Note: Rev. Mark Dankof's series, "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" continues to be on hold due to time restraints with his graduate studies.
One of the unique features of the LMS-USA is that it is to be a forum for
ongoing theological discussions among clergy and laity. This year will be
the fifth of these annual forum meetings. Professor Kurt Marquart of Concordia
Seminary, Fort Wayne, will be with us once again this year as our guest
presenter. Professor Marquart's focus this year will be on "What is Distinctively
Lutheran About the Doctrine of Ministry." A couple of other presentations
are planned by member pastors of the LMS-USA. These Conference presentations
will take place beginning on Sunday afternoon (June 7) and continue into
As enjoyable and helpful as these forum sessions promise once again to be, there is also a need to conduct some business. This year will be the third annual meeting of the LMS-USA Synod Convention. The Synod business is conducted by the voting members of the church body. Voting members include Subscription Pastors and Congregations. Each Subscribing pastor has one vote, and each Subscribing congregation is represented by one voting delegate.
As last year, the Convention Worship Service of Holy Communion will be held Sunday morning (June 7) at 10:30 AM. Rev. Richard Barley will be the Preacher.
The following are among matters to be dealt with at the LMS-USA Convention this year:
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In 1941 Casper B. Nervig wrote a book he titled, CHRISTIAN TRUTH AND RELIGIOUS
DELUSIONS. In the preface to the book, Nervig wrote "The numerous religions
in America constitute a real problem in the minds of many Christians." If
this volume had been written today, the author would have likely not only
addressed the differences between religions, he would also have felt it necessary
to have addressed the differences between the various Lutheran bodies.
Included here are two sections from chapter two of Nervig's book. The first deals with the Lutheran Church as it was and ought to be today, the second is pertanent in that with the talk about "Apostolic Succession" in conncection with the proposed ELCA agreement with the Episcopal Church, Nervig shares with his readers what true Apostolic Succession ought to entail.
THE EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
The Church of Truth
The Original Apostolic Church Restored
Apostolic Succession of Faithfulness
It is a mistake to think of the Lutheran Church as being four hundred years old. It is over nineteen hundred years old. True, its name and its confessions date from the Reformation period, but as a historical church it does not date from the time that Luther nailed the Theses on the door of the Castle Church, nor from the time he stood before the Diet at Worms, nor even from the Diet at Augsburg. It dates from the first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the New Testament Church. Martin Luther was not the founder of the Lutheran Church; he was the re-discoverer and the restorer of the original church. This church did not come into being in the manner of modern denominations and sects, These later founders of churches have gathered a personal following around their personal leadership. Together they have spread their teachings, usually among members of older churches, winning converts and organizing these adherents into new congregations.
What happened in the Reformation era was not the organization of a new church at all, as so many today believe. Nor was it a revolt of a small section of the church to form a separate organization, as Catholic propagandists manage to get it into some high school history books. The Roman Catholic Church as we know it today was not the mother of the Lutheran Church. What happened was truly a "reformation," a purifying of the church.
The apostolic and scriptural truth had long been buried under a vast accumulation of falsehood which had been piling up for centuries. This accumulation included false doctrines, human fabrications, superstition, worldliness, with unbelief, corruption, and immorality rampant in the papacy and its court of cardinals. Papal supremacy, purgatory, transubstantiation, penance, indulgences, Mary worship, prayers to saints, are but a few of the many errors which had accumulated.
Hundreds of honest Christians had long realized the terrible state into which the church had fallen, and they longed for a better day. Some had tried to start a house cleaning to rid the church of error, but the papacy had successfully prevented it through oppression and bloodshed. Peter Waldo tried in France but suffered a martyr's death. John Wyclif tried in England and although he died a natural death, the papacy persecuted his followers and expressed its anger by exhuming his body and burning it. John Hus tried in Bohemia but was burned alive at the stake by the Roman Church. Savonarola tried in Italy but he was hanged and burned because he dared oppose the popes. In each case the followers of these men were hunted down and nearly extirpated with the terrible tortures of the popes' inquisition.
When God could no longer tolerate such a state He raised up the man Martin Luther and others with him. These were men imbued with the spirit of truth who carried through a reformation of the church and a restoration of the pure doctrine of the apostolic age.
The net result of the Reformation was two-fold: first, the return to the authority of the Word of God. In every clash between the reformers and the papal party it became increasingly evident that they stood on different ground. The Lutherans supported their position by citing Scripture as the final authority. The papists quoted tradition and decrees of popes and councils. As long as the Romanists insisted on the authority of tradition and the church above that of the Word of God it was impossible to arrive at agreement. The Lutherans would not surrender the authority of the Bible and held to the principle of the Word Alone.
In the second place the Reformation resulted in the restoration of the Gospel. When the accumulated errors of the preceding centuries tunes were stripped away, the Gospel truth was brought to light telling the glad tidings that the "just shall live by faith." Jesus Christ and His atonement for the Sins of man became the central theme in all the evangelical Lutheran thinking and teaching. Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the salvation of sinners is the message of the Word of God and of the church. Neither good works nor the church as such can save the sinner; Christ alone is his salvation. These achievements of the Reformation are summed up in the familiar motto of the Lutheran Church: The Word Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone.
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When the Roman Catholic Church today propagandizes America with the idea
that she is the "original church" and the "mother church," it is a falsehood.
The church of the Middle Ages was the mother of the present Roman Catholic
Church just as she was the mother of the Lutheran and the Reformed. After
the division of the medieval church there arose the various "confessional
churches" taking a stand on a specific statement of doctrine. Just as the
Lutheran is the church of the Augsburg Confession, so the Roman Catholic
is the church of the "Decrees of the Council of Trent." The Lutherans returned
to the Bible and to the doctrine of the Apostles and formulated them in the
Augsburg Confession. This confession contains nothing new; it is all found
in the Epistle to the Romans. The Romanists clung to the errors and formulated
them in the Decrees of Trent.
The Roman Catholic claim that Catholicism is the original church, is based entirely on its centralized organization in the papacy. Apostolic Succession is substituted for Apostolic Truth. It claims to have had a continuous unbroken organization centering in the papacy with its so-called "apostolic succession" from the early church.
The Lutheran Church is the "original church," not because it has been a continued visible organization since the Apostolic days, but because it has continued faithful to the truth. Jesus gave no instruction for any continued visible organization but He said much about a continued faithfulness to His Word. "If ye continue in my Word then are ye my disciples indeed" (John 8:31). We might well speak of a true "apostolic succession" faithful men. Paul admonished, "Hold fast the form of sound words which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us" (II Tim. 1:13-14). Then later, "The things which thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (II Tim. 2:2). Paul had taught God's truth to Timothy. These "sound words" Timothy should "hold fast." He should also "commit them to faithful men." They in turn should keep them faithfully and teach others in an endless succession of faithful men, receiving, holding fast, and passing on to others unto the very ends of the world and to the end of time. A chain of "faithful men should link together the visible church throughout the world and through all ages.
This is the only kind of apostolic succession established by our Lord Jesus or which is known in the Bible. It is one of "faithful men," not of popes and bishops. It is not external in episcopal organization and ordination, but internal in spirit and in truth. That was Christ's plan for evangelizing the world. Therefore we find such oft repeated admonitions as, "continue thou in the things which thou hast been assured of" (II Tim. 3:14). A true pastor must be one who is "holding fast the faithful Word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers" (Tit. 1:9). Each pastor is to be one in an endless procession of torch-bearers holding high and handing the Gospel light to the end of time. This is the apostolic succession of faithful men which ties up the Lutheran Church with the church of the Apostles.
It was said of the Apostolic Church in its earliest beginning, "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine" (Acts 2: 42). That is true even to this day of the Lutheran Church. It is truly the Apostolic Church of today. Luther said, "All the world must admit that we have the gospel as pure and unadulterated as the apostles had it; it has come back to its original purity. . . . The papists themselves know that in all these and all other doctrines we are the same as the Old Church and may truly be called the Old Church; for these things are not new, not invented by us" (Luther, X, p.471)
It must be added in the interest of historical honesty that there have been Lutheran individuals and groups who have been unfaithful to the truth and have departed from the pure Word and Sacraments. At certain times in history this has affected a larger portion of the church so that the confessions have been forgotten and ignored. This was true in the 18th century at the time when Rationalism had the upper hand. It has been true in Europe during the "Neo-Protestantism" or "Modernism" of the last two generations. Such individuals and groups have been untrue to their church and unfaithful to their heritage. They have sold their spiritual birthright for the lentils of human fancy and reason. They have lost the right to the name, for the Lutheran Church must always be the church of the Lutheran confessions. But during such times there have been strong forces within those same sections of the church which have held high the symbols of faith. Under these banners they have rallied the faithful and have called the others back to the faith again. Thus, for instance, the last decade has seen a remarkable "back to the confessions" movement sweeping the Lutheran lands of Europe.
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In the closing paragraph of the above article, Rev. Nervig speaks of how
some have, at various times throughout history, departed from the pure Word
and Sacraments, and they have done so to the extent that many have even forgotten
and/or ignored the Confessions. Nervig does not mince words when he says
"Such individuals and groups have been untrue to their church and unfaithful
to their heritage. They have sold their spiritual birthright for the lentils
of human fancy and reason. They have lost the right to the name, for the
Lutheran Church must always be the church of the Lutheran confessions."
This very issue is that which lead to the formation of the LMS-USA. We have concern that if one is to call themselves "Lutheran" they ought to be Lutheran (i.e., be faithful to that which the Reformation sought to restore - Salvation by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, as revealed in the Word Alone. It is this Faith that is set out for us clearly in the Lutheran Confessions. Confessions to which we subscribe because they are the true exposition of Scripture.
We do not consider the Confessions to be equal to Scripture. But because Scripture is true, and becasue they faithfully explain the teachings of Scripture (that which is true) we 'subscribe' to them even as we 'subscribe' to the Word itself. And thus, if we are faithful to the Word, and faithful to what has proved to be a faithful and true exposition of the Word, then we can have confidence that we are being faithful to our Savior and Lord of the Church, and we are faithful in the mission of the Church to which our Lord has called us. (i.e., Matthew 28:19-20).
Lord keep us steadfast in Thy Word and faithful in ministry.
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by Rev. Ralph Spears
This year's Holy Week television was graced by programing on the origins
of Christianity and early Christians by PBS, promising more substance than
the usual 'mysteries' associated with Biblical subjects that have been regular
fare on another Cable Channel. Having missed the first part, dealing mostly
with material from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library (both
of personal interest to me and found in the late 1940's) and the added insight
they give to the subject, I was inclined to watch the final part of the PBS
What I saw was both disappointing and unfortunate, despite all of the assembled scholars queued for extended cameo interviews and expert commentary. Mostly from the (once) prestigious Ivy league Divinity schools including Union Theological Seminary and a smattering of large Southern schools, what the 'experts' were presenting had nothing to do with faith. The hour instead became 'a tag team match' of highly critical commentary on historic material from the Gospels. The four Gospels were strictly reviewed as "period literature" written against the backdrop of a widely differing (in their opinion) variation of years and geographical settings.
What an odd way to cover the Gospels and the early Christians! Whereas some of this may be helpful to the understanding of each Gospel, it became the only criteria for the fine tuned scholarly comment from the panel assembled. [One of these scholars I had admired in the past for her careful scholarship in other Biblical areas and her work on the Gnostics.]
What immediately came to mind was a conversation I had had with Dr. Theodore Gaster. Dr. Gaster was the first scholar to translate the Dead Sea Scrolls into English and provide with his rendering a brilliant introductory commentary (in l956) which is still valued by many present day scholars. He was the son of an eminent Jewish scholar Moses M. Gaster and a man of faith. I had mentioned to Dr. Gaster that I had read a book by a Union Seminary professor on the "Secret Gospel of Mark" which I found both lacking in scholarship and any content involving faithfulness to the material as Scripture.
"Why of course!" said Dr. Gaster in his robust way, "They don't believe anything over there", gesturing in the general direction of Union from his office at Barnard College in upper Manhattan. "I believe much more of the Christian Scriptures than most all of them do !" His reply on that hot afternoon twenty-five years ago both surprised and delighted me and result in several more visits with him as he patiently gave incisive and helpful comments to my inquiries on the Essenes and the early Christian Church.
Jesus posed the appropriate question on the subject, "How can the blind lead the blind?" 'Will they not both fall in the pit of unbelief?' We have this great treasure expressed in the Gospels, which document Faith, written faithfully to deliver 'faith to all of the saints', as the memorable passage of Jude says. And yet this element was completely absent in the PBS presentation.
We are not Bible 'thumping' fundamentalists on the nature of Scripture, but rather simple believers who ask that the fundamental basis of our Gospels be given a fair hearing or at least be represented in their true nature. Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were individually represented as mere reflections of what was going on in the Christian community at the (supposed) time of their writing. For example:
Totally lacking in this account is a reliable tradition passed over by these
scholars that a complete copy of the Gospel of Matthew was carried into India
by Thomas about 50 A.D. suggesting that Matthew was written even earlier
than most scholars want to believe that Mark (which they have long called
the first Gospel) was written.
Luke and John were similarly dismissed as products of their 'time' and not essentially as documents of Faith. John was written at a much later time, they said, when Christians were being persecuted by Jews and the Romans alike. Therefore, John refers to the "Jews" as persecutors which would draw together the persecuted fellowship of Christians and provide the most super-natural account of Jesus and the Resurrection and His appearances to the Apostles said these same scholars, because 'that's what was needed in that the time'.
One of the panel of experts made a motion to dismiss the often repeated suggestion that what we have in the Four Gospels is four witnesses to the same event from differing perspectives. "No" said this scholar from Atlanta, rather suggesting again, that these most valued of books to all Christians were fabricated from a common pool of knowledge and skillfully tailored to the needs of the time and place where the writers found themselves
Fortunately the theories and suggestions of these scholars, were very weak themselves. If we followed their logic, we could not see how Christianity could have grown at all to become the vibrant, faith based doctrine of The Way that spread in every direction from Jerusalem.
Furthermore, the presentation was given from the stance of dissembling rather than from a positive position of critiquing the subject.
Dr. Gaster long ago, pointed out that The Gospel of John could have easily been an earlier writing and not Second Century A.D. as the scholars said, because his use of words and phrases were so close to the language of the Dead Sea Scrolls of the time of Jesus. [This is true also of the language and word usage of the Epistles of Peter and John, and of James according to Dr. Gaster.] Besides there is a hint of interior evidence that John had originally been a follower of John the Baptist and at the very least familiar with the Essenes. (John 1:35-40)
The Gospels can only be properly understood by Faith. As our faith grows and deepens, our conviction on this matter also strengthens and some of our sophmorish ideas fade in the depth which profound faith rings to us.
The richness and utter consistency of the Gospels become more and more a wonder as time ages our faith in the same way that it ages fine wine. How can anyone possibly see anything, without Faith ?
If we really read John, for instance, how can we miss the measured 'first hand' quality of witness from the 'Beloved Apostle'? How can we put aside the urgency in his words; "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name".
I have always had the uncanny feeling that those words were written in earnest by John to ME. And in faithfulness I must speak of them of to all and pass them on as a faithful witness. I can no longer sit by and watch my beloved Gospels systematically dismantled by scholars without any element of faith involved on their part.
And I would ask of P.B.S. that equal time be provided to scholars of faith on the subject of the Gospels and the early Christians. This would make for a far more interesting and informative series.
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June 6-8, 1998
St. Matthew Lutheran Church
2837 East New York Street
Our Conference Guest Presenter once again is Professor Kurt Marquart
Professor Marquart is associate professor of systematic and practical theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN.
Saturday, June 6
Sunday, June 7
Monday, June 8
Those affiliated in any way with the LMS-USA, but also anyone interested
in 'checking-out' or in learning more about the LMS-USA, is welcome to attend
any or all of the scheduled events of either the Conference or Convention
meeting, June 6-8, at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Indianapolis, IN. There
is no registration fee or cost for anyone wishing to attend. However, gifts
designated LMS-USA, and placed in the worship service offering, and/or in
the offering basket at meals during the convention, will go toward meeting
expenses of the gathering.
With regard to lodging, some rooms are available with church members, but there are also a number of motels, reasonably priced and in the area. For further information and/or to register, contact Rev, Ralph Spears. You may do so by phone, letter or email.
Rev. Ralph Spears
St. Matthew Lutheran Church
2837 East New York Street
Indianapolis, IN 46201
Directions to St. Matthew - Turn south off I-70 on Rural Ave. Continue south to East New York Street. Turn east (left) one half block on East New York St.
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THE DEERFIELD STATEMENT ON THE LUTHERAN CONFESSIONSwas unanimously passed and recommended for adoption by the LMS-USA Convention by the LMS-USA Ministerial at their gathering in Deerfield, IL, April 3-4, 1998.
The pastors and congregations of the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod - USA, without reservation, believe, teach, and confess, that the Lutheran Confessions, i.e. the symbolical books contained in the Book of Concord of 1580, namely:
are to be accepted, not insofar as [quatenus], but because they are [quia] the presentation and explanation of the pure doctrine of the Word of God and a valid summary of the faith of the Lutheran Church, and recognizes them as normative for its theology.
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by Dr. Martin Luther
If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your
I Corinthians xv. 17
Firmly believe that Christ has taken upon Himself your sin and death. For that is how the virtue of the resurrection is given to me and to you and to all of mankind who believe in Christ. For if I do not make use of it in this way I do my Lord Christ great injustice, for I let His triumph and victory remain barren. It should not remain barren, for He wills that it shall bear great fruit, namely, that in all affliction, sin, and fear, I should see nothing but Christ triumphant rising from the dead.
Whoever can picture this victory in his heart, is already saved. But whoever has no Good Friday and Easter Day, has no good day in the year, that is, whoever does not believe that Jesus suffered and rose for him is without hope. For we are called Christians because we can look to Christ and say, Dear Lord, Thou hast taken upon Thee my sin and hast become Martin, Peter, and Paul, and has trodden my sin underfoot and consumed it! There I look for my sin as Thou hast directed me. On Good Friday I still see my sin as before my eyes, but on Easter Day a new man has been born. His hand has been made new and sin is seen no more. All this Thou has given to me freely, and hast said that Thou has overcome my devil, my sin, and my death.
Sermons from the year 1530
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After having to postpone the meeting a month earlier, the LMS-USA pastors
gathered at Trinity Seminary, Deerfield, IL, for their annual meeting on
Friday and Saturday, April 3-4. Trinity provided an excellent setting for
our meeting with its guest room suites and fireside meeting room in a nearby
Matters of business included:
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The LMS-USA is
We stand on the inerrant and infallible Word of God (cf. Indianapolis Statement).
We subscribe to the ENTIRE Book of Concord because it is the true exposition of Scripture (cf. Deerfield Statement).
We are in the world, but not of it. We cooperate with other Bible-believing Christians, and share the Sacraments with all who have a right understanding of them ( Augsburg Confession, arts. VII & VIII).
We are mission-oriented.
We use the historic liturgy, lectionary, and vestments (Apology art. XXIV).
We support the autonomy of the local congregation against any form of hierarchical control, be it bureaucrats, bishops, doctrinal inquisitions, or councils. Yet, our "subscription" holds us accountable to each other under the Word.
In summary, the LMS-USA is a Biblical, Confessional, Evangelical, Liturgical, Congregational expression of the universal (catholic) orthodox Church on earth
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