Official Publication of the LMS-USA
Volume 16, Number 3&4
In this Issue:
The Lutheran Ministerium and Synod 2009
Annual Conference Report
by Rev. Richard Horn
The theme for the 2009 Annual Conference of the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod – USA, held in Indianapolis, IN, was "The Means of Grace." This year, the presentations dove-tailed many of the varied aspects of the meaning and applications of the Means of Grace within the Church and in the lives of Christians. The five presentations were prepared and given by the Rev. Dr. John S. Erickson, Chairman of the Synod; Seminarian Kenneth Howes; Seminarian Tylen Dalrymple; the Rev. Richard W. Horn; and the Rev. Charles B. Wayne.
The Rev. Dr. John Erickson opened the Conference by defining the "Grace of God" as "God's free and undeserved favor toward us" which brings us forgiveness, peace, joy, and eternal life.
St. Paul's letter to the church in Rome sets forth both the need for and the means through which the grace of God is given for us. Just as Dr. Martin Luther found consolation in Paul's letter to the Romans, the entire Church finds its foundation on God's grace active in faith:
|Romans 1:11||Paul sets out his purpose in writing: the mutual encouragement of faith|
|Romans 10:17||faith comes from hearing the Word|
|Romans 11||the Lord's Supper is how we share around Word and Sacrament, strengthened in faith and mutually encouraged.|
The Word of God, the Scriptures, is the "primary" or basic means God chose to reveal His gracious Will (I Timothy 2:4). Using an analogy from the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon, the Law pierces like a needle so that the silken thread of the Gospel can be drawn after it. St. Paul (in Romans 1-3) declares that our stubborn and unrepentant hearts deserve death and hell, since "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23). But in Romans 4, we read that faith is accounted by God for righteousness; and in Romans 5, St. Paul tells us how all can be considered righteous before God by means of faith. St. Paul declares that God's Will includes awareness of the Law before acceptance of grace. [Luther's Catechism similarly begins with the Law (the Ten Commandments) before faith (the Creed and the Sacraments).]
Luther and Melanchthon, in the 1528 treatise "Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors," (nearly 500 years ago!) lament that the distinction between Law and Gospel is too often set aside in favor of just the Gospel, resulting in having neither Law nor Gospel! [Luther's Works, American Edition, 1958, Volume 40, pages 263-320] Even in the Sacraments, we are aware of both Law and Gospel. For example, Luther instructs us to "die daily to sin and rise in newness of life" [Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12; Luther's Small Catechism, Sacrament of Holy Baptism, 4] as we make the sign of the Cross in remembrance of our Baptism [Luther's Small Catechism, Morning and Evening Prayer].
Through the Word of God, we hear God's judgment and God's grace. We need to hear the message that Jesus Christ died for our sins and that His promise of forgiveness and eternal salvation is given to each of us individually as we read the Word and receive the Sacraments.
Seminarians Kenneth Howes and Tylen Dalrymple each examined the Means of Grace, Word and Sacraments, in the writings of Luther and within the Confessional Lutheran Churches today in contrast with Calvin, Roman Catholicism, modern Reformed teachings, Baptists, and others.
The Scriptures are clear that God's grace is a gift, freely given and undeservedly received, without any merit on our part. Any "worthiness" is based only on God's atoning sacrifice in Christ imparted on our behalf. But that gift comes to us through the Word of God external to us; hearing and reading of the Word is how God interacts with us, rather than in some theophanic revelation to us privately ("God spoke to me and said..."). Luther, for example, did not confront God in the terrors of a thunderstorm but, rather, in the writings of St. Paul in his letter to the church in Rome. God uses MEANS to bring His grace. The Holy Spirit gives us faith which we receive through our natural senses. We hear and see the Gospel and believe it; we see, feel, touch, smell, and taste the Sacraments and believe them.
The Word is a promise in both Old [Hebrew] and New [Christian] Testaments. As it is communicated (heard and read) God uses the Word as a means to give us His grace, mercy and love. Through Scriptures, people hear the Word, believe, and are saved. The Sacraments also carry this promise of salvation (Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 6:3-4; I Peter 3:21; Matthew 26:27-28; I Corinthians 10:16-17, 11:23-29). In I Corinthians 11:23-29, St. Paul gives us the words of Jesus saying that the Holy Communion which we share is (not simply "was") His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.
St. Paul repeatedly declares that we are saved by God's grace alone through faith alone, not by works of obedience to the Law [Romans 3:21ff; Ephesians 2:5ff].
On the other hand, the Reformeds (particularly Zwingli) emphasize the direct and immediate action of the Holy Spirit which we can feel and experience as a mark of conversion. Calvin speaks of the internal ("secret") testimony of the Holy Spirit that makes the Scriptures credible.
Roman Catholicism, especially after the Council of Trent, places an emphasis on uncertainty and demands that we must "doubt our salvation" and hope that our good works, or the works of others on our behalf, are enough to secure our salvation. This certainly isn't "faith alone."
Both the Reformeds and the Roman Catholics leave us with doubts and uncertainty rather than a "sure and certain hope" [Hebrews 6:18f].
However, Grace is a gift freely and unconditionally granted by God out of His love for us. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus God's grace is counted as our own righteousness [Romans 4:5]. Like the blind man, we must be led to Jesus to be healed (Mark 8:22).
Luther also believed in prayer as the essential communication from us to God. But because prayer is a one-way communication, it is not a means of grace. God's communication to us is not through prayer but through the Word. The Word of God is God's means of speaking to us.
For Pentecostals, speaking in "tongues" is seen as an essential mark of God's presence. While the speaking in tongues in Acts 2:4-11 was so that all could hear and understand, tongues today are seen as a special "gift," a "private devotional language" or the "holy laughter" of people in religious convulsions. No longer is this seen as a spiritual gift to impart the Word as given in Holy Scriptures.
So that all may hear and believe and be fed with the Word and the Sacraments, God has instituted the Office of the Ministry. Preaching is a more powerful form of giving the Word than writing (this was especially true in Luther's day when literacy was still rare), but both spoken and written forms are equally valid. It is the Word of God that leads to faith, and, through faith, the Word brings God's grace.
In Baptism, Calvin agreed with Luther that God is acting to bring His grace; we "put on Christ" in Baptism [Galatians 3:27] and participate in God's grace through our incorporation into the Church. But later Reformed teaching rejects this approach and sees Baptism as Law, as something commanded which accomplishes nothing more than signifying the effects of conversion.
Similarly, Reformed teaching rejects sacramental action in Holy Communion, making it our testimony to God and of our trust in Him and in His promises of salvation.
The Roman Catholics view Holy Communion as a "eucharist" (a "thanksgiving TO God") which strengthens our charity (works) which, in turn, wipe away venial sins and preserve us against mortal sins. In this way of thinking, God's grace gives us a disposition or character that enables us to earn salvation for ourselves by our own works of love. The Holy Communion becomes something done by us toward God and de-emphasizes what God is doing for us in His grace. In the Roman Catholic approach to Holy Communion, the Sacrament becomes a magical transformation from bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and which cannot magically revert back into bread and wine. For this reason, adoration of the elements of Communion and parading of the Body and Blood of Christ [at the Feast of Corpus Christi, for example] are considered by Roman Catholicism to be appropriate signs of respect rather than forms of idolatry.
In the Reformed traditions, Holy Communion is separate from the Body and Blood of Christ. But these gifts of Communion are not always viewed alike in the Reformed tradition. For some, in Holy Communion we receive the forgiveness of sins; for others, the Communion is received as a token of forgiveness; for still others, it is received as an act of obedience, not because God is giving us anything.
The same can be said of the Office of the Keys (Confession and Absolution). Though not regarded as a Sacrament in the Lutheran Church, it does convey God's forgiving grace; and the absolution is absolute and unconditional. Compare this to the Reformed apparent disregard or avoidance of the aural confession of sins and of declaring the absolution, and to the Roman Catholic "conditions" which demand acts of penance and threats of purgatory.
All of these approaches take the Gospel, a gift, and turn it into a Law, actions we do only in obedience.
The gospel writers shared many "table narratives" of Jesus eating in settings that were inclusive, reconciliatory, and with a missionary thrust (the participants were more important than the meal itself). But the Lord's Supper narrative in I Corinthians 11 is very different. Here, Jesus uses covenant language with the Communion and places the focus on the presence of His Body and Blood. For Luther (and for us), the Holy Communion is centered on the Word of God, with only an incidental consideration of our understandings, needs, and feelings. We come to Communion with penitent hearts; we share in receiving Holy Communion precisely because we know we are unworthy to receive it. Those truly unworthy to receive it are those persons who neither recognize their sinfulness nor desire to be considered sinners for whom Christ died.
Tylen Dalrymple raises a particularly interesting [and timely] scenario in which the Lord's Supper is instituted by someone who defiles the Word of God. The Word remains the Word and the Sacraments remain the Sacraments despite the person who may defile the Word, whether by teachings or by immorality or by a lifestyle inconsistent with the Word of God. But if the Word is profaned or the Word is altered or presented in a way inconsistent with the Word, then we [in obedience, love, and respect for God, for God's Word, and for the Sacrament] should not partake, support, or lend credence to a practice of worship or Holy Communion that would defile the Word in any way. The sanctity and holiness of the Word is the primary consideration here, not the "correctness" [politically or otherwise].
[The two presentations by Seminarians Howes and Dalrymple showed the differences in how various churches look at the Word, at Baptism, and in particular at Holy Communion. For Dalrymple, a distinction is made between "Reformed (Calvinists)" and "Baptist," while Howes' approach reflects American Protestantism by referring to "later Reformed" which also includes the Baptist understanding of memorializing Christ without his spiritual or physical presence. Both approaches have merit in describing contemporary American Protestantism even though the historical distinctions between the Reformeds (following Calvin, though at times blurred by Zwingli) and the Baptists (Anabaptists) are generally clearer.]
The Rev. Richard W. Horn's presentation served as an overview and summary of the preceding presentations in a more kerygmatic rather than didactic way. [It should be noted that this writer is reviewing his own presentation.] This presentation looked at the "benefits" of the Means of Grace in terms of the relationship between God the Creator and man. God acted decisively in man's history and continues to act in our lives. God acts through the Word (both in the words of Holy Scriptures and in the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ [John 1:14]). In Christ, God acts through the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion. The Word, both written and incarnate, is God's gift to us given freely, undeservedly, and unconditionally.
In Acts 1, the disciples "waited," "prayed," and "read" the Scriptures. Patiently, prayerfully and faithfully we see God's self-revelation to us. This prepared the disciples for the birth of the Church on Pentecost. In the Church, therefore, this relationship by and with God continues to be defined in terms of Word and Sacraments – the Means of Grace. The Word is the foundation on which the Sacraments rely. Apart from the Word of God, there are no sacraments. Without the Word, the water of Baptism would remain merely symbolic rather than a means of forgiveness and adoption into the Church, the Body of Christ. Without the Word, the bread and wine would be mere reminders of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus rather than means to bring renewal of forgiveness and restoration of grace.
Repeatedly, the Scriptures call us to live faithful lives of obedience and care, called to be faithful servants as a reflection of God's actions of grace, poured out on the just and unjust alike (Matthew 5:45). Our works do not bring God's blessings, and yet our works are like the plants that grow according to the seed and nourishment God gives us. All too often, the modern megachurches are like cheerleaders standing beside the cornfields encouraging the plants to grow rather than feeding, weeding and watering the plants.
Our responsibility is to live in the Means of Grace, faithfully and regularly reading the Scriptures (I Thessalonians 5:16-18a), regularly participating in worship and in receiving the Lord's Supper, and in reaching out in love and service with the Gospel. The Means of Grace are God's actions to keep the relationship alive through the Word (written and incarnate) and the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion as commanded by Christ and giving us God's grace promised through the physical presence of water and of bread and wine. For our part, God asks only faithful obedience.
"Wir sollen Gott
über alle Dinge fürchten, lieben und vertrauen."
"We are to fear love and trust God above anything else!"
(Luther’s Small Catechism, First Commandment)
Think of it this way: Life is like the Turnpike. It is God’s road that we travel, but it has a toll that MUST BE PAID. God doesn’t just pay the toll – through the Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ - but God also moves the toll booth past us, puts it behind us, and tells us to continue on His Way!
In the final presentation of the Conference, the Rev. Charles B. Wayne used this theology of Grace in Word and Sacraments to bring a very practical application in the midst of life's crises. Pastoral care involves the physical, emotional, social and spiritual challenges with which people struggle, especially when faced with illness and infirmity and, eventually, death. Pastors of congregations and chaplains in short- and long-term settings (hospitals, convalescent centers, nursing home, hospice care) need to bring the comforting presence of God to people who are facing many or all of these agonizing challenges. [Some patients will face these challenges directly; others may try to avoid them. Not all patients will face all of these challenges, nor will they always proceed in this exact order. It is also important that we face these challenges ourselves so that we can help patients and their families face the challenges in their own lives (II Corinthians 1:4).]
|"We will now return to the Gospel, which not merely in one way gives us counsel and aid against sin; for God is superabundantly rich [and liberal] in His grace [and goodness]. First, through the spoken Word by which the forgiveness of sins is preached [He commands to be preached] in the whole world; which is the peculiar office of the Gospel. Secondly, through Baptism. Thirdly, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourthly, through the power of the keys, and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, Matthew 18:20: Where two or three are gathered together, etc."|
|(Smalcald Articles, Part III,Article IV)|
What do we learn from these presentations at the 2009 Annual Conference of the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod – USA?
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Pastor John Erickson Receives
What’s Behind the Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree?
by Robert W. Hotes, PhD, D.Min (President, St. Timothy’s Lutheran Seminary)
St. Timothy’s Lutheran Seminary, the official seminary of the Lutheran Ministerim and Synod-USA, has awarded two degrees to date --- both of them honorary Doctor of Divinity (D.D.) degrees. These degrees were awarded to Pastor John Erickson, long-time Synod President, in conjunction with this year's LMS annual convention, and to Pastor Ralph Spears, Ministerium President, one year ago. In both cases the degrees were awarded on the basis of outstanding achievement in service in Christian ministry. The degrees were conferred in recognition of service of the highest caliber, and the love and the respect of the Christian bodies that they serve. In awarding the honorary D.D. degrees to Pastors Erickson and Spears, St. Timothy’s followed a tradition in using such devices to acknowledge excellence of ministerial service at the highest level.
In contrast to an "earned" degree, such as an M.D., Ph.D., or D.C., the honorary doctorate does not reflect a set curriculum, nor does it involve examinations and research to meet a set standard. Yet honorary degrees, and in particular the Doctor of Divinity degree, have long symbolized the recognition that a "doctor" (the word means "teacher") may be qualified through more than one path. Martin Luther himself and some others in this LMS-USA body earned doctorates through research and examinations that were subject to evaluation and review by university faculty. But their roles as teachers of the Christian faithful are not dependent upon formal academic achievement. The criteria leading to the conferring of the degrees upon Prs. Erickson and Spears were equal, or perhaps more rigorous than those required for an earned degree, reflecting not only decades of work but life-long learning and application to Christian ministry. There are many paths to excellence in the Lord’s service.
Preachers and pastors were at one time called "divines", because they were in God’s service. They were accorded a professional status on a par with MD’s and attorneys. Thence the title "Doctor of Divinity" is granted in recognition of the highest level of pastoral "divine" service. Few meet such strict criteria, and therefore the award of the honorary D.D by St, Timothy’s will be a rare event. We rejoice that, by God’s grace, we have been served by two such exemplary ministers of the Gospel.
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Report on the August Meeting of the
by Rev. Dr. Ralph Spears
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! Ps. 133:1
The 23rd Convention of the International Lutheran Council meeting near Seoul in the Republic of Korea at the end of August – used the affirmation of the Psalm 133 for its biennial gathering. It was very descriptive of the warm fellowship of thirty one of the thirty four different nations comprising the ILC an organization of Lutheran Confessional Churches hosted this year by the industrious Korean Lutheran Church under Bishop Um, with a friendliness which was welcome and infectious, more than fulfilling the theme line above. This gathering was not only good but as refreshing as "the dew from Mt. Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion" (the alliteration used by an almost playful David in a further line from Psalm 133).
Bishops, Presidents and their wives from Australia to Latin America to Zambia most of them by now fast friends, gathered as brothers, and sisters in a confessional fellowship which is so palpably real, like all of its other gatherings, that it could be embraced by all who attended.
Although English was the common language, four translators worked to make the meaning of each Bible Study, devotional, and reports known to each delegate in Spanish, Portuguese (German at times) and Russian. As each prayed The Lord’s Prayer aloud in their native tongue, for each session, a compelling sound was made – reminiscent of the experience of the first Pentecost, reminding us of our remarkable unity.
The business was of those things essential to Christians around the world in general and to Lutherans in particular with the various challenges and promises, to their confessional stance back home.
Travel days were dedicated to an opening service of the Korean Lutheran Seminary in its new facilities and a tour of the campus. We visited the site of the new and impressive Lutheran Tower under construction in downtown Seoul soon to be the headquarters of the Korean Lutheran Church now just over fifty years old. After lunch we visited a folk village - a kind of "Williamsburg" for the nearly two thousand year old Korean nation with native huts and customs of marriage and ceremonial dance accompanied by remarkable rhythms with traditional cymbals and drums.
Central and northern (South) Korea with its many rugged hills features one steep promontory with a fort at the very top which was successfully defended in 1396 by one of the first emperors to unite Korea. Today there are nearly endless clusters of condominiums rising twenty-five stories on nearly every hillside. Nearly everyone rich and poor live in a high rise condo.
Sunday Worship was a most rewarding experience as our eighty delegates dispersed to ten different Korean Churches. We attended Central Lutheran Church an hour’s drive away, built straight up a hill, five stories high with the familiar Lutheran liturgy entirely in Korean of course, accompanied by an impressive organ and a choir of nineteen voices. The hospitality at dinner afterwards was genuinely friendly and much in keeping again with our theme of Psalm 133. As we departed one hundred of the members lined the hall on both sides to shake our hands and say God Bless You in English, most impressive. The senior pastor told us that although Buddhism is historically predominant in the land, many of them are coming over to a more live practice of Christianity. Koreans love Americans for saving their nation and show it genuinely. The traditional greeting posture is the exchange of a friendly ‘bow’ in their direction which easily spans the gap of spoken language.
A concern that predominated in the discussion of the International Lutheran Council among all delegates the entire week was the recent vote of the ELCA in their Minneapolis Convention to allow people in active same gender sexual relationships to serve as pastors. It was soon clear that our Council wished to issue its own careful statement of affirmation in strong disagreement with the ELCA, which we did [See statement on page 11]. The African and Asian representatives were most concerned (as were all delegates), that the world distinguish between that unfortunate resolution allowing active homosexual people to serve as pastors, and the Biblical stance of Confessional Lutherans world wide. [That statement is to be listed on the ILC web page.] Clearly that ELCA action long coming - has set off unprecedented reaction around the world - as nothing before!
Listening first hand to the difficulties of our African brothers and say the Lutheran Bishops of Haiti, Peru or Hong Kong were most interesting along with new secular threats to Lutherans in Sweden and Russia. We can appreciate the great lift of solidarity that they felt in the fellowship of the ILC that listens and cares about the active Lutheran ministry in these lands so different yet with growing similarity – to those things that we face here in our own country The International Lutheran Council is certainly the largest [if not the only] body of confessional Lutherans in the world which shows its practical value in the enormous function of the welcome fellowship of study, listening and prayer in the sharing of Faith.
As in Berlin four years ago, it was indeed a privilege and a genuine thrill for my wife and me to be there!
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Same-Gender Relationships and the Church
|Seoul, Korea, 31 August 2009 - At its recent conference from 26 to 31 August 2009 in Seoul, Korea. , the International Lutheran Council (ILC) unanimously adopted the following statement on "Same-Gender Relationships and the Church".|
Recent years have brought confusion and discord to churches in various parts of the world - including Lutheran churches - as some church bodies have adopted resolutions stating that sexually active, same‑gender relationships are an acceptable way of life for Christians. In addition, some have approved the ordination of pastors living in such a committed, sexually active same-gender relationship. The 23rd World conference of the International Lutheran council met August 26- 31, 2009, in Seoul, Korea, under the theme: "In Christ: Living Life to the Full." Our desire to proclaim and to live the abundant life in Christ compels us to make this statement in light of the current turmoil regarding same-gender relationships.
In evaluating the question of homosexuality, even in the 21st century, we believe we are ultimately dealing with the authority of Holy Scripture as the inspired word of God. Even in the sensitive matter of human beings and their sexual identity, the church is to submit in humility to the authority of the Word of God. The Scriptures testify clearly and repeatedly that the lifelong committed union of one man and one woman is the place the Lord intends for human sexuality to be lived out. Biblical passages which address the practice of homosexuality do so in terms of disapproval. Rooted in the Bible's witness and in keeping with Christian teaching through 2000 years, we continue to believe that the practice of homosexuality - in any and all situations - violates the will of the Creator God and must be recognized as sin.
At the same time, we declare our result to approach those with homosexual inclinations with the deepest possible Christian love and pastoral concern, in whatever situation they may be living. Though we affirm the demands of God's law without reservation, we Christians confess that the sins of the world have been forgiven through Christ's suffering and death on the cross. As the redeemed children of God, we lead our lives as "saints and sinners" at the same time. We hope for full renewal and sanctification, but realize that these hopes are not completely fulfilled in this life. This applies to countless temptations. Our sinful condition calls for a lifetime of prayer and struggle. Confession and absolution provide a welcome refuge to receive the Lord's forgiveness, which He also offers through His Word and the Sacraments. This enables us to continue our personal struggles to live a God- pleasing life in the power of the Spirit.
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One of the position statements
of the LMS, in fact it is the first of our position statments pertains to the
Bible. "We believe the Bible is God's Word and self-revelation to us, and as
such, it is without error in all it touches, whenever and however it speaks
whether in maatters of faith, doctrine, history, geography, or science." And
with this in mind, we also embrase the well known Reformation tenent, "Sola
Scriptura." But when it comes to our understanding of Scripture, there is
another tenent of Scripture that ought also to be given serious attention, that
of "Tota Scriptura".
For this article go to: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/tota-scriptura/
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Annual Ministerial Meeting of the LMS-USA
The intent is that the clergy of the LMS should get together twice each year... once at our annual spring Conference and Convention, and one other time when only the clergy will meet. For the past number of years, this second meeting has taken place in Indianapolis, IN, on the third Monday of January (Martin Luther King Jr. Day). Our Ministerial meeting is thus being planned for January 18, 2010. This is a time not only for those on the clergy roster of the LMS to come together, but also for other clergy who might want to consider membership in the LMS.
Attendance is expected of LMS members and information will soon be forthcoming as to location and information for lodging. For others who may wish to "check things out" call Pastor Ralph Spears of St. Matthew Lutheran and he will see that you are kept informed of the gathering.
An important part of this meeting is the planning for the upcoming Spring Conference.
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Some Thoughts Growing Out of the Recent
Vote of the ELCA
by Rev. John Erickson
When the media reported on the August 22 vote of the ELCA allowing practicing homosexual clergy to serve as pastors, it was not a surprise. Back in the days of the studies that led up to the formation of the "New Lutheran Church," it was clear that this "New Church," would be much more tolerant of certain "sins" than was the Bible. The only surprise was how quickly this kind of thinking has become mainstream.
There were many things that came to mind when this vote was announced. But one thing that has been in the forefront for me for some time is how so many of the pastors who came out of the former ALC (since that is my background) could continue on as pastors for all this time, and even now, after this latest move, they seemingly have little trouble continuing in their role as pastors in the ELCA.
When I was ordained in the former ALC and installed in my first parish, the wording used in those rites was that found in the "Occasional Services book, a Companion to Lutheran Book of Worship." As a part of the Ordination Rite I was asked: The Church in which you are to be ordained confesses that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and are the norm of its faith and life. We accept, teach, and confess the Apostles', the Nicene and the Athanasian Creeds. We also acknowledge the Lutheran Confessions as true witnesses and faithful expositions of the Holy Scriptures. Will you therefore preach and teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and these creeds and confessions? To which I was to answer (and did answer), "I will, and I ask God to help me."
In the Installation Rite I was asked: ...in the presence of this congregation will you commit yourself to this new trust and responsibility, and promise to discharge your duties in harmony with the constitution of this church? I was to answer (and did answer) this question with these words, "I will, and I ask God to help me."
In both my Ordination and Installation reference was made to "the Church in which I was to be ordained" and the "constitution of this church." That church body stated, concerning the Bible: The American Lutheran Church accepts all the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as a whole and in all their parts as the divinely inspired, revealed, and inerrant Word of God, and submits to this as the only infallible authority in all matters of faith and life.
To help understand what is behind this statement on the Word, it is helpful to go to the United Testimony on Faith and Life that was approved by the Uniting Churches at Their Conventions in 1952. I quote here from Part III of that statement which is titled, The Word: We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of man's salvation. Through the Sciptures the Holy Spirit informs and convinces us that his Word is true, that he will keep all his promises to us, and testifies in our hearts that our faith in Christ is not in vain. "Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth" (John 17:17).
We bear witness that the Bible is our only authentic and infallible source of God's revelation to us and all men, and that it is the only inerrant and completely adequate source and norm of Christian doctrine and life. We hold that the Bible, as a whole and in all its parts, is the Word of God under all circumstances regardless of man's attitude toward it. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, cor correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The Bible is the Word of God, given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit through human personalities in the course of human history. "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of men; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:21). We acknowledge with humble gratitude the condescending love of God in speaking to men through the agency of human language. We reject all rationalizing processes with would explain away either the divine or human factor in the Bible.
The Holy Scriptures contains both Law and Gospel, but the primary content of the Holy Scriptures is the Gospel. The Law is brought into the service of the Gospel by working in man a realization of his sinfulness and of his need of redemption, by awakening in him the terrors of conscience since he stands under the wrath of God, and by revealing to him God's holy will. The Gospel brings to the penitent sinner the assurance of God's pardon and the promise of victory over sin.
We hold it basic to the right use of the Bible as the authoritative revelation of God to man that it must be its own interpreter. All interpretation of Scripture must be in the light of Scripture itself with its central theme" God's loving purpose to save men in Christ.
There are a couple of statements here that I think are well worth considering in light of the changes that have taken place in how Scripture is now understood within the ELCA - First - "We hold that the Bible, as a whole and in all its parts, is the Word of God under all circumstances regardless of man's attitude toward it." And second, "We reject all rationalizing processes with would explain away either the divine or human factor in the Bible. These statements stand in stark contrast to the way Scripture is now understood by many of those who have some say within the ELCA with regard to the question of homosexuality.
It is some time ago that I heard a preacher doing a series on the Ten Commandments. I happened to catch a portion of one of his messages when he was dealing with a right use of God's Name. I knew this from my youth... from Sunday School and Confirmation class... but this Pastor's words were a good reminder of the seriousness of using God's name in the taking of oaths or the making of promises. It isn't that it is necessarily wrong to use God's name in this way, but if we involve God in the promise we make... it is a serious thing. We would not want to do so unless we were/are determined to remain true to our promise. We must not in any way connect his name to a lie or to some kind of deception on our part.
I made a promise on the day of my ordination as well as on the day of my installation into the office of the holy ministry. That promise involved my promise to preach and to teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures. I believe this promise clearly implied an understanding of Scripture and its interpretation as set forth in various documents of the church into which I was ordained and installed.
It was in late 1987 that my bishop asked me to meet with him. Well, it ended up being him and his first assistant. The ELCA was not as yet in operation, but it was reported that I was not fully cooperating with where things were heading. I explained to these men that what I was seeing as the understanding of Scripture, and the way it was being interpreted in the documention and practice in all that was leading up to the soon start of the ELCA, was not in line with the promise I made at the time of my ordination and installation. I further explained that I felt bound by the promises I had made before God and the congregations that witnessed those promises.
It was explained to me, in so many words, that the promises I made at those times were still valid. Times change and the promises we once made adapt to those changes. I was foolish enough to think that what a word once meant is what it would always mean. I did not feel that my understanding of the truth of all the God's Word and how it should be interpreted could somehow evolve into some other way of looking at things, and that in so doing, I could be true to the promises formerly made. Well... my understanding of things, as they say, went over like a lead balloon.
All this came back to me when I heard of the ELCA vote. I couldn't help but think of all the pastors who, in the same church I was a part of, made the same promises that I made. Did those promises mean anything? Was (or is) there any thought given as to what was asked of them... or of what they asked of God? Was it just words on a page that they were to recite as part of a ritual with no real meaning attached to them? Is there no thought given to the fact that God Himself was witness to what was said, and to what took place when those promises were made?
Joseph Stump, in his catechism makes the point that there is such a thing as a legal oath "of allegiance" or, "of office." I believe that is what the promises of one's Ordination service and Installation service entail. Further, I believe that central to that promise, was that I would preach, and teach, and interpret the Word, as the church at that time understood the Word to be. With regard to said promise(s), Stump declares, "false swearing... is a great sin... and will be punished by God.
The words of our Lord in Luke 12:48 are most relevant here, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."
Luther's Sacristy Prayer
|O Lord God, dear Father in heaven, I am indeed unworthy of the office and ministry in which I am to make known thy glory and to nurture and to serve this congregation.|
|But since thou hast appointed me to be a pastor and teacher, and the people are in need of the teaching and the instruction, O be thou my helper and let thy holy angels attend me.|
|Then if thou art pleased to accomplish anything through me, to thy glory and not to mine or to the praise of men, grant me, out of thy pure grace and mercy, a right understanding of thy Word and that I may also diligently perform it.|
|O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living god, thou shepherd and bishop of our souls, send thy Holy Spirit that he may work with me, yea, that he may work in me to will and to do through thy divine strength according to thy good pleasure. Amen.|
Something else that has come to mind in all of this, is the matter of endowment and trust funds at the seminaries, colleges, Bible camps, as well as in congregations of the church.
I think of all the dedicated Christian men and women who over the years, gave of their means to provide high schools, camps, colleges, and seminaries for the training of men and women in the faith and for service in the church. I think of what so many of these institutions stood for in the past, and, in so many cases, it is with sadness that I think of what they are standing for (or not standing for) today.
I have a collection of catechisms and other documentation in my library, and it is interesting to see that until well into the nineteen hundreds, all the Lutheran bodies held to a high view of Scripture and to the Historical-Grammatical view of biblical interpretation. But now, things are quite different. In far too many cases, the Bible is now seen more as a book of human authorship and as a book that needs to be interpreted in light of current understandings of science as well as of contemporary views on social issues.
It is one thing, the many who gave so that during their lifetimes, these institutions might be built and function. It is quite something else, that many were talked into giving so that these institutions could have endowed chairs and trust funds that would see to their functioning well into the future.
It is with this in mind that I can't help but think of many who, in good faith, gave of their means some 20 or 30, or in some cases some 40 or 50 years ago... but they gave to begin or to add to these endowment or trust funds. Many gave to an institution or to a church far different that what that institution or church is today. As already mentioned, the understanding of the Bible, or maybe it is the evolution, or the stand that is being taken on abortion or various other social issues... But multitudes of these persons are now supporting things they would never have ever considered giving support to. In some cases they are supporting things that are the very opposite of what they believed in. And the worst of it? These viewpoints that are in opposition to views they themselves held, will continue to be disseminated for years to come. It would be one thing if these differences were merely personal preferences or even out and out differences in opinion. It is quite another when these differences are differences in what the Bible actually has to teach and say. Or, within our Lutheran family, that they pertain to differences in what our Confessions have always been understood to say. And what is so sad is that I don't know that there is anything that can ever be done about it. The funds are there, and in some cases, unbiblical teaching will continue to spew forth from these institutions.
How much more good might have taken place if these funds had been used, in one way or another, for the propagation of the gospel at the time they were given. How many more places might the Word of God have been preached and the Sacraments rightly administered, and the truth of God's Word taught, if funds had been made available to do so, rather than that people were encouraged to speculate on "what might be" in the years ahead.
Where God's work is being done, let us support that work in any way we are able, right now! Be it churches, schools, mission efforts, camps, seminaries, or in support of those in training for Christian service, let us give our prayer, financial, and whatever other support we might think of, now. How tragic, if when our Lord returns, if resources that might have been used for the good of the Gospel, had not be used, because they were tied up in various fund accounts.
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