Memorial Day

Memorial Day 2Memorial Day was first officially observed on May 5, 1868. On that day, General John A. Logan, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation establishing May 30 as the annual observance of this occasion. He spoke of honoring soldiers, sailors and marines who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe.

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day and became an official federal holiday in 1971, dedicated to honor Civil War soldiers. Today we honor the memory of all who fought for, defended and died for our country’s freedoms while serving in the U.S. military

A May 28, 2007, Memorial Day communication of unknown origin states: To those who died securing peace and freedom, who served in conflict to protect our land and sacrificed their dreams of the day to preserve the hope of our nation to keep America the land of the free for over two centuries, we owe our thanks and our honor. It is important not only to recognize their service but also to respect their devotion to duty and to ensure that the purpose for which they fought will never be forgotten.

Willingness to sacrifice even life itself was demonstrated early in the War for Independence, as Captain Nathan Hale was captured by the British and executed as a spy. His dying words were: “I only regret that I have but one life to give/lose for my country.”

Those words exemplify the resolve of America’s soldiers, airmen, marines, National Guard and naval personnel—men and women who are willing to sacrifice life and limb to protect and defend the rights and freedoms we enjoy today.

In a much more significant way, with eternal ramifications, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

It is always both appropriate and important to thank God for those in our military services who died while defending and protecting our country and to pray for those who still do. I invite you to join in the Prayer for Armed Forces of our Nation (LSB, p. 315):

Lord God of hosts, stretch forth your almighty arm to strengthen and protect those who serve in the armed forces of our country. Support them in times of war, and in times of peace keep them from all evil, giving them courage and loyalty. Grant that in all things they may serve with integrity and with honor; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Scabs on the Ground

Moore TornadoWhile I cannot speak for anyone but myself, I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one who is terribly saddened, even to the point of (at least for me, non-clinical) depression from the news of yet another disaster resulting in trauma, tragedy and tears. Such is the case with this week’s reports of the devastating tornado that hit Moore, Okla., this past Monday, May 20.

At the time this article is being written, 24 deaths were reported, including a number of children. Hundreds were injured and others may still be missing. Those numbers may well have changed by the time you read this article.

Hospitals and schools were destroyed. Entire subdivisions were obliterated. Property damage is unfathomable. Loss of a lifetime of possessions is unimaginable. Human life is irreplaceable.

One report, written by former Concordia Seminary (St. Louis) student Bill Trowbridge, noted observations of a helicopter pilot surveying the area: … large, entire neighborhoods were swept clean–no homes, no trees, just scabs on the ground … Bill’s entire communication, with his permission, is posted below my signature.

Questions always arise at a time like this. For me and many others, the biggest one is Why does God allow natural disasters? This question haunts thinking and feeling people of faith and stirs greater doubt in people for whom faith is a huge challenge, even when peace and normality exist.

In Natural Disasters: A Biblical Perspective (http://www.ucg.org/news-and-prophecy/natural-disasters-biblical-perspective/) Tom Robinson lists 16 points to keep in mind concerning the biblical perspective on tragedies, regardless of their scale or circumstances. While it would be difficult for a Lutheran Christian to agree with all 16 points, several are worthy of mention:

  • God has said in Bible prophecy that natural disasters would grow in frequency and intensity as the end of the age approaches—to shake people out of their complacency and lead them to seek Him (Matt. 24:7; Luke 21:25-26; Rev. 6:12; 11:13; 16:18).
  • Those who die in accidents or natural disasters are not necessarily greater sinners than those who survive (Luke 13:1-5).
  • Natural disasters or accidents should humble us, helping us to see our dependence on God to sustain and deliver us (Rev. 16:8-11).
  • We don’t know all the reasons God brings or permits specific calamities or why particular people are made to suffer by them, but we should trust that in God’s omniscience and ultimate wisdom He knows how to work out what is best for everyone in the end (Rom. 8:28; 1 Tim. 2:4).

The observer noted above described the Oklahoma storm as … one hour of total wrath, with no escape. Then he adds: Of course, I wonder how many truly had no hope. No knowledge of their Saviour. No promise that, no matter what this day may have brought, He would be with them.

Through the pain, the anguish, the loss, and, yes, the death, His promise is sure. No matter how much it seems that you have been forsaken, or punished, He was forsaken by the Father, and He took the burden of your sin to the Cross, that you would have eternal life with Him. His promise. The promise of God. Unshakeable. Irreversible. Definitely promised to all in Oklahoma this day.

Especially this week, my heart is with those who used to live in neighborhoods that were swept clean–no homes, no trees, just scabs on the ground. Those scabs on the ground were left by a horrendous storm that devastated property and destroyed possessions. Yet God’s people are still precious to Him. Much more than scabs on the ground, we are His priceless children!

May the peace of our Lord Jesus be with you always! And may that peace be with our friends in Oklahoma and others for whom peace is seemingly, at least for the moment, an elusive dream.

Appendix—Letter from Bill Trowbridge

To all–

In May of 1999, Moore, Oklahoma was devastated by an F5 tornado. A south suburb of Oklahoma City, they rebuilt, and learned from their tragedy. For the last hour and a half, I have been witness to another tragedy that makes 1999 look tame by comparison.

Since we here in St. Louis are waiting for the severe storms that are forecast for tonight, I thought I’d check out the Weather Channel, and see what the atmosphere was doing. To my surprise, I was seeing a live helicopter feed from Oklahoma, and the amazing coverage of the origin of a funnel cloud that was just beginning to form. Over the next few minutes, the funnel touched ground in a rural area and began to grow. Fascinating, but troubling, it slowly began to stabilize and head east, as it destroyed farms and outbuildings. As it continued to grow and widen, it became obvious that major population areas were in its path.

The television stations began to realize that this was a major disaster unfolding, as the tornado slowed to a meager 20 miles per hour and continued to widen, now clearly headed for Moore. The monster began to cloak itself in an ever-widening debris field and rain curtain, and headed into populated areas. The helicopter pilot, who has family in Moore, became understandably shaken, but maintained his professionalism. As the debris curtain widened to an astounding 2 miles wide, the pilot had to back off from the carnage, as he reported being drawn in towards the storm by a strong inflow of wind. Camera zoom still allowed me to see debris, thousands of feet in the air, as the slow, grinding storm and debris took its toll. As it crossed I-35, the reporters said that the local police were able to close the interstate moments before, to help lessen the potential toll.

Now totally hidden by debris and rain, two miles wide, I could only pray and wait, as the announcers debated the strength of the storm and damage, and the network of storm chasers and spotters did what they could to inform the viewers. The helicopter pilot, intimately knowledgeable of the streets and structures, kept hollering out intersections, and an occasional,”Oh, my God, it’s heading for the high school!!” I continued to pray, and began to weep.

The storm crossed more large swaths of neighborhoods and businesses and left behind the most populated areas, still moving very slowly for such a massive storm, and the reporters began to give live feeds of the total devastation behind the storm. The tornado stopped and turned directly toward the helicopter, causing him to change course. As it headed towards the Air Force base, it turned some more, and began to pick up speed. It was more visible now, as the debris began to diminish. In the matter of a minute, it totally vanished, as amazingly as it had formed. It spent one hour on the ground, creating total devastation in its path.

By now, the pilot had been informed that his family was okay, and you could hear the change in his voice, but he continued to focus in on the damage left by the storm. Storm spotters on I-35 began to show live feed of dozens of cars and trucks, twisted and mangled, and scattered all over the roadside. The path of the damage was obvious, and the pilot zoomed in on the two schools, nearly totally devastated. A close-up of one showed students running from the debris toward police cars arriving on the scene. The other school had no evidence of movement at all. As the helicopter camera zoomed down the damage path, large, entire neighborhoods were swept clean–no homes, no trees, just scabs on the ground, as the pilot called out street names for the viewers. Back to one of the schools, as many rescue teams had now arrived and were frantically combing through the debris. Many businesses that the pilot named as he flew over the remains. And on and on and on. And a sudden shift back to the Doppler radar, as the Weather Channel issued a Tornado Warning for Tulsa, Oklahoma.

I was reminded of the Joplin tornado, here in Missouri, as I looked over the damage. This was much worse, as far as the acreage of total destruction, but similar, in that no one could have survived unless they got underground. No interior walls or bathtubs would give one a safe haven. One hour of total wrath, with no escape.

And then, of course, I wonder how many truly had no hope. No knowledge of their Saviour. No promise that, no matter what this day may have brought, He would be with them. Through the pain, the anguish, the loss, and, yes, the death, His promise is sure. No matter how much it seems that you have been forsaken, or punished, He was forsaken by the Father, and He took the burden of your sin to the Cross, that you would have eternal life with Him. His promise. The promise of God. Unshakeable. Irreversable. Definitely promised to all in Oklahoma this day.

We will all hear and see the devastation on the news for weeks, maybe months to come. We will witness the recovery of Moore once again, as we have seen the people of Joplin recover. We will hear the stories of heroism, and marvel at the healing of the injured. And we will hear of the dead and dying, and the testimonies of miracles. And some of us will turn it off and go about our daily routines. I hope that you will hug your kids with a extra bit of love tonight. And hug each other. And call a loved one and talk about real life for a change.

But, most of all, I hope that you pray for Moore, for the Church and especially for the lost, that we can all remember Christ’s wish that all would be saved. May He bless you all, in your successes and in your hardships.

Bill Trowbridge

Unionism and Syncretism – Part 2

Praying Hands 1This is the second half of a two part series on unionism and syncretism.

Congregations and faithful pastors need and appreciate assistance in making difficult decisions whether to accept invitations to participate in community or civic activities, especially those that include representatives of non-Lutheran and even non-Christian religious leaders and that accordingly might very well be considered unionistic or syncretistic by some but not by others.

To assist in those decisions the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations has produced helpful materials. One such document is posted in its entirety as the Appendix below my signature. Please note particularly these paragraphs from that document:

The members of the Commission disagree about the issue of so-called “serial” or “seriatim” prayers involving representatives of different religious (Christian and/or non-Christian) groups or churches. Some members of the Commission believe that under no circumstances is it permissible for LCMS pastors to participate in any type of an event in which various Christian and/or non-Christian leaders “take turns” offering prayers, holding that such an activity by its very nature constitutes “joint prayer and worship.”

The majority of the Commission believes that in some instances it may be possible and permissible for LCMS pastors to participate in such an event as long as certain conditions are met (e.g., when the purpose of the event in question is clearly and predominately civic in nature, and when it is conducted in such a way that does not correspond to the LCMS understanding of a “service”; when no restrictions are placed on the content of the Christian witness that may be given by the LCMS pastor; when a sincere effort is made by those involved to make it clear that those participating do not all share the same religious views concerning such issues as the nature of God, the way of salvation, and the nature of religious truth itself).

Not insignificantly, the two events referenced in last week’s article (Yankee Stadium and Newtown, Conn.) quite satisfactorily and almost precisely met the criteria outlined above. While I realize that the contents and conclusions of this CTCR document are not nearly unanimously accepted among us, I believe it is a very important and quite helpful document.

My fervent prayer is that our conversation in the LCMS regarding matters that have precipitated significant disagreement in our midst and frustratingly embarrassing publicity in national media will be based on Holy Scripture and that our conclusions will be in accord with the Word of God. Those are critical objectives to achieve.

What’s the bottom line? We have a long way to go in dealing with the real issues we face as an evangelical, confessional, Christian church body in the 21st century. We need to do everything possible to make known the power and peace of the Gospel of Christ in the lives and hearts of desperate and hurting people, particularly in trying times and traumatic circumstances.

Doing so will very likely include participation by pastors and other church leaders in activities that may result in differing opinions on the propriety of such participation. That’s the nature of controversial matters such as unionism and syncretism.

These are only two of the important issues on which total agreement within our church body does not now and may never exist. Sometime in the future I’ll probably take a deep breath and write about other matters of importance on which lack of unanimity among us simply may not be possible and the implications of such disagreement.

It won’t be the first time I’ve done so and very probably won’t be the last.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ will be with you always!

Appendix

CTCR Response to 2007 LCMS Convention Resolution 3-05 regarding “Serial Prayer”

The Synod at its 2007 convention adopted Res. 3-05 “To Provide Further Discussion and Guidance on the Matter of Serial Prayer.” This resolution reads as follows:

WHEREAS, In 2004 Res. 3-06A, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod commended for study [and guidance] Guidelines for Participation in Civic Events, a report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), “to help pastors, teachers, and church workers make decisions about participation in civic events” (2004 Proceedings, p. 131); and

WHEREAS, Congregations of the Synod have requested further clarification regarding serial prayer; therefore be it

Resolved, That the Synod in convention assign to the CTCR the task of providing further guidance for participation in civic events that includes the offering of serial prayer.

At its Dec. 11-13, 2008 meeting, the CTCR adopted the following response to this request by the Synod:

The Commission has carefully re-examined the discussion of “‘serial’ or ‘seriatim’ prayers” on pages 19-20 of its report Guidelines for Participation in Civic Events (April 2004).* Although some “further clarification” (cf. 2007 Res. 3-05) may be possible in terms of applying the “conditions” discussed in this section of the report to various events and situations that have arisen in the past, it is impossible to provide specific guidance for any and all events that may arise in the future. We simply cannot anticipate the precise nature, purpose, or context of every occasion that may arise in the future or set forth specific parameters surrounding participation in these types of events beyond what is already stated in the 2004 report. Ultimately, this is a matter that requires the exercise of pastoral judgment at a particular time and place. When presented with such a situation, a pastor is, of course, urged to consult with other pastors and advisors for counsel with regard to how to respond to such requests within his particular context.

Adopted Unanimously by the CTCR

Dec. 13, 2008

*The text of the CTCR’s discussion of serial prayer on pages 19-20 of its 2004 report reads as follows:

The members of the Commission disagree about the issue of so-called “serial” or “seriatim” prayers involving representatives of different religious (Christian and/or non-Christian) groups or churches. Some members of the Commission believe that under no circumstances is it permissible for LCMS pastors to participate in any type of an event in which various Christian and/or non-Christian leaders “take turns” offering prayers, holding that such an activity by its very nature constitutes “joint prayer and worship.”

The majority of the Commission believes that in some instances it may be possible and permissible for LCMS pastors to participate in such an event as long as certain conditions are met (e.g., when the purpose of the event in question is clearly and predominately civic in nature, and when it is conducted in such a way that does not correspond to the LCMS understanding of a “service”; when no restrictions are placed on the content of the Christian witness that may be given by the LCMS pastor; when a sincere effort is made by those involved to make it clear that those participating do not all share the same religious views concerning such issues as the nature of God, the way of salvation, and the nature of religious truth itself).

It should be noted in this connection that all members of the Commission agree that, understood from a Christian perspective, prayer is always in some sense “an expression of worship.” The question is whether it is possible under any circumstances for an LCMS pastor to offer a prayer in a public setting involving a variety of religious leaders without engaging in “joint prayer and worship.” Some believe that this is not possible. The majority believes that it may be possible depending on such factors as how the event is arranged and understood and how the situation is handled by the pastor in question, in order to make it clear that “joint prayer and worship” is not being conducted or condoned.

Unionism and Syncretism – Part 1

Prayer 1

The terms unionism and syncretism are not found in Holy Scripture. Nevertheless, they have become hot buttons within our national church body. This is nothing new. These two topics have been debated for quite some time in the LCMS, which observed its 166th anniversary April 26.

Throughout its history The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has declared unionism and syncretism out of bounds for congregations and individual members. For many, these terms are not clearly understood. Here’s a brief explanation.

Unionism generally began with the 19th century Prussian Union. It was a forced merger of the Lutheran Church and the Reformed Church in Prussia under King Frederick Wilhelm III. In large part, this attempt to force a merger between two church bodies with significantly differing theologies precipitated the exodus of many of our Lutheran forefathers and their families, who left Germany and came to America to seek religious freedom.

Syncretism generally refers to objectionable cooperation between Christians and non-Christians. In our church body’s context, the basic issue revolves around the appropriateness of Lutheran Christians participating in worship or prayer with non-Lutheran Christians (considered unionism by some) and/or doing so in the presence of non-Christians (considered syncretism by some).

Two activities that catalyzed much controversy in recent times are the participation of Dr. David Benke in a prayer service at Yankee Stadium on September 23, 2001, and that of Pastor Rob Morris in a memorial service at a public high school in Newtown, Conn., on December 16, 2013. Both events were community responses to horrific, satanic terror and trauma.

Some saw these events as unionistic and syncretistic and were very upset. Many others disagreed and were thankful for the public participation of LCMS clergy at a time of national crisis. The disagreement, in large part, has to do with what the official documents of our church body say or do not say about this important matter.

For example, the Constitution of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod states: Conditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod are the following: Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such as: a. Serving congregations of mixed confession, as such, by ministers of the church; b. Taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed confession.

Note the consistent use of the word congregations. Constitutionally, one point of disagreement is whether it matters that events in question did not occur in the context of a congregation as commonly understood in our church body. Neither event noted above occurred in a congregational setting. Both transpired in public settings. Obviously the issue has additional constitutional and theological implications.

Undeniably and somewhat problematically, this constitutional article uses the activities listed as examples of unionism and syncretism and does not claim to be an exhaustive listing of such activities. Accordingly, contention and conflict arise from and are exacerbated by the questions of what other activities might be considered unionistic or syncretistic and, conversely, what activities should be acceptable and commendable.

Those questions are neither completely answered nor conclusively resolved in our Synod’s Constitution or Bylaws. However, they are addressed in convention resolutions and documents from the Commission on Theology and Church Relations. Next week’s article will explore some of those documents.

In the meantime, my prayer is that the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ will be with you always!

National Day of Prayer

National Day of PrayerThis special observance officially began in 1952, when President Harry S. Truman signed a bill proclaiming a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan fixed the date as the first Thursday of May.

Early this morning Terry and I will be at St. John Lutheran Church in Cypress, Texas, for an observance of this special day. Terry will be speaking on The Importance of Prayer for Family and Brothers and Sisters in Christ. My assigned topic is Prayer in the Public Square.

Terry will most likely mention her fervent commitment to pray for pastors’ wives. As far back as I can remember in our lives and ministry together, she has had a special spot in her heart for these dear women. When she is invited to a Pastors Wives Retreat, she gets very little sleep. Most of the night she’s up talking with, listening to and praying for her dear sisters in Christ.

Like many of you, she also prays every day, by name, for each member of our family. Also on her list are many friends, especially those with special needs or concerns. Praying for family and friends is a priority for both of us and for many other Christian people, including most of you.

My remarks this morning will include reference to the examples of praying in the public square in which I was involved during my time as LCMS president and have observed since then. Yankee Stadium and Newtown, Conn. will be among the notable examples I’ll describe and discuss.

Following the senseless and evil multiple killings in New York and Newtown, clergy from the LCMS participated in community prayer or memorial services. Subsequently our church body received national and even worldwide publicity—some very positive and some quite negative.

When it was negative, one of my father’s favorite sayings—I don’t care what you say about me, just be sure you spell my name right!—simply did not hold true. The negative publicity had a ripple effect of embarrassment for pastors and members of local LCMS congregations, as well as other Christian ministries.

Those who disapproved felt that praying in the presence of church leaders with whom we don’t agree was wrong. Those who approved were thankful that a pastor of our church body was there to offer comfort and consolation for a nation in grief, confusion, fear and despair.

Next week’s Perspectives article will address the topics that surfaced during these two tragic times of national terror and community trauma: unionism and syncretism.

Until then, I invite you, especially today, to join me in echoing what the disciples of long ago asked of Jesus himself: Lord, teach us to pray!

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always!