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)


Comments

Why I’m Optimistic About the LC–MS — 70 Comments

  1. @Martin R. Noland #34
    “, and not just gripe and complain.” I agree.

    “So let’s work on those problems, in the ways the Consitution and Bylaws provide”

    This is idealistic and impractical. Dispute Resolution is well-documented as a sham, and where I have seen that it was shown to “work,” there was no apparent fruit of repentance on the part of the offending (that is, contrary to God’s word, not some made-up offense) party.

    The real answer is in God’s Word, not in constitution and bylaws. Where the two conflict, “we must obey God rather than men.” Synod Presidents, DPs, Circuit Visitors, pastors, and congregations, cannot be allowed to hide behind man-made bylaws, abetted by you among many, in defiance of God’s word.

  2. @John Rixe #3
    Is this a common attitude among the Steadfast Brothers – we should discourage investment in LCEF?

    That’s my opinion; I’ve never asked the “brothers”. If a congregation has a CEF loan, having an equal amount “invested” by members saves the congregation 1% of the interest. It would make more sense, (especially at present rates) if everyone actually tithed. [Or even half tithed!] You would, in a much shorter time, pay off that loan and not pay any more interest.

    [Someone else can calculate the savings by taking a tax deduction on your tithe (while you still can).] After the note the church has is paid off, stay out of debt as far as the church is concerned. Missouri had official statements about that, too, once upon a time!

  3. @R.D. #1
    Like CPH, it [CEF] may have started out as a good idea but became money changers.

    And I think, control of the river of money is one of the concerns of the bureaucrats and one of the reasons “Unser geliebte Synod” (sarcasm alert) hasn’t been split between Lutherans and [elca in all but name] long ago.

  4. Dr. Noland,

    You’re optimistic about the LCMS, but I saw your recent Letter to the Editor in the Reporter where you were glad that the Pressure Points article had been discontinued because it made it look like so many pastors and congregations were complaining about each other. You also wrote that problems like that should be referred to the Circuit Visitor. Do you not think that this was all because the Circuit Visitors can’t and the District Presidents won’t do their jobs in the first place?

  5. May I add some optimistic thoughts?

    We had our Circuit Forum for election of Circuit Visitor, and a few resolutions were passed. This is one little Circuit’s attempt to help bring back some “walking together” attitude. I will give the tone:

    01) Resolution to ask NID District to give a formal accounting of New Starts / New Believers, so we can review; since the Mission and Ministry Board was voted out. Where is the BOD of NID putting the moneies?

    02) Resolution to ask that the NID and the Board ask permission of the Circuit if a “New Start Mission” is a good idea and should be planted; so they do not collide with existing ministry. This would allow fellow pastors to review and work with District on a new mission before it is started and might collapse an existing Church.

  6. @Brad #10
    I guess my statement is this, Board of Directors should coordinate with Boots on the Ground in the area where a new mission plant is going. Questions will be asked:

    01) Will it hurt an existing ministry.
    02) What type is it?
    03) Could it be part of an existing Church’s mission, and addition to.

    Etc.

  7. Pastor David L. Prentice Jr. :
    @Pastor David L. Prentice Jr. #8
    Hmmm, no takers on this? A small group, grass-roots (the Circuit) trying to ask for some accountability, some “working together” in mission.
    Not even a “sounds good”, or “wasting your time.”

    Will they try to stop a barefoot-flipflop-coffee shop church from being planted next to a Lutheran church? I’ve see the opposite, where mission money is spent only on the innovative missions. The traditional, liturgical, confessional (you know, Lutheran) missions? Not so much.

  8. @Ted Crandall #13
    Will they try to stop a barefoot-flipflop-coffee shop church from being planted next to a Lutheran church? I’ve see the opposite, where mission money is spent only on the innovative missions. The traditional, liturgical, confessional (you know, Lutheran) missions? Not so much.

    We’ve seen it, too.
    The other side of it: Will they permit a confessional liturgical Lutheran church start if one is needed?

  9. @helen #14

    Whether they would “allow” it or not, I’ve been tempted to do it for years… start an initiative to plant Lutheran churches right across the street from these non-Lutheran monstrosities, and let the fur fly. We don’t really need synod money to start mission congregations.

  10. “I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic church.”

    We say this every Sunday as part of the Nicene Creed. What is the church in which we confirm belief? Is it limited to confessing Lutheran churches? Does it include those churches world wide that preach the gospel of Jesus Christ? Does it include the Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, etc.?

    I too am optimistic for the LCMS, but should I be optimistic only for some of us? Is it appropriate to have optimism for other Christians denominations. Will we see them with the Father?

    Are we saved by the grace of God through faith—or by the grace of God through faith plus adherence to Lutheran confessions?

  11. Green :
    “I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic church.”
    We say this every Sunday as part of the Nicene Creed. What is the church in which we confirm belief? Is it limited to confessing Lutheran churches? Does it include those churches world wide that preach the gospel of Jesus Christ? Does it include the Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, etc.?
    I too am optimistic for the LCMS, but should I be optimistic only for some of us? Is it appropriate to have optimism for other Christians denominations. Will we see them with the Father?
    Are we saved by the grace of God through faith—or by the grace of God through faith plus adherence to Lutheran confessions?

    Are you serious? (Are you Mrs. Mundinger?) Of course the Church is composed of all who trust in the forgiveness of God through Christ crucified for us.

    Why would you jeopardize that trust by encouraging others to believe teachings that contradict the Word of God?

  12. @Green #17
    Respectfully, Green, I think this conversation sounds like de ja vu all over again.

    The Church is found wherever the faithful gather around Christ in His Word and Sacraments, rightly taught and administered. The greater the deviation from Christ’s Word and Sacraments, the more the faith of those gathered is undermined– error erodes faith. Some errors erode it faster than others, but all error is to be resisted and refuted.

    By definition, a Lutheran is one who holds all that the Holy Scriptures teach, and receive the Sacraments as Christ instituted them. Lutherans are Confessionally defined as entirely under the Word, under the whole Word, and adding nothing to the Word. In so far as other Christians meet us there, we rejoice. In so far as they deviate from the Word of God, we must call them back to faith and repentance. Knowing the truth as Lutherans do, it would be a sin against divine love and against the Holy Spirit to affirm another erring Christian in their error, and by doing so, contribute to the eroding of their faith, and the degeneration of their saving relationship with Christ.

    Who will we see in heaven? All those who have been saved by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, in Jesus Christ Alone, as the Spirit has revealed Him to us in Scripture Alone. Just because there is error in the Church on earth (adding and subtracting from the Word of God) doesn’t mean there will be error in heaven, when the Church Militant becomes the Church Triumphant, and all her sins and errors are purged away.

    Meeting Christ and the glorious saints in light, having ignorantly taught or believed error is one thing (and still dangerous, depending on how great the errors,) but strutting up to them having knowingly taught, believed, or endorsed error is an entirely different thing… akin to mortal sin.

  13. QUOTE FOR THE DAY

    Brad :
    Knowing the truth as Lutherans do, it would be a sin against divine love and against the Holy Spirit to affirm another erring Christian in their error, and by doing so, contribute to the eroding of their faith, and the degeneration of their saving relationship with Christ.

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