Official Publication of the LMS-USA
Volume 7, Number 1
In this Issue:
The Lutheran Ministerium and Synod describes itself as, Biblical, Confessional, Evangelical, Liturgical, and Congregational. While all these terms are good descriptive terms, they, at the same time, depending on one's background and present leaning, can mean quite different things to different people. In fact, even a term like Evangelical, a term with roots in the New Testament Scriptures, can have vastly different meanings to different persons. It is with this in mind that the following chapter from a small volume by Selmer A. Berge has been included in this issue of Table Talk. Berge sets forth for us an understanding of Evangelism that is at the heart of what the LMS considers Evangelism to be, and which it believes is also biblical.
Berge's little volume was written and published in 1943, thus the reference to 100 years as he begins. Now better than 50 years later these words are still well worth our consideration.
Evangelism in the Congregation - A Necessity by Selmer A. Berge
One hundred years of blessings and organized work in the Kingdom have produced our Church of today. In 1843 the Christian life in the congregation began among our forefathers here in America. Through the past one hundred years there has been growth, development, and progress in spite of hindering difficulties and tremendous opposition both from man and devils. With the help of Almighty God there has been written a story of experienced grace in the lives of men because the congregation was there at work. It has been well characterized as "The Forward March of Faith" in the remarkable Centennial publication describing that era which has now come to its close.
Still, it is only because of the calendar of years that we speak of the ending of such a period. No perceptible change came when we crossed over from the first to the second century. There is a continuity of life that unites the centuries into a whole. The congregations still exist. Within the congregation there is life. As heirs of the preceding generations, endowed with a rich spiritual heritage, the congregations live, move, and have their being in God.
Evangelism Needed for the Life of the Congregation
Evangelism characterized the congregation's life in the past. The proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ brought the congregation into existence, nourished and preserved it, and enabled it to accomplish its God-given task. The first century came to its close on an evangelistic note through a blessed "Faith in Action" program.
In this new century, evangelism must be a primary consideration in every congregation, if the life of the congregation shall be maintained. Here there can be no break with the past. In this matter there can be no change. We will cut ourselves off from God if we forget our essential task of evangelism. We will live, grow, and make progress only if we faithfully and zealously pursue the course of evangelism.
"What Is Evangelism?"
What is evangelism? Before we answer that question it might be well to note what it is not. It is not sensa-tionalism. Some people assume that in order to be evangelistic, one must be some sort of a stunt man, use extraordinary language, indulge in unusual mannerisms, make boastful claims for oneself. That is not evangelism. But let us not forget that evangelism deals with the most sensational subject in the world, which will produce the most sensational change in a man"s life. It is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and changes a bad man into a good man through the New Birth of which Jesus speaks in John 3.
Evangelism is not merely education. It is not putting religious ideas into a man"s head so that he can rationalize about faith, while at the same time his heart is untouched and his life is evil. But let us remember that evangelism gives us knowledge, the most precious in the world, because it leads us into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. It appeals to the enlightened intellect, while it sinks deep down into the soul.
Evangelism is not bare emotionalism. It is not a superficial arousing of the inner emotional life by means that are artificial and tricky, so that a subject becomes the plaything of a strong leader. But evangelism does appeal to the emotions and seeks to touch them by the Spirit of God, so that they come under His control and are led into deep sorrow for sin, a sorrow that often expresses itself in weeping, and into a loving faith in Jesus Christ that opens up fountains of joy.
Evangelism is the preaching and the teaching of the Bible, that inspired and inerrant Word of God, among men everywhere, in order that men may repent and believe in Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour, and in love to Him lead godly lives.
That kind of evangelism-and surely any other kind of evangelism is spurious and unworthy of the name that kind of evangelism is a vital necessity for the life of every congregation. It is its lifeblood. It is its lighthouse. It is its power station. It is its Life, Light and Power.
Obedience to Christ Involves Evangelism
Christ, the Head of the Church, commanded us: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16: 15-16). That Word cannot with impunity be ignored by anyone in the congregation. If one expects to continue in the congregation, and if the congregation shall survive, those marching orders of the Lord must be obeyed. There cannot be rebellion against God on the part of His people, for that will bring down upon the disobedient God's holy wrath. The work in the congregation will then be for naught. No matter how hard the congregation works, though the intentions be ever so well-meant and the sacrifices great, nothing can gloss over or excuse plain resistance to the command of the Lord. Obedience to God is a necessity. "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?" To that question there is but one answer: "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." To emphasize the truth of that statement there is added this analysis of disobedience: "For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry." Rejection of the plain command of the Lord involves one in being cut off from God, even as Saul learned when Samuel told him, "Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king" (I Samuel 15:22-23).
The Apostle Paul well recognized the necessity of evangelism. He said, "Though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel!" (I Corinthians 9: 16). That spirit should prevail in every Christian's heart, and should be dominant in every congregation. We have no choice in the matter. God has made the decision for us. We have only to accept the task He has laid upon us.
The Congregation's Attitude to Evangelism
Whether the congregation shall be a living organism, true to the Lord, worthy of its name, or be changed into an apostate group, broken off from fellowship with the Lord and rejected by Him, will be decided by its attitude toward His call to evangelize the world. How important then it is that every congregation give earnest heed to that call, and seriously apply itself to the cause of evangelism! Evangelism must have priority over the many other things that might seem desirable. Evangelism must be the main task of the congregation and everything must either become subservient or disappear entirely. Evangelize, or die!
God"s Love for the World
Why should God lay upon us the burden of evangelism? It is because of His love for the world. He desires that all men shall be saved and "come unto the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:4). To accomplish that end, He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die for all men, so that penitent sinners who believe in Him can therefore be saved (Mark 1:15; John 3:16).
The World Dying in Its Sin
The world round about us is dying in its sin. The corruption is evident. The Name of the Lord is counted vain and vile. Profanity flows like molten, sulphurous streams from the mouths of boys and men, yes, even from girls and women. It has crawled into the printed page and been accepted with little rebuke. God"s Word and His church are neglected, if not despised, by great masses of people. How many there are who prefer the golf links, the bowling alleys, the Sunday newspaper, the family outing, to church attendance! How few homes there are where family devotions are held. How silent most people are when it comes to confessing Christ before men. The sinfulness of man cannot be painted too black, nor do most of us realize how rampant and general it is.
A Call to Evangelism
The sad state of the world is a call to the congregation to get busy with its task of evangelism. Only then can the world be saved. Surely we cannot stand idly by and see our fellowmen go down into Christless graves and sink into the bottomless pit "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:44), when we have not the means whereby they can be rescued from such a horrible end! Rather we ought to feel like Paul: "I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are in Rome also" (Romans 1:14-15).
Into our hands has been placed a sacred trust. God has given that to us. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, "the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust" (I Timothy 1:11). "We were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel" (I Thessalonians 2:4). We need to be faithful in our stewardship. That requires that we use that Gospel, preach and teach it so that others may hear and be saved.
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His Royal Banners Forward Go! - Part II
What Is Written On Those Banners?
The Background of the vital ministry of The Church today!
by Rev. Ralph Spears
The problems of ministry today arenot in the talking, nor the planning nor even in the Scriptural theory; the problems come in the actual doing! We are so very concerned with the headlines on the banners that we carry, that we fail to lift them and put into action the directives so nicely phrased. Instead the Church is concerned with definitions and policies that define the what and how of regulation.
As suggested in the last issue, it is easier to center our attention on the proper way to administer Communion rather than knowing and experiencing the transforming power of His Body and His Blood through the sacrament. It is easier to discuss social ministry and outreach than to do it by sharing our faith with whomever we might encounter. Perhaps we are a bit suspicious or even put off by spontaneous actions that are not planned out in advance. Not many years ago, a national church sent out reams of programs tailored to a monthly theme. Yet programs seldom fit specific congregational ministries and lead to a pre-cut template or "one size fits all" psychology, that interferes with the work of the Church.
Perhaps we are simply not comfortable with acts of ministry that can be considered good works. After all, Luther disliked good works in favor of faith. Perhaps we need to realize that what we DO grows out of what we BELIEVE so that our Faith is translated into authentic and vibrant ministry, which is spontaneous and not canned ideas. Perhaps, too, we should look at the background of Faith as it is defined by two seemingly diametrically opposed church Fathers-James (who wrote the Epistle of James) and Martin Luther.
James of Jerusalem lived during a transitional time at the very end of the second temple period. Christ had been proclaimed the Messiah beyond a doubt and His were zealously seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of which was still under development because of His unfolding actions.. Jesus was well known to James. Although somewhat of an enigma, He was James" own brother. The writings of Josephus and Eusibius report that the "Brother" designation in the Scriptures , did not just mean 'cousin", but rather the Son of Mary and Joseph! This is repeated in the Dead Sea Scrolls; recent research identifies James of Jerusalem as the leader of the Essene Christians, not in Qumran by the Dead Sea, in Jerusalem near the south-east gate, which is known as the 'Dung Gate" (so named because the Essenes - out of respect, never defecated within the walls of the Holy City using the gate as exit to visit the 'necessary").
As Paul relates in 1 Corinthians in a chronology of resurrection appearances, Jesus actually appears to James as if saying, 'See brother and believe!" This was a turning point for James who did believe, for next, we find him acting as leader and mediator. He is mentioned as the Church leader of the Jerusalem Church in the book of Acts (at the first Church Council), and is referred to by Paul in Galatians in the same capacity.
Interestingly enough, these things are not reported in a Catholic Bible. Eighteen hundred years after his ministry, James" legitimacy is questioned by the Pope, declaring ex cathedra, that Mary was perpetually a Virgin.
Despite what the Catholics profess, James witnessed the good works naturally flowing from this new fountain of faith, whose source was his Messiah/brother. This faith was not a mechanical, Pharasaic following of the Law. As the leader in the Church, if James did not himself see good works, he heard them reported by Apostles, who visited him in Jerusalem until his martyrdom on Passover Day in 62 AD. His martyrdom, itself was proof of his faith, for he confessed Jesus as Messiah, despite threats by the authorities, who threw him to his death. These events are recorded by Eusebius, Clement and especially Hegesippus in his fifth book. All three sources refer to him as "Righteous" and acknowledge him to be the leader of the Church - or even the Second Pope. Eusebius, in particular, faithfully preserves the early Church"s traditions of James, The Righteous , brother of The Lord, and writer of the Epistle of the same name, at the beginning of the fourth century. James was called the "first general Epistle of the Church" by them (likely) meaning the first in chronological written.
It was only in the mixing of traditions during the tumultuous fourth century, that the stories of James faded and his heritage became more questionable. By Martin Luther"s time, some twelve hundred years later, the authentic "good works" of the Church"s first general Epistle, became 'meritorious actions" severed from any real faith that mocked the "Faith once for all, delivered to the Saints" (v 3) (to borrow the well known phrase from Jude the documented brother of James.)
As we well know Luther had quite a time "contending for the Faith" by not only 'rightly dividing the words of Truth"; but by separating adiaphora from essential articles of Faith. Little wonder that Luther"s Teutonic hackles were raised by the very mention of "good works" which played easily into the hands of John Eck, Erasmus and the other of Pope Leo X"s Roman defenders! For this and the fact that James mentions Jesus Christ only twice in his letter, Martin Luther would refer to this once dignified - first general epistle - as "straw". Brother James was extremely well known and revered in his own day but , the 1500"s were quite a different 'day" in the life of the Christian Church. Relics, indulgences and meritorious pilgrimages as 'good works" had to go! Luther was right - of course - the "Faith delivered to the Saints" of the first century was now the "Sola Fides" of the Protestant Reformation most especially among the 'Lutherans" - as they were now being called.
Is there a tendency away from talk of good works among Lutherans? Are they more comfortable carrying on the debate with Romish bodies (or even among themselves) than in doing the good works of ministry? . Perhaps pastors are more comfortable in the study, crafting scholarly sermons, than in walking outside into the neighborhood and being an example although imperfect, of the precious Faith! Among all Christians it seems that such work, the ministry of good works, is thought to be the job of special missionaries or evangelists. We speak of 'outreach" as though it were something added on, rather than an activity of first importance.
Today, the pendulum of emphasis needs to swing the other direction. Acts of ministry based in Faith need much freer exercise in the Church of Luther and the Church of Jesus Christ. This may be a subtle point but no less important and vital. More than anything today, our Ministry needs to be active, deliberate and visible. It needs to be a major emphasis of our time and activity and not (necessarily) structured by some agreed upon form. Most often when pastors - even laymen - refer to their appointment books, it is to note the meetings that they have to attend within the congregation or the structured gatherings in the community. When we speak of 'building up the Church" we are not using the phrase in the way St. Paul would have used it; we are speaking of constructing, repairing or keeping up the building(s) in which the Church meets. As one of my fellow pastors put it, even when the Church manages to do acts of social ministry that are basic and important , we " tend to fall all over ourselves in self-congratulation!"!
One can clearly see that modern ministry can be far removed from the ministry of the early Church. The Church of James and Jude, and the Apostles were going about telling the mighty works of God, being led to service for the needs of people and risking their lives to do as their Lord had done. Most of the acts of the Apostles are lost to the pages of history. Even accounts of their martyrdom are bare sketches of their sacrifices.
The impressive factor in Jesus" pattern of ministry was that he balanced his time alone for prayer, with long hours of walking among the people,. Jesus was directly touching, comforting and teaching them. He spoke often to his followers of "the fields white unto harvest" with so "few to come and work in those fields!" As their pastor, he anticipated their moves, knowing what was on their minds and what their true needs were through direct contact with them. None of this was lost on his followers who knew that they must "go and do likewise" and they did!
As ever our eye is on Him , "The pioneer and perfecter of our faith". Along with this call and this ministry the writer of Hebrews speaks so warmly of the "great-cloud of witnesses" which "surround" us. We minister not in a vacuum but in a tradition and feeling of presence with all of those who have gone before.
The Apostles came back with their 'stories" after they had been sent out "two by two," with their bragging rights to the ministry, the experiences that would come to mean so much to them. This prompted The Lord to say that HE could see "Satan fall like lightning from heaven" by their forthright acts to others in His name. When Christians tell of their calling on others, even their chance encounters with people on the street it is very much like this-a certain purpose and spontaneity are suddenly present adding real meaning to it all.
Some years ago, the every member visitations were in vogue. As a teen I could tell that everyone was doing something that they didn"t really want to do. We would get our name assignments and go out two by two with some vague material about the church"s finances. The whole exercise struck me has hopelessly futile and 'wooden". And then we got together and people began to tell of a few doors closed in their faces. But when they got to conversations they had which totally surprised them with positive results, suddenly this futile exercise became something with some life in it.
These encounters are attached to Faith, for without it they would mean nothing. And they aren"t so much good works as humbling experiences which show that the Holy Spirit is there, if we will see.
No wonder James said that "faith without works (that come from it) is dead" - the two cannot be separated!
Martin Luther also grew ' in faith and wisdom" and even mellowed in his opinion of the Epistle of James. By the end of his writing career he had quoted from those five short chapters more than four hundred and thirty times!
Next time - What should a valid Christian/Lutheran ministry DO in these present days?
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Convention Report Distributed
After some delays, the 1999 Annual Convention report has been mailed out to pastors and congregations of the LMS-USA. The report includes minutes of all actions taken at the annual Convention as well as the treasurer report and the 2000 budget.
This is one of the distinctives of the LMS, that all convention action be reviewed by all members of the church body. And if, after review there be a decision with which one disagrees, then as a subscribing pastor or congregation, you have 60 days from the mailing of the convention report to vote a "no" on that particular action. If 1/10th of the pastors or 1/10th of the congregations vote "no" then the decision of the convention is put on hold and the matter is placed on the agenda of the convention for reconsideration the following year. All pastors and members of LMS congregations are encouraged to read through the annual report. This is your church body and we all have a responsibility to see that this body is a 'healthy body' and we continue to be faithful to what it we set out to be.
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LMS Ministerium Meets
The LMS Ministerium met at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Indianapolis, IN on Monday, February 21. Most of the time was spent in two areas. First, fine tuning the five-point description of the LMS-USA (see finished product in the column to the right). And secondly, on the upcoming annual Conference / Convention to be held June 10-12, 2000.
The theme for our Conference is, Gospel - Liturgy - Evangelism. The conference presentations will focus on what it means to be evangelical and to do evangelism. More on this and the June Convention in the next issue of Table Talk.
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The LMS welcomes Rev. J. Jeffrey Baxter and St. Thomas Orthodox Lutheran Chruch
Rev. J. Jeffrey Baxter and the congregation of St. Thomas Orthodox Lutheran Church became provisional members of The Lutheran Ministerium and Synod - USA upon receipt of their application on January 4, 2000.
As described by pastor Baxter, St. Thomas, Stanwood, Michigan, was formed as an independent, confessional mission Church in September of 1996. "The outreach of our church seems to have become one primarily directed to the 'unchurched' and the elderly, although there are a fair number of younger saints in our midst."
Stanwood is located just south of Big Rapids, MI. Worship time is Sunday, 9:30 AM.
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The LMS-USA web site has seen some reworking
There is a constant need for work on the LMS Website. Recent changes involved some editing of materials and rearranging some things too... hopefully, making things a little easier to find. If you have not visited the sight lately, you might want to look it over.
New Addition to Website
At the recent Ministerial meeting at Indianapolis some interest was expressed in the posting of sermons on our LMS website. Hopefully this may soon become a reality. This would give interested persons an opportunity to 'get to know' pastors in our church body they may never get to see in person. It would give persons outside our church body an opportunity to 'get a feel' for the theological emphasis of the LMS.
It has yet to be determined how these sermons will be 'filed' (i.e. by text, date, subject, or... ).
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Holding to a traditional form of worship has, in the minds of some, its drawbacks. For one thing, it does not fit the popular notion today of doing things that are easy for everyone. People today, for the most part, have forgotten the adage: That which is worth doing is worth doing well. And 'doing things well' will require some effort on the part of all. Another problem is that there are a number of hymns people like that are theologically unsound. What are we to do?
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Hymns Nobody Likes
by James Tiefel
Occasionally people complain that Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal [and any other Christian hymnal! RKF] has too many hymns they don't like to sing. "They make hymnals for trained musicians," so the complaint goes, "and not for the common Christian."
It may come as a surprise to many people that hymnal committees spend many hours trying to find a balance of hymns people want and need.
Unfortunately, many of the hymns that people love to sing contain teachings out of step with the Bible. Worshipers grew fond of dozens of hymns during their non-Lutheran youth or while listening to non-Lutheran radio broadcasts. Because the message of many of these hymns is confusing, or even wrong, they do not build up faith, but actually weaken it. On the other hand, Martin Luther's "From Depths of Woe" doesn't often make a congre-gation's list of hymnal favorites, yet its text wonderfully proclaims the Bible's message of sin and grace.
Which hymns should the church place into its hymnal? Favorites that will harm, or unknowns that can build faith?
Usually it isn't the text that makes or breaks a hymn's popularity. The tune is the issue. The hymns people don't like usually have a melody that is either "too sad" or "too difficult."
Worshipers like to feel good when they sing. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's important to remember the purpose God had in mind when he created music. Music works together with language so that God's story can be implanted in our emotions and our minds. Music is a means to carry the message of God's Word to our hearts. Someone said that music is exegetical: it amplifies and interprets a text.
Many of God's words are exciting and happy. Parts of God's message are sad, and other parts are serious. If the Bible's message is to be conveyed faithfully, its sad words need sad music. Meditative words need meditative music, or the singer can't meditate. Serious words require serious music, or the message comes off as being not very serious. We could sing serious songs to lighthearted tunes in the same way we could play baseball on a basketball court. It works, but not very well. Try this out: Sing "Amazing Grace" to the tune of "Joy to the World." The meter fits, but the mood isn't right at all.
Some people point to the music they hear on religious radio stations or on television worship broadcasts and argue that sad or serious music hardly ever appears. Perhaps they might ask how many sad or serious subjects ever appear. Should Lutherans, like so many denominations today, avoid sad subjects such as sin and guilt, or serious subjects such as fighting for the faith or dying for Christ? Certainly not! The Christianity the Bible proclaims is joyful, but not gleeful. It is glad, but not giddy. It is simple, but not trivial. And as long as this is true, not every Lutheran hymn will be bouncing with joy. We will need serious music to sing about serious subjects.
Another complaint sometimes heard is that some hymns are too difficult. The question has to be asked, difficult for whom? One of our mission pastors was preparing for his congregation's first Easter service when he discovered that his members, primarily from unchurched backgrounds, had never learned "I Know that My Redeemer Lives." Should that hymn be eliminated because it is too difficult for some people? The pastor didn't think so. He felt the hymn was worth learning, so he spent time teaching it. His little congregation sang it grandly on Easter Sunday.
The real issue with some hymns is not their difficulty, but their worthiness and their familiarity. There aren't many hymns in our hymnal that are more difficult in rhythm and melody than "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," but we sing it enthusiastically because we have sung it often and we know our faith has been strengthened by singing it. If a hymn has words and a melody that are worth learning, we need to practice it until we know it.
Once we know a hymn, it isn't difficult anymore. Isn't that true of every song we sing? Listen to a child sing a nursery rhyme for the first time; listen to an adult try to sing a Top-40 tune for the first time. In both cases, you will hear tunes that sound difficult because people are having trouble singing them. After those songs are heard and sung again and again, they become easy. It's very likely that the hymns we consider easy to sing are those we know, and the hymns we consider difficult are those we don't know.
It takes time and effort to learn anything new. Like many things we do, the worship of God takes work. Listening to a sermon takes concentration. Filling our offering envelopes with generous offerings takes willpower. We won't demand to sing only easy and familiar hymns when we remember that we have been redeemed by the very difficult suffering and death of Jesus. In one of our more popular hymns, we sing these words:
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a tribute far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
We need hymns and songs that proclaim the message the Bible tells. Some will seem easy, some more difficult. Some will be happy, some serious, and some sad. We can work at learning them all -- little by little -- for the hard and serious task of keeping our faith strong and for the praise of him who accomplished the hard and serious work of winning us a victory.
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The LMS-USA is a Biblical, Confessional, Evangelical, Liturgical, Congregational expression of the universal (catholic) orthodox Church on earth. It is a 'Forum by Subscription.' As a 'Forum' the intent is that there will be an ongoing discussion of theological issues and concerns among clergy and lay alike. The LMS-USA meets annually for a Theological Conference and this publication, besides carrying news of the Ministerium and Synod, functions also as a vehicle for this continuing dialogue.
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