There is no doubt that while we must distinguish between the two kingdoms, since it is essentially distinguishing between the law and the gospel, there is also no doubt that the two kingdoms interact on a daily basis in this world and in our own country. The political and constitutional understanding of church and state closely relates to what we call the doctrine of the two kingdoms in Lutheran theology. Both the kingdom of the left, the state or political processes of law, and the kingdom of the right, the ministry of Word and Sacraments in and through the church, are active means and institutions of God’s rule in His creation.
Once, in recent history, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod maintained an Office of Government Information (OGI) in Washington DC. It was created in 1987 and ended in 2000. OGI functioned as part of synod president’s office. Relations with the federal government were seen to be the responsibility of the synod president as he is given the clearest responsibility to communicate with executive and legislative bodies regarding issues of ethics, morality, and areas of liberty that affect the church her members. Ethical issues such as abortion, euthanasia, genetic experimentation, and marriage, as well as matters of freedom of speech and assembly, tax issues as they affect the church, and sundry other issues are pertinent as the church exercises her Christ-given mission in this world. Throughout history, many examples of church and state interplay could be cited that demonstrate the trials and benefits of this encounter.
The LCMS, on the national level, is the public organizational structure of synod that interacts most plainly with our federal government in its three branches. Whether we have an Office of Government Information or not, we are impacted by what goes on at the federal level without question. To be sure such an office or department of synod is not the essence of being church necessary in the most absolute sense. In times past, bishops of the church would engage publicly with royalty and governors in letters, speeches, and sermons. There is undoubtedly still a place for that on the synod and local level. Luther himself was quite capable at this and saw its importance, for instance, in his Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.
In the stewardship of resources, what would be beneficial about having a synodical Office of Government Information or whatever a new such office would be called?
- It would inform and advise the synodical president and the praesidium about key executive, legislative and judicial issues of the day that impact the life of the church in the United States from a Lutheran perspective.
- It would help provide the pastors and laity of synod with a center of information that is formed not by partisan politics but by Scriptural understanding, moral clarity, and in the interest of the church’s ministry and mission.
- It would prompt synod-at-large to times of needed action and voice on important matters of the day in terms ethics, culture, religious liberty, the integrity of marriage and family, and infringement of rights may be a possibility.
- It would inform the laity of synod in their vocation as citizens as to a Scriptural and churchly perspective on certain critical issues that impact their congregation, synod, and family.
- While much information is available on television and internet these days, it can be much like trying to get a drink of water from a fire hose. A synodical Office of Government Information could serve as an aggregator, filter, and summarizer of key topics in certain select areas as: religious freedom, freedom of assembly, bioethical issues, tax and benefit policy as it relates to congregations and religious organizations, marriage and family issues, creation/evolution, and education. Our culture and nation is seeing radical changes at a staggering pace in recent times. Many non-Lutheran organizations do a great service in many areas for many of these topics, but not from a Lutheran perspective with a catechetical and vocational emphasis for our people.
In recent months there has been discussion of starting some kind of new version of OGI. I support such an action as it is needed now more than in its original run. Over the long haul, it is worth the stewardship to maintain a small staff and full time office in Washington DC while also observing what is going on at the state level. God’s Word endures forever but kingdoms fall and change. Even while we render unto Caesar that which belongs to him, we put not our trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save. As we say so often, we live in the world but are not of it. Therefore vigilance is a wisdom that goes hand in hand with knowing what is in man, born of woman. In these last days, God has spoken to us in His Son, Jesus Christ, and we confess Him in a world that would silence that confession, while the devil would seek to drown it out. An Office of Government Information would give us one more tool to equip us with awareness of the situation in which we serve and alert us to approaching storms. I submit this for your consideration.