Posts tagged Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia
When you see the skyline of Riga, Latvia, two of the tallest steeples belong to Lutheran Churches. The Dom Church (the cathedral for the archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, Janis Vanags) and of St. Peter’s are both impressive in Old Riga. But the church we attended Sunday for our trip was the Jesus Lutheran Church, a congregation in Riga dating to the 18th century. It was my privilege to bring greetings on behalf of President Harrison and the LCMS to the 300+ gathered worshipers (The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia and The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod are in pulpit and altar fellowship), a great honor to be sure. We share the same confession, the same Gospel, the same sacraments, the same Christ.
However, the most amazing moment for us came in the liturgy at the beginning of the Agnus Dei. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a surge of people coming down the center aisle. In that congregation, the custom is that all those desiring the Lord’s Supper come forward and stand in the space between the kneelers before the altar and the front pew, each one waiting for his/her turn at the altar. But the surge down the aisle was from all the grey haired men and women who were eager to receive the Lord’s Body and Blood. There were many young people there, but the elderly went first. So they came, some with walkers or crutches, some in wheel chairs, some stooped over with canes, but they all came forward eagerly.
I thought of what they had seen during the difficult days of the Soviet Union when Latvia was (unwillingly) made a part of the Soviet empire. Our translator, Sandra Gintere, told of her father-in-law, a Lutheran pastor arrested literally as he came down from the pulpit and sent to Siberia because he had been evangelizing and teaching young people the catechism. The price they had paid to follow Christ was enormous. So there they were, surging down the aisle, eager to receive the One who had purchased them with His precious blood, eager to be refreshed and strengthened at the Lord’s Table with the medicine of immortality, Christ’s Body and Blood. They knew the “one thing needful” (Luke 10:42) and did not want anyone to take it away. Thank God for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Latvia, for our common faith and our life together in Jesus.
In His Service
+ Herb Mueller
If you follow this blog, by now you know that we have been engaged in a series of three mercy conferences in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. But what was the mercy conference all about? Here is a short summary of the conference, listing the presenters.
Herbert Mueller – First Vice President of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod brought a keynote address on our Biblical and Confessional Theology of Mercy (summarized elsewhere in this blog).
Bryan Salminen – Serving as pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in St. John’s, Michigan, Dr. Salminen is also a psychologist teaching a class at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. His presentation focused on a theology of the body and of passion. Our sexuality is a pointer for our need for communion with God, a need God fills with Himself in Christ.
John Fale – is a pastor of our Synod presently serving as the interim executive director of LCMS World Relief/Human Care. Before coming to the Synod, he served as a hospital chaplain for 14 years. He led conference participants into a deeper understanding of the need for the pastoral care of the sick. Times of personal illness will often make a person emotionally and spiritually vulnerable to the attacks of the devil. The pastor’s task is to bring the right medicine at the right time for each person.
Grace Rao – serves as a deaconess, presently on the staff of LCMS World Relieve/Human Care. Grace organized this conference with the help of her counterpart in Latvia – Ms. Inta Putnina, in charge of diaconal work in Riga, Latvia. She also made a very interesting presentation on the calling and work of deaconesses and their relationship to the pastoral office.
Sara Bielby – is a deaconess serving two congregations in Michigan: Immanuel Lutheran Church, Macomb, and University Lutheran Chapel in Ann Arbor. In a moving way, she focused on the need for visitation of the marginal and lonely. Deaconesses put the love of Christ into action, leading to the cure that is found in Christ and His means of grace.
John Pless – teaches pastoral theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana. His lecture focused on the pastoral care of the dying. Death is not the natural end or course of things, but death is the last enemy. Yet it is an enemy defeated by Christ Himself, who died and rose for us. Life is not ours to take, but God’s to give and to take according to His plan. Death brings judgment, a judgment Christ received on our behalf, so that now, in Christ, we are judged righteous. Death swallowed up in Christ’s death and resurrection becomes the portal to life everlasting.
Of course, we would not have been able to hold a conference in Latvia without a great deal of help in Latvia. We had the cooperation and help of all the bishops in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, led by Archbishop Janis Vanags. However, Ms. Inta Putnina, director of the diaconal center of the church in Riga, was invaluable in her work to support and organize our conference. Mrs. Sandra Gintere (wife of one of the Latvian pastors and instructor at the Luther Academy, who also has a PhD from CTS, Fort Wayne) worked untiringly as our interpreter, with the help of Ms. Mara Zviedre (who had translated several theological papers on the Church’s work of mercy into Latvian). We pray God’s continued blessing on our partnership in the Gospel and in the Church’s work of mercy with our brothers and sisters in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia.
+ Herbert C. Mueller
How did we get here?
A grant obtained by LCMS World Relief/Human Care is providing the resources necessary for our travel to Latvia and within the country. We are working in each of the three dioceses of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. Today we are in the Diocese of Riga, the largest city and capitol of the country. Earlier this week we were in Daugavpils, the second city of Latvia. On Monday we will present in Liepaja, on the Baltic Sea, where there was a large military base in Soviet days.
Our hosts are marvelous, the interpreters indefatigable, the participants attentive and responsive, and the food tremendous! We are heartened by our work with our partners, and we pray the Latvian church is strengthened in the Church’s work of mercy. We are Christ’s body – He is the Head, but we are His hands, His arms, His feet, His mouth in the world.
Here are more pictures.
+Herbert C. Mueller
The following ten points summarize the theological foundation for the Church’s work of mercy and care for people in need.
- The Holy Trinity – Diakonia (“mercy” in our threefold emphasis) has its source in the divine and eternal relationships of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
- The Incarnation – Diakonic love in the Holy Trinity is made real in the incarnation and the humiliation of Christ. In Jesus Christ, the eternal God takes on our human flesh and completely identifies Himself with sinful humanity, so that He might have mercy on us. Having the mind of Christ, the Church is likewise called to identify with and humbly to serve those in need.
- Universal Atonement – “God desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Christian service and love flow from the fact that Christ has atoned for all the sins of all people, so that every human person is precious to Christ and to His Church. Receiving the mercy of Christ, the Baptized are released into a life of loving service.
- Forgiveness Begets Mercy – The Good News of salvation in Christ crucified and raised from the dead brings forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. People who receive these gifts of grace are led by the Spirit of God to be merciful.
- Christ’s Example – Christ’s example of love for the whole person remains our highest example for life in this world, and for the care of the needy in both body and soul. When Christ walked this earth visibly, His giving of Himself combined both the forgiveness of sins and acts of mercy, care and healing. So too His Church.
- A Corporate Life of Mercy – Therefore, mercy is an essential part of the Church’s life together as the body of Christ. He is the Head. All who believe and are baptized into Christ are members of His body. So “when one member of the body suffers, all suffer” (1 Corinthians 12:26). This means that works of mercy are not only the responsibility of the individual believer, but also of the Church as Church, as the body of Christ, as congregation and as Synod. Our works of mercy flow from the sacramental life of the Church and become a living out into the world what happens in the divine liturgy. Brought into the body, we receive mercy from Christ Himself, in Baptism, in Absolution and in the Supper. And this mercy we have received must overflow into the lives of others.
- The Lutheran Confessions – Our Lutheran Confessions also assume that the Church will have a corporate life of mercy and repeatedly state that the work of diakonic love is an essential part of the Church’s life:
- Smalcald Articles II.4.9 – “Therefore, the church cannot be better ruled and preserved than if we all live under one head, Christ, and all the bishops – equal according to the office (although they may be unequal in their gifts) keep diligently together in unity of teaching, faith, sacraments, prayer and works of love, etc.”
- As Broad as the Need of the Neighbor – The vocation (calling by God) to live in love and mercy is as broad as the need of the neighbor. Baptized into the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2) we use the gifts God has given in service to the neighbor. In order to meet these needs, Christ not only gives a wide variety of gifts to His body, He also calls a wide variety of people, of members of His body, to many different varieties of service, in and through the Church. These callings are flexible and are determined by the needs surrounding the church (as in Acts 6). Within the Church and in connection with the Church’s mission to reach out to others, proclamation of the Gospel, faith, worship and care for those in need ought always come together.
- Beyond Members of the Church – The Church’s work of mercy also extends beyond those in the Church. Just as the Gospel itself reaches beyond the Church and is intended for all, love for the neighbor cannot and must not be limited only to those in the fellowship of the orthodox Lutheran faith. Works of love will often prepare the way for the Gospel to be proclaimed.
- The Whole Person – Proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments are always primary (Christian fellowship is always in the Church’s marks) but the Church’s God-given work of mercy demonstrates and “puts a face on,” so to speak, the love of God for the whole person. People are created by God as body and soul. We believe in “the resurrection of the body,” both for Christ and for us. Christ came as a human being, body and soul, to redeem all, body and soul. So today, mercy in the life of the Church must bear witness to Christ’s Gospel, and Christ’s promise to come again to raise us to life, body and soul, the whole person.