Christmas is almost here, but allow me just a little Advent, still. One of my favorite hymns for Advent shows us there is so much more to come! Check out LSB 348, “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” (Lutheran Service Book,#348, text and tune, public domain).
The King shall come when morning dawns And light triumphant breaks,
When beauty guilds the eastern hills And life to joy awakes. (LSB 348, st. 1)
Christmas is coming! How could anyone forget? Yet our anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s birth (special services, special family events, special gifts, etc.) is also but a pale reflection of the celebration to come.
Not as of old a little child, To bear and fight and die,
But crowned with glory like the sun That lights the morning sky. (st. 2)
Christ came in deepest humility. He had to. That’s because we, in our sin, were at “rock bottom.” We couldn’t fall any further than death, even eternal death by sin. So Christ came to humble Himself and become “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8). But now God has “highly exalted Him, and given Him the name which is above every name…” (Philippians 2:9). And He will come again, “crowned with glory like the sun…”
Oh, brighter than the rising morn When Christ, victorious rose
And left the lonesome place of death Despite the rage of foes. (st. 3)
If the stable in which Christ was born speaks of His humility for us, and the manger in which He was laid looks ahead to His cross, then the glorious angels singing, “Glory to God in the Highest…” (Luke 2:14) also point ahead to His resurrection triumph on Easter morning. But even the glory of Easter is only but a down payment on the glory to come when Christ comes again. Christ is “the first fruits” of those raised from death, but “at His coming all those who belong to Christ” shall be raised (1 Corinthians 15:23). Do you see how the best is yet to come?
Oh, brighter than that glorious morn Shall dawn upon our race
The day when Christ in splendor comes And we shall see His face. (st. 4)
John tells us, “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as he is.” (1 John 3:2b). Oh, we have been given so much already, it is true, but do you see how there is so much more to come? I know that at times in the church we have to “slog it out,” that serving the Lord Jesus as a pastor or teacher or DCE or deaconess or baptized believer in your vocation is never easy. Jesus didn’t promise it would be. In face, He makes it clear that it can be difficult, but He does promise it will be worth it and that He will never abandon us. In the words of the Gospel, when things look their worst, He tells us to “look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
The King shall come when morning dawns And light and beauty brings.
Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray: Come quickly, King of Kings! (st. 5)
Christmas is coming, yes it is! May your celebrations point you and the people you love to the wonderful gift of God in Christ born for us! And this gift is given, is truly given, over and over again, when we hear His Word of peace and receive again His body and blood, trusting His promise. In the midst of our death, He gives His life, makes us alive forever. Still, there’s so much more to come, isn’t there? We will see Jesus, coming again! Even so, come quickly, King of Kings!
May God’s Spirit fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you and yours receive a wonderful celebration of our Savior’s birth! Merry Christmas to all!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
An initial discussion was held on 15-16 December 2011 between representatives of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) and North American Lutheran Church (NALC). The meeting was held at the invitation of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. The NALC had also committed itself in its formal ecumenical statement to meetings with the LCMS.
The NALC is a newly formed Lutheran church body committed to biblical and confessional Lutheranism with over 300 congregations and over 100,000 baptized members. It was organized in August 2010 in Columbus, Ohio.
The NALC was represented by Bishop John Bradosky and Emeritus Bishop Paull Spring, the Rev. Dr. James Nestingen (retired seminary professor), the Rev. David Wendel (NALC ministry coordinator), and the Rev. Mark Chavez (NALC general secretary). President Matthew Harrison, the Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (assistant for Church Relations), the Rev. John Pless (professor at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.), and the Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer and the Rev. Larry Vogel from the Commission on Theology and Church Relations were the LCMS representatives. President Rev. Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church–Canada attended as a formal observer.
Among his comments on the meeting, Bishop Bradosky said, “I am deeply grateful for the gracious hospitality of President Harrison and his competent staff. Our dialogue transcended all of our hopes and expectations. The level of openness, honesty and trust evident in our conversations was commensurate with those whose relationship had spanned years. That experience may be based on the fact that our common commitment to biblical authority and theological integrity has spanned many years to our formal meeting.”
President Harrison noted, in part: “The NALC fervently desires to take the Scriptures and the Lutheran confession seriously. These men are creedal Christians who share our own convictions on fundamental issues of life and sexuality. We do have real differences and they will not be easily overcome. But the outcome is the Lord’s.”
Discussion of theological and ecumenical issues facing each church took up much of the meeting time. Areas of cooperative work between the church bodies also were considered.
The group heard presentations by Barb Below from the President’s office on LCMS restructuring. The Rev. John Fale of the International Missions office of the LCMS reported on the Synod’s work of mercy.
The meetings between the churches will continue, with the next meeting planned for May 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. Plans for future meetings include time to address matters of difference and agreement between the churches.
Posted Dec. 16, 2011
On 15 – 16 December 2011, representatives from The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) held discussions in Saint Louis, MO, at the LCMS International Center. NALC Participants included Bishop John Bradosky, Dr. James Nestingen, Bishop Emeritus Paull Spring, Rev. Dave Wendel (Chair of Ecumenical Relationships Committee). LCMS participants included President Matthew Harrison, Vice-President Herb Mueller, Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations, Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, Executive Director of the CTCR, Rev. Larry Vogel, CTCR Staff, and Rev. John Pless, Professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne. Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, President of the Lutheran Church Canada (LCC) attended the LCMS-NALC discussions as an observer.
The NALC was constituted on August 27, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio, at a Convocation organized by the church reform movement Lutheran CORE. One year earlier, a similar gathering of Lutheran CORE had directed its leadership to develop new organizational alternatives for faithful Lutheran Christians in North America. In response to numerous requests from congregations for the creation of a new Lutheran church body, Lutheran CORE developed A Vision and Plan for the North American Lutheran Church and Lutheran CORE, published in February 2010. The NALC largely consists of congregations that broke away from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) primarily over the position the ELCA took regarding human sexuality. NALC consists of approximately 250 congregations.
The meeting between the LCMS and the NALC began with a tour of the CHI Museum at the International Center, followed by a brief discussion of the NALC’s history, and an update on the LCMS restructuring. The nature of ecumenical relations was discussed as well as issues affecting both church bodies. Future discussions are planned between the LCMS and NALC.
— Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations
Today’s post on Theological Education somes to us from a guest contributor, Dr. Timothy Quill.
Reflections on Theological Education in International Mission
By Dr. Timothy C. J. Quill, Director of Theological Education, LCMS Office of International Mission and Dean of International Studies, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne
Since being appointed as Director of Theological Education for the LCMS Office of International Mission in July, my new responsibilities have taken me to Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Hong Kong, China Mainland, Taiwan, Lithuania, Latvia and Kyrgyzstan. On these trips I met with partner church seminary faculties, bishops, presidents and LCMS missionaries who are involved in theological education. Although I have been traveling extensively throughout the world for the past fifteen years as Dean of International Studies at Concordia Theological Seminary, the last six months has been cause for renewed reflection on the shape of theological education around the world.
First of all the visits have given me a deepened appreciation for the missionaries who at great personal sacrifice have gone before us. They endured extreme hardship with faith and courage in order to bring the light of Christ into some of the world’s most remote regions and to cultures alien to our own—and they planted Lutheran Churches. They had to learn a new language so they could preach Christ and the Gospel into the ears of the people. Next they translated the Small Catechism and the Bible. And they translated the Liturgy and hymnody so they could “sing the Gospel into the ears,” as Bishop Obare has so eloquently phrased it in the Preface to the new Swahili Hymnbook of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya.
As Director of Theological Education, my attention has been focused on Lutheran seminaries, however, I was repeatedly struck by the way in which the first missionaries also built hospitals and Christian schools alongside churches and seminaries. It was a comprehensive mission strategy in which witness, mercy and life together were integrated in a very natural and effective way. LCMS missionaries first set foot in Papua New Guinea in the 1949. They trekked on foot from the coast into the rugged mountains of the untamed Enga province of the central highlands. All earthly possession had to be carried by the missionaries and their porters.
The missionaries build churches and a seminary to prepare pastors. They also build Lutheran schools, hospitals and medical clinics. Today the majority of the leadership of the government of the Enga Province, including the Governor himself, are Lutherans who were educated in Lutheran schools. When I departed PNG from the international airport in Port Moresby, I inadvertently met the PNG ambassador to the United States. When he heard that I was a Lutheran, he admitted that he was a Seventh Day Adventist, but he proudly added, “I was educated in your Lutheran schools in the Enga Province.”
Today Bishop Nicodemus and the leaders of the Guitnius Lutheran Church have asked the LCMS to send professors to help restore their Seminary and pre-seminary Bible Schools which have fallen in to disrepair. They want their pastors to be as well educated as possible to meet the many challenges facing the church today. At the same time the Lutheran clergy have joined forces with Lutheran in government position to appeal to the LCMS to once again sent Lutheran teachers to their schools. For a mission church to grow into a strong, self-sustaining church it requires well trained pastors and theologians as well as educated laity who can support the church financially. The approach to mission undertaken by the first trailblazing missionaries that combined church, seminary, schools and medicine demonstrated great wisdom.
The same picture emerged on my trip to Nigeria for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria on September 10, 2011. In 1928 Jonathon Ekong came to the United States to obtain a theological education and to search for a church that was willing to send missionaries to the Ibesikpo people—“A Church Body that would teach the Word of God in its purity and also help in establishing good schools for them.” The Lord led Jonathan Ekong to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and to the Lutheran Churches of the Synodical Conference.
 A Short History of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria (Obot Idim, P.A. Uyo: The Lutheran Press, 1986), 8.
On April 24, 1939 Dr. Henry Nau came to Ibesikpo as the first resident Lutheran missionary. In early 1937 he was joined by Vernon Koeper, Pastor William H. Schweppe, Miss Helen Kluck, R.N. Then over the course of the next seventy-five years scores of dedicated missionaries served alongside the faithful pastors, teachers and laypeople of the Lutheran Church in Nigeria to build congregations, schools, seminary and medical clinics. In his memoirs, the founder of the LCN, the sainted Rev. Dr. Jonathan Udo Ekong (1881-1982) wrote some very kind words about the Lutheran missionaries who came to Nigeria from America. He called on Nigerians to thank God “for the men and women who came out to our land to bring us the knowledge of God’s saving Word.”
Those people passed through rough and difficult paths—many of them lost their lives—in order to bring this message of salvation to our country. They did not come to grab wealth for themselves; they did not come to trade in slaves, as did the Portuguese. But they came out to our land with hearts filled with love and compassion, and their only desire was to proclaim to us the love of Jesus Christ, which sent Him to the cross to die for sinners.
In his Key Note address which was read to approximately 3000 people who gathered to celebrate the anniversary in Obot Idim, President Harrision said:
It is my fervent prayer that the people of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria and the LCMS continue to embody this love for Jesus Christ and to have hearts filled with love and compassion for the lost. I know that this is true among many of the pastors and laity in the LCMS and from what I’ve heard, it is descriptive of our Lutheran brothers and sisters in Nigeria.
 Udo Etuk, Jonathan Udo Ekong The Log-Bell Ringer: Memoirs of a Patriarch (The Lutheran Church of Nigeria, 1997), 134.
Nigeria holds a special place in my heart. I lived there during my high schools years. Part of my time was spent on the Jonathon Ekong Memorial Lutheran Seminary campus where my father taught. In meetings with Archbishop Ekong and the faculty I heard the plea yet again to help the LCN strengthen their clergy through strengthening theological education. So we are planning a week long faculty continuing education retreat, making plans to send visiting professors, sending Prof. Robert Roethemeyer (Director of Library Services at CTS) to visit the library and develop a plan for the renovation of the facilities, expansion of it library holdings, and raising funds for faculty development. It is vital to provide scholarships enabling young Nigerians—the next generation of theologians and church leaders—to do graduate work at our seminaries in Fort Wayne and St. Louis.
The training of pastors is an intense, costly, time-consuming enterprise. There are no short cuts. Whenever short cuts are taken, it is more costly to the church in the end. Some Protestant denominations and mission organizations have adopted mission models or strategies built on training leaders with minimal theological education. December 7-11, I attended a meeting in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan with Dr. Al Collver and Rev. Daniel Johnson to discuss the future of theological education in Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. The participants consisted of seminary rectors (presidents), church bishops, faculty and clergy. One morning at breakfast, Rev. Alexander Fisunov (Kazakhstan) who is involved in planting four house churches asked to speak to us about pastoral education. He began by saying, “One well trained soldier is worth a lot more than ten untrained soldiers.”
The words written in 590 AD by St. Gregory the Great in his book Regula Pastoralis (Pastoral Care) offer timely advice for those around the world who are involved in theological education today.
“No one ventures to teach any art unless he learned it after deep thought. With rashness, then, would the pastoral office be undertaken by the unfit, seeing that the government [care] of souls is the art of arts! For who does not realize that the wounds of the mind are more hidden than the internal wounds of the body? Yet, although those who have no knowledge of the powers of drugs shrink from giving themselves out as physicians of the flesh, people who are utterly ignorant of spiritual precepts are often not afraid of professing themselves to be physicians of the heart.”
Gregory also admonishes men who are unfit to preach yet who are impelled by impatience and hastiness to the office. “They should not presume to preach before they [are] competent to do so.” They are like “young birds who attempt to fly upward before their wings are fully developed; they fall down from where they tried to soar.” They are like a new building in which the frame has not been sufficiently strengthened and heavy timbers are placed on it, the result is not a dwelling but a ruin. They are like a woman who gives birth to offspring not fully developed; they are filling not a home but a sepulcher.
There are still some areas remaining in the world in which missionaries are involved in planting a church where none exists. In most areas, however, indigenous churches have been established and national pastors and evangelists are preaching the Gospel, catechizing, baptizing and leading the divine services. So is there still a need for western missionaries in the 21st century, and if so, what is the nature of their task? The answer is quite simple—they will teach theology. Everywhere I travel bishops, seminary presidents, faculty and pastors are pleading with the LCMS to 1) send qualified professors to teach at their seminaries and 2) make it possible for the brightest and best (the next generation of teachers and church leaders) to study at our two seminaries in Fort Wayne and St. Louis.
Whenever I speak with American seminarians who are interested in overseas mission work, I encourage them to consider doing graduate work following the M.Div. Lutheran seminaries around the world will need missionaries with STM and PhDs for many years to come. Lutheran seminaries the world over (e.g. Kenya, South Africa, India, Latvia, Hong Kong, Japan, Brazil to name but a few) have matured to the point where they offer accredited degree which require professors with advanced degrees along with proper campus facilities with well stocked libraries.
The plea for help in building high quality seminaries is, however, not limited to academic excellence. The purpose of a seminary is to produce pastors and missionaries for the church. This requires the training of pastors in the practical art of preaching, teaching, spiritual care and conducting the liturgy and pastoral rites of the church with prayerful understanding. Dr. Darius Petkunas, pastor, theologian and church historian in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania recently made the insightful observation, “The maturity of a church can be seen in the liturgy and hymnody they produce and use.” In short, the ideal missionary for the 21st century will possess both theological and practical depth. Ordained ministers who have complete graduate work, spent time in the parish and possess a pastoral heart will be in demand as missionaries for years to come.
 Gregory, Ibid. Part III, Chap. 25, p. 180.
Posted by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations
[Sermon preached in the International Center Chapel, December 9, 2011, on the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent, Mark 1:1-8.]
Mark 1:4 simply states: John appeared. That’s it. John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness, and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Suddenly, it seems, there he is. Sent by God to prepare the way of the Lord. To point to Christ and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
The Baptism of John pointed forward to the baptism to come in the Lord Jesus, pointed forward to the death and resurrection of Jesus, like the last Old Testament sign. Our Sacrament of Baptism today both points to Jesus and actually brings Jesus to us today, in His death and resurrection. As the Scripture says, you were buried by baptism into the death of Jesus, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we also might walk in newness of life.
In both cases, it all begins with repentance. That’s because the Church really has only one thing to give – the Spirit in the Word of God to work repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
But what does it mean to repent? And who are the ones who really need to repent? Who need to turn around? To turn away from sin? Isn’t repentance really only for the ones who have been REALLY bad? We understand the need for a criminal to repent and to show some kind of remorse. In fact, we look for it, and are disappointed when we do not see it. But for those of us who have been in church all our lives? Do we really need to repent?
YES! John proclaims. YES! Jesus will say, just a few verses later.
There is no other way to receive the forgiveness of sins or to enter into the Kingdom of God. The Spirit of God comes to rule in our hearts and lives only in THIS way: bringing true repentance and faith.
Friends, in preparation on this text, I tried to look for a new angle on repentance, something to jazz it up, so to speak. But there is no new angle. It is simply this same old thing of recognizing that, when we talk about the problems of the world, when we talk about the evils of our society, those problems and those evils are not only “out there” but also “in here,” in my heart, in your heart.
Whatever your struggles or faults or failings, to repent is simply to admit, and to say to whomever needs to hear it, including God: What I did was wrong. I am sorry.
I need to be forgiven. I need what God gives in Jesus. I need the mercy of God in the cross of Christ. I cannot go on without it.
You have heard that, in the first of his 95 Theses, Martin Luther wrote that, “When our Lord Jesus said, ‘Repent,’ He willed that the entire life of the Christian should be one of repentance.” That means, we recognize everything we have, and everything we have ever done, has been corrupted by our sin. And that we see the forgiveness of sins Christ has come to bring, and we say, YES! I need that, because I am a sinner.
When Christ comes giving peace for our hearts and minds, to repent is to say, “YES, I worry lots of times. I need the peace He brings.”
When I feel weak, that I’m not going to be able to make it, to repent is to say, “YES, I need HIS strength.” When I am sick, to say, “I need His healing.” To repent is to say, “I know I am dying, so I need the only One who gives life.”
Actually, at it’s most basic, to repent is simply to live every day in our Baptism! Every day to die to sin, and rise to new life with God in the Lord Jesus.
It is to remember finally, and above all, that Jesus came for sinners. He didn’t come for the good people, because there are none. So we can stop pretending we’re better than others.
Jesus came for sinners. Sinners like you, and like me.
The great joy of being a baptized believer, is the joy of of living with fellow repentant sinners. The joy of telling one another and anyone else who will listen, Here it is! Here is the forgiveness of sins! It’s here in the Lord Jesus! Here in the Word of God proclaimed to you. Here in the water of Baptism connected to the Word of God and poured out over you. Here also whenever you remember and return to your baptism, confessing your sins and hearing the Word of forgiveness and absolution.
The greatest joy of a pastor is to be able to say, as one sinner to another, “God has put away your sin. You are forgiven! Here it is! In Jesus, God nailed up to the cross, it’s FOR YOU!”
I was only ten years old when I heard it, but it is a sermon I will never forget. My father was preaching his first sermon in a new congregation. How should he begin to work with that new parish? What should he say? His text was the story in 2 Kings 7 when the Syrian Army, the enemies of God’s people, had the city surrounded. The people were starving. The prophet Elisha one day received a promise from God that the very next day there would be food enough for all.
That night, there were four beggars, lepers sitting just outside the gates of the city, who were debating among themselves whether they should try to go into the city and die, or give themselves up to the enemy and die.
When they decided to go into the enemy camp, much to their surprise, they discovered that the Lord had sent a great fear among the enemy soldiers and that they had all run away in the night, leaving behind all sorts of food and clothes and everything else. At first the beggars were scooping it all up for themselves. But then, they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell [this good news]. (2 Kings 7:9).
So the theme and gist of my father’s message that day was this – As a pastor, I am among you as one beggar, telling other beggars where to find food. That’s what a pastor does. He’s one sinner, among other sinners, giving out the forgiveness of sins. And he gets to do it publicly, on behalf of all, giving it out as he baptizes, as he distributes Christ’s body and blood, as he preaches and teaches.
But each of you, baptized into Christ, have that privilege in your vocation, wherever God has placed you, in all your relationships, to show people Jesus… To be the beggar who tells people, left and right and all over: Here’s the food! Here’s the greatest treasure there is! Here’s Jesus!
And through it all, KNOW THIS. If you are a sinner, if you know you are a dying beggar, to repent and believe the Gospel is simply to give up all your sins to Jesus, because He took them all, on the cross, to receive from Him forgiveness, because He rose from the dead. And to know that you are washed clean in His blood every day, for you are baptized into His death and resurrection.
Because, in Jesus, it truly is all for YOU!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President