My Hour with Lutheran World Relief President John Nunes – A Sign of Things to Come with a Harrison Presidency? by Pr. Rossow

(Note – I do not speak for Matt Harrison. Believe it or not I have never spoken to Matt Harrison at any length although he did see me on the convention floor Tuesday and thanked me for BJS’s reporting and commentary. Over the next few months we will continue to report and comment on the LCMS but we are far from an official voice of Harrison. If I ever speak at length to him about synod issues I will let you know but otherwise what I write here is my personal analysis and insight.)

Tuesday morning at the LCMS convention I had the great pleasure of meeting John Nunes the President and CEO of Lutheran World Relief (LWR). It was the second most enjoyable hour of the convention for me. The most enjoyable hour was the presidential election. We had a wonderful discussion covering a wide variety of topics ranging from philosophical metaphysics, worship styles and even our favorite style of painting. I was also able to meet his lovely wife during the course of our discussion. The two of them have been blessed by God with incredible gifts of leadership and charisma. The primary point of our discussion was directed at whether or not those gifts were being properly channeled through LWR.

We have posted some stories on BJS that call for the end of interaction with the ELCA in mercy programs. Rev. Nunes, a brother LCMS clergyman, was interested in clarifying some of these issues since LWR serves both the LCMS and the ELCA. I was very impressed that Rev. Nunes has been a reader of this BJS blog for quite some time and that he takes very seriously the point of view expressed on this blog and is often in agreement with us. He recalled the arguments of my critique of the Convention Divine Service even better than I did myself and is in basic agreement with my critique.

Getting back to the issues with LWR – point blank, we have called for an end to joint efforts with the ELCA. (As I write this, President Elect Harrison is addressing the convention floor and asking that we not totally dissolve our connection to the ELCA. He will need to convince me that some connection is still advisable. We will give him time to think through this issue and clarify to us exactly what level of connection he endorses before offering critique.) Rev. Nunes and I have some noteworthy disagreements but he did offer some helpful clarification on matters that were discussed in our previous posts. He wants the BJS readers to know that LWR’s relationship to the United Nations is limited to the passing on of resources and that LWR is not in anyway obligated in mission to the ideals of the United Nations. He also wanted us to know that we do not directly interact with the ELCA in the Lutheran Malaria Initiative.

My point here is not to judge the truth or relevance of Rev. Nunes’ insights. For the most part I accepted them and if the issue arises again we can discuss these matters here on the site. The point in my blogging about our conversation is to illustrate the way in which President Elect Matt Harrison will be working to bring about greater unity in the LCMS. It was an associate of Rev. Harrison that actually brought Nunes and I together. That speaks volumes for how Harrison will lead us toward unity. According to “It’s Time” Harrison will be focusing on bringing people together to do just what Nunes and I did – talk. After the talking there will need to be a lot of deciding, but the deciding will be based on the talk. Harrison is not so naïve to think that we will be totally unified but he does think that we will reach near 85%. That is better than it is now.

President Elect Harrison does not want structure and by-laws to be the basis of unity but instead discussion and truth. Rev. Nunes and I discussed things and sought to arrive at what the truth is concerning joint mercy activities. We both learned a lot. On a personal level I can also add that I grew more appreciative of Rev. Nunes and he grew more appreciative of me. Rev. Nunes also convinced me that he is persistently striving to make sure that LWR’s work passes the test of Scriptural fellowship principles.

I could write volumes of critique on the work and mission of LWR and may do so in the future but for now I ask you to consider the little tete a tete I had with Rev. Nunes to be a clear sign of how unity discussions will be handled under President Harrison’s leadership.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.

Comments

My Hour with Lutheran World Relief President John Nunes – A Sign of Things to Come with a Harrison Presidency? by Pr. Rossow — 27 Comments

  1. While I have definite concerns regarding LCMS doing any church work with the ELCA, even in externals, I applaud President Elect Matt Harrison’s resolve to commit us all to talking together. Unity is not discovered by one battering another with his view, and so on, but by discussing what we believe and why, based on God’s Holy Word.

    I am willing to hear President Harrison and Rev. Nunes, to see what “level’ of cooperation they are proposing, what rationale they base for it, and how they respond to passages such as one which would tell us to “mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Rom. 16:17).

    I am uncomfortable with the idea of different “levels” of fellowship, as I do not see it in Scripture, but by people in the Missouri Synod talking about our beliefs and concerns, always to be CENTERED IN SCRIPTURE, and doing so in love, not anger or suspicion, we can better be on the same page. Who among us wants to approach this question in a way that would displease our Lord? None of us. If it came down to wanting to please others verses pleasing God, whom would we seek to please? Which passages might we appeal to and why? Are we sure the passage addresses the current situation? Why or why not? Does the ELCA need to hear Law or Gospel, and why? Why would we do joint church work with a group which claims the title Lutheran, yet many of them deny a real historic Adam and Eve, as they deny the inerrancy of Scripture? How can we walk with them? There are so many questions to ask, and discuss, which should cause us to turn to the Holy Bible, praying for direction which is both loving to our neighbor AND faithful to God. We need to talk. And we need to decide what the best course of action is, but we dare not follow their example of putting the ways of the world above what God would have us do. Sometimes love must be tough love, but then it must be administered lovingly, and not in a Pharisaic manner.

  2. Growing up in the ALC/ELCA and now LCMS for 8 years, I to will need a lot of convincing. I don’t have much of an issue using ELCA muscle for distributing bread, although the “perceived” perception of unity does bother me (1 John 1:9-11). However, if one cent of our funds, directly or indirectly is being used to help spread their false gospel, all ties should be severed!

    I do feel a little better with a new Presidium in place and after reading this post. Comunication and transparency is what’s in order; I hope and pray we move in that direction.

  3. “According to “It’s Time” Harrison will be focusing on bringing people together to do just what Nunes and I did – talk. After the talking there will need to be a lot of deciding, but the deciding will be based on the talk.”

    This two fold approach is excellent. Issues tend to be talked to death into the dark void of nothing. How many people are still waiting for their local or national UCC to come around? There comes a time to make decisions. We should look forward to this talking and being decisive- always going back to the clear witness of scripture. Amen.

    michael

  4. You had a nice conversation with the next Jesus First candidate for Synodical President…3, 6, or 9 years from now.

  5. I applaud President Elect Matt Harrison’s resolve to commit us all to talking together. Unity is not discovered by one battering another with his view, and so on, but by discussing what we believe and why, based on God’s Holy Word.

    I am willing to hear President Harrison and Rev. Nunes, to see what “level” of cooperation they are proposing, and what rationale they base it on.

    By people in the Missouri Synod talking about our beliefs and concerns, always to be CENTERED IN SCRIPTURE, and doing so in love, not anger or suspicion, we can better be on the same page. Who among us wants to approach this question in a way that would displease our Lord? None of us. If it came down to wanting to please others verses pleasing God, whom would we seek to please? Which passages might we appeal to and why? Are we sure the passage addresses the current situation? Why or why not? Does the ELCA need to hear Law or Gospel, and why?

    We need to talk. And we need to decide what the best course of action is, but we dare not follow their example of putting the ways of the world above what God would have us do. Sometimes love must be tough love, but then it must be administered lovingly, and not in a Pharisaic manner.

  6. Thank you Pastor Rossow, for the post.
    Knowing that LWR, are under no obligation to the UN, nor are obligated to comply w/UN Faith Initiatives, is a relief. It’s also a relief, we have little interaction w/ELCA involving the Malaria Initiative. Whew. There is one sticky wicket avoided.
    Continued work & fellowship w/ELCA, well….there’s more than one sticky wicket there,
    to be decided. I wouldn’t give any fault to this issue yet, way too soon for any firm answers.

  7. @Dan #3
    Makes you wonder if we aren’t like pendulums just rotating around the moderates in the middle, like someone mentioned in another thread.

  8. Re: New era vs. swinging pendulum

    How future delegates vote will depend, in part, on a clear articulation of our theology, demonstrating the wisdom of our practice, demonstrations of true Christian love, and vigilance with regard to defending the pure doctrine from false teaching.

    To put it another way, the future of the LCMS depends, in part, on how you teach, preach, confess, and show mercy.

  9. Eph 5:11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

    2Ti 3:5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
    Romans 16:17-18
    My advice would be to ignore rational arguments as to why we should cooperate with the ELCA, and listen to God.

  10. We are a synod–we are to walk together. We are to do joint church work with others with whom we are in fellowship. If we do joint church work with those with whom we are not in fellowship, we are telling them, in affect, our differences really don’t matter. This is a false message. Believing the truth of God’s Word is not optional.

    In the United States we have a great many denominations represented in a number of traditions. We do not do joint church work with these church bodies. Just because we have worked with the ELCA in the past in no way means we should therefore continue in the future. God’s Word says “no” to women’s ordination. Society said “sure, why not?” They went with society, not God’s Word.

    Holy Communion is shared with those who have a common (shared) confession. Luther desired unity, yet at the Marburg Colloquy, he learned that he could not have unity with Ullrich Zwingli and his followers, who believed Christ could not be truly present in Holy Communion. The ELCA believe they know better than Luther, and they have declared themselves to be in communion fellowship with several denominations which do not believe in the doctrine of Real Presense. Instead of viewing the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament to be shared with those who are in koinonia with one another, they have used it as a tool to work toward some future unity with another group. One problem is, the unity they seek is not “unity” at all: it is little more than agreeing to disagree. They are “united” in disagreement.

    At the Churchwide Assembly (CWA) last August, the ELCA voted against Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone!) by basing their decisions regarding their sexuality statement “Gift and Trust” on societal values, not the clear teaching of the written Word of God. A church is no longer Lutheran if they abandon Sola Gratia (Grace Alone!), Sola Fide (Faith Alone!), Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone!), and Solus Christus (Christ Alone!). If a group to chooses to call themselves “Lutherans”, declaring it does not make it so. If it does not hold to the teachings of Lutheranism–if it denies Scriptural Christianity–they simply are not Lutheran, regardless of their history.

    We do not do joint church work with the Roman Catholic Church or the Southern Baptist Convention. Why would we work together in externals with a group (the ELCA) which cannot agree to the innerancy of Scripture, a group in which many see parts of Scripture as myth, not history, and Jonah is reduced to a “parable” (even though nothing in the text tells us to read it as such), and other portions are de-mythologized. Many of them have embraced the antinomian heresy. Do we respond, “that’s okay! They call themselves ‘Lutheran’, and that’s good enough for me.” Or do we listen to Scripture, and have nothing to do with them? Can we walk together with a group that holds such a confession?

  11. Hi Everyone,

    Sorry to cross-post a bit, but, I think one of the things we must grasp is our Two Kingdom theology and vocation to grasp how a Christian freely lives a life of love in a sinful world.

    Cooperation in externals IS NOT fellowship. Fellowship only takes place around the Word and sacraments, i.e. all or nothing. Levels of fellowship isn’t Two Kingdom theology. This is where we consistently misunderstand showing love to our neighbor. It is how we conservatives get attacked as not being loving. What takes place at the altar IS NOT the same thing that takes place in the community. This distinction is so freeing in the life of a Christian to love.

    Levels of fellowship confuses law and gospel, two kingdom theology, justification, and most importantly, our confession of Christ.

    These distinctions were branded into my theological hide after serving in Utah for 9 years; being a hospice chaplain, an inner-city hospital chaplain, and doing acts of mercy in Kenya. Without it, I’d have to have participated in the various communities by myself. Sounds like burnout to me. 🙂

    I certainly hope that a thorough discussion and study of Two Kingdoms and vocation will begin so that we don’t fall off the horse on either side.

    What takes place at the altar is exclusive. What takes place in the community (acts of love) is inclusive.

    What takes place at the altar is primarily God’s work. What takes place in the community is primarily my work (vocation).

    What takes place at the altar is primarily Gospel. What takes place in the community is primarily law.

    And it goes on…

    This is crucial in our understanding in, “What can we do with other Christians?” This is why Pastor Harrison was so successful at LCMS WR.

    marksell

  12. Folks I have known John Nunes and Matt Harrison for a long time and I trust them both. I am saying this not to convince you but simply so that you know I am not speaking completely as an outsider.

    I do NOT understand the issues raised with cooperation with the ELCA in the area of Lutheran World Relief. This is not the same as Lutheran Social Services where adoption, counseling, and a host of other areas of cooperation do raise legitimate issues of conflict. The cooperation we have through LWR is hardly the same kind of cooperation and therefore does not involve the same kinds of cooperation in areas of conflicted confession and theological disagreement. I for one would hate to see LWR and its marvelous work suffer because of a backlash against the ELCA — especially since our cooperation is external and does not direclty impinge on theology or confession (and we can and should monitor this to make sure).

    Good grief, we have congregations participating with Food for the Poor and a host of other relief organizations. Our participation in externals does not automatically compromise our confession. I am more concerned about Lutheran Social Services and some of those agencies under than umbrella than I am about LWR.

  13. John #4,

    You are missing my point. In the Harrison LCMS guys like Nunes will not be interested in challenging him – I can just about guarantee that. Of course there will be others that Jesus First will put up but it will be much harder for them since Harrison is commited to great amounts of dialogue.

    BTW – Nunes and Harrison learned to like and appreciate each other. They are not lock step in sync but again, my point, they have learned to talk to each other and work with each other.

    TR

  14. Marksell,

    You are correct – understanding the two kingdoms teaching is crucial in this discussion.
    You are also right that Harrison worked wonders and did a great job of respecting boundaries. The thing that you may be missing however, is that it is just not necessary for the LCMS to work with the ELCA in order to do works of mercy. It is just not necessary. We can fulfill the Lord’s call to mercy without cooperating with a cult. I suppose it fulfills some Romantic desire to one day unify Lutheranism – that is not a finally compelling reason – but the ELCA ruled out even that faint dream with their recent apostasy.

    TR

  15. Pastor Tim Rossow :
    The thing that you may be missing however, is that it is just not necessary for the LCMS to work with the ELCA in order to do works of mercy. It is just not necessary. We can fulfill the Lord’s call to mercy without cooperating with a cult. I suppose it fulfills some Romantic desire to one day unify Lutheranism – that is not a finally compelling reason – but the ELCA ruled out even that faint dream with their recent apostasy.
    TR

    I think that the main consideration (based on Pastor Harrison’s summarized remarks) is that this joint work is already proceeding, and that an abrupt end to it would cause tremendous suffering. We can work toward disengaging ourselves from this work, or we can say that the work is important and also only external, but some would say that we should only withdraw, if we do withdraw, in a measured and orderly fashion. If we were not doing this joint work already, I doubt that we would start it; but since we have taken responsibility for it, perhaps we need to be responsibly gradual in stopping.

  16. @The Rev. Larry Peters #15

    Who is Jesus Christ/ the Word of God to the ELCA? According to the Lutheran World Relief website statement: http://www.lwr.org/about/index.asp ,the ELCA and LCMS are in agreement on this. No, we are far from it. The ELCA has most certainly scoffed at the Word.

    Also, the whole “FAIR TRADE” section of LWR’s website looks to me to be a political lobbying group to influence legislation: http://www.lwr.org/fairtrade/index.asp
    ‘Fair wages’ and ‘right to organize’ defined by whom?

    These items need to be thoroughly examined by the new Praesidium.

  17. I would like to see continued dialogue on these points, including a thorough discusssion on the points raised by Mark Sell. I am no theologian, but I am a concerned Christian, and good systematic theologians better understand how one theological doctrine fits with another. I, for one, am certainly no expert, nor do I claim to be, but i can’t stress enough that we need to follow what God says rather than settle for making people happy where there is such a conflict. May God gather the best of the people he has blessed with good theological minds, that the synod’s decisions in this area can be based on good Biblical, Lutheran scholarship, rather than a quick knee-jerk reaction. May God use President Harrison and others to unite us as a synod centered on Biblical confession in thought, word and action (deed).

  18. TR – #17

    FYI, I really didn’t mean to skip over that point. I agree 100%. There are millions of buckaroos in this area. I personally participated in what we can do on our own…

    However, I was throwing that out to give us a starting point so that we keep our theology straight and not give Nunes a nervous breakdown. 🙂 As time goes on, I think our areas of work will become clearer and we can fund them appropriately as LCMS.

    I don’t want to slide into a view of fellowship that extends outside of the altar, which will have us confuse our vocations and our work of love and mercy in the world. That’s my concern.

    And, as you noted, Nunes is a reasonable guy and he is LCMS. I think he and Harrison have a very healthy relationship. Still there is a lot of talking that needs to be done.

    What I think is a bit different than the past is that under Nunes’ leadership at LWR, we will not be forced to do things we shouldn’t, nor will they look down their noses at us for our confession. We used to be dismissed once we handed our LCMS check over to them. Nunes respects our theology and confession and wouldn’t compromise Harrison.

    I look forward to further discussion about 2 kngdms and vocation to help LCMS get a hold of this, faithfully confess, and continue with Harrison’s great work of mercy around the world.

    marksell

  19. To one and all,

    A must read IMHO, is G.E. Veith’s _God at Work_. A great book that is well written for lay reading and a refresher for us clergy types.

    Also the appendix in CPH’s _The Anonymous God_ (Adams and Schurb eds.) contains a summary of Two Kingdom theology which is the Lutheran rationale for the book. Sorry, I admit it, I did the appendix article, but no sense reinventing the wheel. The rest of the book is quite heady for lay reading.

    marksell

  20. Have you ever thought that the LCMS keeps ELCA money going for what it should be instead of competing with mercy’s work by substituting advocacy for other groups instead of direct aid, relief, and disaster support?

  21. @Pastor Tim Rossow #17

    I agree, this is the point that the New England DP seems to miss. He pleaded at the convention that we can never and should never sever ties with the ELCA regarding externals. However, we don’t need to work with the the ELCA. We should start our own initiatives and be creative to help those in the left hand kingdom.

  22. The argument that it is not necessary is rather empty. We do all sorts of things that are not necessary — from providing heat and air conditioning in our churches to putting pads on the pews…

    I would argue that in some ways it is necessary. The world is in some respects made small by transportation and technology but it is also in part a closed world. There are places we will not be able to go to do mercy’s work without the substantial resources and recognition that LWR has as part of its identity and history.

    Is is absolutely necessary that we work through LWR. Of course not. Is Synod necessary in that same regard? But it is salutary. Given the wise leadership of both Harrison and Nunes, the presence of so many LCMSers on the LWR Board (and its chair), we have an opportunity to accomplish much with combined resources. It would take decades to build up the recognition and structures to replace LWR…

    And, in case you might have missed it, we just did away with LCMS World Relief and Human Care… so what do you propose? Every congregation sending their $100 or $1000 to another parachurch or nonchurch relief agency or going there on their own?

    It may not be necessary but LWR is a salutary and beneficial agency in which our partnership in mercy’s work does not compromise our doctrinal stance. I urge much caution about pulling back and great willingness to trust Harrison and Nunes to work out the details…

  23. Part of 3-03 which we passed talks about the criteria for continuing cooperation in externals. 2 of the suggested questions for making this decision were:

    2. Do cooperative efforts imply doctrinal unity with the ELCA or endorsement of ELCA positions on same-sex relationships or other matters of disagreement with the LCMS?

    3. Does the joint agency or organization distinguish itself as an entity from the churches that support it?

    While looking at this as a member of a congregation of the LCMS (layity aren’t members of Synod 😉 it is clear to me that the answer to both 2 and 3 is “no.” However, as citizen of religiously illiterate America, I would say the answer to both would be “yes.” This lack of clear distinction for the outside world is why I voted “no” albeit with reservation and not too much sadness that it passed anyway.

    I’m sure my understanding of the Two Kingdoms could do for a refresher, but that won’t help with people who see Lutherans and see another denomination that ordains homosexuals and blesses same sex marriages.

  24. Pastor Tim Rossow :John #4,
    You are missing my point. In the Harrison LCMS guys like Nunes will not be interested in challenging him – I can just about guarantee that. Of course there will be others that Jesus First will put up but it will be much harder for them since Harrison is commited to great amounts of dialogue.
    BTW – Nunes and Harrison learned to like and appreciate each other. They are not lock step in sync but again, my point, they have learned to talk to each other and work with each other.
    TR

    I think that your point is well taken. You could argue that people like Harrison and Nunes (or Rossow and Nunes, for that matter) should talk to each other since that is the only way that we will come to a consensus. But there is a deeper reason for these kinds of conversations. For too long we have been repeating the habits of the middle of the sixteenth century, where Lutherans could not come to peace because they were too busy nursing old grudges and cultivating the cult of personalities. We need to put aside those things and discuss the issues, as Chemnitz and company did. In the process we might find some people who are completely beyond the pale, as the unrepentant crypto-Calvinists were. But we will also find many people who really are on the same page as we are. Some may have misunderstood what we have been saying, often because they hear a caricature of our ideas. Others may have been overly devoted to a teacher (as some were to Melanchthon) who led them astray in an area or two, but are open to correction, especially if we do not get into nasty name-calling. Others may have not thoroughly thought through an issue and perhaps jumped to a premature wrong conclusion, but are open to reconsidering the matter. In any case, a Chemnitz-like approach should help. Moreover, we need to converse with them for our benefit, too, for there have been some among us who have imitated Flacius in generally upholding orthodoxy, but then going too far in some utterance.

    The alternative is to engage in raw politics. But that is the way of the Augsburg and Leipzig Interims, Johann Sigismund and family, the Prussian Union, etc.

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