Archive for February 2013

Pastoral Letters on the Newtown Tragedy

A Statement of Unity

By the grace of God, we have worked through a very challenging situation. It has been our deepest mutual concern in dealing with one another to be faithful to Christ, our respective vocations, and to each other as brothers. Our dealings have been marked throughout with patience, kindness, and love. We implore the church to do likewise.

We have mutually forgiven each other where we have fallen short.

We are reconciled.

We are at peace.


Rob Morris, Pastor, Christ the King, Newtown

Timothy Yeadon, District President, New England District

Matthew C. Harrison, President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod




Pastoral Letter and Apology from President Harrison

The Newtown tragedy strikes at the heart of the nation, especially as we are left with no easy or clear answers as a society as to why any human being would inflict such pain upon others. Like many of our fellow Christians in America, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod confesses the inherent value of every life, and the uniqueness of Jesus’ death and resurrection for all for eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). We believe that Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament (Isaiah 53). We believe He is God in the flesh, born of the Virgin Mary (John 1:1–14). We believe that He died to pay the penalty for all sin (Gal. 3:10ff.). We believe that He rose again and promises eternal life to all who trust in His cross and resurrection. “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Like many of our fellow Christians in America, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod confesses the inherent value of every life, and the uniqueness of Jesus’ death and resurrection for all for eternal life.

As the nation struggles with increasing violence and tragedy, we as a church body have struggled and continue to struggle with how to respond to civic/religious services in the midst of such events and to do so in a way that is in accord with our core convictions about the uniqueness of Christ. There are strong differences of opinion on this issue within the Missouri Synod, and that is because we all take our commitments to the Bible and to serving the neighbor very seriously. One view is that by standing side-by-side with non-Christian clergy in public religious events, we give the impression that Christ is just one path among many. Others view participation as an opportunity to share Christ and to truly love a hurting community, which may not happen if we are not participating. We struggle with the tension between these two views. We all deeply want to support our hurting communities in ways consistent with our religious convictions.

Our people participate in the life of this great nation at every level, in part to protect everyone’s right to religious liberty and to enjoy the freedom to act on their own deep convictions. We respect others of deep religious conviction and appreciate good citizenship shown by any and all, no matter what religion or lack thereof. And we have and will fight to protect the religious liberty and conscience rights of all.

I, along with New England District President Yeadon, asked Pastor Morris for an apology for participation in the Newtown prayer service, hoping to avoid deeper internal controversy and division in the Missouri Synod, which, in the past, has struggled with this issue to the very breaking point. I naively thought an apology for offense in the church would allow us to move quickly beyond internal controversy and toward a less emotional process of working through our differences, well out of the public spotlight. That plan failed miserably. Pastor Morris graciously apologized where offense was taken as a humble act to help maintain our often fragile unity in the church (1 Corinthians 8). He did not apologize for participating, even as he carefully provided his reasoning for participating due to deep concern for his flock and the people of his horrified community. I immediately accepted his apology, looking forward to continued conversation toward greater unity in the church. I had hoped to veil him and his congregation from unhealthy criticism within the church. I urged and still urge that anyone contemplating action in the church courts not do so. I desire nothing more than to keep our church body from deeper division so we can continue to work through our challenges with less heat and more light. Unfortunately, only a small portion of the two letters that we each provided to the church was picked up by the media, who distorted the facts of an admittedly nuanced situation that is very difficult for most people, even within the Missouri Synod, to understand. I kindly refer you to my letter and Pastor Morris’ letter for further clarification.

 I desire nothing more than to keep our church body from deeper division so we can continue to work through our challenges with less heat and more light.

As president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, I take responsibility for this debacle. I handled it poorly, multiplying the challenges. I increased the pain of a hurting community. I humbly offer my apologies to the congregation, Christ the King Lutheran Church, Newtown, Conn.; to Pastor Morris; and to the Newtown community. I also apologize to the membership of our great church body for embarrassment due to the media coverage. I know that despite my own weakness and failings, God “works all things for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). My interaction with Pastor Morris and President Yeadon has never been anything but cordial and appropriate for brothers in Christ. Speculation that has implied anything else is false.

The day I was elected two-and-a-half years ago, I noted that the Synod had kept its perfect record of electing sinners as presidents. I also noted that I would fail at times. I am a sinner. I have failed. To members of the Missouri Synod, I plead for your forgiveness and patience as we try again to work toward resolution, faithful to Christ and His Gospel, in times that challenge us all.

Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison

President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod


Pastor Morris and Christ the King—Newtown, Conn. have also issued a statement in response to the events of this past week. 



Pastoral Letter from District President Tim Yeadon

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As the President of the New England District I watched with horror the same events unfolding last December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut that you did.  Because of my relationship with Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, Connecticut and her Pastor, the Rev. Rob Morris, the Lord gave me an opportunity to be present in the days and weeks that followed with these saints who were dealing with their own unspeakable grief and yet were ministering to the people of their Community with the only hope we truly have, the hope of Jesus Christ Whose light still shines in the darkest of days.  Part of my privilege was also working with my aforementioned brother, Pastor Morris, whom I love in the Lord, and also my brother the Rev. President Matthew Harrison of our Synod whom I also love in the Lord.  I admire both of these men for their devotion to our Savior and His Gospel and I attest to that devotion.  In light of events and recent developments that have brought trouble to our Synod I have experienced a remarkable unity at the cross with these two brothers of mine and for that I thank the Lord.  I know that President Harrison has received criticisms for his handling of this matter and people have questioned his motives.  I remind us all that we are not privy to private conversations he has had nor the deliberations of his heart as he has weighed the options he felt best for our Synod.  To draw conclusions about his motives without any of that information is not worthy of us as children of God.  I defend him as one who wanted to spare the Synod grief  and division and to find a way to allow the Pastor and People of Christ the King to continue to minister to their community and to one another without distraction.  By his own admission he may now reflect back on whether the means of achieving that goal worked out as planned and he himself has expressed regrets over how things have happened especially now that the public media has run with this story.  Please find it in your heart to give charity no matter what you may feel about the handling of this matter as you and I have received charity from the Lord in our life.  My conversations with my brother have always let me know that the cross of Jesus was before him in all things:  I also realize that as President of an entire Church body such as ours he has to deal with matters far beyond the scope of any of us and I appreciate his struggles to serve the Savior the best way he can.

In light of events and recent developments that have brought trouble to our Synod I have experienced a remarkable unity at the cross with these two brothers of mine and for that I thank the Lord.

I also wish to publicly state my support for my brother in Pastor Rob Morris.  This man is a man of integrity and honor who was thrust into a nightmare few of us can imagine.  He is a Pastor who has always supported the positions of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and he would be the last person on earth to ignore advice or use his freedom as an excuse to ignore our oneness in Christ as a Church Body.  In any action he takes I attest that he precedes it with prayer and as he sought to do his best for the Lord, whether you agree with his actions or not, his heart sought out the Savior.  His love for his congregation and his community do him, his saints, and our Church Body proud.  As he himself acknowledges in his own writings, he never intended to offend anyone by decisions he made and if it resulted he took the high road of acknowledging those hurts and expressing his regrets for things he did that caused them.  He too wanted peace with all and I know he was sincere in that.  He has my respect for whatever that counts.  Nobody in our Church body and no Church Official has ever spoken to the contrary on that issue regarding his pastoral heart, no matter one’s opinions on actions taken.  As such, I pray to the Lord of the Church for more opportunities for me and our District to support this Pastor and this congregation of saints in their ongoing ministry to Newtown, Connecticut and to one another.  I will also gladly and proudly in Christ continue to relay support and Christian love from the Office of President Harrison whom it is my honor to represent in this place of our Synod.

With the strength of the Lord I will not allow the enemy to isolate me from President Harrison nor from Pastor Morris and the people of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, Connecticut.

A final thought which I have shared with both President Harrison and Pastor Morris.  I believe that Satan wants to divide us and to isolate us from one another.  He is the true enemy and on December 14 this enemy showed his true colors.  He will stop at nothing, not even the murder of little children, in his hatred of all that is God and all that is good.   We hold up Jesus Christ in New England as do all of you where the Lord has called you to serve.  With the strength of the Lord I will not allow the enemy to isolate me from President Harrison nor from Pastor Morris and the people of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, Connecticut.  We will have our discussions and our disagreements. Where I am wrong I ask for forgiveness from the Savior and from any  whom I offended.  I without reservation give it to those who have sinned against me because Jesus has forgiven me so much in my life.  With Christ’s help we will make it through these days and He will bring His good out of all of this.  That is why I believe the best days of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod are still ahead of us.

Rev. Timothy Yeadon

President, New England District

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod




Additional resources on the Church and Civil Religion.


EECMY Strategic Plan

On 6 February 2013, the EECMY shared its 5-Year Strategic Plan with its mission partners. (The LCMS was invited by the EECMY to attend the Mission Partner Meeting as a guest and observer.)

Currently, the EECMY has approximately 8,000 congregations. Only 2,000 have ordained pastors. The other 6,000 congregations are served by evangelists. The EECMY has a five year goal of having an ordained pastor in every congregation.

Here are the bullet points of the EECMY’s strategic plan:

– Share the Gospel with 30 million unreached people. (Although this sounds like a huge ambitious goal, the EECMY has 6 million members. The church figures if every member shares the gospel with one other person once a year for five years they will obtain this goal.)

– Train, equip, and deploy 10,000 missionaries.

– Train 100,000 responsible and faithful Christian witness (lay Bible training)

– Train, educate, and ordain 12,000 pastors so that each congregation has one pastor.

– Train 9,400 evangelists

– Increase the capacity of the 4 regional seminaries and 40 Bible schools.

– Upgrade the Central Seminary in Addis Ababa to PhD level so that it can be a hub for faculty development at the other seminaries and Bible schools.

Although this is an ambitious task, the primary goals and needs of the EECMY is in the area of theological education … This is an area that the Missouri Synod has both strength and experience. This is why the EECMY has requested assistance in the area of theological education.

Dr. William Schumacher of Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis was a guest lecturer at the Mekane Yesus Central Seminary in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia this past week. Next week Dr. Detlev Schultz from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne will be lecturing next week. Dr. Cynthia Lumley will be coming to speak about deaconesses in March.

President Idosa and Dr. Collver.

50 Year Celebration of the Central Seminary.

The Dove of Peace at the Central Seminary.

– Rev Dr Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations, 7 Feb 2013

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Addis Ababa,Ethiopia

Reflections on Confession and Absolution

First, my assumption:  Confession and Absolution, whether we mean confession of sins in general or specific, private absolution with the pastor, is a great gift of God to His Church. Jesus said,

‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgiven the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld’ (John 20:21-23).

When we speak words of forgiveness in Christ to one another, we are not simply talking about forgiveness, not simply imparting information about Jesus, but Jesus Himself speaks through His Word to forgive the sins of the penitent sinner, namely, the one who knows he or she is broken, dying, unless Christ intervenes.

My second assumption is that the word of forgiveness spoken is Christ’s word, no matter who speaks it. So a wife, in her vocation as wife and mother, may speak Christ’s word of forgiveness to her penitent husband, and vice versa. Within our God-given vocations there are many opportunities to bring Christ’s forgiveness into the situation. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us we are forgiven to forgive when we pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Indeed, when we leave the Divine Service with Christ’s word of forgiveness ringing in our ears, we have a never-ending supply of forgiveness to give away to others.

Our Lord Christ, however, is so extravagant in His gifts that He also has established in the church the office of pastor. In fact, His Word commands the church to call pastors, as Paul directed Titus:

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you (Titus 1:5).

So, at Christ’s command, the church calls pastors as servants, men whom God’s Word calls “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1), men who are to serve the church and the lost world around the church by giving out the Lord’s gifts as the Lord desires. In essence, then, pastors are given a trust by God through the church. They are accountable to Christ Himself (and to the church) to give out on behalf of all the gifts Christ has for people:  forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in the Word of Christ.

We call and ordain pastors in order to make it clear both to the people and to the pastors what they are to be and to do: conduct their ministry in accordance with the Word of God and the confessions of the Lutheran church, caring for the people of God within and without by means of that Word of God. Tucked into our ordination/installation rite is a question with an important bearing on our topic.  The prospective pastor is asked, among other things, “Do you promise never to divulge the sins confessed to you?” “Yes, with the help of God!” he answers.

That implies two things. When a pastor hears a confession, whether public in church or privately, he has no choice, but he is under orders from Christ Himself to announce forgiveness. “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ…” is how one form of absolution puts it. Secondly, with private confession, never means never. That’s right. Any pastor who hears a confession of sin within this “confessional seal” must never divulge it to anyone, ever. That’s the vow. Within the context of that pastoral relationship he explores with the penitent confessing the sin whether he or she understands what true repentance entails, including taking responsibility for any consequences of sin under civil law, but he must never divulge to anyone the sins confessed to him. He must not stand in judgment for he, too, is a sinner. If the penitent needs help going to the proper authorities, the pastor ought do that, but he does not divulge what was confessed. He has one thing and one thing only to do for a penitent, truly broken sinner – and that is to speak Christ’s own life-giving Word of forgiveness. As our catechism says,

I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when the exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself (Lutheran Service Book, p. 326).

When I served as a district president for 16 years, I recommended to the pastors I served that they find another pastor to whom they might confess sins and hear in the voice of another saying, “I forgive you all your sins.” It’s a great gift of God I have sought to make regular use of myself. When pastors would ask me how they could find a pastor to trust, here was my response:  you ask him two questions. Do you have someone to whom you confess your sins? (No one can hear confessions as a pastor without regularly being a penitent himself.) If he answers yes to the first question, you ask him a second: does “never” mean never? If he answers yes (considering what we said above) you can trust him. These things, by the way, would be good questions to discuss with your pastor as well. Personally, I could not function as a pastor without this gift of God, to hear from another the voice of Jesus:  “Your sins are forgiven you.  Go in peace!”

+ Herbert Mueller
LCMS First Vice-President

Ethiopia — CMCR Meeting

Today, on 5 February 2013, Drs. Albert Collver, Joel Lehenbauer, and Mike Rodewald attended the 34th Committee of Mutual Christian Responsibility (CMCR) of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) at the Gudina Tumsa Conference Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The theme of the conference was “Environmental Engagement and Christian Responsibility.”

The theme verse for the conference is Genesis 2:15. The morning began with an explanation of the theme and a study of Romans 8:19-20 by Rev. Bulti Feyisa.

In his study on Romans 8, Rev. Bulti discussed the tension between the old Adam and the restorer baptized person, and the tension in Creation caused by the sinful Adam. He pointed out that people are not the only ones who suffer in this world, but also all of creation.

He did an analysis of the so-call “new perspective” on Paul and explained how this “new perspective” was not in keeping with Lutheran theology, in particular justification by grace through faith. His study also included Law and Gospel application, as well as a distinction between the Two Kingdoms (church and state) in what each can do in terms of caring for Creation. It was an excellent study.

President Wakseyoum Idosa of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus addressed the Committee of Mutual Christian Responsibility.

In his report, President Idosa reported on the 19th general assembly of the EECMY held on 27 Jan – 2 Feb 2013, just a couple of days before the CMCR meeting.

First, President Idosa explained why the theme of the conference was “Environmental Engagement and Christian Responsibility.” He said, “We live in a world where human drive has gained mastery over creation resulting in senseless exploitation of natural resources … Our responsibility and engagement as stewards, caretakers and nurturers goes alongside with the image of God that we bear.”

In his speech he noted over the course of this past year, the EECMY’s membership increased to 6,012,184 and 7,840 congregations. (Note: this represents an increase in membership by slightly less than 1 million members over a three year period.) He also mentioned the implementation of a 5-year strategic plan, along with a financial update.

In a somber moment, President Idosa said, “EECMY had lived in partnership with some partners for over a century… Challenges and Changes that we encounter in out Contexts are forcing us to make decisions which are consistent with our belief about God and our biblical, theological and ethical understandings and our contexts where the church operates. One of these challenges as you all know is the controversial issue on human sexuality which has been on the agenda of the EECMY since 2006.”

President Idosa then stated that the EECMY issued a “clear statement on the position of the church on this issue” in 2010. He outlined how the Council of the Church assessed this matter again in 2012 before finally bringing it to the 19th General Assembly on 27 January to 2 February 2013.

President Idosa concluded, “The decision of the Council that has been endorsed by the General Assembly will be communicated to the concerned churches on the
basis of the bilateral relations that exist between the church and concerned partners.”

Although this speech prompted much discussion and questions, the EECMY leadership responded by saying, “This is all we have to say now.” Then the group broke for lunch.

After lunch and coffee, presentations on the theme “Environmental Engagement and Christian Responsibility” began. A fascinating presentation noted that although Christians have been made stewards of Creation, traditional religion / pagan religion often takes better care of the environment. He pointed out that The Lord gave Christians “dominion” over the earth, not “domination.”

President Hailu Yohannes of the South Central Ethiopian Synod and Dr. Collver on break between sessions at the 34th CMCR. President Hailu took Drs. Collver, Lehenbauer, and Rodewald to see southern Ethiopia in September 2013.

Tomorrow, the conference continues and will include small group sessions to discuss the conference presentations and themes.

– Posted by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Addis Ababa,Ethiopia