My pastor told me that one of his professors wisely warned him “Beware the fight.” He was pointing out that while it’s important to fight for confessional Lutheranism, there are times when the fight itself can become more important than it should. There have been many times in Missouri’s history when we’ve had to fight for doctrinal integrity. And God has richly blessed us in many ways during these struggles. But we have all sinned during these times — perhaps enjoying the fight too much or too little, putting the worst construction on things, or any number of other errors. When I first read President Matthew Harrison’s “It’s Time” piece, the thing that struck me most was his call for everyone to repent of where we’ve gone wrong.
He’s written a letter to the church in the current Lutheran Witness that reiterates this. It’s well worth a read and a wonderful beginning to his presidency. Here’s how it ends:
Why have we lacked missionary zeal? Why have we been so divided? Why have we failed to love each other? Why have we struggled financially? Why have we failed to convince both those within and outside our fellowship? Why have we been unable to listen to our brothers and sisters? Why has our preaching so often lacked urgency and biblical depth? Are we preachers therapists, or are we prophets of God with a clear message of Law and Gospel? Are we still the Church that preaches Jesus’ own message of repentance? As I write these things, I am thinking above all of myself, of my own sins.
There is nothing for any of us in the Missouri Synod to be smug about. “For what do you have that you have not been given?” Luther reminded the Germans of his day that the precious Gospel can be and has, in fact, been lost by whole nations.
Buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there! For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been . . . when it’s gone it’s gone. . . . And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast (Luther’s Works 45:352).
The good news is that the Lord delights in having mercy upon sinners, just like us. In fact, “Christ dwells only in sinners” (Luther). That means that Christ dwells only in a Church made up of sinners—people and pastors just like us. If we won’t be sinners (Repent!), we shall have no Savior.
Jesus has given us an astounding gift. We have the treasure of the Gospel so marvelously and biblically laid before us by Luther’s Small Catechism. May the Lord grant us repentance, all of us, that the Gospel not pass from us and that we poor sinners—yes, the Missouri Synod—might be His own tool to preach repentance, forgiveness, and faith in His name—even now, even today.