Quo Vadis, LCMS?


That’s the title of a presentation I offered this past week at the Best Practices for Ministry Conference in Phoenix. Hosted by Christ Church Lutheran (that’s their correct name), this conference is now the largest single conference in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Christ Church provides the venue, meals, atmosphere, and opportunity for over 2,200 people, pastors and educators to gather and to share ideas and best practices for mission and ministry.

My presentation, subtitled: Wine, Women, Worship, Witness, Warfare, was based on the question “Where are you going, LCMS?” Here are a few excerpts:

Introduction: During the past 52 years I’ve served The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in numerous capacities. Throughout those years I’ve experienced its strength, beauty, and weakness. Today I share my heartfelt perspectives on matters that hinder the health and growth of our beloved synod. I pray this offering will stimulate healthy, responsible, evangelical conversation among us, to the glory of God and the building of his Church on earth.

Wine: [In our Synod] the Lord’s Supper has become a source of division and offense rather than the expression of unity and powerful force for conversion and spiritual sustenance it is intended to be. Unless and until we resolve the issue of what is called “close” or “closed” communion among us, the LCMS will continue to be seen as a group of separatistic sectarians and will continue to bring unnecessary offense to repentant Christian sinners who hunger and thirst after the miraculous and life giving blessings offered in this precious gift of God.

Women: I’m not arguing for a de facto reversal of our Synod’s position against ordination of women. I’m simply saying that women in Holy Scripture appear to have been entrusted with greater responsibility than our Synod has given to women today, e.g., the role of prophetess. We cannot ignore the exodus from our church body of spiritually gifted women who see our position of limiting the role of women as, at best, not clearly supported by Scripture and, at worst, misogynistic.

Worship: Some in our Synod maintain that the only true and pure worship must come exclusively from officially approved Synod hymnals. Others obviously disagree. Congregations utilizing a variety of worship formats are experiencing an amazingly high percentage of all new adult confirmations in the Synod. The implications of such objective facts cannot be ignored.

Witness: There must be no compromise, no apology, no confusion about our Christian witness whenever we have the opportunity to share it by “offering prayers, speaking, and reading Scripture” in public gatherings. Unless and until we in the LCMS get over our reticence and reluctance to give witness to Christ anytime, anywhere, under any circumstance, using testimony, dialog, prayer, preaching, or any other means of communication, we will fail to demonstrate the boldness and compassion so desperately needed by people in our country and world who live in darkness, desperation, and despair.

Warfare: When the unbelieving world sees and hears how disrespectfully we treat one another, they want nothing to do with us. All the insistence in the world about pure doctrine pales into insignificance when outsiders fail to see what we proclaim … that we love one another.

My Best Practices presentation was a slightly revised version of an article published by Lutheran Society for Missiology in the May 2017 edition of Lutheran Mission Matters, available at https://www.lsfm.global/LMM-5-17.html.


Onward, Christian Soldiers


One of my favorite ancient childhood memories is a privilege that was afforded each child in Sunday school at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Houston. All children and teachers gathered in the auditorium for a joint opening with hymn and prayer before going to our individual classes.

During that brief time the week before a child’s birthday he or she was invited to pick the hymn for that day. My favorite was Onward, Christian Soldiers. I picked it every year.

That hymn, #662 in Lutheran Service Book, is not sung very often these days. In fact, until last Wednesday’s memorial service at Faith Lutheran Church in Georgetown for John Draheim, a longtime friend of mine and Terry’s, it had been quite a while since those words had left my lips.

Verse two goes like this: “Like a mighty army moves the Church of God; brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod. We are not divided, all one body we, one in hope and doctrine, one in charity. Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.”

As I sang that verse last week, my mind wandered to the question of whether the Church of God was or was not more united in hope, in doctrine, and in charity than it is today. We know from history that the Church has often had struggles and divisions and most likely always will have.

That’s evident in the organic division among national Christian denominations and internal disharmony within denominations, including my own church body. The basic points of doctrinal agreement are accompanied by areas of disagreement. That’s simply a fact.

What gives me hope are the words of verse three: “Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, but the Church of Jesus constant will remain. Gates of hell can never ‘gainst that Church prevail; we have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail. Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.”

That’s still one of my favorite hymns!

Divisions Among Us

divided-churchA couple millennia ago the apostle Paul wrote a special letter to some new Christians in the city of Corinth. He had started a new church there, a church that subsequently became sorely divided.

One portion of his letter says: “In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you …” (1 Cor. 11:17-18)

He went on to address the particular matter of their improper understanding and observance of the Lord’s Supper. Other portions of his letter spoke to additional conflict, including immorality, adultery, idolatry, lawsuits, etc. Some of the Corinthian problems still divide the church today.

Divisions in the church and in the world are fairly epidemic. Of course, that’s nothing new. Divisions have existed since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. Recognition of that truth makes divisions no less serious, hurtful, or divisive.

Divisions almost always have their root in the basic nature of human beings to want things “my way.” Often people are so focused on achieving their objectives that they disregard ethical, moral, and legal considerations to accomplish their desires. They may feel the end justifies the means.

Divisions in the national political arena produce protests, riots, flag burning, and death threats. Divisions around the world catalyze civil war, terrorism, and ethnic “cleansing.” Divisions in the church result in disenchanted new Christians, bruised impressions of fellow Christians, and tarnished images of Christian churches in the public eye.

On a prior occasion, described in Acts 15, Paul was involved in another dispute among believers. The resolution of that dispute included the statement: “… we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”

Therein lies the real problem with disputes among Christians. Non-believers understand the truth of the song “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” and quickly turn away when that love is obviously absent from Christians they observe. It should not be so among us.

Remember Paul’s admonition to the church in Ephesus: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:1-3)

Wise words for healing the divisions among us!

Joint Statement of Catholic and Lutheran Leaders


Credit: Bishop Munib Younan and Pope Francis (Michael Campanella/Getty Images)

A matter of interest that occurred on Reformation Day came to my attention after the fact. Roman Catholic Pope Francis and Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, signed a Joint Statement at this year’s Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation at the Lutheran Cathedral in Lund, Sweden.

The statement begins: “With this Joint Statement, we express joyful gratitude to God for this moment of common prayer in the Cathedral of Lund, as we begin the year commemorating the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. Fifty years of sustained and fruitful ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans have helped us to overcome many differences, and have deepened our mutual understanding and trust…Through dialogue and shared witness we are no longer strangers. Rather, we have learned that what unites us is greater than what divides us.”

For the full text of the statement go to: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2016/10/31/full-text-joint-declaration-for-the-500th-anniversary-of-reformation/.

The 16th century Reformation spawned documents known collectively as Lutheran Confessions. One of them, The Smalcald Articles: Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, was completed February 17, 1537. Written by Philip Melanchthon, it states in part: “… the pope is the real Antichrist who has raised himself over and set himself against Christ…” (Art. II) and “… the doctrine of the pope conflicts in many ways with the Gospel…” (Art. XI). Those statements make unity difficult.

Arguably, those and other confessional comments could be considered descriptive of popes who lived and ruled centuries ago but may not be accurate assessments of all popes since that time. Some in the LCMS and the rest of Christendom might strongly disagree with the application of those words to more recent popes, including John Paul II, Benedict XVI, or Francis.

Be that as it may, here are my perspectives:

  1. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian body in the world with 1.2 billion members. It has many commendable beliefs and practices, yet numerous theological points are problematic, including the doctrine of justification, the authority of the pope, the sacraments, the veneration of saints, the holiness of Mary, and the use of indulgences.
  1. The worldwide Lutheran Church is much smaller in number. About 74 million members are scattered among 160 different Lutheran bodies, 145 of which belong to The Lutheran World Federation. Any healing of the wounds between Lutherans and Catholics that have existed before, during, and since the Reformation would most likely occur at that level. The rest of Lutheranism, including The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, would need to make independent decisions regarding setting aside the differences that have existed for nearly 500 years. It would take a miracle for that to happen in my lifetime.
  1. The overwhelming majority of Christians, including Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, some Baptists, and other Christians confess in the Apostles’ Creed a belief in “the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints …” While that term means different things to different people, my hope, prayer, and conviction is that those who confess the truths of the Apostles’ Creed are the folks I’ll see in heaven, even though we disagree on points of doctrine and practice here on earth. Such disagreement fostered the Reformation and continues to make the kind of unity envisioned by the Joint Statement signed last month a difficult alliance to achieve, assuming it is based entirely on genuine agreement on basic articles of faith and life.

Motivation for genuine unity in the Body of Christ must be based on the words of Jesus himself:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent… I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:1-3, 20-21)

Last Week in America and the World

Dallas Shooting

Credit: DallasNews.com

What better way to end this seventh year of Perspectives articles than with a few observations about our church body based on last week’s 66th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in Milwaukee? While inclined to do so, I’ve decided to begin the eighth year of Perspectives with an article on that topic next week. Today I feel constrained to address other events that occurred last week and at too many other times in our nation and around the world.

Insane and premeditated attacks and ambushes, bombings and brutality, vitriol and violence continues to plague our nation and world! For starters, I would hope and pray that anyone in a position of political, racial or religious authority and influence in our country and around the world would immediately cease any hint of verbal justification of such atrocities and instead denounce these barbaric activities unequivocally!

Rationalization or justification of violence in any form empowers those with a propensity toward such behavior, precipitating new incidents that take the lives of innocent women, men and children. Black lives matter! White lives matter! The lives of those unjustly treated by officers of the law matter! The lives of law enforcement officers matter! The lives of grieving family members of those who die matter! Young lives matter! Old lives matter! Unborn lives matter! All lives matter! Jesus came to give life, in all its fullness! (John 10:10) Life is precious!

Might gun control legislation be helpful? Perhaps. I see no need for rapid fire machine guns to be as readily available as they appear to be. Yet the reality is that gun control alone will not deter those who are ideologically or mentally or religiously imbalanced from doing the dastardly deeds we’ve seen way too frequently in recent months. When Cain killed Abel thousands of years ago, he had no firearm at his disposal. Yet he did what he set out to do.

The real root cause of all evil, especially the kind we’ve recently seen, is spiritual depravity. The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth (Gen. 8:21). The devil will always walk around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). King David was beset on every side by enemies who hated him (Psalm 25:19). Jesus was brutally killed. So long as the world exists, man’s inhumanity to man will continue to wreak havoc upon peaceful, law abiding citizens.

What can you do? What can I do?

  • Pray for, encourage and express appreciation to law enforcement officers and military personnel.
  • Petition political and religious leaders at every level to speak out against violence of every kind.
  • If you see something or someone suspicious, say something to someone who can help!
  • Pray for all who lay their lives on the line every day to protect the citizens of our land.
  • Take appropriate protective precautions wherever and whenever possible.
  • Pray for divine intervention to thwart the devil’s destructive desires.

Above all, say this: Lord, have mercy!

Relationships among Pastors

Credit: potomacag.org

Credit: potomacag.org

Recently a seminary student asked me to address the question: “As a pastor, what is your relationship with other pastors?”

As written, the question is a bit non-specific and unclear. I responded to the student’s request: “Do I understand your question to be what is or what should be your relationship with other pastors, or both?” His response was also non-specific, so here’s how I answered:

Ideally, my relationship with other pastors should be characterized as (in alphabetical order):

  • Collegial and cooperative: As colleagues in the ministry, we work together, not at odds with one another. We might actually be helpful to each other in addressing issues/questions that we have forgotten from seminary or perhaps didn’t even hear or learn about there.
  • Respectful and tolerant: While individual personalities, ideologies and philosophies often lead to differing perspectives on ministry issues, I need to realize that my way is certainly not the only way and, whether I believe it or not, my way may not always be the best way.
  • Selfless and cooperative: For any of many reasons, parishioners may be inclined to leave the church I serve and go to one served by another pastor, who may or may not be a close colleague and friend of mine. When such inclinations are properly motivated, it may be in everyone’s interest for me to swallow my pride and assist in such a move. Special care, concern and cooperation are necessary when authentic reasons for church discipline exist.
  • Sensitive and supportive: All pastors experience times of trial and tribulation, both personally and professionally. Pastoral ministry is not easy these days! Sensitivity and support from fellow pastors, which may not be available from parishioners in an equally meaningful way, often help immensely!
  • Transparent and truthful: Fellow LCMS pastors and I have the same commitment regarding Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Yet varying interpretations will arise from time to time regarding specific questions, both in matters that are adiaphorous and also in issues on which different pastors with the same level of commitment simply disagree. Pretending those differences don’t exist is not helpful. Only when pastors speak the truth, in love, will such issues ever be able to be addressed and maybe even, by the grace of God, resolved.

Much more could be said about relationships among pastors. Perhaps these thoughts will prime the pump for future conversation in pastoral circles. Although not addressed only to pastors, St. Paul says it well: “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Cor. 13:11)

Installation Reflections

Church windowInstallations are on my mind these days. This past Sunday I preached for the installation of our new associate pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Walburg, Texas. Kevin Hintze will be serving with senior pastor John Davenport and the other wonderful members of our church and school staff. It’s a great team of dedicated servants of the Lord!

Last Monday, September 8, was the 13th anniversary of my initial installation as 12th president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Only three days later the events of 9/11 occurred. It was a difficult time for both our nation and our church body. Our nation rallied against the evil behind the 9/11 attacks. Our church leaders did what leaders do. We led!

While some, mostly pastors, were not pleased, the overwhelming majority of people and pastors in our national church body expressed thanks and support for our public response. As a matter of fact, the LCMS Council of Presidents unanimously adopted a widely read and broadly applauded full page ad in U.S.A. Today. The text of that ad is printed below my signature.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the day I was installed to my second term as president of the LCMS. The three years between those two installations were difficult ones. Yet they also provided multiple opportunities for publicly demonstrating the love of Christ for people whose lives were wrecked and ruined by the atrocities of 9/11.

The primary difficulty was not that some disagreed with decisions I had made. It was the vitriolic manner in which their disagreement was expressed. That included personal attacks, name calling, mischaracterization and refusal to acknowledge that my decisions were in accord with the position of the LCMS, expressed in convention resolutions at the 2001 national convention. My decisions were ultimately upheld by those responsible for the system of appeals then in place.

Leaders always disappoint someone. If they’re doing nothing, some think they should be doing something. If they’re doing something, some think they should be doing something else.

Installations are all about the beginning of a relationship between the one being installed and the organization, institution or other entity that has called, hired or otherwise engaged the one being installed. All the installations in my life have been both meaningful and memorable!

A Promise

In the aftermath of this recent tragedy, the 2.6million members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod express our love, care and concern for the tens of thousands of people whose lives have been drastically altered by the sudden loss of their loved ones and friends.

David, in Psalm 23, looked to God and took comfort in His protecting presence in times of great personal and national distress:

“The Lord is my shepherd…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

Jesus, to whom the Scriptures refer as our Good Shepherd, said in the gospel of John words that are particularly powerful at this moment in time:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  

That Good Shepherd understands suffering and death. His own death and resurrection give hope to us all. He grants those who trust in Him forgiveness of sin and everlasting life.

In these days of great personal grief and national mourning, our source of comfort, hope and strength is the same as that expressed by St. Paul:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Your friends and neighbors of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod open to you our hearts and our churches in this time of human grief, suffering, fear and uncertainty. We invite you, along with us, to cling to the comfort, hope and strength in God’s promise that He will never leave you nor forsake you.