Why I’m Optimistic About the LC–MS

Martin NolandSome folks have recently challenged my often-stated assertion since 2010 that “These are good days for the LCMS.” I think it is fair that I respond to that challenge, by explaining why I think that way.

People often judge a company by how they fare within it. Those “on top” can be expected to judge it well. Those who have been disappointed by how their “career” turned out can be expected to judge that company poorly. This is just human nature, and explains a lot of people’s attitudes toward the company that they’re with, or were with.

I don’t judge the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod by how I have fared within it. I judge our synod, first, on its doctrinal commitment to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. This commitment is sound where it really counts, namely, in our seminaries and our Concordia University theology faculties. Show me one of those men who is teaching false doctrine and I will reconsider my judgment.

I judge our synod, secondly, by the doctrine that is being preached in the pulpit. With 5,734 pastors serving a parish, and 6,153 congregations, you are not going to find perfection there. Jesus called sinners to become the propagators of the Gospel—notice the word “gator” is in there. My fellow pastors are sinners like me. We fall into error or sin, we repent, and we get back up again. If you expect perfection there, you just won’t have any church—period!

I judge our synod, thirdly, by the fantastic young people that I have met over the years in the LCMS, who now have at least five years of service in ministry to prove their mettle. As I think about these folks, I am really joyful—and thankful to our Lord—that I get to be part of such a wonderful church, and get to be friends with such talented and friendly people.

Okay—who are these young people I am thinking about? These are real people whom I have met at synod conventions, conferences, and other related activities—a few I met during my years at Concordia Historical Institute—a few others I have met via correspondence. Let me give you an “off the top of my head” list of the young LCMS that I see today; with many apologies to those that weren’t “on the top of my head”, but deserve to be on this list.

In order to avoid nepotism, cronyism, or local bias, I am excluding from this list: relatives, family, classmates from college, classmates from seminary, and church-workers I met through local circuit meetings and activities.

In order to keep to my definition of “young people,” I am limiting this list to persons of at least five years of service and who are under 45 years of age. I know more pastors, since those are the guys I work with most of the time. The pastors will have had less than 20 years of service; commissioned workers will have had less than 25 years of service. Persons named won’t mind if I underestimate their age (grin). In parenthesis following their name, I’ll give year of graduation from a Concordia seminary or university, years of service in the LCMS, and present service or ministry. Here goes, in no particular order:

Teacher Brad Alles (1987, 24 years, Milwaukee Lutheran High, author of Life’s Big Questions, God’s Big Answers); Deaconness Grace Rao (2000, 14 years, head of LCMS Deaconness Ministry at the International Center); Pastor Jamison Hardy (2000, 14 years, parish pastor & 3rd VP English District); Pastor George Borghardt (2000, 14 years, parish pastor & President Higher Things); Pastor Aaron Moldenhauer (2005, 9 years, parish pastor & Senior Editor of LOGIA); Pastor Carl Roth (2006, 8 years, parish pastor & Coordinating Editor of LOGIA); Pastor John Sias (2009, 5 years, parish pastor & Book Review Editor of LOGIA, member of LCMS Commission on Constitutional Matters); Pastor Joshua Scheer (2008, 6 years, parish pastor & Editor of Brothers of John the Steadfast website and blog); Pastor Jonathan Fisk (2006, 8 years, parish pastor & producer of Worldview Everlasting video website, author of Broken: 7 Christian Rules that Every Christian Should Break); Pastor Craig Donofrio (1998, 16 years, announcer and host at KFUO radio); Pastor Bill Wangelin (2007, 7 years, parish pastor in Michigan, LCMS historian and archivist); Pastor Christian Tiews (2009, 5 years, parish pastor in Oklahoma, translator of German theology works and expert on the Luther Lands); Pastor C. Bryan Wolfmueller (2005, 9 years, parish pastor & “Table Talk Radio” podcast); Pastor Marcus Zill (1996, 18 years, head of LCMS U); and Pastor Bart Day (1997, 17 years, head of LCMS Office of National Mission).

Here is my list of laymen who fit the age parameters above. Since they are not to my knowledge rostered church-workers, I’ll leave out that data: Dr. Matthew Phillips (professor of history, CU-Seward); Mrs. Mollie Ziegler-Hemingway (nationally-known journalist on religion, politics, and cultural issues, presently blogs at “The Federalist”); Mr. Nathan Rinne (librarian at CU-Saint Paul, blogs at “Infant Theology”); Ms. Sandra Ostapowich (Higher Things Conference executive, Regent at CU-Irvine); Mrs. Adriane Heins (editor of the Lutheran Witness); Ms. Sarah Ludwig (LOGIA business manager); and Ms. Natalie Oleshchuk (CPH board of directors; middle-school librarian and children’s literature expert).

I judge our synod, fourthly, by the quality of its educational institutions: seminaries, universities, high schools, elementary schools, and pre-schools. In this department, we have arguably the best Protestant system of education in the world, at all levels. Our theology faculties are just outstanding. I look up not only to the guys my age or older, but even the “junior faculty” who show so much skill and commitment! Wow! What a gift to the church!

I judge our synod, fifthly, by the quality of its communications departments. Here I especially note the new publication “Lutherans Engage the World,” which every rostered worker should be getting in the mail and sharing (see lcms.org/lutheransengage for an online version, for iPad and iPhone versions, etc.). What Lutheran, in their right mind, could miss any episode of “Issues, etc.” with Pastor Todd Wilken and producer Jeff Schwarz? (see issuesetc.org ) And then there are the venerable radio shows on KFUO (see kfuoam.org ; live music and talk, from ca. 7 AM to sundown in Saint Louis).

A church-body cannot be judged simply by its leadership, because that is too much of a burden to put one man, or set of people. But I have to say that President Matthew Harrison is probably the best-rounded president in our history. He has something in his ministry-experience that lets him understand, at the ground-level, what is really going on in the synod. He is a former missionary, international and domestic disaster relief leader, international and domestic charitable-ministry leader, synodical executive, parish pastor, and translator and editor of Hermann Sasse’s works. He has proven his mettle in all these areas, and now also has finished four years in the president’s office. That is not an easy office to fill, but he has done so with grace, good attitude, and a consistent respect for our synod’s doctrinal position.

With all that to consider, how can I not be optimistic about The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod? (grin)

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