(Editor’s Note: Each quarter The Brothers of John the Steadfast identifies a steadfast parish and highlights it for the readers of our quarterly. In an effort to make sure this website is proactively promoting good confessional parish traits we like to publish those articles here on the website. This last quarterly highlighted Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and her pastor Ernie Lassman. You will also notice BJS member Jim Pierce in one of the photos. Congratulations to Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle. May all our parishes strive to be steadfast in the faith as they are.)
Almost 21 years ago, Pastor Ernie Lassman arrived at Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle, where there was a vocal minority in leadership that was receptive to Seminex theology with its openness to the ordination of women and open communion. Today, Pr. Lassman is blessed with a congregation in which many of the challenges have disappeared, having moved from a congregation that was unfocused in its confessionalism to a parish steadfast in its focus on justification by grace through faith as given through the means of grace.
Messiah Lutheran Church was established 60 years ago in what was then outside the city limits of Seattle. Messiah’s neighborhood has gone through the normal cycles of young families, to few families, to families returning to the neighborhood once again. One key aspect has been the incredible increase in the cost of housing in the area, which makes it difficult for younger families to move there. However, families are starting to come back–perhaps thanks to Microsoft?
Pastor Lassman describes his journey to Messiah Lutheran Church:
I was born and raised in the Midwest to a Lutheran family. I thought about being a pastor when I was in elementary school, and for a variety of reasons put it out of my mind as I approached junior high and high school. At the end of my junior year of high school my family moved to Seattle, Washington, where I attended the University of Washington for two years. I met my wife and we were married in 1968. After serving in the military I returned and completed my B.A. in Reformation History at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. When I was in the military the thoughts about being a pastor came back after seriously reading the scriptures and books by Martin Luther. As the years went by, my conviction became stronger. I realized I didn’t think I could be happy doing anything other than telling other people the gospel of Jesus Christ. I graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1978 with a Master of Divinity in New Testament Studies, and completed an STM in New Testament Studies in 1992. My wife and I have two grown sons. Messiah is my third parish, the first two being in British Columbia, Canada.
One of Messiah’s members, Harry Edmon, is treasurer of the congregation, an usher captain, a choir member and subsitute adult Bible class teacher when Pastor is on vacation. Here is what he had to say about Messiah, Pastor Lassman, and the tools he has for remaining steadfast and firm in the faith:
This is the best run congregation I have belonged to. Pastor and people know their roles and work together in harmony. There are no doctrinal disputes. The congregation always steps up when a need arises. Pastor Lassman is the best teacher of laypeople I have ever been associated with. He is able to take complex theological concepts and make them understandable to all. His sermons are fine examples of traditional law/gospel Lutheran preaching. The gospel always shines forth in all his preaching and teaching.
Messiah also provides important service to the LCMS with its vicarage program. This year’s vicar, Matthew Zickler, is the sixth man to serve at Messiah. The vicars benefit from the experience of serving in a steadfast parish, and the parish benefits as well. Harry Edmon has very much enjoyed the presence of the vicars in the congregation and, when asked why Holy Communion is important to him, answered, “Our first vicar (Donald Peterson) really hit it on the head in his Maundy Thursday sermon: Here is Christ, not only spiritually, but in a way I can touch and taste.”
The members of this steadfast parish serve each other, building each other up in the faith. As Harry points out, the greatest threats to remaining steadfast and firm in the faith are “sinful flesh and the constant messages from the world which are contrary to the Gospel.” Among the weapons to fight these threats are faithful attendance at worship, Bible reading and study, and the other members of Messiah. Harry says,
I look up to Vic and Delores Cohrs, a couple of our older members. Vic, for his steadfast participation in the congregation despite a debilitating spinal condition, and Delores, a charter member of the congregation who is always positive and supportive of the pastor and the lay leadership. I also look up to Fred Holtz, who was our head elder for years and now has terminal cancer, yet still maintains a positive attitude.
What do steadfast pastors and their parishioners enjoy reading? What are their favorite books of the Bible? Harry Edmon says, “My favorite books of the Bible outside the Gospels are Job and Ecclesiastes. I enjoyed reading Christless Christianity by Michael Horton. I also like C.S. Lewis’ writings, especially The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce.” It was difficult for Pastor Lassman to choose one book of the Bible, but he settled on Romans. He reads all the time, particularly things related to theology, history, philosophy, culture and civilization.
Pastor Lassman’s greatest joy is “seeing people who truly understand and appreciate confessional Lutheran theology. The greatest frustration is wishing that even more members of our congregation understood and appreciated our confessional theology.” He also shared his favorite Bible verse, one from which we can take blessed comfort in these last days: “In this world you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)