A Motto for the Class of 2014

To the recently called men of the two seminaries of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod:

Welcome to the brotherhood of the Holy Ministry. Well, you haven’t graduated yet, you haven’t been ordained yet, you haven’t been installed yet, and you probably haven’t even been to your new parish yet, but welcome anyway. You are, or will soon be anyway, a brother in the ministry along with thousands of other men across the country who, like you, have been called to serve your Lord in His work of calling sinners to repentance and bringing them to Himself by the Gospel. It really is a brotherhood. It can be contentious, yes, and your brothers will, from time to time, disappoint you (as you will them, by the way). But as brothers we all bear the same name: the name of Jesus, at whose name all knees will bow and all tongues will confess. We carry His blessed and saving name all over, speaking His light into dark corners and His life into a dying world. As you go, I’d like to propose to you a motto to carry with you. There’s no obligation, of course. There’s no weird set of extra-ordination-y vows, no monastic solemnity. Just an idea to carry with you as you approach the indescribably difficult and blessed task of properly dividing the word of truth and caring for the souls to whom the Lord will soon give you:

cum corde Lutheri, cum capite Chemnitii et cum incendio Flacii

If you don’t know Latin, neither did I until I began studying it shortly after my own Call Night three years ago when I read the words “…teaching Latin in the Day School as requested” in my call document. It means literally: “with the heart of Luther, with the head of Chemnitz, and with the fire of Flacius.” Let’s unpack that a bit:

Unlike most other theologians whose names endure the centuries, Martin Luther was, above all, a pastor. He had a pulpit and altar. Most importantly, he was given real souls to care for. It doesn’t take reading much Luther to discover his pastoral heart. He was not interested in right teaching for the sake of political rebellion or an academic pursuit to get it all right — he knew real people with real names and faces and real lives and families who were robbed of the comfort of the pure Gospel under the abuses of the pope. He knew that God’s Word had real, lasting comfort to bring to them, and it was because he truly loved people that he undertook his work of reformation at great peril to himself.

Martin Chemnitz is a theologian’s theologian. When you read his works, you start to feel like an intellectual Lilliputian. His great strength is not only that he knew his own arguments, but he knew his opponents’ arguments better than they themselves did. His Examination of the Council of Trent is a masterpiece in dismantling false teaching, piece by piece, and confessing the Faith in response. His intellectual rigor and his rhetorical skill serve both as a gift to the heirs of Luther and as an example to follow.

Matthias Flacius was a tenacious advocate of Lutheran orthodoxy during the Augsburg Interim and the Leipzig Interim. During those times, many Lutherans looked to Philipp Melanchthon for leadership. Unfortunately, Melanchthon lost heart and sought to find points of compromise rather than contend for the faith — at one point, even rewriting parts of the Augsburg Confession (and the resultant document is not even subscribed to by the ELCA). Flacius serves as an example of remaining true to the faith once delivered to the saints in the face of opposition. While the spirit of compromise seemed to be prevailing all around him, he remained steadfast and confessed against unionism and doctrinal indifference. It must be noted that at one point he overstated the case for original sin in a way that required correction in the Formula, but let that not dissuade you from learning from his example.

You will find hardships and difficulties, disappointments and outrages during your time in the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. Sadly this is nothing new — Melanchthon got a spot on our calendar of saints while Flacius was at the end refused a Christian burial. But do not lose heart, either. Even if it feels to you like you’re stuck in the hinterlands of Lutheran orthodoxy, you are not alone. You have confessional brothers who pray for you and who will support you. Seek them out, learn from them, ask their opinion, and give them yours as well. In this way we will support each other in our task of caring for souls. And never forget that the same Lord who called you to this work will bless you and strengthen you for it, as He has the saints of old.

May the Lord bless your ministry of proclaiming the saving Gospel to a dying world.

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