Official Publication of the LMS-USA
Volume 14, Number 3
In this Issue:
Rev. Ralph Spears Receives Honorary Doctorate
Following a precedent set by Martin Luther himself; Lutheran pastors have had a continuing high degree of respect for learning in the area of scriptural and related studies. In particular, the President of our Ministerium, Pr. Ralph Spears, has distinguished himself, not only as a dedicated shepherd of souls, but also as an internationally recognized student of Scripture. For this reason, and in light of his decades of devoted pastoral service, the faculty and administration of St. Timothy Lutheran Seminary bestowed upon the Reverend Spears the honorary degree and title of Doctor of Divinity (D.D.) at the recent LMS-USA convention in Indianapolis.
The honorary degree, granted with the phrase “honoris causa,” subscribed, has a special place in American academic history. It is said that the first degree ever granted by the newly established Harvard University was an honorary doctorate.
From the beginning, the D.D. degree was meant to reflect the utmost honor and respect for those who manifested great dedication in the care of souls. In addition, the degree signifies in many cases a high degree of scholarship developed and applied outside of the traditional university or seminary setting. The D.D. (honoris causa) is not an earned degree in the sense of requiring a certain number of academic credits plus a dissertation or juried research project. But it is a degree and honor that reflects the esteem and affection of the granting institution and the congregations that such an institution serves. The D.D. (honoris causa) should be an honor rarely bestowed and highly respected.
Such is the case with the award of the D.D. to the Reverend Dr. Spears by St. Timothy. Among Ralph’s many achievements is deserved recognition as a major scholar in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In addition, the granting of the degree is a manifestation of the care and respect that we in the LMS-USA have for his outstanding service to us in the name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In many ways, the degree reflects honor far beyond any due to academic achievement alone.
As is true of other Theological degrees, the velvet hood lining that is the symbol of the D.D. degree is red/crimson, reflecting the precious blood of Christ and the fire of the Holy Spirit. This spiritual fire in the heart of Reverend Dr. Ralph Spears has lighted the path of the LMS for many years and warmed our hearts. The award of the honorary doctorate is but an expression of gratitude to God for that dedicated and loving expression of the Light of Christ in our lives.?
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The “GREAT” LMS-USA Conference of 2007
by Rev. Richard Horn
The 2007 Annual Conference of the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod – USA will be remembered for being one of the GREAT conferences in both the quality and the depth of content. There was a wide range of topics covered by the presenters and (although the attendance was anything but memorable) those who attended have been enriched by it.
Following the Opening of the Synod by Chairman Pastor John S. Erickson, devotions were led by the Chaplain of the Conference. At transitional times throughout the Conference, the Chaplain used an outstanding variety of Lutheran liturgical resources which, together with insights in his meditations, added tremendously to the liturgical life of the Conference. The devotional materials, in booklet form, also can be used for personal and family devotions.
A Sense of the Holy
Pastor John Erickson, Chairman of the Synod, gave the primary Convention essay on the theme “A Sense of the Holy.” The presentation was done (as usual) with his solid scholarship and exposition of the Biblical texts (perhaps the essay will appear in a later issue of Table Talk).
There have been many comparisons between the church in Corinth to whom St. Paul wrote and the church in our present day. In I Corinthians 10, St. Paul admonishes all to prepare for “the fulfillment of the ages.” In much the same way, Moses was told to consecrate the people, to set them apart as “holy” [Exodus 19]. But this sense of holiness seems lost in the Church today. We rarely hear “fear and love God” and often downplay any sense of fear, of the overwhelming awe that causes us to tremble. We certainly cannot force holiness on anyone, but the experience of Scripture and faith shows us that holiness can and must be taught [Romans 10]. The Holy Spirit can teach holiness as a gift to those in Christ who will be spokesmen [Romans 12; I Corinthians 12:7ff]. The importance of teaching is brought clearly to the Israelites: “Hear, O Israel … Fear the LORD your God” [Deuteronomy 6:4-13a]. So if holiness is unknown today, it is because we have not been teaching and preaching the holiness of God. God’s holiness does not reveal itself naturally to man; our nature of sinfulness has trouble comprehending the infinitude of God without feeling like a worm. Yet we are fallen beings in all the ways in which we can be from the time of our birth, and even our heroes are soiled and imperfect.
Holiness must be seen as the nature of God. God is Holiness! Our language cannot express holiness, so God uses association and suggestion. In its root definitions, “holy” means “cut off” or “separate from” and speaks of a separation from the profane or common. But in Scripture, “holy” finds identity in “the Holy One,” and, when applied to persons, is by association. The Holy One allows only “holy” beings in His Presence.
Our worship life needs to reflect that awesome Presence of the Holy One. That must begin with the sincere confession that in oneself there is no holiness and, that when confronted by God’s refining fire, we are lost and condemned except by the saving grace of Jesus Christ. This sense of God’s holiness [see Revelation 7] is not that of a comedy club for entertainment. It is to look on God first, then to look at oneself. This conversion in the face of the Holiness of God, the Righteous One of Israel, does not depend on our “free will” or “decision” for Christ but depends on an emptying before God. It acknowledges Luther’s concept of justification by grace through faith: both Law and Gospel must be taken seriously. Only then can we see how far short we have fallen. Divine Law is perfection looking at imperfection!
As Christians, both clergy and laypersons must regularly meditate on the Scriptures (which is quite different from sermon or Sunday School preparation!) so that we can “absorb” and reflect the holiness that comes from the Holy One. This will allow God’s Holiness to affect our devotions, our confession of sins and desire for forgiveness, our need for repentance, our lives and witness, our worship and preaching and teaching. Of our own will, we cannot do this. If Aaron could be led into apostasy, irreligion and error – what will spare us?
At the Annual Winter meeting of the Ministerium, Dr. Jim Galezewski helped to present a detailed review of the Independent Lutheran Theological Education Project. Dr. Galezewski was asked to provide the Synod with a further review and update.
The project is a Confessional pan-Lutheran Theological education effort independent of the various Lutheran denominations. The Lutheran Churches have reeled from a drift toward Post-Modern theology and Biblical interpretation, the “Call to Common Mission” Concordat, and the Lutheran Sexuality Report on the ordination of gay/lesbian/bisexual individuals and rites of same sex marriage. The result has been the formation of moderate yet evangelical denominations and movements (Word Alone, LMS-USA, CLCM, etc.) and a diaspora of Lutheran students to non-Lutheran seminaries. To address this crisis in the Church, a Lutheran “House of Studies” effort began in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 2003 but then changed into a cooperative program with the formal name of ILTEP - Independent Lutheran Theological Education Project. ILTEP is not a seminary but is a recognized 501c3 organization with a Board of Trustees/Regents. Dedicated to the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it has sought the cooperation of “partner seminaries” to provide students with a Biblically sound theological education and an additional Evangelical and Confessional Lutheran core education with 2-year internships culminating in an accredited and recognized M.Div. degree.
To accomplish this, the student would follow these steps:
The Lutheran Core Courses include: Introduction to the Lutheran Confessions; Lutheran Systematic Theology; Theology of the Lutheran Confessions; Advanced Hermeneutics; History of the Lutheran Confessions; Theology of the Cross; Reform of the church: an historical perspective; Confessional Lutheran Worship; Teaching the Lutheran Confessions; Pastoral Care: Foundations; Pastoral Care: Applications; Pastoral Care: Self-Care, Setting Healthy Boundaries; Seminar on Human Sexuality and the Family.
Lutheran Core Electives include: Entrepreneurial Spirit in the Church; Old Testament Topics; New Testament Topics; Team Building and Congregational Leadership.
The Lutheran Faculty for ILTEP all have terminal doctoral degrees (except one defending his). The faculty is: the Rev. Dr. Oliver Olson; the Rev. Dr. Klaus Schwarzwaeller; the Rev. Dr. Joseph Burgess; the Rev. Dr. James Galezewski; the Rev. Michael J. Albrecht.
In addition, the internship will use skilled and experienced denominational pastors as instructors and supervisors.
Plans call for incorporation by the end of this year (2007), a possible center for studies, and inclusion of other cooperating seminaries. This can result in a curriculum leading to an M.A. degree and, with the two years of Lutheran Core courses, a “Certificate of Equivalency.” Additional faculty members will also be added.
The LMS-USA is interested in continuing discussions with ILTEP as a vehicle for the seminary education of our candidates for ordination. It would be helpful to us and to ILTEP if you would be willing to receive updates directly from ILTEP. If you are a pastor on the roster of the Ministerium and are not willing to have your name, email and mailing address provided to ILTEP for this purpose, please let the Ministerium Secretary, Pastor Richard W. Horn, know as soon as possible. The website for ILTEP is: www.iltep.org.
Visioning and Life and Future of the LMS-USA
Dr. Robert Hotes, President of St. Timothy Lutheran Seminary, led a discussion on what it means to be a Confessional Lutheran, and specifically, as the LMS-USA fulfills its role in the Lutheran community. We all recognize the importance of stability, and especially the stability of faith, which leads to ability. Pastor Ralph Spears, President of the Ministerium of the LMS-USA, then directed the discussion to focus on where the LMS-USA is involved and where it is heading.
As the LMS-USA we have a number of strengths: small number of congregations; few pastors with calls; Centrist; Confessional; clear Confessional doctrine; very low overhead; ability to get along together; fellowship; supportive; Synod is a vehicle for working together.
These strengths also have their counterparts in the weaknesses of the LMS-USA: we don’t have men available for calls; congregations and pastors are scattered; low visibility; no seminary campus; lack of fellowship among congregations.
There are threats to the continued existence of the LMS-USA as a separate denomination: other similar and small groups are forming; not taking our mission seriously for the care of congregations and pastoral ministries; lack of clarity about differences between the LMS-USA and others.
Looking ahead five years, we expect the LMS-USA: to still be here, serving, and being faithful to the Gospel; internal communications improved; Table Talk continued and improved as a mean of communication and a forum for discussion; formation and education of pastors; planting of congregations.
What are our options and how can we lead into the future? To look at our mission and vision; to pray for one another (LMS-USA prayer chain); to verbalize our needs and communicate them to one another.
We have seen great cooperation with others particularly through the International Lutheran Council and are very supportive of this inter-Lutheran worldwide Council. We also see opportunities to educate others about the LMS-USA and want to encourage our pastors and congregations to assist in helping others to learn more about the LMS-USA.
Throughout the Conference, there was a strong and positive response to the mission Christ has placed before us. As we continue to share the message of Christ’s Presence in our lives, in the lives of our congregations, and in the Lutheran community, we look forward to faithful ministry in and on behalf of the LMS-USA.
Honorary Doctorate Conferred upon the Rev. Dr. Ralph W. Spears, D.D.
Following the Worship Service on Sunday morning prior to the start of the Synod Convention, Pastor Spears was presented to the Synod to receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. The degree was conferred on behalf of Saint Timothy Lutheran Seminary upon request of members of the Synod of the LMS-USA. Special mention was made of Pastor Spears' long experience as a pastor of the church, his service as President of the Ministerium of the LMS-USA, and his scholarly work in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Well-deserved, Dr. Spears!
Actions of the Ministerium of the LMS-USA
Election of officers of the Ministerium: Vice-President (1-year term) Pastor John S. Erickson; Secretary (1-year term) Pastor Richard W. Horn [for information: Office of President (Rev. Ralph Spears) is a 3-year term expiring in 2008].
Additions or changes to the roster of the Ministerium: Pastor David Misenheimer (Subscriptional Member), Pastor A. J. Striffler (Applicant), Pastor [Name withheld by Applicant] (Applicant).
Re: International Lutheran Council: Pastor Spears is encouraged to attend the meeting in Ghana, September 20-27.
Re: International Lutheran Fellowship (ILF): we appreciate their fellowship and expressed our willingness to cooperate with them in ministry in appropriate ways.
Re: LC-MS in convention: to extend fraternal greetings.
Book by Pastor Rich Barley, Home To My Village, has been published and is available.
Letter from the Association of Professional Chaplains: they recognize us to be an endorsing church body.
Written excuses for meetings of both the Ministerium and the Synod are to be sent to the Secretary of the Ministerium. This is particularly important since we have established standards for attendance at both annual meetings.
Appreciation is extended to St. Matthew Lutheran Church, its pastor, Pastor Ralph W. Spears, and its members for hosting the Conference/Convention.?
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Life After Life
By Rev. Ralph Spears
Everybody talkin’ ‘bout heaven, but nobody want to die!
[Sometimes attributed to Canonball Adderly Jazz Sax]
This observation captures the ambivalence that even Christians hold towards death. Heaven and all that it promises on the one hand is contrasted with death and the uncertainties of losing it all - on the other.
The promises of the Gospel are a phenomenal truth, but approaching death is like coming blind to a great chasm of uncertainty. A leap of Faith is necessary to clear the chasm- dying is the ultimate "leap” and test of Faith.
The Apostles with Jesus on their final night together: “We don't know where you are going. How can we know the way?" And later, "Unless I see for myself, I will not believe!" These are typical expressions of uncertainty?
But when they were confronted by their risen Rabbi there was confusion and a real struggle to wrap their minds around it - and believe. Several repetitions of His appearance were necessary not only for Thomas. Luke uses the phrase that the Apostles "still disbelieved for joy and were marveling" while the conventional end of Mark simply says that:"They did not believe" reports of the resurrection.
"Teach me to live, that I may dread, the grave as little as my bed; teach me to die that so I may rise glorious on the awful day!" - Thomas Ken
Years later as their time of death approached; "since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me." - Peter
"For whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord's!" And further: "For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living!" - Paul in Romans
It is no surprise that the doctrines most under attack in the Christian Faith are the virgin birth and the resurrection! The first a transformation of life in a human body heaven sent, the last the complete overcoming of death as an indication of the way life really is. The first is the pattern or the most purposeful (conventional) birth of life ever given. The second, that if the truth be told, there is no death- really, but it is the secret that one must discover for oneself.
Actually the belief in and the understanding of the resurrection as a worthy truth, is the great chasm that must be overcome. Once one does that - dying is relatively simple, "O death where is thy victory!" "O grave, where is thy sting?" Where is that great obstacle of apprehension to be overcome?
If we link the Resurrection with our own hope at death then it is because Scripture directly encourages it. "O death where is thy victory" over us!
And this is mirrored in liturgies and collects in an unbroken chain from the very earliest Hymns of the Church which literally sang out this truth.
"When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, Thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers!" (Te Deum Laudamus, early 2nd to 3rd Cent.)
"Lord by the stripes, which wounded Thee, From death's dread sting thy servants free, That we may live and sing to Thee, Alleluia!" (Early Latin Hymn adapted from Isaiah 53)
"Jesus Christ our Lord... is the very Paschal Lamb which was offered for us, and hath taken away the sin of the world; who by His death has destroyed death and by his rising to life again hath restored to us - everlasting life." (Ancient Easter Collect often used in Burial of the Dead)
So then the Resurrection is our hope - defining our destiny and shaping our continuity from this life to the next. Without it - we don't GET it. We miss the whole point. Paul uses a reverse reasoning method in his unequivocal endorsement of the central Christian truth. "If it be said that there is no Resurrection - that the dead are not raised - then we deny that Christ has been raised and Faith is in vain - as is preaching and all proclamation of the Gospel, because the Resurrection is so identified with the very heart of our life in Christ." And ... "we are of all people - most to be pitied" - "hoping ONLY in this life." (1 Cor. 15:12-19) Many have balked at this point with less than full belief in the Resurrection - making this perhaps the oldest and most common heresy AND the most unfortunate!
The Entreaty of Dides comes from the fellow by the same name who in the parable (Luke 16:19) winds up on the wrong side of the Great Gulf in the after life which he created for himself because he could not recognize the plight of the poor beggar Lazarus who resided at his own back gate. From his own torment he pleads with Abraham to worn his brothers who are still in this life so that they won't come to the same fate as he has. If Lararus were to appear to his brothers as the fictitious Jacob Morley did to Ebenezer Scrooge, Dides reasoned - they would believe. But says Abraham in this parable of Jesus, "If they do not listen to Moses (the Law) or the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead." [The italics are mine, because Jesus here presages unbelief that will abound concerning his own resurrection and says to us then "Hear the Word!"]
All the more reason to preach the Word and administer the sacraments and let the chips - and the people - fall (or rise) where they may!
Resurrection - the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, ties it all together, helps us recognize each other in Him - or leaves at loose ends - in this life and the next.
Yet we have heard many statements even sermons where an individual is translated into heaven - just because they died. The answer is that although we might hope that is so, it wasn't for Dides - AND the many people he represents!
With belief (Faith) - 'you have it' as Luther would say, but without it you don't.
In my seminary days I worked in a funeral home for several months and quickly became aware of the wide spectrum of services and sermon promises from "The Beautiful Isle of Somewhere" to the Pearly Gates. From - the deceased taking his place in the Angel Band to being 'sainted' in much less time than it will take (apparently) for the late Pope, John Paul II. The quality of the sermon left much to be desired but the quality of Gospel content was much worse.
Of course some say that there are no atheists in fox holes. The same could be said of relatives of a deceased family member at a funeral who wish to hear that relative is in heaven and by that they mean - 'mansion' and not just a plain 'room'.
If Christians are not realistic and true to the Gospel about death - and they are not; Christians and those nominally so are confused about life after death. This can be corrected in a big way, by simply reading the Bible beginning with; "In my Father's house are many mansions (KJV) rooms" (RSV & ESV) "And I go and prepare a place for you that where I am, there you may be also" - presumably amidst those many rooms. Because some of those rooms might be paradise - to which even a dying thief was invited and some are a living hell such as the state in which Dides found himself. Certainly there are 'rooms' in between where there is confusion or peace, doubt or grace and all manner of rather negative things to deal with. Don't confuse this by the way with Dante's Inferno although the later likely borrowed some ideas from Scripture. "As a man thinks - so does he become." As a man lives, so does he continue - beyond this life. Of course Grace is factored in but only by the righteous judge, Jesus Christ who knows the heart!
Interestingly the Egyptian deity Thoth is sometimes pictured weighing the hearts of the deceased. (There are after all, hints of monotheism in some ancient Egyptian iconography.)
To this end, there are the many parables that strongly suggest that we prepare and be ready with what we know of the will of God so that we are ready for what we don't know. The lawyer who put Jesus to the test about eternal life preparation was referred to the most basic teaching concerning loving neighbor as self in the first commandment. Moses said in his final teaching that the way to life was not arcane or far away - but in the heart that anyone might know it and follow!
So what is our problem(s) with death? The same problem(s) we have with life; fear, aversion, denial or any sweet lie that we might tell ourselves.
A further word about funerals and funeral services. There is a growing tendency presently to make the Service more and more about the person in the casket and not about the Word and why? It is not because of Faith! Pastors who lovingly (how else?) present the hope of the Word find a ready audience among those who come to the funeral service with a short list of misgivings and assorted doubts. Then for them to hear - in context - the doubts of Thomas or Martha and the overwhelming assurances of Jesus have them coming up to thank the pastor when he didn't do anything but his job to preach the Word. To all pastors! Hang in there and do it!
Now for a subject that is somewhat controversial - but shouldn't be - that referred to in the past thirty years as near death experiences N.D.E.s. Many of my members and friends have told me such stories over the past several decades some with fear that they might be seen as unbalanced or worse. They have been sincere, direct and objective in their tales, so much so, that I believe them. "Whether in the body or out of the body" they weren't quite sure always! These stories will be published some day with their own accounts carefully preserved. Two interesting things come out of these experiences for these folks, they were NOT afraid, and they fear death much less now than before, OR NOT AT ALL!
Even from research and the study of Doctors listening to their patients who have had these most interesting experiences, comes the proof of the ancient saying of St. Paul: "O death, where is thy victory, O grave where is thy sting!"
Eternal life is built into our world as our Lord reveals, is it built into us?
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The following article is reprinted from The March/April 2007 issue of Clearly Caring [The Official Publication of Christian Life Resources, Inc.]. The author is Pastor Robert Fleischmann.
Although a first impression is certainly important, it is the last impression that sticks! Without a doubt, the first impression is important - in this world. Mind you, I said, "in this world."
Take, for instance, a job interview which offers an applicant moments to leave the right impression. Despite crazy fashion fads, tattooing, facial piercing, outrageous hairstyles, and slang talk in certain settings, job procurement in most companies still demands an expected protocol before a person is hired. Other than the occasional memorable blunder in an interview, most first impressions offer a person the opportunity to get themselves in the door - yet are soon forgotten.
Final impressions, however, remain with others. Such impressions cannot be undone by subsequent actions because they are genuinely the "last" impressions. These are the impressions left as one faces the closing moments of life.
After nearly two decades of working with the dying I have observed consistent themes, memorable events, and outrageous stupidities. One such absurdity is the notion that most people want to die in their sleep. People reason that dying in one's sleep spares them from the emotional good-byes to family, friends, and careers. "I'll just fall asleep in my bed and wake up in the arms of Jesus." Hard to beat that!
My most memorable experiences about death included devoted Christians who said the right thing, buried hatchets, and provided the final insight that helped their survivors move on with life after their deaths. I recall people who, after receiving notice about a terminal and untreatable ailment, wrote incredible letters or left behind video testimony of their faith and love for others, to be remembered as beacons of hope long after they were gone.
Unfortunately such positive experiences are not always the case. I am compelled instead to address the outrageous stupidities involving the death experience. I mention this fully aware of the fact that the readership to Clearly Caring is Christian. What I wish to address are those things Christians sometimes do or say which leave lasting impressions of confusion, distress, disappointment, and even doubt. Consider this list:
Facing death is a pivotal point in a life that is always facing eternity. Death is not a final moment but rather a milestone. The entire life of a Christian should reflect a consciousness of his or her own eternity. Consider the familiar hymn, "I am a stranger here, heaven is my home." While we want a warm and friendly family, good friends, a great job, and a comfortable life, we live each moment aware of the fact that it is temporary.
If God gives you the opportunity to know the limited moments that you have left in this life, think about the lasting impression you will leave. Think about what you will say. Think of how your faith can shine in this most familiar yet feared moment of most people.
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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.
For information or to make comment contact:
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