This Was Your Grandfather’s Church

by Pastor Walt Otten

The Brothers of John the Steadfast have asked this 1959 Concordia, St. Louis graduate to prepare a bi-monthly post for this website entitled “This Was Your Grandfather’s Church.” The editor’s instructions to me were, “Just Look through your old files and find something that reflects what was your grandfather’s church and write that up for BJS.” Those files are far removed this morning, 350 miles away, but what is at hand is Pr. Matthew Harrison’s recent book, Christ Have Mercy. Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action, is a 2008 publication of Concordia Publishing House. It does reveal what was your grandfather’s church.

Each chapter begins with a quotation from the Word of God and a statement of Martin Luther, but throughout the book there are also the words of those that Missourians truly consider their grandfathers, Drs. C. F. W. Walther and F. K. D. Wyneken, the first and second presidents of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Many of the words of these grandfathers of the Synod appear for the first time in the English language in Christ Have Mercy, translated by Harrison himself. Harrison clearly demonstrates that these grandfathers of the synod were orthodox theologians in their confession of the faith, and that “mercy” was a vital part of the content and confession of their faith.

Harrison writes in the preface, “I write as a convinced, convicted, and unapologetic clergyman of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The public confession of the Lutheran Church–most fundamentally stated in the Book of Concord–is my own, without equivocation. I believe C.F.W. Walther, the founder of the LCMS, explicated the faith correctly, also on the doctrines of church and ministry. These pages will show a side of Walther’s divinely given role of the care of the needy.”

On pages 175 and 176 Harrison quotes from a sermon he recently discovered and translated of C.F.W. Walther concerning the office of the ministry. Walther proclaimed, “There are five parts here which belong to this office. The first and foremost important is teaching; the second is admonition; the third is giving or the office’s concern for the poor; the fourth is governing or the administration of discipline and order; and finally the fifth is the exercise of mercy or the concern of the office for the sick, the weak and the dying.”

Just an aside from this writer concerning Harrison’s treatment of C.F.W. Walther after reading Christ Have Mercy: any who would claim that Harrison is “anti-Waltherian” do not know Harrison and are not telling the truth. What Harrison does for us in Christ Have Mercy is to truly challenge Missouri to be more Waltherian, that is, to reach out in mercy because of the mercy and grace of God given in baptism, the Supper, the Words of Absolution and through the preaching of the Gospel by those who hold the office of the holy ministry.

Harrison does share with his readers some experiences of his own life. One that was not known to this reader was that after his graduation from Concordia, Seward he spent a year in northern Ontario as a lay missionary. He writes of the emotion he experienced with his wife after the sound of the light plane that brought them to a land of “a thousand frozen lakes alternated with dense pine forest,” faded and disappeared from sight. There in a town of 500 native Canadians he learned what it meant to be part of a community. That year “forever changed my view of individualism and life together as the Church.”

Christ Have Mercy is a challenge to Missouri to be truly what our grandfathers– Walther, Wyneken, Luther and the authors of the Book of Concord– wanted us to be. They would have us be not only orthodox in doctrine, and Harrison clearly and very practically sets forth Lutheran orthodoxy, strongly advocating historic Lutheran worship, but Christ Have Mercy also calls upon the Synod to be orthodox in practice. That is, it calls upon the synod to clearly demonstrate MERCY as well as close communion, renunciation of unionism, etc.

Harrison recently spoke at the annual conference on the catechism sponsored by Peace Lutheran Church of Sussex, Wisconsin. His topic was “Catechesis of the Fifth Commandment.” He assumed the position of one who does not preach from the pulpit, stepping out from behind the lectern. He did so, he told his audience, because he wanted to see the screen on which visuals appeared that augmented his “catechesis.” He held in his hand his Bible, a Nestle text, that is, the Greek New Testament. One might expect that a Brighton, Franzmann, Voelz or Gibbs would lecture with a Greek text in hand; one does not expect that from one who heads the Board for Human Care Ministries. Harrison is a gifted translator, theologian and writer.

The number of quotations in Christ Have Mercy that this writer would want to share with readers of this post would unduly lengthen it. Buy the book and be blessed and challenged in the reading thereof.

There might be those that would wish the book did not include as many pictures of the author as it does. Those pictures show him in the various countries in which his role as executive director of the Board for Human Care Ministries has brought him, but in none of these pictures is he wearing a tuxedo.

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