten!
“Brothers [and sisters], if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)
As a pastor and later as district president, I would often reflect in mind and heart on this Scripture when working with someone caught up in sin. Any pastor worth his salt will tell you some of the most difficult situations to resolve involve people trapped in activities our culture today calls good but which God in His Word has called sin. Whether we are dealing with fornication, adultery, homosexual activity, divorce, etc. the culture excuses these things, even calls them good, while God in His Word has reserved the act of sexual union for marriage between one man and one woman. More and more people in our nation are adopting a “live and let live” philosophy at the very least, with many embracing heretofore unthinkable practices such as same-gender marriage. Even a great number of church people now accept the fact that their children will probably “try each other out” and live together for a while before they get married.
How does the church respond? How do we provide pastoral care? One extreme is be “easy” and “loving” to all. This approach might be called “the gospel of inclusion.” Jesus loves all people and therefore wants all people included in His church. Straight, gay, lesbian, couples living together without marriage, divorced folks, people in all sorts of sinful situations, Jesus loves them all and accepts them all. We as the church can do no less. We ought be tolerant toward everyone (except toward those whom the culture has labeled intolerant). Yet, in the long run, when weighed against God’s Word, this really isn’t the loving approach it appears to be.
Another extreme is simply to condemn the “sinner” and/or ignore him. Make him an outcast until he “sees the error of his ways.” But this approach often does nothing to restore the brother or sister, nor does it seem anything close to “pastoral.”
There is, of course, a modicum of truth in both approaches. Certainly Jesus loves all people and wants all to be included in His Church. Of course, we are called to protect from violence those who are different. And of course, by way of contrast, the Word of God condemns sin. However, if we take seriously God’s Word of law and Gospel, following either of these extremes still leaves us in our sins. If we call good what God’s Word has called sin, we are seeking to justify ourselves rather than seeking that justification worked by God’s grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus and received by repentance and faith. In the same way, if we just deplore the sinner, we have done nothing to help him or her out of the sin.
The truly pastoral approach is always the more difficult path. It runs counter both to the prevailing spirit of our time and to either of the approaches described so far, but is truly, when examined carefully, the way of Christ and of His Word. This is what St. Paul speaks of in Galatians 6, a pastoral care under the cross of Christ that is honest about sin, not to judge and to condemn, but to restore by leading to repentance and trust in Christ’s forgiveness. God desires to have mercy on all. Christ died for the sins of all people. Jesus rose again as the sign of the forgiveness of sins for all people. In Christ, God desires to bring all to repentance and faith. A true pastor receives people as they are but works to help them see the real nature of their sin so that it can be confessed before God and forgiven. As the Scripture says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgiven us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9).
This approach, though faithful to God’s Word, is often more complex and nuanced than either condemnation or simple inclusion. We can easily say “Jesus loves you and accepts you just the way you are,” even if you never change and even if you demand that God accept your actions as good when His Word clearly calls them sin. It runs counter to our culture and is often much more difficult to expose the sin SO THAT it can be confessed and forgiven, covered in the cleansing blood of Jesus. Yet in the long run, this pastoral approach gives much greater comfort, for it is not centered in a vague hope that God approves of what I’m doing, but is centered in the sure and certain work of Christ to redeem us from all our sins. It is focused in Christ and His cross. It calls sin sin and at the same time unfailingly points to Christ the Savior from sin. Here we find our comfort, our peace, our life, not in what we are doing but in everything Jesus has done for us in His death and resurrection. Here I come before God, not demanding that He accept me as I am, but the Spirit brings me to God with hands open and empty, ready to receive all that He gives in Jesus.
This is the real Gospel of inclusion. All of my sins and all of your sins were included with Jesus Christ on His cross. He took them all. You were included in His death and resurrection. Now by faith you are included in the holiness of God and the righteousness of Christ given to you. Now by faith in His promise you and I are included in Jesus’ Word to the woman caught in sin, when He said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).
Having said this, we have much to do as a Synod. It is clear to me that we have to do more to help one another respond faithfully and lovingly to the real needs of people caught in sin, seeking to restore brothers and sisters under the cross of Christ. Society will demand that we take the easy approach, what I have called the “gospel of inclusion,” but we must remain firm in the truly pastoral approach of leading folks to repentance and forgiveness, confession and absolution for the sake of Christ. Much more work needs to be done to help both families and individuals caught in these sins. Teaching resources, pastoral care resources, etc. need to be updated and developed, published and put to use. May God help us respond faithfully according to His Word of law and Gospel. It is more difficult, but it is what God has called us to do, and it is the truly pastoral approach that brings lasting comfort and peace in Christ. Now let’s get to work.
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod
As conventions season approaches, we are faced with a bit of a Synod-wide dilemma. How shall our congregations become informed in a timely manner of convention- and election-related changes made by the 2010 convention, some of which are very significant?
Usual Channels of Information
District presidents surely will want to share some of this information at Fall Professional Workers Conferences, which will then be shared with congregations by the pastors and teachers. And circuit counselors surely will want to keep pastors and congregations informed in their circuits.
To facilitate this sharing of information, the Council of Presidents has set aside a bloc of time during its September 2011 meeting to review the changes that have taken place. District presidents will want to provide this information to their circuit counselors for distribution on the congregation level.
But will this provide enough notice? And will it be timely enough to enable all 6,000-plus congregations of our Synod to actively participate, especially since some of the changes have almost immediate consequences as 2012 district conventions approach?
Unusual Channel of Information
As Secretary of the Synod, I hope to lend my hand to this communication effort. With the help of my staff and others, I am putting together a mailing campaign that hopefully will provide timely information directly to congregations to help make certain that no congregation is left unaware.
On September 1, the first in a series of 18 5 ½ x 8 ½ postcard mailings (clearly labeled as official business) will be mailed to all congregations, circuit counselors, and district presidents. These mailings will provide the information they need to know at the time they will need to know it. An article in the September Reporter will alert the Synod to the receipt of these mailings over the next 20 months.
The first postcard, calling congregations’ attention to “District Convention Delegate/Alternate Delegate Elections,” will describe the change in the manner in which the President of the Synod will be elected beginning in 2013—by direct participation by the congregations of the Synod. The postcard will call attention to the important rules for participation.
The second postcard, calling attention to congregations’ need to elect their representatives to their circuit forums (which must take place prior to their 2012 district conventions) is scheduled to be mailed on September 15. The third, scheduled for September 30, will address the new process by which the 2012 circuit counselor nominations and elections must take place.
Becoming-the-Usual Channel of Information
The recognition behind the mailings is that the U.S. Mail is still the most dependable method at this time to make certain that every congregation is reached. However, recognizing that the Internet is the preferred source of information for increasing numbers of people, the content of the postcards will be posted on the Synod’s Website at www.lcms.org/convention/procedureupdates following each mailing.
Today, ecumenical relations between The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis began with a good start when President Harrison had lunch with Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. Several months ago, Dr. Lawrence Welch, Ecumenical Officer for the Archdiocese of St. Louis and Professor of Systematic Theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, contacted Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations for the LCMS, to see if President Harrison would be available to meet with Archbishop Carlson for a luncheon. The Archbishop asked President Harrison to lead the blessing for lunch. After praying for fruitful conversation between separated brethren and that the church may be one as Jesus prayed, President Harrison blessed the food with the prayer from the Small Catechism, “Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these Your gifts which we receive from Your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.” The Archbishop noted that he had used that very same prayer to bless the meal in certain settings. The Archdiocese of St. Louis sent representatives to attend the installation of President Matthew C. Harrison last September. Since then, the LCMS and the Archdiocese of St. Louis has had regular contact on a variety of matters. In particular, both churches are interested in further discussion and possible cooperation in the public square in matters relating to natural law and general morality in society.
Archbishop Carlson is the tenth bishop of Saint Louis and the ninth archbishop of Saint Louis. President Harrison is the thirteenth president of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. The Archbishop and the President had the opportunity to become better acquainted as well as to discuss common challenges both in the area of Christianity in a hostile world and in the area of ecclesial supervision. At one point, the Archbishop described a letter he had received from an individual the other day describing a problem in one of the local congregations. President Harrison replied in jest, “I think I know that person; he sent me the same letter about one of our congregations last week.” Humor aside, there are several challenges shared in common between our churches.
Serving as chief ecumenical officer for the Missouri Synod, President Harrison presented Archbishop Carlson and Dr. Welch with copies of Walther’s Law and Gospel, Lutheran Service Book, Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal, and A Little Book On Joy (all published by Concordia Publishing House) to better acquaint them with the Missouri Synod. President Harrison also was able to give a brief description of the Missouri Synod’s emphasis on Witness (martyria), Mercy (diakonia), Life Together (koinonia). Dr. Welch was surprised to learn that Lutherans celebrated the feast of Saint Mary, Mother Of Our Lord (see the blog post). He mentioned that this was a good example for him to use in his class on other church bodies. The Archbishop then asked what other feasts and celebrations Lutherans held, to which we referred them to the front of the Lutheran Service Book for a listing of recognized feast days. Once again, there was a recognition that both churches face similar challenges in the areas of preaching and worship life.
The luncheon concluded with appreciation and thanksgiving for the opportunity to meet and discuss. Drs. Welch and Collver agreed to remain in contact and to follow up on a couple of items from the meeting. A theme repeated in the meeting is that church bodies actually come closer together by honestly recognizing the differences between them and when each respects the other and allows the other to hold its position with integrity. The Archbishop noted that true unity is a gift from the Holy Spirit and not the result of our own efforts; however, it does not mean that we ought not talk to one another. Thank you Archbishop Carlson for your gracious invitation to lunch. Thank you Dr. Lawrence Welch for facilitating this meeting.
Rev. Albert B. Collver, Ph.D.
Director of Church Relations — Assistant to the President
You already know that Witness, Mercy, and Life Together describe what we, as the Body of Christ, do for the sake of the world. Each of the three depends on the other two. If our witness is separated from works of mercy, both are truncated. When we live together in the fellowship of the Gospel, our witness and mercy are strengthened.
That’s why we are using the Greek word “koinonia” or “fellowship” in Christ to talk about Life Together. Informally, as part of the restructuring of the Synod’s work, we have referred to the new Office of National Mission as the “Life Together” unit. This is the place where a number of the important support efforts of the Synod are grouped together – youth, schools, stewardship, support for district and congregational outreach, and more. These efforts all seek to enhance our Life Together, though all of them are also permeated with Witness and Mercy as well. Again, the three cannot be separated.
On August 1, 2011 (he actually began July 1), the Reverend J. Bart Day was installed as the head of the Office of National Mission. He has “hit the ground running” and is already bringing blessing to the National Mission team. However, response to the publicity regarding his installation has revealed a bit of confusion on the part of some. Because the Office of National Mission includes many of the efforts that support our “koinonia” or “Life Together” some have thought that Bart Day was actually installed as the head of our “Koinonia Project.” This is understandable because both are using the same Greek term because both have to do with our fellowship in Christ.
But there is a distinction. The Office of National Mission (informally our “Life Together” unit) has a very broad focus, including many areas of our work. The “Koinonia Project,” however, is the term we have coined for a narrowly focused effort by the Office of the President to organize theological study to work toward greater harmony under the Word of God. Certainly the “Koinonia Project” is part of our efforts to strength our life together, but it is a special project separate from the work to which Bart Day has been called.
Regarding the “Koinonia Project,” as I write this, my wife is driving me towards Chicago for a meeting with the leadership of the Northern Illinois District. Northern Illinois is seeking to develop several pilot groups to begin theological discussion. I will also be making trips in the near future to Kansas, to South Wisconsin, and other places to talk about the project. Please pray for this effort and check out the Koinonia Project concept paper on www.lcms.org.
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President