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Journal of Lutheran

Mission February 2015 | Vol. 2 | No. 1

From the President

See How They Love One Another “Moved with pity, He stretched out His hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean’” (Mark 1:41).


hroughout Jesus’ ministry, He had pity or compassion on people with a variety of ailments both physical and spiritual. The Greek word for “pity” or “compassion” is splachna, which refers to the bowels or the inner being of a person. In English, an expression that is similar is “to have butterflies in the stomach.” Splachna does not refer to “butterflies” or nerves, but to the deep ache and hurt that a person has for another person. Quite literally, your guts can hurt for another person. Jesus used this sort of expression to communicate the compassion that the Lord God feels for His people. Jesus has compassion on people that no one else would have compassion for. Jesus has compassion on people (including you and me) who do not deserve to be shown compassion. Jesus’ compassion begins with the forgiveness of sins and extends to the entire person. All illness, disease and other physical necessities are the result of sin in the world. Jesus’ compassion, best shown by His death on the cross, ultimately undoes the result of sin and on the day of His return will bring about the restoration of all creation in the new

heaven and the new earth. In the meantime, the Church and individual Christians who are forgiven show mercy and compassion to each other and to their neighbor near them. Christians show mercy to others because Christ has first loved them. The ancient pagans remarked of Christians, “See how they love one another.” The love and concern Christians showed to each other also extended to their neighbors in need. The acts of mercy individual Christians show to their neighbor is a powerful witness to the world about the love of Jesus. This issue of the Journal of Lutheran Mission focuses on the topic of mercy. Most of these papers were presented at the International Disaster Conference held at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind., in September 2014. The conference provided a forum for international Lutheran church leaders to consider both the theology of mercy and the practical implications for implementing it in their churches. May these articles also help you consider the role of mercy and human compassion in the mission of the Church.

The acts of mercy individual Christians show to their neighbor is a powerful witness to the world about the love of Jesus.

Sub cruce, President Matthew C. Harrison

The Journal of Lutheran Mission Contributing Editors Rev. Dr. Charles Arand, faculty, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis David Berger, faculty, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis Rev. Dr. Steve Briel, chairman, Board for National Mission, LCMS Rev. Allan Buss, parish pastor, Belvidere, Ill. Rev. Roberto Bustamante, faculty, Concordia Seminary, Buenos Aires Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, director, Office of International Mission Regional Operations Rev. Thomas Dunseth, director of deaf ministry, Lutheran Friends of the Deaf, New York Rev. Dr. Charles Evanson, LCMS missionary, Lithuania Rev. Nilo Figur, area counselor for Latin America and the Caribbean, Lutheran Hour Ministries Rev. Roosevelt Gray, director, LCMS Black Ministry Rev. Dr. Carlos Hernandez, director, LCMS Hispanic Ministry Rev. Dr. John Kleinig, emeritus lecturer, Australian Lutheran College Rev. Ted Krey, regional director, Latin America and the Caribbean, LCMS Rev. Todd Kollbaum, director, Rural and Small Town Mission, LCMS Deaconess Dr. Cynthia Lumley, principal, Westfield Theological House, Cambridge Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martin, parish pastor, Berlin Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, faculty, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne Rev. Dan McMiller, director, Missionary Recruitment, LCMS Rev. Dr. Tilahun Mendedo, president, Concordia College, Selma Rev. Nabil Nour, fifth vice-president, LCMS Rev. Dr. Steve Oliver, LCMS missionary, Taiwan Rev. Dr. Michael Paul, parish pastor, Evansville, Ind. Rev. Roger Paavola, president, LCMS Mid-South District Rev. Dr. Darius Petkunis, rector, Lithuanian Lutheran Seminary Rev. Dr. Andrew Pfeiffer, faculty, Australian Lutheran College Rev. John T. Pless, faculty, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, faculty, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina, bishop, Antananarivo Synod of the Malagasy Lutheran Church Rev. Dr. Victor Raj, faculty, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis Deaconess Grace Rao, director, Deaconess Ministry, LCMS Rev. Geoff Robinson, mission executive, Indiana District Rev. Dr. Carl Rockrohr, dean, Mekane Yesus Seminary, LCMS Missionary, Ethiopia Rev. Robert Roethemeyer, faculty, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne Rev. Dr. Brian Saunders, president, LCMS Iowa East District Rev. Steve Schave, director, Urban and Inner City Mission, LCMS Rev. Dr. Detlev Schultz, faculty, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne Rev. Dr. William Schumacher, faculty, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis Rev. Bernie Seter, chairman, Board for International Mission, LCMS Rev. Kou Seying, parish pastor/Hmong ministry, Merced, Calif. Rev. Alexey Streltsov, rector, Lutheran Theological Seminary, Siberia Rev. Martin Teigen, parish pastor/Hispanic ministry, North Mankato, Minn. Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Weber, Jr., bishop, Lutheran Church in Southern Africa Rev. Dr. E. A. W. Weber, retired professor and rector, Lutheran Theological Seminary, Enhlanhleni (KwaZulu-Natal) Rev. John Wille, president, LCMS South Wisconsin District

Executive Editor Rev. Bart Day, executive director, LCMS Office of National Mission

Journal of Lutheran

Mission February 2015 | Vol. 2 | No. 1

Table of Contents Answering the “Why” Question: Martin Luther on Human Suffering and God’s Mercy by John T. Pless.................................................................................................................... 6 Giving Thanks in Times of Adversity and Strife by William C. Weedon......................................... 14 Sharing the Gospel in Times of Suffering by Carl Fickenscher........................................................ 19 Sharing the Gospel in Times of Suffering by Carl Fickenscher (Spanish version)..................... 25 Having Mercy on Our Brothers by Matthew C. Harrison.................................................................. 31 Mercy in Action by Ross Johnson................................................................................................................. 36 Being the Church in the Age of Post-Literacy by James Neuendorf............................................... 38 Witness, Mercy, Life Together: A Cross-Cultural Perspective by Bart Day................................ 49 Overview of LCMS International Career Missionaries : What Does This Mean? by Albert B. Collver III...................................................................................... 55 Book Review: Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World by Lucas Woodford............................................................................................................................................ 60

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When suffering and tragedy occur, Luther warns against the

Answering the “Why” Question: Martin Luther on Human Suffering and God’s Mercy by John T. Pless

tendency to judge God or to presume His intentions. Rather, the Reformer encourages trust in Him and patient endurance in this sinful, fallen, temporal world, faithfully awaiting the coming of Jesus Christ.



my opinion, than in philosophical discussions of the he 13th anniversary of 9/11 and a string problem of evil.1 of events within the last decade — including Martin Luther was not a stranger to suffering and tsunamis; Hurricane Katrina; earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and Japan; flooding in the Philippines; affliction.2 It is the thesis of this paper that the Reformer mindless shootings in a Connecticut school; tornadoes in does have a good bit to teach us both about what we are the American Midwest; grisly persecution of Christians authorized by the Word of God to say and how we, who in Syria and the Ebola epidemic in West Africa — are live under the cross of Jesus Christ, respond to those who suffer in this world. But I compounded with countless would like to come to Luther personal tragedies that press “But who can supply the reason by first attending to alternapeople to ask the ancient for the things that he sees the tive responses. question, “Why is there suffering?” More existentially Divine Majesty has permitted to Theodicy: Justification of put, “What did I do to deserve God or man? happen? Why do we not rather this?” In 1981, Rabbi Harold KushThese are questions raised learn with Job that God cannot ner wrote a best-selling book to Christians, and before them be called to account and cannot When Bad Things Happen we cannot remain silent. In be compelled to give us the reason to Good People.3 The book is venturing into this territory, an anguish-laden attempt of we do well to heed the counsel for everything He does or permits the rabbi to come to terms of D. Z. Philips: to happen?” with a painful illness that Philosophizing about the claimed the life of his young problem of evil has become – Luther on Genesis 3:1, in Luther’s son. Struggling with issues of common place. Theories, Works, Volume I, p. 144 God’s providence and mercy, theodices abound, all creation and chaos, the rabbi seeking either to render can finally only conclude that those who suffer must “forunintelligible, or to justify, God’s ways to human give God.” Believing that God’s intentions might be good beings. Such writing should be done in fear: fear but His power is limited seems to be a better solution than that in our philosophizing, we will betray the evils people have suffered, and, in that way, sin against 1 D. Z. Philips, The Problem of Evil & the Problem of God (Minneapolis: them. Betrayal occurs every time explanations and Fortress Press, 2005), xi. Also see Thomas G. Long, What Shall We Say? justifications of evil which are simplistic, insensitive, Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011). incredible or obscene. Greater damage is often done 2 Here see the fine study by Ronald K. Rittgers, The Reformation of Suffering: Pastoral Theology and Lay Piety in Late Medieval and Early to religion by those who think of themselves as its Modern Germany (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 84–124 and philosophical friends than by those who present John T. Pless, Martin Luther: Preacher of the Cross–A Study of Luther’s Pastoral Theology (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2013). themselves as religion’s detractors and despisers. 3 See Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New Nowhere is this damage more than in evidence, in York: Avon, 1981).


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calling into question His goodness. Thomas G. Long sensitively examines but finds wanting the approach of Rabbi Kushner, noting: Process theologians like Kushner want to draw an emphatic picture of God, but they end up producing merely a pathetic one, a God one might find endearing, but not worthy of worship. Here is God in the midst of chaos, whispering, pleading, trying to persuade a balky world to be better, to be less trivial and more aesthetically pleasing, but the results are less impressive.4 In addressing the question of evil and suffering, three things must be held together: (1) God’s merciful love, (2) His omnipotence and (3) the far-reaching consequences of human sin in and on creation. Kushner seeks to rescue God’s reputation as a God of love by sacrificing His omnipotence. If a Lutheran were to do a re-write of Kushner’s book, it would have a different title: When Good Things Happen to Bad People. In the Divine Service, we confess that “We justly deserve” God’s “present and eternal punishment,” but times of calamity call into question whether we really believe it. In defiance or moaning resignation, we cry out “Why me?” as though God had to explain Himself.5 In this role reversal, God becomes the defendant and man the judge. Theodicy is a term coined from two Greek words theos (God) and dike (judgment) literally meaning a judgment of or justification of God. The term became the title of a book by G. W. Leibnitz (1646–1716) in which he argued optimistically that this is the best of all possible worlds. After the destructive All Saints Day earthquake of 1755 killed thousands in Lisbon, his argument was ridiculed, but the term would remain. Its use would indicate something of a reversal. Werner Elert writes that, “We try to ensnare God in our moral categories, and we do it with the best of intentions, because we wish to rationalize our assertion that he is just and kind.”6 But as Elert goes on to explain, there is a reversal going on. The Creator, who is the judge, now becomes the defendant, while the creature now becomes judge over the Creator. Rather than God 4

Long, What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith, 75.


In fact, Gerhard Forde writes, “The attempt to make God answerable to the likes of us – that is the original sin itself.” Gerhard Forde, The Captivation of the Will: Luther versus Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 64. Werner Elert, The Christian Ethos. Trans. Carl J. Schindler (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1957), 156. 6

justifying man, man now attempts to justify God. Recent attempts at theodicy often attempt to excuse God. After the tsunami, one North American clergyman when interviewed on a national television broadcast claimed “that God had nothing to do with it.” In a futile effort to protect the Lord God from anything that might cause human beings to fear Him, this cleric tried to extract God from the picture altogether! The attempt falters, leaving a God who is remodeled according to human imagination. This is hardly the God known by Job and Jonah in the Old Testament. Others would suggest that God is not the cause of suffering, but He merely allows it. If God is almighty, then it is of little comfort to assert that this all-powerful God allowed evil when He could have stopped it. To this argument, Oswald Bayer responds: The first attempt is an effort to soften or give up completely on the concept of omnipotence. It is thus often said that God does not cause evil, but simply lets it happen. But such talk about the bland ‘permitting’ (permissio) of evil is too harmless. It assumes the possibility of a power vacuum or even that there is an independent power that is in opposition. At the very least, it assumes that the human being has the power to stand up against God.7 But God is not impotent. He is “God the Father Almighty maker of heaven and earth” as we confess in the creed. Attempts to get God off the hook, to defend Him by limiting or weakening His omnipotence end up with an idol.

Listening to Jesus Rather than try to construct a philosophical theodicy that would assign human beings the impossible task of justifying God, we do better to listen to Jesus, as He responds to the “why” question in Luke 13:1–9. Whether it is Pilate’s slaughter of the pious as he mingles their blood with the blood of sacrificial animals, the engineering failure of the Tower of Siloam or more contemporary examples of seemingly unjust suffering, such stories prompt us also to inquire of God, “Why?” Yet the words of Jesus pre-empt the question with a stark warning: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Jesus does not offer a philosophical explanation for the Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation. Trans. Thomas H. Trapp (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008): 206–207. Also see Oswald Bayer, “God’s Omnipotence” Lutheran Quarterly (Spring 2009), 85–102. 7

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religious massacre in the temple or the random toppling might not perish but have life in His name. of Siloam’s tower upon the heads of 18 innocent bystandSpeculation or faith: God in hiding or God ers. The Lord wastes no time with theoretical distinctions revealed? between the malicious banality of the butchery done by the human will of Pilate and catastrophic collapse of Speculation, it seems, is more comfortable than repenstone and mortar. Jesus’ words will not let us go there. His tance and lest risky, we imagine, than faith in a God who kills and makes alive. But words call for repentance, not speculation cannot penetrate speculation.8 God in His absolute hiddenRather than try to construct Repentance lets go of ness; it ultimately yields no the silly questions that we a philosophical theodicy that answers. In providing pastoral would use to hold on to life would assign human beings the care to folk vexed by questions on our own terms, to try to impossible task of justifying God, concerning predestination, protect ourselves against the Luther directs us away from we do better to listen to Jesus, God who kills and makes God in His hiddenness. This as He responds to the “why” alive. The theologian Oswald Bayer observes that the world question in Luke 13:1–9. Whether is precisely where the “why” questions lead. Instead, is forensically structured, it is Pilate’s slaughter of the pious Luther points to God’s mercy arranged in such a way as to as he mingles their blood with the revealed in the manger and demand justification. We find the cross, coming at God from blood of sacrificial animals, the evidence of this, Bayer says, below. The table talk recorded engineering failure of the Tower in the way we defend our own by Caspar Heydenreich, Feb. words and deeds.9 What hapof Siloam or more contemporary 18, 1542, sets forth Luther’s pens when we are confronted examples of seemingly unjust response to those who use the with wrongdoing? We attempt suffering, such stories prompt us doctrine of election for specuto justify our behavior. It is a lation rather than faith. Luther also to inquire of God, “Why?” rerun of Eden: “The woman warns against an “epicurean” Yet the words of Jesus pre-empt whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of fruit of the question with a stark warning: approach that is nothing more than fatalism. Such a fatalisthe tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12) “Unless you repent, you will all tic approach casts aside the Adam blames Eve. But behind likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Passion of Christ and the Sachis accusation of Eve is the raments. It is the work of the accusation of his Creator. To devil to make us unbelieving repent is to die to self-justification and turn to the God who justifies the ungodly by faith alone. He is the God and doubtful. It would be foolish of God to give us His who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but Son and the Scriptures if he wished us to be uncertain or instead has sent forth His own Son to pour out His blood doubtful of salvation. God is truthful, and His truth gives us certainty. A in atonement for the world’s sin, to be crushed by the weight of God’s wrath that in His righteousness sinners distinction must be made, Luther asserts, between the knowledge of God and the despair of God. We know nothing of the unrevealed God, the hidden God. God blocks 8 Gerhard Forde asserts, “I heard a rabbi in one of the memorial the path here. “We must confess that what is beyond our ceremonies for the destruction of the two World Trade Towers declaim that nothing or no one could convince us that God somehow willed comprehension is nothing for us to bother about.”10 We the terrible tragedy with all its attendant suffering and loss of life. But are to stick with the revealed God. “He who inquires into the problem is that such declamations, alas, do not hold. When all is the majesty of God shall be crushed by it.”11 God gives us said and done, the pain and sorrow and mourning continue…All such declamations accomplish is to throttle the preaching of the gospel. They His Son so that we may know that we are saved. Hence substitute lame explanations and shallow comfort where there should be proclamation.” Gerhard Forde, The Captivation of the Will (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 44–45.


Oswald Bayer, Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 1–8.




Theodore Tappert, ed., Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, nd), 132. Tappert, 132.

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we are “to begin at the bottom with the incarnate Son and with your terrible original sin.”12 We are to stick with Baptism and the preaching of God’s Word. Turning to his own experience, Luther recalls the consolation he received from Staupitz when vexed by the question of election. Staupitz directed him to the wounds of Christ wherein we have the mercy of God revealed; God is surely there for us. The example of Adam and Eve is a warning against every attempt to find God apart from His Word, for such an endeavor is more than spiritually frustrated; it ends in unbelief, for God wraps Himself in His promises of mercy and grace, and He will not let sinners access Himself in places other than His Gospel: Without the Word there is neither faith nor understanding. This is the invisible God. The path is blocked here. Such was the answer which the apostles received when they asked Christ when he would restore the kingdom to Israel, for Christ said, ‘It is not for you to know.’ Here God desires to be inscrutable and to remain incomprehensible.13 Apart from the baby of Bethlehem who goes on to suffer and die as the man of Calvary, God remains an evasive presence whose ways are inexplicable and whose power is condemnation. No comfort is to be found in the “hidden God” (deus absonditus) but only in the “revealed God” (deus revelatus) that is in Christ.14 Hence, theology and pastoral care begin below at manger and cross and not above in the majesty that terrifies. Paul … desires to teach Christian theology, which does not begin above in the utmost heights, but below in the profoundest depths … If you are concerned with your salvation, forget all ideas of law, all philosophical doctrines, and hasten to the crib and his mother’s bosom and see him, an infant, a growing child, a dying man. Then you will be able to escape all fear and errors. This vision will keep you on the right way. He (Luther) says the same in the briefest possible formula: “To seek God outside of Jesus is the Devil.”15 12





On God’s hiddenness, see the excellent treatment by Steven Paulson, “Luther’s Doctrine of God” in The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology, ed. Robert Kolb, Irene Dingel, L’ubomir Batka (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 187–200. Gerhard Ebeling, Luther: An Introduction to his Thought, trans. R.A. Wilson (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972), 235. 15

We are given only to hear the “preached God,” the Deus revelatus as Luther puts it it in The Bondage of the Will: The God who is preached and revealed to us, who gives himself to us and is worshipped by us, differs from the unpreached, unrevealed, not given, not worshipped God … The preached God purifies us from sin and death, so that we become holy. He sends his son to heal us. The God hidden in his majesty, however, does not weep bitterly over death and does not abolish it, rather this hidden God effects life, death, and everything in between. As such he has not become restrained in his Word; rather he has reserved for himself freedom above everything else.16

Divine mercy in word and deed Unexplainable tragedies bring pain and chaos. God leaves the wound open to use the words of Bayer.17 We cry out to God in lamentation in the face of events that defy our capacities for understanding. But the anguished lament ascends from the crucible of faith, not unbelief. It is a confession of trust in the God who works all things for the good of those who called (Rom. 8:28). Living in repentance and faith, we are freed from the inward turn of speculation that seeks to investigate the hidden God and instead we trust in the kindness and mercy of God revealed in Christ Jesus. With such a freedom we are liberated to rely on God’s promises and turn our attention to works of mercy to bring compassion and relief to those who suffer in this sinful world. What is the nature and shape of this mercy? Mercy is the Lord’s compassionate action toward sinful human beings in that He does not leave us alone with our sin, forsaking us to death and condemnation, but instead rescues us by His death and resurrection to live with Him. 16

Cited from LW 33:319 by Notger Slenczka, “God and Evil: Martin Luther’s Teaching on Temporal Authority and the Two Realms” Lutheran Quarterly XXVI (Spring 2012), 19–20. Commenting on this Luther text, Slenczka says “The way God works in the rubble of history might as well be called fate; either way, no person will ever understand the motives and intentions of the force which drives history” (20). In history the works of God remain “opaque” (21) as they are hidden to human beings. Compare with Werner Elert’s discussion of “fate” in An Outline of Christian Doctrine, trans. Charles M. Jacobs (Philadelphia: The United Lutheran Publication House, 1927), 33–36. Oswald Bayer, “Poetological Doctrine of the Trinity” Lutheran Quarterly (Spring 2001), 56. Also see Oswald Bayer, “Toward a Theology of Lament” in Caritas et Reformatio: Essays on Church and Society in Honor of Carter Lindberg. Edited by David M. Whitford (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2002): 211–220. Also see Bernd Janowski, Arguing with God: A Theological Anthropology of the Psalms, trans. Armin Siedlecki (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2013). 17

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Jesus Himself is the source of God’s mercy for humanity. The Lord puts that mercy into action in His preaching and miracles which all point to His death and resurrection which reconcile us to His Father. Mercy, Bayer reminds us, is not self-evident in this world.18 We do not see it in nature. We do not see mercy in the way of life in the world where the consequences of sin are all too evident. Mercy is what God does (See Ex. 34:6; Ps.103:2–4; Luke 1:46–55; Luke 1:68–79; Eph. 2:4–7; Titus 3:4–8; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 Peter 2:10, etc.). Mercy is not something we earn or deserve; it is a gift. That is why we speak of God’s mercy in an “ethic of gift.”19 Who we are and what we do is established by what we have been given. Think of the explanation of the First Article of the Creed in Luther’s Small Catechism, where the Reformer confesses that God the Father Almighty has “made me and all creatures … given me body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, and all that I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” We show mercy because we have received mercy from the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The triune God, in His mercy, has created, redeemed and sanctified us in body and soul. God’s mercy is proclaimed and enacted. Francis of Assisi is often quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel; use words if necessary.” If Saint Francis said it, he was wrong. The Gospel requires words for it is through Jesus’ words – words that are spirit and life – that faith is created and sustained. A wordless “ministry of presence” is quite presumptuous! We are to proclaim the deeds of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9–10), and this is nothing less than preaching the Word of the cross. In the face of inexplicable suffering, we proclaim the promise that there is 18

“Mercy is not self-evident. It cannot become an existential or epistemological principle. On the contrary mercy is actually something won and is something that, emerging, happens unpredictably. And so this justifying God is not simply and in principle merciful, so also is sinful man not simply and in principle on the receiving end of God’s mercy.” Oswald Bayer, “Mercy From the Heart” Logia XIX (Eastertide 2010), 30. See Oswald Bayer, “The Ethics of Gift” in Lutheran Quarterly XXIV (Winter 2010), 275–287. 19


no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1) and that even in these events, God is at work for the good of His children even though we cannot understand how this is so. The mercy that we proclaim and confess is also demonstrated as God uses us as “masks” from behind which He works to deliver mercy to those who suffer. One particularly potent example of this in Luther is his 1527 letter to the Breslau pastor John Hess on whether Christians may flee in times on plague. Just a few months before, in the summer of 1527, the plague struck Wittenberg. The university was relocated to Jena where it would remain until the following April. Even though the elector ordered Luther and his family to leave Wittenberg in August, he refused to do so. Instead, he continued lecturing on 1 John to the students who elected to remain in the town. Along with Bugenhagen and others, Luther would minister to the sick, dying and grieving. Luther referred to his home as a hospital. At the end of December after the epidemic had abated, Luther described his situation as hanging on to Christ by a thread even as Satan had bound him with an anchor chain and pulled him into the depths.20 It was against this backdrop that Luther answered Pastor Hess’s inquiry. Luther provides an answer from the context of Christian freedom as it is to be applied within one’s calling, where both the offices of faith and love are exercised. Faith trusts in God’s providential care in the face of danger, recognizing that one’s life is in God’s hands whether one stays or leaves. Believers are to commend themselves into God’s keeping whatever course of action they may take. So Luther writes: If anyone is bound to remain in peril of death in order to serve his neighbor, let him commit himself to God’s keeping and say: ‘Lord, I am in thy hands. Thou hast obligated me to serve here. Thy will be done, for I am thy poor creature. Thou canst slay or preserve me here as well as if I were duty bound to suffer fire, water, thirst, or some other danger.’ On the other hand, if anyone is not bound to serve his neighbor and is in a position to flee, let him also commit himself to God’s keeping and say: ‘Dear God, I am weak and afraid; I am therefore fleeing from this evil and am doing all that I can to defend myself against it. Nevertheless, I am in thy hands, whether See Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation 1521–1532, trans. James L. Schaaf (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 209. 20

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in this or some other evil that may befall me. Thy will be done. My flight will not save me, for evils and misfortunes will assail me everywhere and the devil, who is a murderer from the beginning and tries to commit murder and cause misfortune everywhere, does not sleep or take a holiday.’21 Noting that some insist that the believer must not flee a deadly epidemic but accept the affliction as God’s judgment enduring whatever fate may come in patience and unswerving faith, while other believers think it acceptable to leave if not bound by other obligations, Luther cautions that neither alternative is the grounds for inflicting the conscience of those who come to opposing conclusions. Those who are strong in faith may indeed wait the pestilence out, but they are not to bind those whose faith is weak to their opinion. “Let him who is strong in faith stay, but let him not condemn those who flee.”22 However, one may not flee an infected place if his calling to serve the neighbor is jeopardized. In cases where one’s office — that of a pastor, governmental official or medical worker, for example — obligates him to serve the suffering neighbor, then there is no question in Luther’s mind. He must stay even at the risk of his health and life in order to discharge duty to the neighbor. Drawing on Christ’s words in John’s Gospel (10:11–12) about the hireling who forsakes the flock when the thief comes, Luther concludes that faithful shepherds will not forsake those committed to their care in order to save their own lives. Here, Luther observes that there are two ways of fleeing death. One is to act contrary to God’s Word or to recant one’s confession of faith in order to preserve one’s own life. The other ungodly way of escaping death is to abandon the neighbor in order to save one’s self. This does not mean for Luther that the instinct to preserve one’s life is intrinsically wrong. He notes examples of Old Testament patriarchs and prophets who fled from death without abandoning their offices. Further, Luther suggests that if an adequate ministry is provided, not all pastors need remain in a time of crisis. Luther recalls the example of the apostle Paul in Damascus (see Acts 19:30) who slips out of the city to escape persecution. Given the fact that other ministers remained in Damascus to provide spiritual care for the Christians there, Paul was not himself bound to remain and face unnecessary danger. In a matter-of-fact manner, Luther offers the counsel that: 21

Tappert, 236.


Ibid., 235.

In time of death one is especially in need of the ministry which can strengthen and comfort one’s conscience with God’s Word and Sacrament in order to overcome death with faith. However, where enough preachers are available and they come to agreement among themselves that some of their number should move away because there is no necessity for their remaining in such danger, I do not count it a sin because an adequate ministry is provided, and, if need be, these would be ready and willing to stay.23 Luther does not call for impulsive heroism when the neighbor’s well-being is not at stake: “The instinct to flee death and save one’s life is implanted by God and is not forbidden, provided it is not opposed to God and the neighbor.”24 However, to neglect the well-being of the neighbor in body or soul is in sin. Not only pastors but those who hold secular offices needed to protect the common good are bound to stay at their posts. Drawing on God’s institution of governing authorities (Rom. 13:6) and parenthood (1 Tim. 5:8), Luther notes that these responsibilities override personal comfort and safety: “No one may forsake his neighbor when he is in trouble. Everybody is under obligation to help and support his neighbor as would himself like to be helped.”25 Having recently lectured to his university students on I John, Luther cites 1 John 1:14–17 where the apostle teaches that failure to love amounts to murder to instruct his readers as to what is at stake here. The Fifth Commandment binds us to care for the neighbor, helping and supporting him in every physical need. “Godliness,” Luther says, is “nothing but divine service, and divine service is service to one’s neighbor.”26 Christ hides behind the mask of the sick and needy to receive this service from us. To run away from an infected neighbor is to run away from Christ Himself. Luther’s letter to Pastor Hess gives expression to the place of faith and love in relationship to vocation. Faith that trusts in Christ alone is driven neither by foolish impulsiveness nor cowardice but by the confidence that living or dying, our lives are in the Lord’s hands. The language of Luther’s morning and evening prayers is expressed in the realization that God gives His holy angels 23

Ibid., 232.


Ibid., 233.


Ibid., 233


Ibid., 239. For a helpful discussion of Luther’s understanding of the positive demand of the fifth commandment, See Albrecht Peters, Commentary on Luther’s Catechisms: Ten Commandments, 226–232.

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charge over us. They watch over us in times of danger and protect us in ways that exceed our imagination. Love will risk all things — even life itself — to do good to the neighbor in need.

Praying for mercy In the face of suffering, we are bold to proclaim the mercy of God in the cross of Christ Jesus, to enact this mercy in our calling to serve the neighbor in need, but also to pray. The Lord’s Prayer, to use the words of Georg Vicedom, is a prayer that spans the world so in one sense the whole of this prayer is prayed out of the crucible of suffering, but it is in particular the Seventh Petition that Luther accents when it comes to the Christian’s supplication in the face of evil. Luther, in the Large Catechism, sees the Seventh Petition as directed against Satan “who obstructs everything for which we ask: God’s name or honor, God’s kingdom and will, our daily bread, a good and cheerful conscience etc.” In this petition where we summarize the Lord’s Prayer, he tutors believers to call upon the heavenly Father for “rescue from every evil of body and soul,” to use the language of the Small Catechism. Luther expands this in the Large Catechism: This petition includes all the evil that may befall us under the devil’s kingdom: poverty, disgrace, death, and, in short all the tragic misery and heartache, of which there is so incalculably much on earth. For the devil is not only a liar but a murderer as well, he incessantly seeks our life and vents his anger by causing accidents and injury to our bodies. He crushes some and drives others to injury; some he drowns in water, and many he hounds to suicide or other dreadful catastrophes (LC III:115, K/W, 455).27 The recognition of the presence of evil and the inevitability of suffering, Luther says, drives us to pray this petition that Jesus has given us. God has a love-hate relationship with afflictions. “God both loves and hates our afflictions. He loves them when they provoke us to prayer. He hates them when we are driven to despair by them.”28 Luther then goes on to spe27

Here see Albrecht Peters: “While the devil appeared in the Sixth Petition as a lying and seductive tempter, he now approaches as the destroyer of all the living, as the ‘murderer’ from the beginning onward. He ultimately stands behind the diversity of evil. Against him all the individual petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are directed” – Albrecht Peters, Commentary on Luther’s Catechisms, trans. Daniel Thies (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2011), 2004. 28

Tappert, 87.


cific biblical references to drive home this point. Coupling Ps. 50:23 (“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me”) and Ps.51:17 (“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart”), Luther seeks to demonstrate that even in the brokenness of affliction, the believer renders his life to God in the confidence that the Lord will remain true to His Word and not cast off those who hope in His mercy. Luther does not attempt to trivialize the pain, nor does he offer stoic-like advice to endure detached from the reality of one’s situation. Instead, the broken heart is offered up to God knowing that “the Lord hears the gentle sighs of the afflicted.”29

Two governments and God’s mercy Another aspect of Luther’s response to evil and suffering is seen in his understanding of the two kingdoms or the two governments.30 Both of these governments or realms are under lordship of the triune God but he is working with different means and toward different ends. Through the government of His right hand, God is establishing an eternal kingdom through the preaching of the Gospel for the forgiveness of sins. Through the government of the left hand, God is not bestowing salvation, but working to curb evil, to do damage control so that this old creation does not completely collapse into chaos. Evil itself does persist in this old world, and it will not be done away with until Christ Jesus returns and brings about the new heaven and earth (see Is. 65:17–25; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1– 25) In the meantime, He uses various callings or stations in life within the government of His left hand to curb evil both through the punishment of evil doers (Rom. 13) and caring bodily for those who suffer the effects of evil. Here think of physicians, nurses, rescue workers and the like. These offices are rightly confessed as good works of God, instruments through which God does His work of limiting the effects of evil in a fallen world that awaits its final redemption at the Day of the Lord. Luther’s pastoral response to suffering is multifac29



The literature on the two governments or two kingdoms is extensive. The treatments by Gerhard Ebeling are particularly helpful. See “The Necessity of the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms” in Gerhard Ebeling, Word and Faith, trans. James W. Leitch (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), 386–406 and “The Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of the World” in Gerhard Ebeling, Luther: An Introduction to His Thought, trans. R. A. Wilson (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970), 175–191. Also see James Nestingen, “The Two Kingdom’s Distinction: An Analysis and Suggestion” Word & World 19(Summer 1999), 268–275. For the purposes of this paper, the article by Notger Slenczka, “God and Evil: Martin Luther’s Teaching on Temporal Authority and the Two Realms” Lutheran Quarterly XXVI (Spring 2012), 1–25 is especially significant.

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eted and rich with evangelical insight. Unlike those who attempt to pry into heaven in search of an answer to the “Why?” question, Luther points to the “Who?” and “What then?” The God who is Lord over wind and wave, who kills and makes alive, is none other than the baby who rests on Mary’s lap and hangs on a Roman cross. In Him, we know the good and gracious will of God to save sinners by forgiving them their sins. He is the God who is for us in every way, and on the Last Day, He will raise the dead and give eternal life to all believers in Christ. In the meantime, He calls us by the Gospel to walk by faith, not sight, trusting in His promises. As we wait for that final day, we are not idle. The mercy we have received turns our lives toward those in need of mercy. Indeed, hidden in their suffering is the Lord Himself. To care for them is to care for Christ.

The Rev. John T. Pless is assistant professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., where he also serves as director of field education.

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Giving Thanks in Times of Adversity and Strife

How can we remain trusting and grateful even during times of disaster?

by William Weedon

They sing of Christ and believe in the comfort of Christ against the darkness. They hold tight to the joy of what will be when Christ renews all things.

thanks for the new life of Baptism, for the gift of the Savior’s body and blood, for our forgiveness and eternal life. is indeed right and salutary and that People loved by God, these are gifts that are stable. They we should at all times, and in all places, are secure. They cannot be shaken when everything else give thanks to you holy Lord, almighty in your life wobbles and falls to the ground. The Church Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” goes on speaking and singing and proclaiming out into At all times, in all places. the world these unshakable promises of Christ. Through Really? When the tornado or the war and bloodshed, through tempest typhoon has swept through and oblitand plague, through persecution and We are a people who erated houses, businesses, church, death, she goes on raising to heaven lives? When plague snatches children belong to an age that is a song of thanks and praise for Jesus from their parents’ arms? And parents Christ, who overcame death from the truly coming and that from their children? And neighbor grave and who opened the kingdom all will finally see, but begins to look at neighbor in fear of heaven to all believers. and suspicion? When war arises and The Church is paradise restored. that now is hidden and sweeps over an area and brings what Have you ever thought about how often hidden deeply war always brings: rape, pillaging, Isaiah describes what Eden really torture and bloodshed? When the was? Look at these words: “The Lord beneath suffering. earth trembles beneath your feet and comforts Zion. He comforts all her houses topple, roads lay in pieces and waste places and nature wilderness even water is hard to come by? When fire sweeps out of like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord.” Now, the mountains and consumes houses and lives? When do you know your Hebrew parallelism? What’s it then to weeping and sorrow become your daily bread, such are be like Eden, like the garden of the Lord? Look! Joy and really times and places for thanksgiving? Really? gladness will be found in her thanksgiving, in the voice Really! The words tumble off our lips, week in and of a song. She sings out the Lord’s comfort for Zion, for a week out, and we seldom think how radical they are, how suffering people, a comfort that reaches the waste places, the whole Church of Jesus Christ is solidly grounded all the places where her life has become wilderness and in the age to come. That’s what you are. That’s what the desolation. She has the power to change things, and she Church of Jesus Christ is. It’s a colony from the future. We changes them by singing. She changes them by singing are a people who belong to an age that is truly coming praise and thanksgiving to God. She makes the desert and that all will finally see, but that now is hidden and bloom as she trumpets the promises of God. often hidden deeply beneath suffering. The Church of So, let’s look at this in Lutheran history. What does Jesus Christ has stood for these 20 centuries before high it look like in operation? Let’s look at a small town in altar or lowly table, and she has sung out her praise and Westphalia, Germany, in 1597 called Unna and observe her thanks to God, the Father, for the gift of His Son, a tragedy in the making and its pastor’s response. AnyJesus Christ. Come hell or high water, the Church gives body know the name of the pastor? The pastor’s name was



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Nicolai. He saw his congregation decimated by plague. Think about this in your life – 300 funerals in his congregation in the month of July alone! And it didn’t stop. By the time the plague ran its course in January 1598, a course of seven months, more than 1,000 lives were lost. I suppose he could have fled the plague, but then again he had Luther’s words. Luther wrote in his little document on whether you could flee the plague. He says, “Those who are engaged in a spiritual ministry such as preachers and pastors must likewise remain steadfast before the peril of death. We have a plain command from Christ, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, but the hireling sees the wolf coming and flees.” When people are dying, they need a spiritual ministry that strengthens and comforts their consciences by Word and Sacrament, and in faith, overcomes death. So, Nicolai wasn’t about to flee; he stayed put, and he preached and he kept on baptizing because children still were born. He kept on administering the Sacrament every Sunday, and he prayed for his congregation over and over again. He visited the sick and the dying constantly, and he buried some more. And what do you think he also did? Well, what would else would you do if you had 300 funerals a month … hmm … what would you do? He decides to write a book! The name of the book is Freudenspiegel (Mirror of Joy), meaning “the joy of eternal life”. It’s a great book. Here are the opening words: As often as I call to mind, the surpassing comfort of the promise of eternal life in our heavenly home, my heart bursts out with joy, and my soul rejoices in God my Savior. Oh, think of it, there we believing Christians will behold with joyful eyes, the almighty King of glory, our only Redeemer and Savior, Jesus Christ, who for us trampled the ancient serpent. There, we will gather with the holy patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, and there we will see again with overflowing joy those we loved on earth, father, mother, brothers, and sisters, husband and wife, children, and all our acquaintances who have blessedly fallen asleep in the Lord and have gone before us in the true faith. There, God will wipe away all tears from our eyes, and He will transform our morning into dancing. He will clothe us with joy so that our hearts rejoice for all eternity, and this awesome joy no one can ever take from us. There we will enter into the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. We will be brought into the company of

many thousands of angels and to the assembly of the first born who are written in heaven, and in that place, joy will simply overwhelm us as we contemplate the awesome gifts that our God has bestowed on us. To think that heaven should be ours, that everything which Christ has is now our imperishable heavenly treasure. God Himself will be our very great reward, our temple, our light, and our awe. Why would we trade all the world’s perishable splendor, honor, joy, and glory for what God has in store for us? Our future is that we will see and laugh together with the holy angels. Indeed, the entire heavenly host will call us blessed because we believed in Jesus Christ and trusted His unfailing word even today. Okay, that’s just the opening of the book! It goes on like that, page after page, joy after joy, and I will tell you my personal favorite is the middle of the book. He is just talking about Adam and Eve and paradise, and he says, “How did they know that they were naked?” This one just blows me away. He said, “Well, they knew that they were naked because their bodies stopped shining.” Because of sin, all of us had fallen short of the glory of God, and our bodies no longer shined the way God meant them to and the way they will in the Resurrection. I’ve never thought about Genesis the same way again. Anyway, it’s a great book, but that’s just the beginning, and yet you can see it puts a smile on your face, thanksgiving in your heart. And guess what else it does? It puts a song on your lips. Nicolai also wrote a few songs. One is known as the queen of the Lutheran chorales, a spiritual bride-song of the soul who believes in Jesus Christ, our heavenly bridegroom, based on Psalm 45, a song of the bride of Christ to, her beloved bridegroom. We are not going to sing all of it today, because we don’t have time to sing all these, but we are going to sing a little piece of it. He wrote a second hymn that’s the midnight call of the wise virgins who greet the bridegroom. We’re going to sing this one now. Okay, everybody, let’s go: Almighty Father, in Your Son / You loved us when not yet begun / Was this old earth’s foundation! Your Son has ransomed us in love / To live in Him here and above: This is Your great salvation. / Alleluia! Christ the living, / To us giving Life forever, / Keeps us Yours and fails us never! O let the harps break forth in sound! / Our joy be all with music crowned, / Our voices gladly blending! / For Christ goes with us all the way — / Today, tomorrow, ev’ry day! / His love is never ending! / Sing out! Ring out! / Jubilation!

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Exultation! Tell the story! / Great is He, the King of Glory! (LSB 395:4–5). Do you see what he did? He took the promises, and he wrapped them up in music, and he gave them to his people, so they could take them in hand and throw them at death and throw them at fear, so that they could rejoice in God and give thanks to the Father in all circumstances. Let’s do the other one too. Last verse of this one. Here we go: Now let all the heaven’s adore Thee; / Let saints and angels sing before Thee / With harp and cymbal’s clearest tone. / Of one pearl each shining portal, / Where dwelling with the choir immortal, / We gather round Thy radiant throne. / No eye has seen the light, / No ear has heard the might / Of Thy glory. / Therefore will we eternally, / sing hymns of praise and joy to thee (LSB 516:3). In the face of unspeakable tragedy, to families where mothers had lost sons, and daughters their fathers, and sisters their brothers, and brothers their sisters, and husbands their wives, with absolutely no family left untouched by the horror of death, square in the midst of unspeakable tragedy, faithful Pastor Nicolai wrote and sang the hope of heaven into the hearts of his people. It’s the fulfillment of “in at all times and in all places.” Is it any wonder that these two pieces became known as the king and queen of the two chorales? They just are amazing for what they give us. I don’t know about you, but I think that it is high treason for a Lutheran, for any Christian, to be deprived of the comfort and the joy of such great hymns, and they abound. Those are just two, but in Reformation hymns, they shine at its finest. They sing of Christ and belief in the comfort of Christ against the darkness. They hold tight to the joy of what will be when Christ renews all things. They proclaim Christ is your Christ, and Christ will come again, and they add the promise, “And He did it all for you!” So, they do what the Communion preface summons us to do. They become the vehicles for giving thanks to God, even in times of tragedy and loss. These songs are like David’s stones aimed at Goliath’s head. So, they really capture what St. Paul sang about: “Whom shall separate us from the love of Christ? You think trouble is going to do it? Tribulation? Distress? Persecution? What about not having anything to eat? Or not having any clothes? Or danger? As it written, for your sake, we are being killed all day long. We are counted like sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through


Him who loves us. I’m sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present or things to come, nor fires, nor death, nor anything in all creation is ever going to be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” So, there was another one. His name was Paul Gerhardt. He is known as “the man sifted in Satan’s sieve.” Well, he happened to be a good preacher. So, all the good confessional Lutherans hated him because he kind of showed them up. He didn’t like to argue and fight. The real hard-nosed people thought he wasn’t hard-nosed enough, and he was unyieldingly Lutheran. When the prince said, “You are going to stop preaching that doctrine of the Lutheran Lord’s Supper, or you are going to lose your job, buddy,” he said, “So fire me.” The prince did. After losing four of his five children and his wife, Gerhardt had only one son left, and he had been restored to the ministry of the Church for just about two years when he was approaching his 70s. In his 70th year, he decided to write a will. He didn’t have anything to give his son, no earthly goods at all, except for some pieces of advice. I’m not going to actually give you the pieces of advice, but listen, listen to the opening of this man’s will: After reaching the 70th year of my life and truly having a joyful hope in my loving and gracious God that in a short time He will deliver me from this world and lead me into a much better life than I’ve had so far on this earth, I thank God ahead of time for all the kindness and faithfulness He has given me and demonstrated, even from my mother’s womb, in body and soul, everything until this hour. I pray from the bottom of my heart that He would grant me, when my last hour comes, a happy departure and take my soul into His fatherly hand. Give my body a gentle rest on the earth until He returns on the wonderful judgment day, and then I will be with all my family whom have died and with those who will die in the future, and I will awaken to see my precious Lord Jesus in whom I believe even though I have never seen Him. I will see Him then, face to face. Are you shocked then to learn that a man who could write that at the end of such a miserable ministry would be key in leading us to sing in thanksgiving to God at all times and in all places? Of course not. Here is another one. It’s not as popular as the two that we just did, but I want you to sing it with me again, and I need you up here again to go verse by verse with us here. It’s a beautiful little tune too. Think of that life that I just described to you,

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and then think of these words: Why should cross and trial grieve me? / Christ is near / With His cheer; / Never will He leave me. / Who can rob me of the heaven / That God’s Son / For me won / When His life was given? When life’s troubles rise to meet me, / Though their weight / May be great, / They will not defeat me. / God, my loving Savior, sends them; / He who knows / All my woes / Knows how best to end them (LSB 756:1–2). Think of this verse: God gives me my days of gladness, / And I will / Trust Him still / When He sends me sadness. / God is good; His love attends me / Day by day, / Come what may, / Guides me and defends me. From God’s joy can nothing sever, / For I am / His dear lamb, / He, my Shepherd ever; / I am His because He gave me / His own blood / For my good, / By His death to save me. Now in Christ, death cannot slay me, / Though it might, / Day and night, / Trouble and dismay me; / Christ has made my death a portal / From the strife / Of this life / To His joy immortal! (LSB 756:3–5). Thank you. Do you notice the theme of joy again? This is a hymn written by a man who had lost so much, who had suffered so much, but all he could think to do is sing to praise to God in his time of suffering, in his hour of disaster. I could point you to so many more in our hymn book, old and new. We are going to do “In Thee Is Gladness.” This is the joy of the Lord as your strength, like Nehemiah said. Here we go: In Thee is gladness / Amid all sadness, / Jesus, sunshine of my heart. / By Thee are given / The gifts of heaven, / Thou the true Redeemer art. / Our souls Thou wakest, / Our bonds Thou breakest; / Who trusts Thee surely / Has built securely; / He stands forever: Alleluia! / Our hearts are pining / To see Thy shining, / Dying or living / To Thee are cleaving; / Naught can us sever: Alleluia! If He is ours, / We fear no powers, / Not of earth nor sin nor death. / He sees and blesses / In worst distresses; / He can change them with a breath. / Wherefore the story / Tell of His glory / With hearts and voices; / All heaven rejoices / In Him forever: Alleluia! / We shout for gladness, / Triumph o’er sadness, / Love Him and praise Him / And still shall raise Him / Glad hymns forever: Alleluia! (LSB 818:1–2). Do you notice that theme? “And we’ll raise Him glad hymns forever?” That’s what heaven’s all about. When you get there, that’s what it’s going to be: singing the praises

of the Lord forever, in joy and gladness. Right now, the Church on earth gives a foretaste, a teasing taste of that blessedness of that heaven itself. That is the very gift of the Church’s worship in times of disaster. She shouts for gladness. She triumphs over sadness, loving and praising and still raising our wonderful triune God. She can do this because of the one before whom she stands and for whom she sings. He is no stranger to suffering. He knows what it is to be a refugee in a foreign land, hunted down. He knows what it is to go without food and of hunger. He knows what it is to be homeless. He knows what it is to be so tired that you just can’t put one more foot in front of the other. He knows what it is to have friends die and to cry beside their bodies. He knows, in His own flesh, the hatred of those who think that they offer God’s service by dishing out torture and violence. He knows it all, and through it all, His love did not fail. His love remains strong and secure and firm through it all. So, He has a life that does not end, and that is where He reaches us, and that is what the gift of the Church is, a gift of a love so strong that no hatred thrown its way is going to be able to overcome it, a joy so big, and the forgiveness of sin and gift of eternal life that nothing that is tossed our way will be able to destroy it. We have done a few examples from standard Lutheran hymnody, but a few years ago, one of my close friends, Randy Asbury, went to Sudan and visited with Lutherans there who many times suffered greatly from their Muslim neighbors, and he learned there a song they sing as they face intense persecution. I wish I could sing it for you. I can’t. Look at the English words though: Come and see. Come and see. Hallelujah! Nothing can defeat our God. Hallelujah! Nothing can defeat God. Come and see. Love is filled. Hallelujah! Nothing can defeat God. Hallelujah! Nothing can defeat God. Though you don’t have food? Hallelujah! Nothing can defeat God. Hallelujah! Nothing can defeat God. Though you don’t have your mother? Hallelujah! Nothing can defeat God. Hallelujah! Nothing can defeat God. Though you don’t have your father? Hallelujah! Nothing can defeat God. Hallelujah! Nothing can defeat God. Though you don’t have your son? Hallelujah! Nothing can defeat God. Halleluiah! Nothing can defeat God.

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This is the Church. She goes on singing and offering praise and thanksgiving to the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in one unbroken sacrifice of praise. This is the big point I hope you get: When things are going pretty good for you in your life, that’s the time for you to practice the praise, the hymns, the songs, so that you can continue to sing them when tragedy strikes, whether it’s a big communal tragedy like you all are here to talk about, the horrible mess that we just heard of in Lebanon and Syria, or whether it’s the doctor walking back in to your room and having a look on his face so that he doesn’t really need to say anything else. All of liturgy and hymnody to God is practice. The real moment will come that we are all rehearsing for, because what we want to do as the people of God is to march our way through the gate of death, singing its defeat, singing sin’s forgiveness, singing Christ’s victory in life that has no end. We want to look its horror and its stink right in the face, and as the Church of God announce and declare, “You have not won. You have won nothing at all. We are baptized. We live on promises stronger than you.” So, spend the time when things are not falling apart, singing and teaching yourself and others the songs that will sustain you when everything begins to fall apart. Will you pardon me if I throw one more at you? It’s an old German hymn. Luther’s musician, Johann Walter, wrote the hymn. It’s got a lively tune written by Pistorius. Pistorius is really important, because he had to live through a bit of the ups and downs of 30 Years War. What happens to your worship when you don’t have musicians? Your music gets simple, but it doesn’t stop singing. The joy doesn’t stop. You may not have all the orchestra up there to make the beautiful sound that you are accustomed to, but you still sing, and you still bless God. So, we’re going to close by singing together the words of “The Bridegroom Soon Will Call Us.” This is a real treasure of a hymn. It goes like this: The Bridegroom soon will call us, / “Come to the wedding feast.” / May slumber not befall us / Nor watchfulness decrease. / May all our lamps be burning / With oil enough and more / That we, with Him returning, / May find an open door! It’s a dance, and look, the joy keeps unfolding verse by verse. Next verse:

martyrs greet us / In that celestial land. The Church is never alone. In the Church, it’s always together. That’s why I dislike the hymn “I Come to the Garden Alone.” Nonsense! No one comes to the garden alone! You come to the garden with all of God’s people! And so when you’re welcomed home, you’re not alone. The patriarchs are there. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. He’s there to throw your arms around. Joseph! The story of Joseph, right? Disaster after disaster! How can God possibly bring good out of this? Sitting in prison, wondering, “Has God forgotten me?” And then the exaltation, and it all comes out and paints such a picture of Jesus. He’s there waiting to meet you, to put those arms around you and say, “See, it comes out good in the end! You meant it for evil. God meant it for good for the saving of many lives, lives to this day.” Verse 3: There God shall from all evil / Forever make us free, / From sin and from the devil, / From all adversity, / From sickness, pain, and sadness, / From troubles, cares, and fears, / And grant us heav’nly gladness / And wipe away our tears. And it has to end in music because that’s where it is. In that fair home shall never / Be silent music’s voice; / With hearts and lips forever / We shall in God rejoice, / While angel hosts are raising / With saints from great to least / A mighty hymn for praising / The Giver of the feast (LSB 514:1–4). At all times and in all places, giving thanks to God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. That’s what the Church does at times of disaster and in times of peace: she prepares us to face the moments of calamity and the joys of our sin’s forgiveness and in the certainty of death’s defeat and in the joy of eternal life. That’s it. The Rev. William Weedon is the LCMS director of Worship and International Center chaplain.

There shall we see in glory / Our dear Redeemer’s face; / The long-awaited story / Of heav’nly joy takes place: / The patriarchs shall meet us, / The prophets’ holy band; / Apostles,


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Sharing The Gospel in Time of Suffering by Carl C. Fickenscher II

Does God’s Word give us anything to say in times of disaster?


n the spring of 2005, just a few months after the very clear that he was emotionally and perhaps even devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean, Dec. 26, spiritually very empty. Feeling the trauma to his parish — 2004, I had the — I think I can call it — the pleasure and imagine 380 funerals in a very short period of time or the joy (while it was mixed with a lot that wasn’t joy and the kind of toll that took! — as we sat with him in or pleasure at all) of touring, along with Synod President his office (he was behind his desk and we were around Harrison (who at the time was executive director of the desk in front of him and asking questions), frankly, LCMS World Relief and Human Care), those places in it was a matter of sensitivity. It couldn’t be like doing an India and Indonesia that were hit very hard. Our mission interview. It was very clear that he was having difficulty, was certainly not to fix things by any means. We clearly even five months later, talking to us at all, though he was understood that we were there to listen and to learn, and very gracious to invite us to be there. The words came so it was a learning experience if ever painfully, so slowly. there could be one! It was a listening He said when the tsunami experience. In the process, many Many things we might happened, it was a Sunday images were exceedingly memorable morning. A week went by before say are anything but and painfully so. Sunday worship services again. comforting, but the And to me, the most memorable, The following Sunday he did not cross of Christ, fully and in a way the most painful, image feel up to addressing the disaster in actually was one day when we went the sermon. In fact, he said it was understood with all its to a fishing village in southern India, more than a month before he felt he ramifications, always near the southern tip of India, and could address it in a sermon at all. gives us a word of we visited a particular parish there. And even now as he described it, comfort to share. We arrived in the village, and the first he described feeling very empty in thing we were shown was essentially addressing the question, even from the vacant lot next to the Roman God’s Word. So traumatic! Such a Catholic parish house, which had become a cemetery for stressful event for him, he felt it was! And we understand 380 members of this parish. It had been a vacant lot (or that. Well, we actually can’t begin to understand that, but maybe it hadn’t been vacant but had become vacant when we imagine. He had a difficult time finding anything that the water rushed in), but now it was filled with the graves he felt God’s Word would say to this situation. That’s really of members of this relatively small Catholic congregation the question I’d like to begin with: Does God’s Word really in this fishing village. We then went in and visited with give us anything to say in these times of suffering? the local parish priest, a man in his thirties who had been We know the answer is going to be yes. But we can there for just three or four years. imagine that in some moments, in some situations, it’s But that had included the very significant Sunday difficult to find what God’s Word says. It’s also true that morning about five months before. Obviously some God’s Word gives us a lot of cautions about some things time had passed, and that was a chance for him to have not to say. some perspective, but in his sharing with us, it was still It’s interesting: When you think about the Scriptures

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in light of situations like this, it’s not quite as easy as we might think to find passages that really apply. You know that the Bible unquestionably does talk about all kinds of disasters. It talks about all kinds of crises. It talks about huge kind of cataclysms — like there was a really big flood once, and it wiped out a whole lot of people! And there have been plagues — ten of them in one shot once, and other plagues like in Jerusalem in the days of David when thousands were killed. And there’ve been wars that have ravaged God’s people, and there’s been fire sent down from heaven at dramatic moments when it would wipe out 50 soldiers once and 50 soldiers again and 50 soldiers a third time. Countless other such disasters occur in Holy Scripture. So you’d think the Bible would have answers for almost any crisis situation. The interesting thing, though, is that as we begin to unpack those particular narratives, those historic events described in Scripture that describe these kinds of situations, the truth is, most of them don’t fit all that well into the kinds of situations that we’ve been talking about. If you stop to think about that, I think it’s really true. Those situations in Scripture, for the most part, are different from the situations we address in one of several ways. Sometimes in Scripture there’s a clear explanation about God doing something as a direct punishment for some kind of sin. God sends the Babylonians to carry Judah off into captivity, and we know why. God sends a flood, and we know why. There’s direct, clear punishment involved. On the other hand, for us, as we deal with disasters today, there’s usually a total absence of explanation. You think about the situation with Job. Although Job never gets an explanation, we’ve got one. We know there’s that heavenly dialogue ahead of time that Job is unaware of even at the end of the book. In the Bible, we usually get some kind of explanation or some clear word that a disaster is a direct punishment for sin. In our day, we don’t get that explanation. Of course, there are lots of other disasters or near-disasters in Scripture where God as Christ Himself during His ministry delivers people right there on the spot from starvation or from illness or from some other kind of suffering. But we usually don’t see that happen in the disasters we face today.

Some Law for the preacher to hear With most of the crisis situations we address, we don’t get a clear word if it is a punishment for sin nor do we get any other kind of explanation. And we aren’t seeing Jesus enter the scene and still the storm. So when you stop to


think, it is probably not as easy as we might presume to find within the Bible ready, easy answers for suffering. Of course, the Bible has lots to say about these situations, but it’s not as obvious as one might think. This leads us to some important cautions. We’ll identify these as “don’ts.” This is “some Law for the preacher to hear.” We’ll also look at Gospel that the preacher absolutely does have to proclaim. But for now, let’s talk about some cautions, some “don’ts,” the six of them are wake-up calls in terms of God’s Word in what it doesn’t say or tells us not to say in times of responding to suffering. Some of these are fairly obvious. In our theology, they’re fairly clear, but they’re not so obvious to everybody else.

1. Don’t presume to read God’s mind. This of course is the matter of the Deus absconditus (the hidden will of God). Perhaps some of you here from the United States remember, in August 2012, Hurricane Isaac was coming out of the Caribbean and looked as if it was going to hit the mainland of the U.S. somewhere. Eventually it did. But it looked initially as if it was headed for Florida, and then it turned away and actually hit New Orleans, the same basic landing spot as Hurricane Katrina a number of years earlier. Pat Robertson — a televangelist in the United States, a non-denominational, evangelical Christian — decided he figured out what God had in mind. Guess what it was: the Republican National Convention was about to begin in Florida, and Pat Robertson decided that God had protected the Republicans. “Rejoice!” Or clear your throat and wonder if Pat Robertson was going where he might not have been wise to go. It’s just possible that wasn’t really what God had in mind. Sometimes when we’re addressing crises, we can fall into a similar fallacy. Job is the classic example here. God doesn’t explain Himself to Job. God did tell us in chapters 1 and 2 what was going on. But then there’s the lengthy dialogue between Job and his friends in chapter 3 all the way through chapter 37, and there’s one speculation after another after another after another about what’s on God’s mind. Job’s friends, they’ve got an answer. Job isn’t too sure, and eventually Job loses that “patience of Job” and is ready to take God to task when God shows up finally in chapter 38. Remember what God does in chapters 38 through chapter 42. What he doesn’t do is say, “Hey, Job, you’ve been good about this. You’ve hung tough through all of

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this, and you’ve finally reached the breaking point. Well, back in chapters 1 and chapter 2, see, there was this dialogue where the devil came before the sons of God and said, ‘You know this guy Job. The only reason he’s faithful to you is because you’re making things so nice for him. If things get tough for him, he’ll curse you to your face and die.’ ” We, the readers, know that part of the story, and I almost wish God had told the poor guy. But He doesn’t. In fact, what God says there from the whirlwind in chapter 38 and following is simply to say, essentially, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth, when I told the waves, thus far no farther?” Bottom line: “You’re not getting that information out of me even now, Job.” What God does tell Job is vastly more wonderful. But God doesn’t give Job His explanation for what’s been going on. And that’s an important caution. We mustn’t presume to read God’s mind and try to explain why disasters have happened when God doesn’t tell us.

2. Don’t assign guilt where God’s Word doesn’t. This even sounds like an awful thing to do, and again, our theology warns us wisely against it. But it’s not universal to recognize this as an error, not only among nondenominational evangelical Christians, but also among many of our own Lutheran members. I remember very vividly in my own experience in my last congregation one of my dear members, who served many years on the board of elders, had an automobile accident, and he was quite sure that he must be guilty of some particular sin that had caused his accident. He didn’t know what the sin might be, but he was pretty sure that there must be something he had done that was the reason God caused this accident. The accident was very serious. He did survive, but it was very serious indeed. Consider Hurricane Katrina, the other recent New Orleans hurricane, in August 2005. In the minds of some people, there was a clear explanation for why the hurricane happened. According to some, it was because of New Orleans’ reputation as one of America’s “sin cities.” For them, this had to be the reason Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. We remember, of course, John chapter 9, where the disciples, like most of the Jews in Jesus’ day, had that same line of thinking: The man is born blind; we know one of two things happened. Either he sinned before he was born, or his parents were guilty of some kind of sin before he was born. One or the other caused God to zap him with blindness from birth. But Jesus says that’s not it. Again, Jesus doesn’t give us

the full explanation. He does tell us in this instance that it’s going to be an opportunity for Christ Himself to give glory to God by working a wonderful miracle, which, again, we wish he’d do every time there’s a disaster. But the point here is that the disciples weren’t to see this man’s blindness as God punishing him for some particular sin. In the same way, it’s not for us to imagine that New Orleans is guiltier of sin than somewhere else, say, Houston, Texas, that Houston is spared and New Orleans is struck. When disasters or suffering strike, we mustn’t presume to assign guilt where God’s Word doesn’t.

3. Don’t assume the victims are innocent either. Some of you may remember that after the 9/11 tragedy, there was a widely circulated cartoon with the Twin Towers, that iconic view, and above it a cloud of three thousand souls going up to heaven. The implication was they were all innocents killed by terrorists, so people picture them innocently received into heaven. We’d like to think that everyone who dies in a tragedy automatically goes to heaven. That would be a cushion that would seem to make everything turn out better. But, of course, we know this is not the case. Remember in Luke chapter 13 the whole tower of Siloam thing? We can assume that those killed when that tower fell were innocent victims, and yet Jesus says, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5). That wasn’t specifically identifying those eighteen as particularly sinful, but it was recognizing that they, we, all, are anything but innocent. We are all sinful, not of a particular sin to which we could assign guilt for causing a disaster, but neither are we without sinful involvement in this fallen world. When disaster strikes, we mustn’t speak as if those who died are automatically received into heaven, as if they were all innocent and holy and deserving of heaven.

4. Don’t forget that “disaster” is whatever disaster is to the sufferer. A Doctor of Ministry graduate from our seminary a few years ago, Pastor Mark Nuckols, a very well-decorated U.S. Army chaplain, was called to his current parish in Austin, Texas, and it was a very short time thereafter when he was called up to deploy to Iraq. While deployed, he saw traumatic scenes one would expect a chaplain to see and minister to in war. Mark actually had two deployments to Iraq; another one just a couple of years later. He said that in his second return from deployment, he was a wiser pastor than he had been after the first

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deployment, because he learned something. The first time when he came back, he would be sitting in his office, and he would have church members come to him with issues that were very important to them. They would say, “Pastor, I just lost my job,” or “Pastor, my son is having trouble in his high school.” And Pastor Nuckols confesses that that first time back, his reaction was, “Get a life! Guys are losing their lives where I just was. I was ministering to people who’d seen their friends blown apart. What’s the big problem? What’s the crisis? What’s the disaster?” Pastor Nuckols realized later that suffering is relative to the sufferer. A seemingly lesser issue to him was a disaster to the one suffering it. It was a very big deal to the church member going through it. It was a situation for which his pastoral care really needed to be every bit as sensitive as it had been eight thousand miles away a month earlier. In fact, the second time back from deployment he was very appreciative of one of the projects of our Synod, Project Barnabas, that enables chaplains returning from deployment to have a decompressing time while his congregation remains covered by another pastor filling in. This need to be sensitive to whatever seems to be a disaster to the person suffering it is very real. We certainly realize that there are crises that might objectively be measured as huge, and others we wouldn’t call crises at all. But we remember what Jesus says about the smallest things, like a cup of water given because someone is His disciple (Matt. 10:42). You see, Jesus cares about a person who’s parched with thirst. To Jesus, that’s a really big deal. So as we care for those who are facing small disasters, it’s important that we not forget that it is a real disaster, if they see it as such.

5. Don’t promise what God doesn’t promise. A number of years ago, there were two tragic events within a couple months of each other: Payne Stewart, a professional golfer here in the United States and a Christian who had been wonderfully outspoken in his Christian faith, died while piloting a private plane. He was all alone in the sky, and for whatever reason, he crashed and was killed. Not long after, a player in the National Football League was involved in a car accident. This man also professed to be an evangelical Christian. (I won’t give his name, because this might make him sound as if he isn’t sincere.) He claimed as he was heading off the road toward a tree, he just threw up his hands — took them off the steering wheel — and said, “Jesus, take over!” He survived with just a few scratches. Later, this football


player was speaking about the experience — and this may have been intended to be a testimony to the trust we can have in the Lord — he said God had saved him because he was a Christian. A reporter then asked him, “What about Payne Stewart? He was a Christian, too, and he died in his plane crash.” The football player said, “Well, if he had just turned it over to the Lord, he wouldn’t have.” The reporter asked, “Do you know that he didn’t turn it over to the Lord?” And the player said, “I bet he didn’t, because he died.” This football player, I’m sure well-meaning, was saying that if you’re trusting in the Lord, everything is going to be fine. If you’re trusting in the Lord, no automobile accident, no plane crash will hurt you. Hurricanes won’t get you. Earthquakes won’t get you. That’s trying to promise something that God definitely does not promise. And there are countless ways this is described in Scripture, including the promise Jesus does make to His disciples that you’re going to bear crosses and that some of those things are going to be pretty big disasters. There’s also the example in Habakkuk, one of the suffering passages that is kind of intriguing. You do have the situation there where God’s people are going to suffer, and we know in this case as well that God’s people stand under condemnation; that’s a problem in Judah already. But then Habakkuk raises the concern that “While it’s true our people here — your people, Lord — are sinning, the fact is that the Chaldeans are worse. So how come they’re going to get the upper hand and innocent people among the people of Judah are going to die?” We don’t know why, but it is true that many of God’s faithful people also died when the Chaldeans destroyed Jerusalem. God doesn’t promise that His people will never suffer. Don’t promise what God doesn’t promise. That’s the “prosperity gospel,” and it’s misleading.

6. But don’t settle for proclaiming less than God promises. Now, God promises that by faith in Christ Jesus we’re going to be in heaven. You’re going to get to go to heaven. It’s impossible to imagine a greater promise. And without question that is the promise that is the answer for believers in Christ who we know have perished in a disaster, loved ones who we know are believers in Christ and have now died. There’s the ultimate answer: they get to go to heaven. But the fact is we don’t need to proclaim the Gospel to believers in Christ who have died. They don’t need it anymore. We are called to proclaim the comfort

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of the Gospel to those who are grieving, mourning over lost ones, wondering what the next steps in life for them will be. Whether it’s a congregation in Pilger, Neb., that doesn’t have a church building now; whether it’s a family in New Orleans who doesn’t have a home now; whether it’s someone who’s lost his or her job; or whatever the particular loss may be, those are the people we’re addressing. And while “you get to go to heaven by faith in Christ” is the greatest promise that we get to apply again and again and one that always, always has relevance, because the ultimate future does impact our present, this isn’t the only thing God promises. Don’t promise less than God promises. Be bold to proclaim every promise that God gives. And some of them go beyond “you get to go to heaven someday.”

Gospel for the preacher to proclaim All that Law we’ve been given is for us as preachers or as people who are sharing God’s Word privately with their friends in crisis situations — those who are the speakers. Those are the “don’ts” — serious cautions to consider. But there’s also Gospel for us to speak, Gospel that people are comforted to hear when we proclaim it even in the most difficult times of suffering, which brings us to our very important “do’s.” In order to be Gospel — and this is crucial — what we say has to be one particular thing. At times of suffering, times of crisis, disasters, when it is really difficult to know what to say, a lot of things are said and spoken that may not be Gospel. They may be helpful, practical, sympathetic and gentle and, therefore, have value. But we’re talking about sharing the Gospel in times of suffering. And Gospel is more than just a nice touch on the hand. It’s more than just figuring out how we’re going to rebuild the town that’s been destroyed by a tornado. Gospel is something a lot more specific than that. St. Paul gives us some very helpful counsel on what that is. In fact, Paul is really very clear on what we say any time we seek to proclaim. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). That’s an amazing thing for him to be saying. Paul had spent a year-and-a-half in Corinth, a very lengthy stop, one of the longest of his whole missionary experience, and all that time he was there, he really only talked about one thing: Jesus Christ and Him crucified. In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses such diverse issues as meat sacrifices, adultery, misunderstandings of the resurrection, schisms and so many others. Yet Paul

says here at the beginning of the book that it’s all Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It’s all the cross of Christ. We’ve got no problem with that when we’re telling people they get to go to heaven someday, because there’s no other way to heaven except by what Jesus did on the cross. The challenge is that many times in facing a disaster we’re really addressing needs that could be understood as First Article needs. New Orleans has been devastated by a hurricane, and your house and business are gone. Your church and your home in Pilger, Neb., have been leveled by a tornado. Where do we go from here? You’ve lost a loved one to death in a disaster, and you’re comforted that she is in heaven, but what do I do now in life? What’s tomorrow going to be all about here in my life, here on earth? This includes those smaller “disasters” that Pastor Nuckols initially dismissed, too, doesn’t it? It involves members who lost their jobs, members whose son is having trouble in school, so many of those kinds of situations. Those, too, are needs that we call First Article needs. God’s care and access to His throne of grace — we always have that, and it isn’t just God caring for us when we die so that we get to go to heaven as did a loved one who died. God’s care is when you don’t have any idea how you’re going to provide clothing and shoes, meat and drink, to your kids when your severance package is used up. Access to the throne of grace isn’t just “Let me in! Let me in! Let me in to heaven!” when I die. It’s “Lord, I’m at the end of my rope for sure, and I have no earthly idea how this is going to work out. But You’ve invited me to bring this before you, and You’ve promised to hear. And You will hear because of Jesus’ death on the cross,” because of nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That’s all there is; that’s all we preach. But think of all that that means! And so you see, the Deus absconditus (hidden will of God) isn’t really a matter of “Will God take care of me?” or “You know why God didn’t take care of me.” There is much we don’t know. In what ways is what’s happening now God taking perfect care of me? I don’t know; that’s hidden from me. Or, This care that God’s taking of me now … how is this good? I don’t know; that’s hidden. But that’s a different set of questions altogether. It’s a different set of questions for which we won’t get the answers this side of heaven. But in each of those questions, unlike the others, in each of those questions, what is intact is God caring for us in the very best way because Jesus Christ and His death on the cross have reconciled us to God.

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In our discussion with the Roman Catholic parish priest in India, we did ask him, “More than a month after the tsunami, when you did address it in a sermon, what did you say?” He said, “Fear not. I am with you.” It might have taken a month to say the words, but he couldn’t have done better. “I am with you:” this is the peace with God in reconciliation. This is the shalom, the total condition of well-being that comes when sin has been removed by Jesus’ death on the cross. Many things we might say are anything but comforting, but the cross of Christ fully understood with all its ramifications always gives us a word of comfort to share. The Rev. Dr. Carl C. Fickenscher II is dean of Pastoral Education and Certification and professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.


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Compartiendo el Evangelio en Tiempos de Sufrimiento Por Carl C. Fickenscher II Traducido por Roberto Rojas


¿Hay algo que nos puede decir la Palabra de Dios durante los tiempos de desastre?

n la primavera de 2005, sólo unos meses después del devastador tsunami en el Océano Índico el 26 de Diciembre, 2004, tuve el — pienso que lo puedo llamar así — el placer o la alegría (aunque fue mezciado con mucho que no fue alegre) de viajar, junto con el Rvdo. Matthew Harrison, Presidente del Sínodo de Misuri (que en ese entonces era el Director Ejecutivo del LCMS World Relief and Human Care,) a los lugares en India e Indonesia que se vieron afectados muy duro. Ciertamente nuestra misión no era el arreglar las cosas por cualquier medio. Entendimos claramente que estábamos allí para escuchar y aprender, y ¡fue una experiencia de aprendizaje como nunca! ¡Fue una experiencia que nos hizo escuchar! Durante el proceso, muchas imágenes fueron extremadamente memorables y dolorosas. Y, para mí, la imagen más memorable, y en una forma también la más dolorosa, en realidad, fue cuando fuimos a un pueblo de pescadores en el sur de la India, cerca del extremo sur de la India, y visitamos una parroquia allí. Llegamos a la aldea, y lo primero que se nos mostró fue, esencialmente, un terreno vacío al lado de la casa de la Iglesia Católica Romana, el cuál se había convertido en un cementerio para 380 miembros de la iglesia. Había sido un terreno vacío (o tal vez no estaba vacío pero cuando el agua lo cubrió se vació), pero ahora estaba lleno de las tumbas de los miembros de esa relativamente pequeña congregación católica en ese pueblo de pescadores. Después, fuimos y visitamos al sacerdote de la parroquia local, un hombre de unos treinta años que había estado allí por solo tres Ó cuatro años. Pero eso incluye la mañana más significativa de ese domingo cerca de cinco meses antes. Obviamente algún tiempo había pasado, y este tiempo le había dado

una oportunidad para que él tuviera una perspectiva mas amplia, pero cuando hablaba con nosotros, nos dimos cuenta que él estaba aún emocionalmente y tal vez espiritualmente, muy vacío. Sintiendo el trauma dentro de su parroquia — e imagínese 380 funerales este tan corto tiempo y todo el daño sufrido — mientras estuvimos sentados con él en su oficina (él estaba detrás de su escritorio y nosotros estábamos alrededor de su escritorio preguntándole), francamente, era una cuestión de sensibilidad. No se podía hacer una entrevista en esta situación. Después de los cinco meses, tenía dificultades hablar con nosotros, aunque él fue muy amable al invitarnos a estar allí. Sus palabras fueron tan dolorosas, y lentas. Él nos dijo que cuando el tsunami había sucedido, era un domingo en la mañana. Pasó una semana antes de que volvieran a un servicio de adoración. El domingo siguiente, el aun no sentía el deseo de mencionar nada acerca del desastre. En realidad, pasó más que un mes antes que él pudiera mencionar el tsunami en el sermon. Todavía él describe sus emociones como vacías cuando habla al respecto. Aun cuando habla sobre el desastre usando la Palabra de Dios. ¡Qué traumatizante! En lo cual él se sintió muy estresado y lo entendemos. Bueno en realidad, nosotros no podemos ni siquiera tratar de comprender, solo imaginarnos lo que el esta pasando. El tuvo dificultad en encontrar algo que la Palabra de Dios pudiera decir acerca de esta situación. ¡Aqui radica la pregunta! Quiero comenzar con esto: en realidad. ¿Puede la Palabra de Dios darnos algo que decir en tiempos de sufrimiento? Ya sabemos que la respuesta va a ser si. Pero nos podemos imaginar que en algunas ocasiones, en algunas situaciones, es muy difícil encontrar lo que la Palabra de

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Dios dice. También es cierto, que la Palabra de Dios nos da muchas precauciones que tenemos que tomar acerca del que no decir. Es interesante: cuando pensamos en la Sagrada Escritura a la luz de situaciones como estas, no es tan facil como pensamos el encontrar pasajes biblicos que realmente podamos aplicar. Sabemos que la Biblia sin duda alguna habla de todo tipo de desastres. Habla de toda clase de crisis. Habla acerca de toda clase de enormes cataclismos como el diluvio que hubo y arrasó un sin número de gente. Y han habido plagas — diez de ellas a la vez- y otras plagas como en Jerusalén en los días de David cuando murieron miles. Y han habido guerras que han destruido al pueblo de Dios, y en momentos dramáticos han habido fuegos mandados del mismo cielo donde una vez cincuenta soldados fueron aniquilados y otra vez cincuenta soldados más y cincuenta soldados por tercera vez. Un sin número de otros desastres escritos en la Santa Biblia. Así que podemos pensar que la Biblia tendría la respuesta para casi cualquier tipo de crisis. Lo interesante es que mientras estamos desenvolviendo estos narrativos en particular — esas historias que nos vienen a la mente, esos relatos históricos descritos en la Sagrada Escritura que describen este tipo de situación, la verdad es que, la mayor parte de ellos — no caen muy bien en el tipo de situación que hemos estado hablando. Si te detienes a pensar en esto, creo que es muy cierto. Esas situaciones en la Biblia, mayormente, son diferentes a las situaciones a la que nos referimos en más de una forma. Algunas veces en la Biblia hay explicaciones claras acerca de cómo Dios hace algo como un castigo directo por cierto tipo de pecado. Dios envía a los Babilonios a cargar a Judá al cautiverio, y sabemos el porqué. Dios manda el diluvio, y sabemos el porqué. Hay un castigo claro y directo envuelto. Por otro lado, para nosotros, al lidiar con desastres hoy en día, usualmente estamos totalmente cortos de explicaciones. Pensamos acerca de Job. Aunque Job nunca recibió ninguna explicación, nosotros tenemos una. Sabemos que antes hubo un diálogo en el cielo el cual esta creando una situación única a la vida de Job, la cual el nunca llega a conocer ni siquiera al final del libro. En la Biblia usualmente tenemos algún tipo de explicación, o alguna palabra clara que nos indica que el desastre es un castigo directo por cierto pecado. En nuestros días no tenemos esa explicación, o claro, que hay muchos otros desastres o casi desastres en la Biblia donde Dios al igual que Cristo mismo durante su ministerio delibera gente en el preciso


momento, de la hambruna o de enfermedades o otra clase de sufrimiento. Usualmente no se ve que esto pasa en los desastres los cuales hoy encaramos.

Algo de ley … para el predicador Muy bien, sabemos que mayormente en esta situación a la que hemos venido no tenemos una palabra clara que nos indique que esto es el resultado de un castigo, ni hay ningún tipo de explicación al respecto. Tampoco hemos visto a Jesús entrar en la escena, ni ha calmado la tormenta. No es así la situación en la cual nos encontramos. Así que cuando nos detenemos y pensamos, probablemente no es tan fácil el encontrar en la Biblia respuestas fáciles y disponibles acerca del sufrimiento. ¡Claro! es cierto, que la Biblia tiene algo que decir acerca de situaciones como estas. Vamos a encontrar bastante que decir, pero no es tan obvio como uno cree. Lo cual nos lleva a tomar ciertas precauciones muy importantes. Identificáremos estas como “Negaciones.” Esto es “algo de ley para el predicador.” También hablaremos acerca del Evangelio el cual el predicador tiene que proclamar en su totalidad. Pero ahora, hablaremos acerca de algunas precauciones, “Negaciones,” las seis de ellas que son realmente como un despertador en lo que la Palabra de Dios nos dice o no dice al respecto, el que no decir cuando respondemos al sufrimiento en tiempos de desastre. Algunos son bastantes claros, en nuestra teología son bastante claros, pero no son obvios para los demás.

1. No presumas leer la mente de Dios. Esto por supuesto, es una cuestión de Deus absconditus (La voluntad escondida de Dios). Quizás algunos de ustedes que son estadounidenses recuerdan en Agosto del 2012, el huracán Isaac. Este se acercaba desde el Caribe y parecía que se dirigía hacia el estado de la Florida, y de repente cambio su curso y azoto a Nueva Orleans. Básicamente el mismo lugar que el huracán Katrina había azotado unos años antes. Pat Robertson un evangelista en los Estados Unidos, un evangélico cristiano sin denominación, decidió que él había figurado lo que Dios tenía en mente. Adivina que era. La Convención Nacional Republicana que estaba por comenzar en Florida, y Pat Robertson decidió que Dios iba a proteger a los Republicanos. “Regocijate,” aclarate la garganta, y piensa si Pat Robertson estaba llegando a una conclusíon que no es muy sabio el meterse. O podria ser posible que no es realmente lo que Dios tenía en mente. Muchas veces cuando confrontamos crisis podemos

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caer en este error. Job es el ejemplo clásico. Dios no le da explicaciones a Job. Dios nos dijo en los capítulos 1 y 2 lo que estaba sucediendo. Pero hay un largo diálogo entre Job y sus amigos en los capítulos 3 a 37, ahí se encuentran especulación tras especulación, especulación tras especulación, y así sucesivamente sobre lo que está pensando Dios. Los amigos de Job tienen la respuesta. Job no está muy seguro, y eventualmente Job pierde esa, “paciencia de Job” y está listo a cuestionar a Dios. Cuando Dios se muestra finalmente en el capítulo 38. Recuerdan lo que hizo Dios en los capítulos 38 al 42. Lo que no hace es decir, “Mira, Job, tú has hecho bien en esto. Has sido valiente en todo, y finalmente has llegado a tu límite.” Si, bien vemos, en los capítulos 1 y 2 se llevó a cabo un diálogo donde Satanás vino delante de Dios y Dios le dijo, “¿Conoces a este hombre, Job? La única razón que él te es fiel es porque tu le has hecho las cosas muy agradable para él. Si las cosas se le ponen difíciles, el te maldecirá a tu cara y morirá.” Así que nosotros los lectores, conocemos esa parte de la historia, y como he deseado que Dios le hubiese dicho esta parte al pobre hombre. Pero Dios no lo hace. Lo cierto, es que Dios le dice simplemente y esencialmente lo que resta el capítulo 38 en adelante. “¿Dónde estabas tú, cuando yo afirmé la tierra? O Cuando las aguas del mar se desbordaban, ¿quién les puso compuertas para controlarlas?” En realidad, “Job, tú no vas a adquirir información de mi, ni siquiera ahora.” Pero lo que Dios le dijo a Job es extremadamente aún más maravilloso. Pero Dios no le da ninguna explicación a Job. Esta es una precaución muy importante. No debemos presumir el leer la mente de Dios ni tratar de explicar el porqué suceden los desastres ya que Dios mismo no lo ha dicho.

2. No asignes culpa donde la palabra de Dios no culpa. Aunque hacer esto parezca un horror, nuevamente nuestra teología muy sabiamente nos advierte en contra de esta práctica. Pero, no es en un sentido universal el reconocer esto como un error, no solo entre los evangélicos cristianos sin denominación, sino entre muchos de nuestros propios miembros luteranos. Tengo un recuerdo muy claro de una experiencia que tuve en mi última congregación, con unos de mis queridos miembros, quien por muchos años sirvió en el consejo de ancianos. Tuvo un accidente automovilístico, y estaba completamente convencido que el tenia la culpa de su accidente por algún pecado cometido. El no sabía cuál era

el pecado, pero si estaba muy seguro que él había hecho algo que fue motivo por el cual Dios causó el accidente. El accidente fue muy grave. El sobrevivió, pero de hecho fue muy serio. Considera el huracán Katrina, ese es el otro huracán que azotó a Nueva Orleans, en Agosto del 2005. Algunas personas tienen en mente una explicación clara del porqué este huracán azotó a Nueva Orleans. De acuerdo con estas personas esto sucedió por la reputacioń de Nueva Orleans que es conocida como “la ciudad del Pecado.” Para ellos esto tenía que haber sido el motivo porque el huracán Katrina azotó Nueva Orleans. Recordamos, en el capítulo 9 de Juán, donde los discípulos, como casi todos los judíos en el tiempo de Jesús, funcionaban con esa misma mentalidad; Que el hombre naciÓ ciego; sabemos que una de dos cosas sucedieron. Él pecó antes de nacer, o sus padres eran culpable de algún pecado antes que él naciera. Una de otra causó que Dios lo afectara con ceguera al nacer. Pero Jesús dice que esto no es así. Nuevamente, Jesús no nos da la explicación completa. Él sí nos dice en esta ocasión que esto va a ser una oportunidad para que Cristo mismo le de gloria al Padre al hacer un maravilloso milagro, el cual, nuevamente, quisiéramos que Él lo hiciera cada vez que hay un desastre. Mas sin embargo, el punto aquí es que no vieran los discípulos la ceguera de este hombre como un castigo de Dios para él por causa de algún pecado. De la misma manera, no está en nosotros imaginarnos que Nueva Orleans es más culpable de pecado que cualquier otro lugar, sea Houston, Texas. Que Houston sea salvo y Nueva Orleans sea azotado. Cuando ocurre un desastre o algún sufrimiento, no debemos de presumir el asignar culpa donde la Palabra de Dios no lo hace.

3. No asumas tampoco que los víctimas son inocentes. Algunos de ustedes recuerdan que después de la tragedia 9/11, el desastre de las torres gemelas, una caricatura circuló electrónicamente con las torres gemelas, y una nube de tres mil almas ascendiendo al cielo. La imagen implicó que estos fueron inocentemente asesinados por terroristas, así que las personas se los imaginaron que iban a ser inocentemente recibidos en el cielo. Quisiéramos creer que todo aquel que muere en una tragedia automáticamente va al cielo. Eso sería un colchón en el cual nos sentiríamos cómodos en el pensar que al fin y al cabo todo va a salir bien. Pero, sabemos

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que simplemente ese no es el caso. Recuerdan el capítulo 13 de Lucas todo acerca de la torre de Siloé (Siloam). Podemos suponer que los que murieron cuando cayó la torre eran lo que nosotros llamamos “víctimas inocentes.” Más sin embargo, Jesús aun los usa en la comparación cuando nos dice, “A menos que no se arrepienten, todos ustedes perecerán igualmente” (Lucas 13:4). El no dijo eso particularmente para identificar a los dieciocho como pecadores, pero sí para reconocer que ellos, nosotros, todos, no tenemos nada de inocentes. Somos pecadores, no de un pecado en particular al cual podemos asignar la culpa de algún desastre, pero tampoco estamos sin el enredo del proceso completo del pecado en este mundo caído. Cuando azota un desastre, no debemos hablar de aquellos que mueren como si son automáticamente recibidos en el cielo, como si todos fueran inocentes y santos y merecedores del cielo.

4. No olvidemos, que “desastre” es aquello que es un desastre para el que sufre. Un Doctor en Ministerio graduado de nuestro seminario solo hace algunos años, Pastor Mark Nuckols, pastor de la iglesia luterana St. Paul en Austin, Texas, un muy decorado capellán del ejército de Los Estados Unidos, recibió su llamado a servir a la iglesia en Austin, Texas. No pasó mucho tiempo cuando el ejército lo envió a Irak. Allí el vio todo tipo de escenas traumáticas las cuales se puede esperar que un capellán tenga que ver. A Mark lo desplegaron dos veces a Irak, la segunda vez, fue solo un par de años después. El dijo que cuando él regresó de su segundo despligue, regresó mucho más sabio que la primera vez, porque el aprendió algo. Cuando el regresÓ la primera vez, el estaba sentado en su oficina, en un ambiente cómodo y el tenia miembros quienes venían a él con asuntos que para ellos eran muy importantes. Pastor Nuckols los hacía pasar, y ellos le decían, “Pastor, yo acabo de perder mi trabajo” o “Pastor, mi hijo tiene problemas en la escuela superior.” Y el Pastor Nuckols confiesa que la primera vez que el regresÓ, su reacción fue, “¡No tienes nada que hacer! Hay soldados que están perdiendo sus vidas donde yo estaba. ¡Yo estuve ministrandole a jovenes quienes vieron a sus amigos y compañeros despedazados por explosiones! ¿Cuál es la gravedad del problema? ¿Cuál es la crisis? ¿Cuál es el desastre?” Más tarde, Pastor Nuckols realizó que el sufrimiento del sufrido se relata al que sufre. Era un problema real para sus miembros quienes sufrían en estas situaciones. Era una situación por la cual su cuidado pastoral requería la misma


intensidad de sensibilidad al que solo un mes antes daba a los soldados a ocho mil millas de distancia. De cierto que, la segunda vez que regreso de Irak el estaba muy agradecido con uno de los programas que ofrece nuestro sínodo, El Proyecto Barnabás, el cual capacita a los soldados/capellanes que vuelven de la batalla. Para tener un tiempo para renovarse antes de asumir sus funciones, mientras que otro pastor es asignado a la iglesia durante este tiempo para cubrir las necesidades de tal. Es necesario ser sensible cualquier sea el desastre, porque para la persona quien lo sufre, es muy real. Ciertamente hemos realizado que hay crisis las cuales son objetivamente de gran medidas, y que no lo son. Pero recordamos lo que dice Jesus sobre un vaso de agua fría dado a alguien por ser su discípulo (Mateo 10:42). Te das cuenta, a Jesús le importa aquel quien está sediento. Para Jesús, esto es algo grande. Así que cuando tengamos el cuido de aquellos quienes están en medio de sus desastres, es importante que no nos olvidemos de que es un desastre real si es un desastre para ellos.

5. No prometas lo que Dios no promete. Hace algunos años, dos eventos en solo un par de meses uno del otro: Payne Stewart, un jugador de golf profesional aquí en los Estados Unidos, y un cristiano quien había sido muy abierto con su fe cristiana. Él murió mientras piloteaba una avioneta privada. Él estaba sÓlo en el aire, y eventualmente él se estrelló y murió. Luego no muy después, un jugador de fútbol americano, NFL, (Liga Nacional de Fútbol) estuvo envuelto en un accidente de automóvil. Este hombre también había públicamente confesado que era un cristiano evangélico. (Yo no voy a dar su nombre porque esto puede dar la impresión de que no es sincero, y no es eso lo que yo cuestiono.) Pero lo que él dijo es que, según él iba desviándose de la carretera hacia un árbol, él soltó el guía- y tiró las manos hacia arriba- y dijo, “¡Jesús, tu manejas! O ¡Jesús toma el control!” El se salvó, solo tuvo algunos raspones. Más adelante, el estuvo hablando acerca de su experiencia — y esto pudo haber sido intencionado a dar testimonio de la confianza que debemos de tener en el Señor — el dijo que Dios lo había salvado porque él era un cristiano. Un reportero le pregunto, “Y que de Payne Steward? Él también, era Cristiano, y el murió cuando se estrelló su avión?” El jugador de fútbol americano dijo, “Bueno si él hubiese entregado el control al Señor, no se hubiese muerto.” El reportero le preguntó, “Tú sabes con certeza que él no se lo entregó al Señor?” Y el jugador respondió,

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“Te apuesto que no, porque él murió.” Este jugador de fútbol americano, estoy seguro, tenía buenas intenciones, estaba diciendo que si confiamos en el Señor, todo nos va a salir bien. Si estás confiando en el Señor, ningún accidente de automóvil, ni de aeroplano, saldrás seriamente herido. Los huracanes no te alcanzaran. Los terremotos no te atropellaran. Eso es el prometer algo de lo cual definitivamente Dios no ha prometido. Y hay un sin número de maneras por el cual esto está descrito en la Sagrada Escritura, incluyendo la promesa que Jesucristo hace a sus discípulos que ustedes llevaran cruces y que algunas de estas serán grandes desastres. También tenemos el ejemplo de Habacuc, uno de los pasajes acerca del sufrimiento que es un poco intrigante. Es un pasaje que uno piensa es uno de los desastres por el cual estamos pasando. Aqui uno tiene la situación donde el pueblo de Dios va a sufrir, y sabemos muy bien en este caso que el pueblo de Dios estaba ya bajo condenación; ese es el problema en Judá. Pero entonces Habacuc eleva su preocupación que “mientras es cierto, que aquí nuestro pueblo, tu pueblo, Señor, está pecando, la verdad es que los Caldeos son peores. Así ¿cómo es que ellos van a salir mejor y gente inocente entre el pueblo de Judá van a morir?” Nosotros no sabemos porqué, pero es cierto que muchos de los fieles de Dios también murieron cuando los Caldeos destruyeron a Jerusalén. Dios no nos promete que su pueblo nunca sufrirá. No prometas lo que Dios no promete. Eso es el evangelio de la “prosperidad” y es engañoso.

6. No te resuelvas con proclamar menos de lo que Dios promete. Ahora, Dios nos promete que por fe en Jesucristo nosotros iremos al cielo. Tú vas a poder ir al cielo. Es imposible imaginarse tan gran promesa; no existe promesa más grande que esta. Y sin más preguntas esta es la promesa la cual es la respuesta para todo creyente en Cristo quienes han perecido en desastres, seres queridos quienes conocemos como creyentes en Cristo y han muerto. Aquí está la respuesta; ellos están en el cielo. Pero la realidad es que no necesitamos predicar el Evangelio a los creyentes en Cristo que han muerto. Ellos ya no lo necesitan. Se nos llama a que proclamemos el consuelo del Evangelio a esos que están desesperados, llorando, y en luto sobre la pérdida y de sus queridos inciertos en el próximo paso en sus vidas. Sea una congregación en Pilger, Nebraska que no tienen el edificio de su iglesia; o es una familia en Nueva Orleans quienes no tienen a dónde vivir; o

alguien quien ha perdido su trabajo; o cualquier crisis en particular, esos son a quien nos referimos. Y mientras “tú iras al cielo por fe en Cristo”, es la gran promesa que tenemos que aplicar, una y otra vez, siempre será relevante, porque el futuro ciertamente impacta nuestro presente, sin embargo eso no es solo lo que Dios promete. No prometas menos de lo que Dios promete. Se valiente al proclamar toda promesa que Dios da. Y algunas de ellas, irán más lejos que solo “te iras al cielo algún día”.

El Evangelio para que el predicador proclame Toda esa Ley que les he dado es para nosotros los predicadores o para personas quienes comparten la Palabra de Dios privadamente con sus amigos en tiempos de crisis — aquellos quienes son los oradores. Esos son los “No’s” — muchas precauciones que elevar. Pero ahora está el Evangelio para que nosotros lo hablemos. El Evangelio en el cual las personas encuentran consuelo cuando se proclama aun, en los tiempos más difíciles de sufrimiento. Esto trae a lo que deberíamos hacer. Ahora, para que sea el Evangelio — y esto es crucial — lo que nosotros decimos tiene que ser una cosa en particular. En tiempos de sufrimiento, en tiempos de crisis, de desastres, cuando es realmente difícil el saber que decir, mucho se dice y mucho se habla que a lo mejor no es ni el Evangelio. Prestará alguna ayuda, práctica, compasiva y gentil, y si tienen algún valor. Pero aquí estamos hablando de proclamar el Evangelio en momentos de sufrimiento. Y el Evangelio es mucho más que solo un buen toque a la mano. Es más que solo encontrar la manera de cómo vamos a reedificar el pueblo y lo que se ha destruido por el tornado. El Evangelio es mucho más específico que eso. San Pablo nos da un consejo muy útil en lo que a esto respecta. De hecho, San Pablo es muy claro en lo que hay que decir cada vez que queremos proclamar. “Más bien, al estar entre ustedes me propuse no saber de ninguna otra cosa, sino de Jesucristo, y de éste crucificado. (1 Cor. 2:2). Eso es algo maravilloso que él dice. El estuvo un año y medio en Corintios, una estadía bastante larga, una de las más largas de todos sus viajes de toda su experiencia misionera, y todo ese tiempo que estuvo ahí, él solo hablo de una sola cosa: Jesucristo crucificado. En el libro de primera de Corintios ahora, Pablo se dirige a muchas cosas; sacrificios de carne, adulterio, el malentendido acerca de las resurrecciones, cismos y muchas otras cosas. Aun así Pablo dice aquí en el principio del libro, “Todo es Jesucristo y Él crucificado. Todo se trata de la cruz de

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Cristo.” No tenemos ningún problema con eso cuando le decimos a la gente que ellos van a poder ir al cielo algún día, porque no hay otro medio de ir al cielo sino por lo que Jesucristo hizo en la cruz. De eso no cabe duda. El desafío que muchas veces tenemos en los desastres es que verdaderamente estamos viendo necesidades las cuales se pueden entender a la luz del Primer Artículo. Nueva Orleans, ha sido devastado por un huracán, y tu casa y tu negocio desaparecen. Tu casa y tu iglesia han sido niveladas por el tornado en Pilger, Nebraska. ¿A dónde vamos ahora? Has perdido a seres queridos en el desastre, y encuentras consuelo que ella está en el cielo, pero ¿qué hago yo ahora en esta vida? ¿Qué va hacer de mi mañana aquí en mi vida en esta tierra? Esto incluye esos pequeños “desastres” que el Pastor Nuckols inicialmente echaba a un lado, miembros quienes perdieron sus trabajos, miembros quienes tenian hijos con problemas en la escuela, tantas situaciones como estas. Estos, también, son las necesidades que llamamos necesidades del Primer Artículo. El cuidado de Dios y el acceso a su trono de gracia, esto siempre lo tenemos. Y eso no es solamente Dios cuidando de nosotros cuando morimos para que así podamos ir al cielo como fue tu ser querido quien murió. El cuido de Dios es cuando tú no tienes ni idea como vas a proveer ropa, zapatos, carne y bebida para tus hijos cuando tu dinero de desempleo se te acabe. El acceso al trono de gracia no es simplemente decir, “¡Déjame entrar! ¡Déjame entrar! ¡Déjame entrar al cielo!” cuando mueras. Es mejor dicho, Señor, “seguramente estoy al final de la soga y no tengo la mínima idea como se va a solucionar esto. Pero Tú me invitaste a que yo traerá esto delante de ti, y Tú me prometiste que me escucharías. Y tú me escucharás porque Jesús murió en la cruz por mí.” Eso es todo lo que hay; y esto es todo lo que predicamos. Y así veras, al Deus absconditus (La voluntad escondida de Dios), no es un asunto de que, “Si Dios me va a cuidar?” O, “Sabes porque Dios no me cuido?” Hay muchas cosas que no sabemos. De manera es lo que está pasando ahora, una forma en que Dios cuida perfectamente de mi? No lo sé; eso está escondido. Pero ya eso es otra serie de preguntas las cuales no tendremos las respuestas a este lado del cielo. Pero en cada una de esas preguntas, lo que permanece intacto es el cuidado que Dios tiene por nosotros de la mejor forma porque Jesucristo y Su muerte en la cruz nos han reconciliado con Dios.


En nuestras conversaciones con el sacerdote de la parroquia Católica Romana en la India, le preguntamos, “un mes después del tsunami, cuándo hiciste referencia del tsunami en tú sermón. ¿Qué fue lo que dijiste? El respondió, “No temas, Yo estoy contigo.” Quizás él se tomó un mes para pronunciar estas palabras, pero no pudo haber dicho algo mejor. “Yo estoy contigo” — Esta es la paz de Dios en reconciliación. Este es el “shalom”, la condición total del bienestar que viene cuando el pecado ha sido eliminado por la muerte de Jesús en la cruz. Muchas cosas que podríamos decir no son en nada reconfortante, pero la cruz de Cristo entendida en su totalidad, con todas sus ramificaciones, siempre nos da palabra de consuelo para compartir.

El Rvdo. Dr. Carl C. Fickenscher II es el decano de la Educación Pastoral y Certificación, y professor de Ministerio Pastoral y Misiones de Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.

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Having Mercy on Our Brothers by Matthew C. Harrison

How does diaconic love reflect the very being of God?


y first call was out of Concordia views on what the Church ought to be doing in the Theological Seminary in 1991, I believe, and realm of corporate mercy, who nevertheless embodied it was to a small Iowa community called it enormously personally. Kurt Marquart, now deceased, Westgate, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. As I was there, I was a professor here, and I heard the story that toward the served for about four years, and the church was rather end of his life he actually stopped, as he was want to do, vibrant and active. When I left, we had 440 members in a and picked up a hitchhiker, and the hitchhiker proceeded to rob him at gunpoint and steal his town of 200 and a lot more milk cows car, then sent him off walking. The — several thousand of those. At the Sacrament, next thing I knew Kurt was visiting The ministry went well there. It was you come to the him in the Fort Wayne jail, and he was a strong church and a very tight knit altar, you kneel and convinced the guy might have a future community, but challenges that had you lay your burdens as a seminarian. plagued urban America were clearly upon Christ and the Then I was called to Zion Lutheran also plaguing rural America, such as Church, Fort Wayne, to a very unique methamphetamine. I had members gathered community. situation. It was, at the time, the who were involved in meth trade. When you leave the poorest census track in the state of We had inactive members who were altar, you take up the Indiana, and that’s pretty poor when active pot smokers and messing with burdens of the others you consider Gary over by Chicago. other drugs. We had an alcoholism at that same altar. All around Zion — a beautiful gothic epidemic in the community. We had structure built in 1893 and an anchor youth alcohol abuse all over the place. We had single parent households, rural welfare — all these for the neighborhood for a century — the neighborhood had gone through a number of changes. When I was things now plague rural America virtually everywhere. In the course of my time there, I began to think, you there, it was mostly a black neighborhood, and within know, I wonder if there isn’t something else that we, as a block and a half of the church, there were 45 vacant, a corporate community, as a church, ought to be doing dilapidated buildings. So, I began looking at that problem, in a community like that. I was nagged by this idea, even and I told my assistant pastor, Paul Kaiser, “Why don’t as I ended up leaving. I just didn’t have my finger on you take care of the shut-ins? I’ll do the senior pastor stuff resources to refer to, and theologically, I was struggling and also take a look at this neighborhood and see if we with exactly what it might mean for the church. I had can’t do something about it.” I think, initially, there were several reasons for been taught rather strongly that the Church is involved in the preaching of the Gospel and the administration doing so. One was that the people from the rest of the of the Sacraments, and really, being involved in care for community don’t like to come down to the black section the body was somehow the domain of the liberals. My of town. There were a lot of racial tensions in this town. teacher Kurt Marquart, who had some really reserved Fort Wayne had been a very Southern town during in the

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Civil War. If you read E.G. Zealor’s autobiography — that’s districts and the body itself, are all corporate citizens of the son of Vilhelm Zealor who was the vice president of their respective communities. So, if your neighborhood is the Synod in the 1860s and 70s — he talks about an effigy in atrophy, you will take action in your community. You of Lincoln on a parade float being hauled through town will if your neighborhood is going to participate actively. with derisive language on it and then being lit on fire and If you see some injustice going on in your community, thrown into the river with everybody celebrating. So, this you will, as a citizen of your community who has a town, like St. Louis, which you have unfortunately seen as responsibility, indeed as a Christian citizen, you will act. of late, has its racial tensions. You will not be quiet. Just where to act and where not So, I felt inspired to do something that would take to act, that’s always a challenge to discern, and we are down barriers from people coming in to go to church criticized sometimes for acting in some places and not at Zion while also looking at the community around acting in others. Fundamentally, as corporate citizens, the the church. I realized that the dilapidation was in largest church must act in its community. measure caused by rental properties. It was only after leaving Fort In other words, there were many Wayne that I began to think about Where the Church homeowners in the neighborhood some kind of theological rationale who kept up their homes and worked for what became a catchword for the loses sight of this hard to do so, but others who lived theological rationale for mercy. I was proclamation of the outside the community would rent called to St. Louis to be the executive Gospel, it thereby loses these homes to people who would be for the Missouri Synod’s LCMS World the very motivation allowed to run these homes down to Relief and Human Care departments. for diaconic work, the nothing. Finally, windows would be That encompassed disaster and the smashed out, and then the homeless Gospel itself. Thus, the whole realm of mercy activities, or somebody with mental illness Church must not speak including relationships with social would occupy a place. There were ministry agencies. There is a huge when it may do so; the homes that I went in that were just network of Lutheran agencies in the Church must speak only 100 yards from Zion that were filled United States. It’s an $8–10 billion when it must do so – five-feet deep with everything you business, corporately together with could collect free at every Goodwill the ELCA and the Missouri Synod easier said than done. center — clothing and everything Institutions. They receive something else you can imagine, like drug like 8 billion dollars in federal paraphernalia, pornography, etc. A story I have often told funding and state funding. It is an enormous network. is that I went around one house north of the church that I remember when I got the call to St. Louis, I began was dilapidated, and with the help of a lawyer in town, I to look at the theological issues involved, and working bought it. I was just going around buying property right with the Board for Human Care, I suggested that we try and left, making deals for old houses and vacant lots. to lay out some kind of theological rationale for mercy. As Zion became pretty well known in the community I began to study the issue more and more, I realized that and greatly appreciated in the immediate community. We right within my own tradition there was a lot of “ammo.” had many, many different challenges and problems. I was I saw parts of text and older text that I had never noticed convinced that there had to be some better theological before. I went on a journey through Paul’s collection rationale for not only that kind of effort, but for the for Jerusalem and became convinced that the collection church as a corporate body taking a stand and an active from Jerusalem drives Paul’s entire third missionary stance toward people in need and other issues happening journey. He is consumed with this for almost a decade. in communities. In that particular case, at Zion, I became He ends up taking money to Jerusalem to distribute to the convinced that the church was a corporation. Every one poor as a gift from the Gentile churches. It’s kind of an of our congregations in America is registered with the eschatological realization of the kingdom in some fashion, state, so we can have the proper tax benefits, and we are as he actually goes to Jerusalem with the money to deliver Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Inc. That means, as the gifts, and he ends up getting in trouble because he a corporation of people, our congregations, indeed our did so — imprisoned, shipped off to Rome and finally


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beheaded. All the words we use for stewardship and giving money — God loves a cheerful giver; the gift is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what a person does; 1 Corinthians 8-9, where Paul is urging the Corinthian Christians who are cosmopolitan and rather wealthy to give money — I discovered in Paul’s words for money that they represent aid to Christians. Paul calls that money a liturgia. He calls it a liturgy, a public service. He also calls it a diakonia, a service, a ministry. He calls it a koinonia, a fellowship, a partaking. He even calls it a charis, a grace. So, all of a sudden, I realize St. Paul is using the most powerful words in the New Testament to talk about aid to the needy. Then I began to think, “Well, gee, this has really been missing among us. Why, why have we nothing to say on this?” Then, other sudden classic texts became to pop out, like Walther’s Pastoral Theology. Here, Walther says the official duties of the pastoral office are to care also for the poor, the weak, the needy and the orphaned. The congregation is even obligated to ensure that the impoverished, if they don’t have enough money for a funeral, are buried properly. Why had all this slipped away from so many of our congregations, indeed our whole Church? There are many other such texts. Luther says in the 1519 Sermon on the Sacrament, that at the Sacrament, you come to the altar, you kneel and you lay your burdens upon Christ and the gathered community. When you leave the altar, you take up the burdens of the others at that same altar. If you look at Dr. Walther’s famous The Proper Form of the Christian Congregation — the Die Rechte Gestalt it is called — there are page after page of the congregation and the pastor’s responsibility to see that people in need are cared for. I think in the wake of the rise of the social, the welfare state in America since World War II, the realm of care of people shifted from local communities, churches especially, really and the rise of the cost of health care, those issues shifted largely to the government. Churchly institutions, one after another, became intensely secularized until they were either sold, or in many cases, separated from the churches altogether. So, we began working with the Board for Human Care to have a theological rationale for what resulted in a theology for mercy. It was my conviction that pastors, especially many younger pastors, would not be averse to the church being active in mercy, if in fact there was a decent attempt at a theological basis. I think that proved to be correct.

Diaconic love has its source in the Holy Trinity. The Son is begotten of The Father from eternity. The Holy Spirit proceeds from The Father and The Son. Such begetting and procession are trinitarian acts of love, expressing the commonality of God, as in Luke 6:36: “Be ye merciful, as your Father in heaven is merciful.” Diaconic love reflects the very being of God. If you’re going to say, “Forget it. I don’t have any responsibility toward my neighbor,” you are not breaking the law only, you are denying who God is, essentially. Diaconic love is born of the incarnation and humiliation of Christ. In Christ, the eternal God became man. Such identity occurred that Christ might have mercy upon His brothers – like them in every way, except sin. Christian service of the neighbor finds its source, motivation, and example in Christ incarnate, redeeming, atoning, active love. Christ is born for us, becomes incarnate for us, and Luther says, “We, as it were, become incarnate for our neighbor in need.” God would have all come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). A biblically and confessionally faithful theology of mercy clearly confesses that the Father has decreed from eternity that whomever He would save, He would save through Christ, as ChristHhimself says, “No one comes to The Father except through me” (John 14:6), and again, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved” (John 10:9). What is the essence of being a Lutheran Christian in mercy? Christ! What does Christ do? He speaks Law and Gospel. He speaks consolation. He speaks His Word. He makes promises, and He acts in love. What do we do as Christians? We speak. We speak of Christ. We can’t help but speak of Christ. The fundamental truth of the Bible that there is no salvation outside faith in Christ and His merits animate the Church’s work for those in need. If this is not so, such work becomes merely secular and may be performed by any entity in society. The Gospel gives spring forgiveness and begets merciful living. Lives that receive mercy and grace cannot but be lovingly merciful toward the neighbor. The merciful washing of Baptism in Romans 6 produces the merciful living in Rom. 7:4–6. I noticed when Paul taught about the Sacraments or the Gospel, the consequence was also always a life of mercy and service. In absolution, the merciful Word of the Gospel begets merciful speaking and living. Repentance ought to produce good fruits, the greatest possible generosity to the poor (Apology 12, 174). When

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we refuse to address the needs within the community as people of God and particularly as the Church of God, we are not merely breaking the Law, but we are also denying the Sacraments. We are denying what we are made in Baptism. We’re denying what Christ’s body and blood is for us. Christ’s mandate and example of love for the whole person remains our supreme example for life in this world and for care of the needy body and soul. The Lutheran Confessions explicitly and repeatedly state that the work of diaconic love (charity, works of love) is an assumed reality in the Church’s corporate life (see Treatise 80–82, Apology 4 and Apology 7). Moreover, the Smalcald Articles explicitly state that works of love are along with, doctrine, faith, Sacraments and prayer, areas that the Church and its bishops are joined in unity. This scene does not dominate our confessions. There is no doubt about that, but it certainly is there. The call to mercy is particularly addressed to Christians as a corporate community, church, whether local or synod, even nation or international. Within these communities, individuals serve in diaconic vocations, pastoral concern for the needy, chaplain, spiritual care, deacon, deaconess parish nurse, medical disciplines, disaster care and a host of administrative and managerial vocations. These diaconic vocations are flexible in form and determined by need. Within an ecclesial setting, their common goal is the integration of proclamation of the Gospel, faith, worship and care for those in need. The range of the legitimate disciplines of human care may be used in the Church’s diaconic life to the extent that such discipline tools do not contradict the Gospel and the doctrine of Holy Scripture. So, the Apology says, “Christ’s kingdom is spiritual.” At the same time, it permits us to make outward use of legitimate political ordinances of whatever nation in which we live, just as it permits us to make use of medicine or architecture or food, drink or air. The Church’s work of mercy extends beyond its own borders. In the New and Old Testaments, we see a priority of concern for those within the Orthodox fellowship of faith, but add, “Do good also to those outside the kingdom of God, especially to those inside, but also to those outside the house of God.” This is a criticism we received early on. About 10 or 11 years ago, there was a small tornado that hit south of St. Louis, and it hit a small community there, and we have a church there. The high school was leveled. There were no deaths, but there was a lot of loss and a lot of people


adversely affected. Up until this time, the only thing the Missouri Synod had done for disaster for congregations was to work through Lutheran Disaster Response and send dollars for disbursement among social ministry organizations. The social ministry organizations act as government partners and also do ongoing care for people, case management and get people back on their feet over time. We had not addressed our own congregations in any significant way, our own immediate need. In fact, the rules of Lutheran Disaster Response precluded assisting congregations in anything, any damage to churches, or anything like that. Out of this came a so-called Congregation Model of Disaster Response, and we discovered that what happened was when you go to help a family, you call the family first, and you check with the pastor. Then we go, and our disaster responders then say, “Okay, here is what we are going to do. We have some people here that are going to take care of your wife, and we got you some interim housing taken care of, and now we’re going to make sure that you come along. Here, we are going to visit your congregation elders first. We will pull them together and start developing a plan. Because the whole community will respond, it will be important for you to be in the middle of that as part of your community to serve. There is a probably a niche for you to serve, and I think your niche might well be a staging ground for immediate repairs on something. We can house the volunteers in a large part of your property, if we bring in the proper equipment. By the way, we have a mobile food unit that we funded, and we can bring that down and make sure we have it all set up. And we’ll start cooking meals for all the volunteers that are coming in.” So you see, what is initial concern for our own is a concern also to increase their local capacity immediately and care for those well beyond their own borders. Next the Church will cooperate with others in meeting human need. “Cooperation in externals” has long been an expression describing the Church’s legitimate ability to cooperate with other Christians, whether churches, societies, Lutheran or Christians, or not in meeting some human need. To cooperate in externals means to work toward common goals and endeavors which do not necessitate, require or necessarily imply church fellowship or involve joint proclamation of the Gospel in administration of the Sacraments. Such cooperative endeavors are entered upon often for practical reasons, lack of critical resources for instance, but such endeavors

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are also often an expression of the belief that when entered to with other Christian entities of the catholicity of the Church. You know, the Formula of Concord very carefully distinguishes between hard-necked false teachers and Christians who find themselves in denominations other than Lutheran, and it is very charitable to them. As well as an expression of love for fellow Christians, through such endeavors the LCMS will often have opportunities to insist on theological integrity and the truth of God’s word and everyone make a positive contribution to activities. So then, the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms grants broad freedom for the Church to engage and be active in its community. The Church has a role in its community, local, national and international, by virtue of the fact that the congregations in national churches are actually corporate citizens of their respected communities. As such, congregations, churches and synods as a whole engage the community as corporate citizens of God’s left hand kingdom, working toward worthy civic goals, good citizenship, just laws in society, protection of the weak, housing, etc. Legitimate civil ordinances are good creations of God and divine ordinances in which a Christian may safely take part. As such, a corporate citizen, the church has civic and political capital. In addition to engaging its members to be responsible citizens, the Church may from time to time speak with a collective voice on issues of great significance to society, particularly where the basic value of human life is diminished. Public redress, which is made through the office of the judge is not forbidden, but is commanded and is a work of God, according to Paul in Romans 13. Public redress includes judicial decisions. Luther, in his writing on temple authority, to what extent it should be obeyed, says that Christians should not take recourse against government in any way, shape or form. Fortunately, the Confessions did not agree with Luther here and said that Christians indeed may make use of legitimate civil ordinances like juries and trials and judges. There have been times of necessity, and so we have acted on numerous religious freedom cases. The Missouri Synod files briefs for numerous cases around the country which are from time to time referenced by U.S. Supreme Court judges in their opinions. We have also famously been involved very directly in religious freedom cases, and those cases will continue be upon us with intensity. There have been times in the life of the Church when it was the sole guardian and provider for the needy. In our

day, the rise of the modern welfare state has shifted that monetary responsibility in large measure to the civic, civil realm. There is a large intersection of civil and churchly endeavor at just this point. Thus, the Church’s response to these issues is always mutating and nuanced. In these matters, the church must spend its capital wisely and sparingly. They must avoid both quietism and political activism. The former shuns the ethical demand of love for the neighbor, ignoring for instance the ethical urgency of the Old Testament Minor Prophets. The latter may obscure the Church’s fundamental and perceptual task as bearer of the Word to sinners in need of Christ. Where the Church loses sight of this proclamation of the Gospel, it thereby loses the very motivation for diaconic work, the Gospel itself. Thus, the Church must not speak when it may do so; the Church must speak only when it must do so — easier said than done. The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison is president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

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Mercy in Action

From the fall until the final day, there will be suffering

by Ross Johnson

and sin, and yet God is actively rescuing us from sin, death and the devil in ways that we do not realize.


t’s important to realize that contrary to what popular culture says, people are not spiritually good or deserving of God’s favor in and of themselves. In fact, the Bible constantly reminds us that we are sinners even after conversion (see Rom. 7: 13–23). The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The Bible also says, “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). We confess in the Divine Service that we “justly deserved” God’s “temporal and eternal punishment” (LSB 184). There will always be aspects of our allIt is because of God’s love for you knowing, all-powerful and all-loving God that He is at work that we as humans will redeeming you never understand. We and saving you should not assume that God doesn’t care, and from yourself. we should not demand that God explain His actions to us. Rather, we should trust in His love even if we don’t understand what is happening to us or around us. It is because of God’s love for you that He is at work redeeming you and saving you from yourself. This love is clearly evident in God sending His Son to die on the cross to pay for your sin, so that one day you will be rescued from this world of tragedy and live in the perfection of heaven. In times of trouble, instead of trying to speculate about God’s nature or demand that God do our will, we should repent. In Luke 13, Pilate slaughters the pious Galileans. It was an evil action against undeserving people. Yet Jesus in Luke 13:3 told the people to repent, saying, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”


Jesus did not justify or explain Himself or It is always best why evil was happening; to put our faith in rather He told them to what is revealed repent. Repentance is humbling, and it moves to us about God: you from being selfthat He loves us, centered to trusting in He died for us God’s goodness and and He rescues us mercy. It turns you as a from brokenness sinful person away from your pride to reliance and sin. on your almighty and all-loving God who does not always give you explanations except “I am who I am” (Ex. 3:14), “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” (Is. 55:8) and, as St. Paul explains, “Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Rom. 9:20).

Why does God allow suffering? Suffering is a result of sin and the fall. God never wanted Adam and Eve to fall into sin. God explicitly warned them about the eating of the tree and the consequences if they did. However, they chose to sin against God, and ultimately sin and brokenness entered the world. As soon as humanity fell into sin, your loving God began His work of redemption (see Gen. 3:15). From the fall until the final day, there will be suffering and sin. However, your loving God is actively rescuing you from sin, death and the devil in ways that you do not realize. It is always best to put our faith in what is revealed to us about God: that He loves us, He died for us and He rescues us from brokenness and sin. Everything that

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is necessary for us to know about God and salvation is clearly revealed in Holy Scripture.

If something bad happens to me, is God punishing me for my sin?

There is no promise that you will always directly see or understand the good that comes out of particular trials and tribulations.

When something bad happens to you, it is not necessarily related to a particular sin that you have committed. However, it is always because we live in a sinful and broken world (Genesis 2–3). In this world, our bodies betray us, and we get sick and die. In this broken world, other people also betray us and cause us a great deal of problems and misfortune. Often times, we endure personal agony because of the sinful choices that we ourselves make (see Psalm 51). And at times, we are spiritually attacked by the devil and his demons, who like to harass people and cause misery and misfortune (see Job).

Father who is watching over you. In times of tragedy, we see God’s mercy in action. God’s mercy revealed to humanity is most clearly seen in the person of Jesus Christ who reminds us that we are reconciled to our heavenly Father and that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God that is found in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:38–39). The Rev. Ross Johnson is director of LCMS Disaster Response.

What do I do when I feel like my life is falling apart? 1. Prayer is always good when you feel overwhelmed by the world. 2.  Attend the Divine Service where you receive the ongoing forgiveness of sins and you are reminded that Christ is bodily present with you in a special way. 3. Consider talking to your pastor to get wise Christian advice when you are overwhelmed. 4. Consider talking to a pastor for private confession and absolution (see 1 John 1:9). 5. Use your suffering as a reminder that you live in a broken world and that Christ promises to suffer right along with you. 6.  Place your hope in Christ and the resurrection and not in this world or in sinful people who will disappoint you.

Can anything good come out of bad things? God often allows amazing things to come out of tragic situations (see Gen. 50: 15–21). Job was eventually blessed after his time of tragedy (Job 42:10). However, there is no promise that you will always directly see or understand the good that comes out of particular trials and tribulations. In times of tragedy, it is important to trust in God’s nature, that He is a loving and caring heavenly

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Communication has

Being the Church in the Age of Post-Literacy1

moved well beyond printed words and TV broadcasts, bringing on a post-literate generation relying on Internet-based

by James A. Neuendorf

communications, direct “Indeed, the apogee has almost been attained: Communication has just about reached the lowest point, with respect to its importance; and contemporaneously the means of communication have pretty nearly attained the highest point, with respect to quick and overwhelming distribution. For what is in such haste to get out, and on the other hand what has such widespread distribution as … twaddle? Oh, procure silence!” — Soren Kierkegaard, 18512

observation and individual life experience to determine what is factual and true.


t this very moment, a revolution is taking place begin to find that “these people” are us. around us. Words, ideas, stories and creative works Marshall McLuhan, the renowned communication are being spread and shared practically at the scholar expressed it this way: speed of a brain’s neural network. The computing power We now live in the early part of an age for which of so-called “Space Age” achievements is now ubiquitous the meaning of print culture is becoming as alien to the point that you can find it in juice-stained toys for as the meaning of the manuscript culture was to toddlers. Global society is adapting to new ways of comthe 18th century. We’re primitives of a new culture municating and processing information in what is the … there is a new electric technology that threatens second greatest upheaval in communication since Gutenthis ancient technology of literacy built upon the berg’s 1438 printing press. Human phonetic alphabet. Our Western thought processes have once again values, built on the written word, Post-literate been fundamentally changed by the have already been considerably proliferation of a new technology. We affected by electronic media … Christians and no longer stand at the edge of a new unbelievers are seeking Perhaps that’s the reason why age; it has already begun. many highly literate people in our a biblical confession of For missiologists of the 21st time find it difficult to examine the faith in their own century seeking to carry the Gospel this question without getting into language and culture, once more into a fallen world, these a moral panic.3 technological changes signify a far Secular scholars like Marshall a meta-narrative with deeper shift than merely that of paper McLuhan, Christian writers like which to understand to pixel. The changes that are brought Malcolm Boyd and some leaders in their own life and about by a new cycle of technology the Lutheran church began to see purpose. affect fundamental thought processes this problem arising already in the throughout the globe. Transcendent 1960s with the explosive growth of of all the existing cultural and sociobroadcast technologies. Yet these economic frontiers, the pervasiveness of digital mobile visionaries still couldn’t imagine the scope and scale of technology is birthing a new meta-culture. Everyone what was to come. seems to be wringing their hands and saying, “How will Oral cultures we reach these people?” Yet, with each passing hour, we 1

Editor’s note: Mr. Neuendorf ’s paper was prepared for and originally used as an oral presentation and as such, some of the page numbers in the citations are not complete. Malcolm Boyd. Crisis in Communication; a Christian Examination of the Mass Media (Garden City: Doubleday, 1957). 2


“The oral tradition that dominated human experience for all but the last few hundred years is returning with a vengeance. It’s a monumental, epoch-making, Marshall McLuhan. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962), p. 10–11. 3

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totally unforeseen turn of events. How can this possibly be? The oral tradition? With multimedia texts and IMs and Facebook status updates, aren’t we relying on oral communication far less than ever? Yes, of course. But our new digital culture of information sharing has so rejected the broadcast style and embraced key elements of oral traditions that we might meaningfully call whatever’s coming next the digitoral era. And while this new age will undoubtedly contain elements of both traditions — which we will explore momentarily — the digitoral era borrows much more from oral traditions than broadcast.” — Jonah Sachs4 Human societies around the globe had communicated the same way for thousands of years: since the Fall, through the flood and tower of Babel, the scattering of societies across the planet and the ages of empires and kingdoms to the birth of Christianity. All cultures prior to 1450, despite vast differences in culture or language, shared a unified mode of primary communication, namely oral culture. Although the languages and themes varied from society to society, the traits remained the same. The invention of the printing press was a radical shock to that global culture of communication in the same way that the present digital revolution is sending shockwaves through the culture of literacy. Recently, there has been significant study dedicated to the oral cultures that (from a numerical standpoint) still dominate the globe. Many sociologists argue that we are returning to oral culture through our new technologies. So, right off the bat, it is important to deal with the word “illiterate” that has become synonymous with unintelligent in literate society. Oral cultures must first of all not be mistaken as in any way less intelligent or capable than literate societies. They simply apply their intelligence in different ways and organize their thought based on the technologies available to them. The way of thinking of an oral society is almost impossible for us to fully understand and imagine as people of literate/post-literate societies. It is worth remembering that the renowned work of Greek literature, The Iliad, is itself an oral composition,5

Jonah Sachs. Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell—and Live—the Best Stories Will Rule the Future (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2012).

as was the formative English work Beowulf.6 7 Jesus Himself preached and taught in the midst of a primarily oral society and did so in oral ways. Orality does not indicate a lack of sophistication. Perhaps for Western minds to avoid unnecessary and inaccurate stigmas, it is best to refer to primary oral societies as “oral” and not illiterate. One of the key characteristics of the “technology” of human speech is its relationship to the nature of sound. Sound is never static. You cannot stare at a sound. The instant you begin to hear a word it is also already passing by you. Compare a cassette tape with a photograph (for those of you who remember tapes). A photograph you can stare at and continue to find new details; the image is static. The cassette tape is a long, wound-up ribbon of magnetic tape, but you can only experience its content one instant at a time. You are, in a sense, always hearing in the present. If you pause the tape, you don’t hear anything. Oral societies reflect this in their own understanding of the world. Words are always fluid; they are not something you can tie down and examine. Information, therefore, is perpetually in motion. One major effect of this is the necessity for constant repetition and remembering of important things, so that they continuously affect the present. A close study of the Book of Deuteronomy will demonstrate the importance of this. Throughout Deuteronomy, the phrases are repeated, “Hear oh Israel,” “Remember and do not forget,” and “Write this upon your hearts.” The Israelites were an oral society (the existence of writing does not make them a literate society as we will explore later). It was important for the Israelites to constantly repeat the Law and to use mental guides and symbols like fringes, symbols in the tabernacle and temple, circumcision and the like to keep the truth in front of them at all times. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on



J. A. Davison. “E. T. Owen: The Story of the Iliad as Told in the Iliad. Pp. Xii 248. London: Bell, 1947. Cloth, 10s. 6d. Net.” The Classical Review 63, no. 02 (12 1949), 70.

“Beowulf: A New Translation for Oral Delivery.” Choice Reviews Online 47, no. 01 (12, 2009), 47–0122 6 7

Robert Payson Creed. “How the Beowulf Poet Composed His Poem.” Oral Tradition 18, no. 2 (12 2004), 214–15.

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the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deut. 6:6–9).8 In fact, when Israel’s unfaithfulness leads them to cease repeating and remembering, the Law is completely lost! The Judean king Josiah’s sudden discovery of the book of the Law (a recording of something they were supposed to remember orally and keep at all times written on their hearts) completely reforms the kingdom. In oral societies, a message not continually repeated in the present is a message that is lost to the past. The idea of truth as something to be pursued through abstract logical proofs is foreign to oral societies. Truth and “facts” are determined through observing and experiencing the world. For someone to doubt what is clearly evident from experiences confirmed by several trusted sources, including oneself, is foolish to oral societies. DesCartes’ famous (and highly literate) philosophical insight, “I think, therefore I am”9 would be utterly ridiculous to an oral society simply content with “Obviously, we can all see that I am.” This phenomenon can be observed in field work10 done by A. R. Luriia in Uzbekistan among literates and illiterates, where trying to get abstract definitions of concrete objects from an oral culture proved fruitless: In Luriia’s field work, requests for definitions of even the most concrete objects met with resistance. ‘Try to explain to me what a tree is.’ ‘Why should I? Everyone knows what a tree is, they don’t need me telling them’ replied one illiterate peasant, aged 22 (1976, p.86) Why define, when a real-life setting is infinitely more satisfactory than a definition? Basically, the peasant was right. There is no way to refute the world of primaryorality. All you can do is walk away from it into literacy.11 The work of A.R. Luriia also reveals another key component of oral society: what is not already in concrete form must be shared through metaphors. From Ong’s quotation of Luriia’s field work in Uzbekistan: Illiterate (oral) subjects identified geometrical figures 8

For an interesting exploration of orality in the Jewish context see: Natalie B. Dohrmann’s “Orality and Ideology in Rabbinic Judaism.” Prooftexts 24, no. 2 (12 2004), 199–206 René Descartes. Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Seeking Truth in the Sciences (Raleigh: Alex Catalogue, 199-?). 9

A. R. Luriia. Cognitive Development, Its Cultural and Social Foundations (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976). 10

Walter J. Ong. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London: Routledge, 1993).

by assigning them the names of objects, never abstractly as circles, squares, etc. A circle would be called a plate, sieve, bucket, watch or moon; a square would be called a mirror, door, house, apricot drying-board. Luriia’s subjects identified the designs as representations of real things they knew. They never dealt with abstract circles or squares but rather with concrete objects. Teachers’ school students on the other hand, moderately literate, identified geometrical figures by categorical geometric names: circles, squares, triangles, and so on (1976, pp. 32-9) They had been trained to give schoolroom answers, not real life responses.12 A person may be able to observe a tree and not need any abstract description of it, but the concept of love for example can only be depicted through story and metaphor. When Luriia’s subjects were looking at abstract shapes like triangles, they assumed that they were supposed to interpret them as a metaphor for something concrete. The idea of an abstract concept without an immediate real world counterpart doesn’t even enter into their heads. A biblical expression of this concept can be found in essentially any of the Psalms or poetic/prophetic books. These books contain very abstract concepts, but are told through miniature stories and metaphors using realworld objects and people. For an extreme example look at the life of the Prophet Hosea, his entire and real life is used as a series of metaphors portraying abstract concepts. Personal and group experiences are the best ways to determine the truth of things in an oral culture. Abstract thinking is impossible without real world analogs. Therefore the expansion of one’s limited experience can only be done through the world of stories. Stories are a means of packaging valuable information in a way that taps into our experiential learning. Steven Pinker is a cognitive scientist and Harvard professor who describes story’s role this way: Fictional narratives supply us with a mental catalogue of the fatal conundrums we might face some day and the outcomes of strategies we could deploy in them. What are the options if I were to suspect that my uncle killed my father, took his position, and married my mother? If my hapless older brother got no respect in the family, are there circumstances that might lead him to betray me? … The cliche that





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life imitates art is true because the function of some kinds of art is for life to imitate it.13 The parables and teachings of Jesus Christ are the clearest example of the Gospel shared in an oral society. Jesus doesn’t dedicate His ministry to didactic teaching of doctrine but to using stories, metaphors and concrete objects and situations to bring understanding to a world that is impossible for the human mind to conceive of. Phrases like, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed” reveal the heart of the metaphorical, concrete oral thinking that Jesus was addressing. The literate mind is overwhelming concerned with novelty, but oral societies cherish familiarity. This concept again returns to the fleeting nature of spoken language. Without independent abstract thought, oral cultures use formulaic stories and proverbs to guide understanding. Any analysis of folk and fairy tales will find them populated by what appear to be rather one-dimensional stereotypical characters. Jesus own parables often follow a formula, “There was a man/king/master/farmer who had X number of sons/ servants/wedding guests; he does something and then Y happens. This is how it is in the kingdom of heaven: I tell you the truth, Z.” Jesus does little to describe what the farmer is like, what his family is like and whether he has a long beard or not; those details are irrelevant to the metaphor. When Jesus says, “A sower went out to sow his field,” everyone knows who that is and what one looks like. Jesus’ characters are archetypes, as are common and accepted in oral society. Archetypes and formulas allow for characters and concepts to be conveyed via something as simple as a “fig tree.” Everyone knows what a king is like, but as soon as the story is about a particular king who acts differently, we need much more information and the events are open to far more interpretation. Jesus makes frequent use of this to call attention to heavenly realities. The formulaic nature of oral communication allows for groups of different people to understand the story in similar ways, whether they agree with it or not. It is clear in the New Testament that the Pharisees were able to catch the meanings of what Jesus was saying through His parables; they took issue not with varying interpretations of the stories but with what they plainly meant. There was very little wiggle room for interpreting the stories in different ways.


Living in oral cultures Because oral cultures receive information through experiences, the first priority in training a young person for the world is to get them some of those experiences in a safe environment. You actually have lived in an oral culture yourself. Children are all naturally born into an oral culture; they know nothing of written language for the first formative years of their lives. To learn to walk we watch others and try to do it ourselves, teaching our muscles what works and what makes us fall on our faces. These experiences are improved by the encouragement of our parents who gently encourage us and praise our successes. As children grow, they begin to model what their parents do, cradling a baby doll, pushing a lawnmower, gaining experiences to help define their world. The focus on repetition and concrete analogs is as true of children as it is of oral cultures. As we attend school and move on into literacy, we lose our interest in familiarity and repetition and gain a preference for novelty. As a child, I watched Star Wars so much that we wore the VHS tapes completely out; today I look back on the films fondly but have little interest in seeing them again. In oral societies, this same type of learning continues into adulthood; you learn by doing, and there is no manual or how to book. Sailors “learned the ropes” by observing, following orders and listening to the encouragement/ discouragement of other sailors. Stories are ways to teach more abstract and dangerous lessons where the natural failure as a part of a learning curve is not an option. In contrast, literate culture is nearly the exact opposite in every respect. It is important to clarify that the broader culture of literacy lags at least 3,000 years behind the invention of writing. Since the earliest known alphabet, writing was reserved for recording lists, marking dates, and recording important oral presentations. In many ways the original use of writing was as a sort of taperecorder that could be played back by a person who could read. Literacy as a “culture” existed only among the extremely wealthy and elite for the first several thousand years. Despite the technological capabilities, the expense and difficulty of maintaining a broad culture of literacy kept it out of global society until Johann Gutenberg and Martin Luther. The first major clash in the battle with this new culture was fought in Greek society. Plato spoke against writing in Phaedrus and his Seventh Letter calling it mechanical and

Steven Pinker. How the Mind Works (New York: Norton, 1997).

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inhuman, particularly the fact that you could never ask a text a question, that it portrayed dead ideas (in contrast to the constant present of oral society). Plato was thinking of writing as an external, alien technology, as many people today think of the computer. Because we have by today so deeply interiorized writing, made it so much a part of ourselves, as Plato’s age had not yet made it fully a part of itself (Havelock 1963), we find it difficult to consider writing to be a technology as we commonly assume printing and the computer to be. Yet writing (and especially alphabetic writing) is a technology, calling for the use of tools and other equipment: styli or brushes or pens, carefully prepared surfaces such as paper, animal skins, strips of wood, as well as inks or paints, and much more. Clanchy (1979, pp. 88-115) discusses the matter circumstantially, in its western medieval context, in his chapter entitled ‘The technology of writing’. Writing is in a way the most drastic of the three technologies. It initiated what print and computers only continue, the reduction of dynamic sound to quiescent space, the separation of the word from the living present, where alone spoken words can exist.14 The concept that ideas could be captured and put into a recorded medium that didn’t change was a sharp contrast from oral culture. Words, once fleeting, could be tied down and kept to read over and over again. The changes began to be felt in small ways even in Jesus’ day. While Jesus (though clearly literate as demonstrated by Luke 4:16) never left us anything written in His own hand, the Early Christian Church shared theological reflection and understanding through texts. Until Gutenberg however, these texts themselves were still almost impossible to possess for the vast majority of society, and most people remained in an oral culture. It was this reality which led the church of the era to communicate to its members primarily through music and the arts and architecture, and to leave reading the scriptures to its priests. It was Luther and Gutenberg then who brought about the great sweeping change in European society with the introduction of true universal literacy. Suddenly what had been expensive and mysterious (written in Latin and copied by hand) became cheap and easy to understand with just a little education (printed in mass and written in local languages). While not totally gone, oral society

came crashing down in Europe, and by extension in North America. The European mind itself had to be restructured to make sense of this new technology. One recalls the fascination of St. Augustine in observing Ambrose reading: “His eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud.”15 The idea of reading as something internal and not just a recording of an oral presentation to be accessed by a group together was unimaginable to pre-literate Europe.

The Reformation The Lutheran Reformation was largely successful because of this radical shift in thought and technology. Lutherans could encourage the lost to seek out for themselves the truth in Scripture in their own language. The great threat at the time was the outrageously false teaching coming from the only ones with access to the information. Theological works expanded on and delved into what the words of Scripture meant and implored people to compare what Holy Scripture said with the doctrines and teachings of the Catholic church. While as Lutherans we teach that reason must be subject to faith, it was Godgiven reason and logic that distinguished the disparity between what Scripture said and what the church was teaching. Definitions and analysis of individual portions of Scripture and theological concepts enforced clarity and resolved confusion created through purely anecdotal and artistic communication from the church. Most importantly, as a result of the printing press, ideas were shared and spread so easily that it was nearly impossible to stop them. No matter how many books and authors were burned, they were printing and writing thousands more. To stop an idea from spreading in an oral culture, you remove the person making the offensive argument, to stop an idea in a literate culture, you must demonstrate an alternative argument that proves the original one incorrect. However, after the first key years, Lutherans were no longer the only ones involved in the printing and dissemination of complex ideas. As time went on and the human mind began to change with this new technology, Augustine. F. J. Sheed and Michael P. Foley, ed. Confessions, vol. 6 (Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2006). 15




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other ideas began to arise. The technology that allowed Luther to share his reformation also permitted people to speak out against all sorts of authorities. Luther was followed by others and the powerful institution of the Roman Catholic church began to splinter. The American Revolution was the culmination of a centuries old war of ideas fought in books and printing presses regarding the role of governments. When blood was spilled in Lexington, it spread across the globe igniting wars and toppling the old authorities of the medieval age. The French Revolution, Simon Bolivar’s liberation of the Americas and more were a result of a culture of literacy. The new technology became a battleground of facts versus theories, analysis of texts and cataloging and categorizing the world according to a subscribed world view. For the first time in history, a dictionary was needed to store words that were not commonly understood or had fallen completely out of use. In an oral society a word which was no longer known to everyone was a word that vanished from the language, now it was defined and stored away just in case it should have a use again. The roles of the elderly and of traditions were subjected to a special assault, cast aside in the quest for novelty. Since in primary oral culture, conceptualized knowledge that is not repeated aloud soon vanishes, oral societies must invest great energy in saying over and over again what has been learned arduously over the ages. This need establishes a highly traditionalist or conservative set of mind that with good reason inhibits intellectual experimentation. Knowledge is hard to come by and precious, and society regards highly those wise old men and women who specialize in conserving it, who know and can tell the stories of the days of old. By storing knowledge outside the mind, writing and, even more, print downgrade the figures of the wise old man and wise old woman, repeaters of the past, in favor of younger discoverers of something new.16 Science, religion and political/economic philosophy were divorced from each other for the first time in thousands of years. Nothing could be taken for granted unless it was analyzed, catalogued and recorded. Even theology was categorized and divided into scientific schools with the new pedagogical divisions of Friedrich Schleiermacher. Oral holism had become outdated, and scientific sectarianism became king. 16


Rather than remember what God has done and does, literate society began to demand that God prove Himself according to its standards. Darwin’s Origin of Species challenged the Christian faith on the grounds of logic and scientific method, and the Church tried to respond in kind with logical proofs to the contrary. For the first time in human history, the existence of divinity was not naturally assumed by everyone. The calculated analysis of how everything worked led mankind to believe that eventually we could find out all knowledge and could create the perfect society. The quest was on for the best society, the best ideas, the best representation of the world we lived in. Thinking became primarily analytical and linear; one thing leads to another without tangential ideas. Each individual must analyze the evidence provided by this catalogue of ideas and determine who is presenting the truth. The meta-narrative and telelogy of what all the pieces meant were sacrificed to the scientific methodology, reducing existence to that which is merely material. The Holy Grail of the literate culture became the attainment of a “theory of everything,” a crusade that modern physicists and scientists still doggedly pursue like lab coated Knights Templar.17 Teleological narratives were pushed to the side as mere entertainment, information and truth could only be discovered through analysis and “hard facts.” Naturally, this focus brought about incredible advances in physical science and technological design, while also promoting a rejection of spiritual truths. With its constant technological and philosophical progress, Western civilization began to describe itself with the term “Enlightened.” Mysticism and spirituality became the pariah of literate cultures, as though the realities of a world unknowable to science rendered its existence impossible. The Lutheran church itself split between those who held to childlike faith in an inspired biblical truth and those who claimed to be above the “antiquated myths” of the Word of God. The narrative of Scripture was eviscerated by Jesus Seminar scholars seeking a materialist explanation of Scripture. The rejection of biblical inspiration because it didn’t fit human logic led to a loss of the Gospel message itself, undoing much of the work brought about by the original reformation. 17

For a fascinating criticism of the modern limits on the sciences imposed by materialism, see William A. Dembski’s Being as Communion: A Metaphysics of Information.

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Print technology brought about the intellectual concept of a closed-set world, one where it is in fact possible to measure and catalog and store all of the information in the universe in books. You can sense the optimism at the height of the literate era with the invention of the telegraph as though they were building a second Tower of Babel. Charles F. Briggs and Augustus Maverick write in their 1858 book The Story of the Telegraph:18 Of all the marvelous achievements of modern science the electric telegraph is transcendentally the greatest and most serviceable to mankind … The whole earth will be belted with the electric current, palpitating with human thoughts and emotions … How potent a power, then, is the telegraphic destined to become in the civilization of the world! This binds together by a vital cord all the nations of the earth. It is impossible that old prejudices and hostilities should longer exist, while such an instrument has been created for an exchange of thought between all the nations of the earth. The horrors of World War I were the first death knell of the humanistic literate culture, as each of the marvelous technologies so optimistically forged in the fire of the enlightenment were wielded as weapons of war in the most apocalyptic conflict the world had ever seen. The quest to know all knowledge begat tools to eliminate one’s enemies. A literally shell-shocked world crawled out of the rubble of its own hubris and was forced to ask itself a very hard question about the nature of humanity. Was the universe a closed set, something we could completely understand and dominate, or was there a meaning to life not written by man?

The Internet As the utopian hopes of the literate culture were dashed, the underlying framework for a new era of communication culture was being built. Ironically, the Internet was originally conceived and built to serve as a powerful tool for scientists to share computer power in their quest for the very “literacy holy grail” that the Internet would soon snatch from their grasp. For the first several years, the Internet was just a digital reflection of print culture; there were broadcasters Charles F. Briggs and Augustus Maverick. The Story of the Telegraph, and a History of the Great Atlantic Cable a Complete Record of the Inception, Progress, and Final Success of That Undertaking, a General History of Land and Oceanic Telegraphs, Descriptions of Telegraphic Apparatus, and Biographical Sketches of the Principal Persons Connected with the Great Work (New York: Rudd & Carleton, 1858). 18


and experts who chose what the message would be who produced it and sent it out. The idea of having your own .com or website was foreign, and most churches or even most businesses, for that matter, didn’t have a Web presence at all, while forward-thinking individuals bought domain names like for only a few dollars.19 The true revolution didn’t really happen until the creation of simple content creation tools like livejournal. com, and radical new ways of thinking about content introduced by programs like Napster. Suddenly anyone could use the Internet not to just get information but to share it. As speeds and technology advanced, we arrived at what technologists called Web 2.0, Twitter, Wikipedia, Facebook and YouTube. This was paired with the power of mobile Internet, no longer confining the network to a tower PC at a desk terminal. In 2006, Time magazine recognized the “Person of the Year” as “you.” This was in reference to the sudden explosion of content and sharing of information that happened through these technologies. The magazine noted: Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I’m not going to watch Lost tonight. I’m going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I’m going to mash up 50 Cent’s vocals with Queen’s instrumentals? I’m going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion? The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, Time’s Person of the Year for 2006 is you. Collaborative media and self-publishing is in the process of toppling the old gatekeeper structure, while at the same time broadening the audience of any given message to a global scale. As billions of personal narratives burst to the surface, new generations interact and live in a world that is increasingly immaterial. Suddenly, a scientific moratorium on anything not purely reducible to matter seems ridiculous. In a world where so much of what we “own” is simply information, meta-narrative is in the process of usurping pure empiricism. The study of physics itself is also facing a coup. 19

If you don’t remember this era, search YouTube for “The Kid’s Guide to the Internet” for a hilarious reminder.

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Newtonian determinism is no longer adequate for building a mathematical model of reality, with quantum and relativistic physics ruling the day. Not even the vaunted scientific method is safe; how can we trust science based on observation, if on the quantum level, the act of measurement appears to affect reality?20 Now add on to the explosion of personal narratives engendered by the birth of the Internet the millions of carefully crafted narratives that are targeted at citizens and consumers by politicians and corporations. Yankelovich, a market research firm, estimates that a person living in a city 30 years ago saw up to 2,000 ad messages a day, compared with up to 5,000 today. About half the 4,110 people surveyed last spring by Yankelovich said they thought marketing and advertising today was out of control … ’What all marketers are dealing with is an absolute sensory overload,’ said Gretchen Hofmann, executive vice president of marketing and sales at Universal Orlando Resort. The landscape is ‘overly saturated’ as companies press harder to make their products stand out, she said.21 Think for a moment about those statistics; a child is given a message intended to persuade the child about something (self, the world, reality, etc.) over 40,000 times in a single year, and an adult receives over 5,000 a day. That’s 1,250,000 advertising messages each year! The generations of the digital age are now accustomed to people lying to them, twisting the truth, telling things that are too good to be true, etc. As a result, young people (and increasingly older people) are extremely skeptical of any message that makes extraordinary claims.

Digitoral age Because of their skepticism and access to information, people in this new “digitoral” age interpret the world in a different way. Unlike the literates before them, “postliterates” discover the world through hearing, seeing and interacting; their own experiences are what move them to belief about what is generally true or false. Information is trustworthy only if it fits into one’s own personal metanarrative. Today, statistics and arguments can be made for

Manjit Kumar. Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality (New York: W.W. Norton, 2009).

anything, there are whole libraries filled with information supporting both sides of any argument. In the end, these post-literates believe they must rely on their own intuition and experiences to determine what is true and what is false. At the end of the literate age, this conflict took the form of postmodernism and a premise that there could not be a single truth. For materialists, constrained by antiquated Newtonian determinism, the only explanation for nonmaterial concepts such as truth, love or even simply information, the only answer is postmodernism and a metaphysical multiverse where everything possible is “real.” Yet as materialism comes apart at the seams, postmodernism is becoming its first casualty. For this reason, spirituality and meta-narrative are gaining enormous traction even in the west.22 In its place is a nebulous philosophy largely built on the intersection between empirical information, personal and group experience. Information that conflicts with a post-literate personal meta-narrative about the universe must either be rejected or fundamentally change the narrative of one’s own life. When a Christian claims that all reality centers on Christ and His love for a broken mankind, post-literates look both at the transformative power of this information and at the person making the claim. If the information can easily be demonstrated to be fictional or when the Christian who speaks this message is living according to the narrative of the world, the claim is easily rejected as false. Amazingly, even with the modern explosion of information, personal experience appears to have risen to the top. To give a simple example, consider the claims of a revolutionary new dietary drink. Images on the side of the Web browser of obese people before and after just 12 days with said drink will make an amazing claim: in just 2 weeks with our new dietary drink, you can lose 20 pounds. Such a claim would radically change how you would see the world if it were true. It would mean you could eat anything you want, forgo all exercise and for just $15.99 a week in dietary drinks, you could still maintain a beach body. However, such a claim does not match our current narrative about the universe; we may

20 21

Louise STORY. “Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Now Likely to See an Ad.” The New York Times. January 14, 2007. Accessed October 22, 2014 html?pagewanted=all&_r=0..


Steven Barrie-Anthony. “’Spiritual but Not Religious’: A Rising, Misunderstood Voting Bloc.” The Atlantic. January 14, 2014. Accessed October 22, 2014. spiritual-but-not-religious-a-rising-misunderstood-votingbloc/283000/.

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wish it were true, but our experience tells us that it is not. For some, the photograph provided by the advertisement is enough to convince them that their world view is wrong, or perhaps their personal worldview has always held that such a dietary drink must exist. For most people, however, there will be very little that can be done to convince them that the advertisement can be taken at face value. Consider then, how radically this scenario would change if five of your most obese friends were to purchase this dietary drink, and two weeks later they were your thinnest friends? How would you reconcile a scientific study that denounces the claims of the energy drink with the sudden thinness of your five obese friends? For post-literates, social proof has become the prime new litmus test for reality. Modern research on unbelievers confirms this. The Barna Group reported: “The primary reason outsiders feel hostile towards Christians, and especially conservative Christians, is not because of any particular theological perspective. What they react negatively to is our ‘swagger,’ how we go about things and the sense of self-importance we project.” Observed hypocrisy has been cited again and again by unbelievers as their primary reason for their unbelief. A Barna Group study of unbelievers aged 16–29 shows that 85% of unbelievers surveyed described Christians as “hypocritical — saying one thing, doing another,” this even in spite of 76% also saying that Christianity “has good values and principles.” For people in a digitoral culture of communication, your behavior and attitude on Facebook is just as important or more even important than the Christian messages you occasionally post. An unbeliever who sees your Christian testimony in word but observes as you viciously attack or berate others on Facebook or in person will reject your belief in the same way they reject other marketing messages that are “too good to be true.”

Identity The missiological task must always return to the question of our identity before it can answer how we are to reach out to others. To answer what the Church will look like in the uncertain future, we need only answer the question of what and who the Church is in its essence. First, it is worth defining once again what the Church is. As Lutherans, we understand the Church as being the assembly of those who have been redeemed by Christ’s blood, washed and reborn in His Baptism and who receive His gifts through the Lord’s Supper and the preaching of the Word. As


Lutherans, we share the same confession as the apostles and the reformers as expressed in the Book of Concord. The apostle Paul describes the Church as the body of Christ — many members with only one head. Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Church, her Bridegroom and the center of everything. If Christ is not at the center of the Church, it can no longer be the Church. The body cannot survive without its head. Therefore, even though it may be obvious, my first suggestion for the Church in the post-literate, digital age we find ourselves in is simply to let Christ be first in everything. Anything that we say or do with whatever technologies may come must be subject to this one rule, that in all things Christ might have the pre-eminence. Any attempt to guide the Church that does not “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2) and in whom we “live, move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28) will be met with disaster. It is only through Christ’s grace that we are saved, and the mission and Church belong only to Him. We must renew our focus on Christology to reach this day and age. Only with Christ as the established and unquestioned head of the Church can we look at the three types of expressions of our faith as described by the recent Synod emphasis. The concept is based on three Greek words: μαρτυρια (Witness), διακονια (Mercy) and κοινωνια (Life Together). Each of the words describes one of the roles of the Church, namely confessing the risen Christ through words and expressions of faith, showing God’s love and mercy to others through good works and being a part of the body of Christ through Word and Sacrament communities. For the post-literate, words and expression of truth are important, and doing so in ways that make sense in their culture are vital. But another important aspect of communicating the Gospel to this generation is demonstrating that this faith is authentic. As children of the age of advertising, they will determine the truth of Christianity as much through their experiences with Christians as the words that describe the Gospel. Without a unified testimony of witness, mercy and life together, we risk falling into the same trap as many Christians in focusing so much on our words we lose our focus on living it out as well. Although the main emphasis of this discussion is communication of the Gospel, to emphasize this very point, I will leave “Witness” until last, as only in light of the other two will the testimony of the Church be effective.

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The apostle John writes: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16–17). Let this be our second guideline in bringing the Gospel into the digitoral age. We should love one another because He first loved us. The Christian cannot do good works or have compassion on others unless he himself has first received God’s unfathomable mercy. Through the Holy Spirit, we call out, “Lord, have mercy!” and He does! As Christians justified through Christ’s blood and made new in the waters of Baptism, we now have the freedom and capacity to show love and mercy to others. So, how should we behave within this networked, technological world? We behave no differently than how Jesus Christ Himself commanded us: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14–16). We are called as Christians to be a light in the darkness. We cannot hide that light away from this new society that is being plunged even more deeply into darkness with every passing hour! Christians should be known across the world for their love toward the disenfranchised and poor, for other Christians and for the lost, even for our enemies. Unfortunately our reputation across the world right now is based on the often vicious battles we fight with other Christians and with unbelievers about countless issues. This is not to say that the Church should not take a stand on politically charged issues like abortion or homosexuality, but such communication must be bathed in the love and forgiveness that we ourselves have received. All too often our internal arguments have spilled out onto the Internet. Lutherans tear each other apart on blogs and Facebook over doctrinal or personal issues, while the world quietly sits by and observes us ignore the needs of our neighbor while demeaning our brother. Let us always remember to address these issues between one another in love and privacy, and to put others before ourselves in everything we do, following Christ’s example. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all

partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17). Therefore, a third guideline for the Church in the digitoral era is to remember our fellowship as a body of believers bound together through Christ. None of us is an island; we have always been a part of a social network, the one body of Jesus Christ. This body comes together around the Word and the Sacraments through the Divine Service and through community activities of service and stewardship. The sacramental life of the Church is a radical departure from the secular meta-narrative. The digitoral age is increasingly characterized by its isolating characteristics. The Church is called to be in union, despite differences in age, economic status, political affiliation or past; we are all one in Christ. We cannot have a youth church, an elderly church and an “online” church; there can only be one Church. This is an incredible opportunity for the Church to stand out in this new age, as people seek community they can only truly find it in the fellowship of believers who gather around the Word and Sacraments. Let us become known for our community, for how we constantly are building one another up in love, and how we regularly receive Christ’s gifts together. Unity and face to face community must be a particular emphasis going forward. Perhaps it is time to retire the concept of compartmentalized ministries altogether. The apostle John also writes, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-- that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:1–4). The final guideline is that the Church must not lose focus on the historic and incarnational nature of our confession. The Gospels themselves are social proof. We aren’t sharing a “clever story” or philosophy (2 Peter 1:16), but the testimony of eyewitnesses and people who were actually healed by Jesus’ own hand, heard His teaching with their own ears and continued to pass down this “tradition” generation after generation. All of our previous faithful confessions — the creeds, the Book of Concord and even our modern expressions insofar as they reflect

Journal of Lutheran Mission | The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod


revealed Scripture — are built on the testimony of those who have seen and heard and touched. Our “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) points to Christ Himself as our eyewitness to the kingdom of Heaven and to the Father (John 1:18, John 6:46). We would do well not to forget the immense value of this for post-literates. Only in the light of this testimony about Jesus Christ will our works and fellowship together make any sense to the unbeliever. How can they believe in that which they have not heard? Faith comes by hearing, and today, hearing may come through seeing, touching and experiencing. Let us boldly proclaim the same Gospel as those who went before us to this new generation! Evangelism to post-literates must take on the character of those disciples in Acts 4: “For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” It can seem that only those churches with the weakest understanding of biblical truth are engaging this new society. As Lutherans, we have a profound responsibility to take up this challenge. We have proven that we can express what we believe in the literate age through the Book of Concord, but could we express what we believe, teach and confess in the 140 characters of a tweet? Do we not have anything worth saying to these new generations who process and receive their information through story, networks and multimedia and not through books and treatises? Worse still, are we instead damaging our message through our current use (or abuse) of that same social media? Orthodox Lutheranism should be uniquely positioned and able to answer this challenge. Our theology is hands-down the simplest and clearest way of the truth of Scripture. We are indeed facing a crisis as a church if we cannot conceive how to express our rich theology in digitoral ways. It is time for us to answer the pointed question of Malcolm Boyd: “Do the mass media represent simply vulgarization, popularization, an area of mounting confusion with which you cannot cope? Is your theology not applicable to this major crisis in Christian life and communication?”23

Post-literate Christians and unbelievers are seeking a biblical confession of the faith in their own language and culture, a meta-narrative with which to understand their own life and purpose. In the midst of the hurried “twaddle” denounced by Kierkegaard, Lutherans are faced with a question. #silence? James A. Neuendorf is an LCMS missionary in the Dominican Republic.

Boyd, Malcolm. Crisis in Communication: a Christian Examination of the Mass Media Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1957. 23


Journal of Lutheran Mission | The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Witness, Mercy, Life Together: A Cross-Cultural Perspective by Bart Day

Faith in Jesus unites all Christians, transcending cultures, languages and geography.


hat which began as the “very good” creation, was life and then became death is life again by the power teaming with life and light, at once was broken as and work of the God that created life in the first place — the serpent’s seeds were sown, and the weeds of for you and for me and for the whole world. the enemy began to be harvested in the ears of men. There Consider with me the Gospel of Luke’s account of is no one that does any good, and there are none that are the triumphal entry. After Jesus had come into the city, righteous. some of the Pharisees tell Jesus to rebuke His disciples What God created alive, man has sent into death and for their singing and shouting. Jesus answers, “I tell you, destruction. That death has gone to all the corners of the if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke earth. There is not a race of man, a sex, a pocket of life or 19:40). Those people were stones; the redeemed continue any piece of God’s perfect creation to be stones that cry out the song that has not fallen prey to death. and confession of praise to God Life together with Jesus Saint Paul, quoting from Psalms 14 for a Savior — the God-Man Christ creates a worldwide and 53 says, “None is righteous, no, Jesus Christ. The reign of sin and phenomenon. What was not one; no one understands; no death has made each one of us one seeks for God. All have turned before separated by borders, dead: dead as a rock, or rather, aside; together they have become stone dead. The key, however, language, customs, pride, worthless; no one does good, not is what Jesus does with dead self-interest and all the even one. Their throat is an open rocks — in other words — with other “children” born of grave; they use their tongues to ordinary rocks. He makes them a sinful nature, now is deceive. The venom of asps is extraordinary, like Him. under their lips. Their mouth is What does this mean for gathered together in one to full of curses and bitterness. Their Christ’s hands and His feet, His live in forgiveness, life and feet are swift to shed blood; in their lungs and His heart, His body, salvation in Jesus. paths are ruin and misery, and the walking, running, moving all over way of peace they have not known. the world? Examining witness and There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:11–18). mercy has less importance for the congregation of God’s So what was for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden holy people if we do not first define and examine that very a natural fear, love and trust in God above all things, after congregation, also known as the bride of Christ and the the Fall is the complete opposite. Where life reigned, now body of Christ, which is the collective gathering of saints death sits upon the throne of men. from all over the globe, even you and me. This is the depravity in which we find ourselves across Life together (koinonia) is a description of the stones borders, cultures, languages and peoples. But what God that have become living. St. Peter picks up this metaphor places as the crown of His creation (i.e., man), He will not in his first epistle: “As you come to him, a living stone allow Satan to carry captive into the torment of hell. What rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and

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precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4–5). Notice first that St. Peter is talking about stones that are already living. The verse could be translated, “As living stones coming are rejected.” The stones have been forged into the cross shape of Christ, and their stance before God has been changed. He had once before rejected these stones, even as the “builders” had rejected Christ as the cornerstone. Now they are no longer rejected by God, but chosen and precious. Their acceptance is not of themselves, but from God. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” Thusly, Martin Luther began to explain the Third Article of the creed. He could have been describing a builder gathering stones. This builder searches the world over, looking for stones to build, not a tower into the heavens, but a temple where he can dwell with his people. You have to be a stone or else he will leave you in the field. And yet there is nothing to fear because we are all stones. We just lay there, without any power of our own. We have to be lifted, carried and placed into the right spot. Of course, this is unlike any other builder the world has known. God takes ordinary stones and makes them His own, living stones, ready to be built into a spiritual house. He does this through the means of His Holy Spirit. So it is that the living God, Jesus Christ, sends His Holy Spirit into the pastures and the high places, the low places, to this country and that country, to these people and that people to declare them living. Luther goes on to say, “But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” At the very center of the Holy Spirit’s work are Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. The Holy Spirit does His work only by giving the good gifts of the cross to dead, cold, stones lying in the fields of sin and darkness (perhaps we should call them the “Valley of the Shadow of Death”). When cold and dead stones are washed in Baptism, preached the cross and fed the holy body and blood of Jesus, they are no longer cold and dead, but full of life. At the center of our life together is the work of Holy Spirit received through His means in this place and even to the very ends of the earth. “Daily and richly He forgives my sins and the sins of all believers,” Luther adds, which brings us to our second point in St. Peter’s illustration: we are being built into a


spiritual house. That means that our stance before God is not a private one. How often do we carry on as “Christians” extolling the virtues of our personal and individual relationship with Jesus while ignoring or divorcing our brothers and sisters in the faith from that life? The work of God to forgive our sins and make us living and whole in His sight is one of stacking us in the correct order of paradise-like, architectural beauty and significance in an eternal community that is the Church. (This has a global significance in light of the visible/invisible Church: Christ uses the right stone from the right place to be part of His living house. In the spiritual house, there are no ε∂θνη but only the nation that is the Lord’s: Israel.) The Holy Spirit has established a route for your exact and personal sins to be forgiven and destroyed, but He does so in the context of the spiritual house that is His Church. In this Church, He is daily and constantly active to forgive our sins and to tie us together. We want to imagine that a spiritual house made of living stones does not need any mortar, but it does. It is our Lord Jesus Christ’s blood coursing through the midst of us. As soon as that blood is blocked or mopped up, the house begins to crumble. We need our Lord in our midst in order to hold us together. God told the people of Israel that the “life was in the blood.” The life of this spiritual house is Jesus’ blood. Without it, we are back to being cold, ordinary stones. With it, we are a vibrant, living and active Church. Also important to note is how this blood, the intervention of the Holy Spirit in all His means, makes us active. We find our life from outside of us. And the Christ-given life, surging through the midst of His Church, makes a new Eden. The spiritual house is a paradise and a foretaste of what is to come. No longer are we rejected by God, but in Christ Jesus, in the Church, we are called, chosen and precious. In this Church, we now have a new definition of love. If you can say that Lutheranism has “experience,” it is in the giving of our whole selves to others. Before our encounter with God’s Word, we thought of love as an emotion, or if we thought of it as an act, it was associated with lust and passion. Each living stone is placed by God specifically in the context of other believers. There, we are given a heart for love, to bear one another’s burdens: to bear the weight of the stones pushing down on us, pushing down on the Cornerstone. We learn of love by being loved first. No greater love has a man except that he lay down His life for the world. Since Jesus laid down His life to love us, now He has made us little Christs

Journal of Lutheran Mission | The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

to love the world. To be a Christian is to be a little Christ, like the crucifixion, to give your life for those around you. So it isn’t shocking that life together in Jesus is not idle. We cannot divorce the body of Christ from Christ. As the head of the body, Christ Jesus pushes us out into the world: walking, running and moving to all corners of the earth, a spiritual house that can move and, indeed, does move out to meet the burdens and needs of those around us and those in the world. But Christ’s spiritual house also moves with the Gospel upon its lips. A life together in Jesus is always a life of mercy and of witness. A “very good” new creation in Christ and His cross is teaming with life — serving and speaking forgiveness in Christ to the nations. This is a big shift, is it not? Once the venom of asps filled our lips, but now the Lord has opened our lips and His praise tumbles out. That which was destroyed in the Garden of Eden is restored in the cross of Jesus. We all find our beginning in — and trace a lineage of death and sin back to — our father Adam. We were scattered each to our own language and people because we desired a name for ourselves that is not and was not the name of Yahweh. But Jesus has come to where we are to gather us together again as one people with His name upon our hearts and foreheads, as those who have been redeemed by Christ the crucified. It was the will of God that what was scattered at the Tower of Babel would be gathered in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Of course, we see this great reversal in the events of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2, and it continues even now as the name of that God-Man Jesus has been given to us in the waters of regeneration and renewal of Baptism. The washing of the Holy Spirit makes rocks alive, and the name placed upon hearts and foreheads makes its way to lips and tongues. God does not build this spiritual house in a vacuum. The songs of confession and praise do not entirely reverberate off the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem. For a time, the song of the Church and the confession of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world must be sung in cramped quarters while under attack. The Church finds itself being nurtured and grown in the midst of a vile, dark and sinful world. The “very good” new creation — that is, the Church of God — dwells in the shadow in the valley of death. The light of Christ shines forth, breaking into the darkness, shattering a comfortable environment for the enemies of God. As John put it, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Indeed, the darkness has tried to

overcome it even as it cannot understand it. The darkness is attacking it and trying to destroy it. The world would speculate that this “thing” is something from the past. Maybe it is a prophet that has come back to life or a spirit from yesteryear. Those who know the sacred writings of the people of Israel might even get closer, naming him Elijah, Isaiah or some other prophet, or even “terror on all sides” himself: Jeremiah. Different peoples and cultures will try to discredit this spiritual house and call it one of many worldviews. They may say to ignore it, like Gamaliel suggested to the Sadducees and leaders of the people: “Keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:38). There is more truth to Gamaliel’s statement than he knew. For, indeed, this is an act of God. God has created a living, breathing and active Church for Himself in the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. And it will not fail, but living stones already have their victory in that Jesus who hanged on a tree. This message and this act are what confirm us in our faith and carry us into the midst of our enemies’ territory. St. John says in his first epistle, “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:7–8). Indeed, those three are witnesses of the crucifixion. They are not just some three nondescripts from the olden days; they are alive and active in your life, in the Church’s life, pulling and building the structure of Christ’s body. They flow forth from Christ, delivering the victory over sin and death that was won on the cross and your justification in His resurrection. Jesus gives up His Spirit. Water and blood flow forth from His spear-pierced side: the Spirit, who has called you by the Gospel and the gifts by which He enlightens you, water that He used to washed you in your Baptism and blood by which He bids you drink that you never thirst again. These things have come to be inside you, but they cannot be contained inside you. Faith grabs hold of these witnesses and pushes the message of their testifying to the lips of the church. They must burst out from your heart onto your tongue and out your lips. Even as faith pushes the message of the cross to the lips of the church, the church asks for God to be the one that opens each of our lips (Ps. 51:15). We only know how to speak, because the Holy Spirit has brought the words of the Father to us in the first place. Children learn to speak by listening to their parents. People of other cultures and languages learn one

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another’s language by listening first. The message that they carry is very specific. This message is centered on Jesus Christ and focused specifically on the cross (forgiveness won and life for the world). It is a message that the Spirit moves the church to speak, to sing and to confess before peoples, lands, kings and presidents. The Gospel is not something that gets rid of persecution and opposition, but it is not squashed by these either (the gates of hell shall not prevail against Christ’s church). So, the Holy Spirit encounters more obstinate unbelievers and uses the Church to call them by the Gospel and to enlighten them with His gifts. When our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, told the apostles to make disciples of all nations and to baptize them, He willed that the entire life of the Church be one of witness. Francis of Assisi is often credited for saying, “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” This quote mingles (and confuses) witness and mercy. The Gospel is always upon the lips of the Church. To preach is to declare and to witness is to tell. The entire life of the Church is one of telling and proclaiming, even as our Lord says that His Holy Spirit will declare all things to the Church (John 16:14), the Church will declare those good gifts to the world. This does not mean the Church does not demonstrate mercy. It does. The difference is that when the Church is doing acts of mercy, it does not stop using its tongue. Loving the neighbor in action does not mean a cessation of loving the neighbor in witness. The two can survive simultaneously, and they do. Also important to note is the powerful, creative and changing Word of God. To speak the Gospel is performative, and therefore, to speak the Gospel is to love the neighbor. To speak the Gospel is the Holy Spirit being active in the midst of the spiritual house, which is the body of Christ. Now a body has lips and a tongue, but also has hands and feet. As the Church moves around in the world, it cannot help but be active in the response to the world around it. We often say, “The Church is in the world, not of it.” One of the great light-bulb moments for Martin Luther was that to remain in the world and not of it did not mean to seclude oneself from the world, but rather to remain connected to the Word of God and Christ’s good gifts of forgiveness and life. The Church goes at the command and direction of Jesus into the world. She crosses all borders and barriers. She knows all languages, and she has incorporated all


peoples. Remember we said that God has and continues to search the world over for living stones to place into His spiritual house. That spiritual house returns to those fields to love and to speak and care and to nurture the world. The Church is not of the world; she is of Christ, in the world to speak the Gospel and to love the world she meets. The Christian life is one that flows forth from the life of Christ. We know love and what it means to do acts of mercy because Christ has first loved us and laid down His life for us. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). We have been grafted into the vine of Christ. We now are part of a much bigger plant, and the fruit that comes from our branches is there because of the blood of Christ that binds us together and surges through our veins. We cannot help but bear fruit, and when we do not, the Father comes with His pruning shears to make sure we do soon. We have a new definition of love compared to the weak and self-serving definition the world uses. Love for us is death. Love for the Church is laying down our life for the needs of others and for the world. Love for the Church is Christ in the midst of us, filling our mouths with the Word of God and pushing us into the world to love our neighbor. Life together with Jesus Christ creates a worldwide phenomenon. What was before separated by borders, language, customs, pride, self-interest and all the other “children” born of a sinful nature, now is gathered together in one to live in forgiveness, life and salvation in Jesus. Life together is at the same time dynamic and always moving into the world for the sake of the other. We only have our identification and life in Christ, but that Christ gives life and love to the words we speak and the work we do. It is, in a way, a new culture; it is for certain a new people with a new language and a new food. For once we were dead rock, and we were not a people, but now we are living stones being built up into a spiritual house and we have a God: Jesus Christ who has laid down His life for us and picked it up again. He is our head, our God, our life, our Word and language, and He is our work. We do not have to come up with anything on our own. He supplies all we need. So, as we describe what the Church is, it is defined and shaped by the work of the Holy Spirit. He gathers, enlightens and fills us with heavenly things even while we are on earth. But soon that will not be the case. He will raise us and

Journal of Lutheran Mission | The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

all the dead and give eternal life to you and me and all believers in Christ. Then we will be a spiritual house with no darkness at our walls, no persecution and no pain. We will be with the whole host of witnesses that have gone before, and we will know mercy purely and perfectly forever being together — one life — in the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world — our head and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Rev. Bart Day is the executive director of the Office of National Mission and interim chief mission officer for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Journal of Lutheran Mission | The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod


Survey of


Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana Lutheran Church in Korea Gutnius Lutheran Church, Papua New Guinea The Lutheran Church in the Philippines


Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia

200 KE Y


The Lutheran Church—Hong Kong Synod

Lutheran Synod of Mexico


Matthew C. Harrison

Japan Lutheran Church

China Evangelical Lutheran Church, Taiwan ROC


1894–2014 Robert T. Kuhn Gerald B. Kieschnick

A.L. Barry

Ralph A. Bohlmann

J.A.O. Preus II

Oliver R. Harms

J.W. Behnken

F. Pfotenhauer

Franz Pieper

H.C. Schwan

C.F.W. Walther

F.C.D. Wyneken

C.F.W. Walther

LCMS International Career Missionaries


Career missionaries Partner churches

World War I 1914-1918

Historical world events

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti Lanka Lutheran Church Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania

World War II 1939-1945

150 125

India Evangelical Lutheran Church

100 75 Evangelical Lutheran Church—Synod of France Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium

50 25

Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark

Wall Street crash of 1929






Confessional Lutheran Church of Chile

The Lutheran Church of Nigeria

The Lutheran Church— Missouri Synod founded 1947















Lutheran Church of Togo Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia

Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil

Fall of the Berlin Wall 1989 Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church

9-11 terrorist attacks 2001

Notes on Career Missionary Numbers

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya

Iraq War 2003-2011

The career missionary numbers are primarily taken from the Proceedings of the Synodical Convention from the Board for Foreign Missions (other Synod Mission Boards were not counted). In 1965, the Synod in convention voted to merge the various mission boards into a unified mission board. Despite this change, the number of career missionaries was not significantly affected by this change — in fact, the number declined by 49. Not every Synod convention reported career missionary numbers. Between 1969–1981, when J.A.O. Preus II was president; between 1981–1992, when Ralph Bohlmann was president; and between 2001-2010, when Gerald Kieschnick was president, the Synod in convention did not report career missionary numbers. The most significant decline in career missionaries occurred after Seminex when the “majority of missionaries walked off the field” (1974-1981). In 1981, the Synod adopted a resolution to increase the number of career missionaries to 600 by 1990. The second-largest drop in career missionaries occurred between 2001-2009. Career missionary numbers from 2001–2014 were obtained from the records of the Board for Missionary Services (BFMS) and the Office of International Mission (OIM). These numbers do not include people who served in “Home Missions in Foreign Lands” — which would include pastors and professors who served primarily German-speaking people in Europe and South America. The numbers only include people counted as missionaries to “Foreign Lands.” The Synod did not begin utilizing the category “volunteer” or “GEO” until the 1990s. These are not career missionaries and are not included in the tabulation. Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver Director of Church Relations / Regional Operations


Journal of Lutheran Mission | The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Since the end of the 19th

Overview of LCMS International Career Missionaries: What Does This Mean? by Albert B. Collver III

century, the Missouri Synod has been actively engaged in international mission, but a variety of factors have affected the increase and decline of the number of missionaries.


he accompanying chart showing the history missionaries for her first 47 years, one could hardly of LCMS career missionaries was first published describe the Missouri Synod as not being interested in in the November 2014 The Lutheran Witness mission work. The Synod itself was founded in part to “State of the Synod” issue. To see LCMS international gather congregations together so that the “diversities of career missionaries begin with only two individuals in gifts should be for the common profit.”1 In the first 47 1894, climb to a height of 254 in 1962 and then hover years, the Missouri Synod grew from about 4,000 people (12 pastors and 16 congregations) under a 100 missionaries for more to over 600,000 people by 1894.2 than a decade is a testament to the The story of Missouri During this same period of Lord’s work in sending laborers Synod career missionaries time, approximately 4.5 million into the field. It also prompted the is complex with no single Germans immigrated to the United question by some “Was ist das?” factor or explanation. It States. No doubt immigration (What does this mean?”). also shows the Lord’s grace affected the growth of the Missouri In terms of the number Synod. It should be kept in mind of LCMS international career to His Church despite our that only a tiny fraction of these 4.5 missionaries, 1954 and 2014 foibles and weaknesses. million German immigrants would are parallel years at 90 career The Lord indeed sends find a natural home in the Missouri missionaries. For 47 years, the laborers to the harvest, Synod; the rest were reached LCMS had zero international and our prayer ascends through intentional mission work. career missionaries (1847–1894). For 60 years, the Synod had fewer praying that He sends more By 1940, the Missouri Synod than 90 career missionaries (1894– laborers so that the Gospel grew to 1.2 million members, and by 1965, the Synod reached 2.6 1954). For 46 years, she had 90 or of Christ is proclaimed to million members according to more career missionaries (1954– all the world. official convention reports. During 2000), and for 14 years, 90 or fewer this time, the Synod more than career missionaries (2000–2014). Again, perhaps these are interesting numbers or doubled in membership. This growth was fueled both by trends, but “Was ist das?” The history of LCMS missionary mission efforts and an increase in birthrate. In 1956, the Synod in convention noted the numbers helps tell a story that is ecclesiastical, missional, geopolitical, theological, sociological and perhaps a few Missouri Synod grew more than most other Christian other ___ologicals. Apart from human factors (both denominations in the United States over the past 100 strengths and weaknesses), it is a testament to the Lord’s years, yet it also noted Missouri Synod members only promise to send laborers into the harvest to hear the 1 “Preamble to the Constitution of the Lutheran Church—Missouri saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. Despite the fact that the LCMS did not have foreign Synod,” Handbook 2013, 13. 2

The Missouri Synod had 685,000 members by 1897.

Journal of Lutheran Mission | The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod


constituted 1.2 percent of the population in the United States. H. Mayer, the Mission secretary, noted a strange paradox in his report: “And what shall we say when we look at the heathen world? During the past 40 years, some 14 million heathen were baptized. But during that same span of time, the heathen population increased by more than 20 times that number. Each year there are more Christians, but each year there are still more heathen. We face the strange paradox: The church grows, and yet it becomes relatively smaller.”3 In terms of this, no matter how much the Church grows, it remains a remnant in the world. Even by the best (and most generous) estimates today, slightly less than a third of the world’s population is Christian, despite rapid growth of the Church in the global South. This is the life of the Church under the cross. Part of the explanation of the increase in the number of Missouri Synod international career missionaries between 1894–1954, which was chosen because it represents a point where the Synod had the same number of career missionaries as 2014, is the overall growth of the Synod. Another significant factor regarding the rise of Missouri Synod international career missionaries is the increased geopolitical influence of the United States of America as a world power. The countries where the Missouri Synod began new mission work largely followed opportunities created by the geopolitical influence of the United States of America. This is one reason the largest increase, both in terms of missionary numbers and countries where missionaries were sent, occurred after World War II, which opened opportunities in Asia that did not exist at least for 50 years.4 In fact, mission work by the Missouri Synod in Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong and Taiwan all began after World War II — geographic areas generally unavailable or difficult for Synod to work in prior to the end of the war. Just as the pax romana provided opportunity for the Church to expand with the Roman Empire, so, too, did the Missouri Synod expand its mission work around the world with the foreign policy doctrine of the United States (Truman Doctrine, Reagan Doctrine, et al.) The high point in terms of Missouri Synod international career missionaries occurred in the early Proceedings of the Forty-Third Regular Convention of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod 1956, 369. 3 4

In the early 1890s, the Missouri Synod considered sending missionaries to Japan. This plan fell through in part due to the changing geo-political situation in Asia. As a result, the Missouri Synod began her international mission work in India.


1960s. The Cold War with the Soviet Union was in full swing. The United States was the greatest economic and arguably the greatest military power on earth. The Missouri Synod also had the highest number of communicant members. A pivotal moment in this period was the 1965 Synod convention in Detroit, Mich., which was chosen because Detroit was seen as the future of the United States and leading the trend toward the urbanization of America. The Missouri Synod was on a high from the postwar boom. Expectations for the future were optimistic (overly so). In 1965, the Missouri Synod was increasing in membership by approximately 60,000 people per year. The members of the Missouri Synod gave $705 million to international missions between 1962–1965 (adjusted for inflation in 2014 dollars is the equivalent of nearly $529 million).6 In 1965, approximately four million babies were born in the United States. It was predicted that in a decade this would increase by 25 percent to approximately five million babies being born.7 This optimistic prediction was before the infamous Roe v. Wade case in 1973 and the legalization of abortion in the United States, the malaise of the Vietnam War and the economic stagflation of the 1970s. The actual birth rate of 1975 declined from the 1965 levels by more than half a million people.8 The 1965 birth rate would not be reached again in the United States until the early to mid-1980s. Yet on the basis of projected demographics in 1965, Dr. Wolbrecht predicted that the Missouri Synod would have 8.25 million members by 1990.9 The 1965 Synod convention in Detroit was a watershed moment in the history of the Missouri Synod. In many ways, it was “the” mission convention. The Synod adopted Oliver Harms, “President’s Address,” Convention Proceedings 1965, 7. “Since we met last, God has moved our members to give $70,000,000 for the world mission of the church carried on by the Synod.” 5

Inflation rate of U.S. dollars calculated from http://www. 6

Walter F. Wolbrecht. “Planning For The Church’s Mission,” Convention Proceedings 1965, 21. “We meet in 1965. Ten years from now, on June 16, 1975, there will be 25% more babies born than are being born today.” 7


Or using numbers provided by the Synod in convention, a decline of one million in the birth rate. 9

Wolbrecht, 23. “The outer limit of this projection in 1990 raises these totals respectively to 8,250,000 baptized members and 5,300,000 communicants by 1990.” The actual membership of the Missouri Synod in 1990 was about 2.6 million members. Ralph Bohlmann. “Report of the President,” Convention Proceedings 1989, 70. “Whether a church body’s membership is 2.6 million, as ours is, or 650, or 1,920, all churches should be engaged in mission activity as a primary focus.”

Journal of Lutheran Mission | The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

in convention that the Church is the mission of God and that “The church’s ministries of worship, service, fellowship, and nurture all have a missionary dimension.”10 This was the first of the so-called “Mission Affirmations.” Compatible with the tone of the resolutions of the 1965 convention, Concordia Publishing House published The Mission of God: An Introduction to a Theology of Mission by Georg F. Vicedom, edited by William Danker.11 The book included a “Foreward” by Leslie Newbigin. This work brought the missio Dei theology expounded at the Willingen Conference in 1952 by Vicedom, which holds “the missionary movement of which we are a part of has its source in the Triune God Himself.”12 The South African missiologist David Bosch takes missio Dei even further and says, “Mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God.”13 Other Mission Affirmation resolutions from the 1965 included “The Church Is Christ’s Mission to the Whole World” (Res. 1-01B), “The Church Is Christ’s Mission to the Church” (Res. 1-01C), “The Church Is Christ’s Mission to the Whole Society” (Res. 1-01D), “The Church Is Christ’s Mission to the Whole Man” (Res. 1-01E) and “The Whole Church Is Christ’s Mission” (Res. 1-01F). These convention resolutions provided the theological and philosophical framework for the next significant mission resolution from the 1965 convention, Res. 1-02, “To Effect a Single Board for Missions.” The Synod in convention merged all the various mission boards into one mission board,14 eventually to become known as the “Board for Mission Services.” This was a major “restructuring” of the Synod. After the merging “The Church is God’s Mission,” Resolution 1-01A, Convention Proceedings 1965, 79. 10 11

Georg F. Vicedom. William Danker, ed. Giblert A. Thiele and Dennis Hilgendorf, trans. The Mission of God: An Introduction to a Theology of Mission. (Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1965). 12

Ibid., vii.

David J. Bosch. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. American Society of Missiology Series 16. (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1991), 389–390. However else mission Dei theology has impacted the Church, the assertion that “mission,” which is “sending” is an attribute of God has far reaching implications. “Sending” has not historically been listed in dogmatic texts as an attribute of God. Traditional attributes of God include things like eternal, omniscient, omnipresent, et al. 13


The resolution reads, “The Board for Missions in North and South America, the Board for World Missions, the Board for Missions to the Blind, the Board for Missions to the Deaf, the Board for European Affairs, and the Commission on College and University Work be united into a single Board for Missions to which the Medical Mission Council and the Church Extension Board shall be attached in their established service capacities.”

of all the mission boards into one mission board, there was a slight decline in the number of international career missionaries. Forty-five years later in 2010, the Synod in convention voted to dissolve a single board for missions to create two boards and two offices: The Board for International Mission (BIM) — The Office of International Mission (OIM) and The Board for National Mission (BNM) — The Office of National Mission. Prior to the 1965 convention (for the previous 60–70 years), the Synod created boards to address various aspects of mission and human care for various locations and people groups. For instance, the 1926 Synod convention heard reports from the following mission boards: Home Missions in North America; Home Missions in South America; Foreign Missions; Jewish Missions; Indian Missions; Immigrant and Seaman’s Missions; Deaf-mute Missions; Foreign Tongue Missions and Missions in Europe. Although the Synod had a variety of “mission boards,” international career missionaries throughout the Synod were only counted from the Board of “Foreign Missions.” The chart accompanying this article only counts “career missionaries” from the Board for Foreign Missions and its subsequent and successor boards. It should be noted that international career missionaries from the Board for Foreign Missions and its successor boards comprise the only consistent tracking of Missouri Synod international missionaries. Quite simply, “home mission” (mission to South America and Europe) was not viewed by the Synod as “foreign mission” because this work primarily focused initially on German speaking people located in Europe or South America. The next significant synod event to affect the number of international career missionaries was Seminex, an event that created significant division and strife within the Synod. A significant number of career missionaries “walked off ” the mission field in solidarity with the faculty of the Saint Louis seminary who walked off campus. Reflecting back on 1974 in the 1979 Synod Convention, President J.A.O. Preus said, “These matters have been productive of some misunderstanding, particularly back in 1974, and at the time the majority of the mission staff of the Synod walked out.”15 The events of Seminex had great effect on the Synod, the Synod’s career missionaries and the partner churches of the Missouri Synod. In some measure, the partner churches suffered most directly by the loss of the career missionaries. President 15

J.A.O. Preus. Convention Proceedings 1979, “President’s Report,” 58.

Journal of Lutheran Mission | The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod


J.A.O. Preus in 1975 addressed the convention: The traumatic experiences of 1974 are behind us. But special mention should be made of the steadfastness of missionaries who not only remained at their posts but also exerted a pastoral and loving role, together with the national leaders of the sister churches, and for this we certainly should thank Almighty God. The wisdom and churchmanship shown by presidents of sister churches is an inspiration to all who have been closely associated with them. I am happy to report that not only have the sister churches remained with us but in many instances experienced significant and important growth.16 Both due to the push to abandon “colonialism,” to decry the “imperialism” of the United States and other European powers in the world and the departure of the “majority” of the Missouri Synod’s missionaries from the international field, there was a desire to establish sister or partner churches to the Missouri Synod. Approximately one-third of the current sister or partner churches were established in the decade between 1965 and 1975. As Dr. Preus noted: I also am very frank to state to you that I believe that in the creation of the concept of sister or partner churches during the 1960s, the administration of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod was to some degree remiss. In working with young churches, many of them only about 25 years old, we did not do sufficient consulting together relative to financial controls, to constitutional questions and to matters of general church administration. There were certain theological questions left unanswered, and some of these have been productive of controversies which produced more heat than light. We did not agree sufficiently on guidelines for the carrying out of church fellowship. We talked at great length about autonomy of partner churches, but we did not draw up sufficiently carefully prepared documents to answer the kinds of questions that continue to arise as to the exercise of responsible autonomy.17 Many of the challenges that the Missouri Synod partner churches experienced and, in some cases still experience today, are attributable to the aftermath of the mass departure of Missouri Synod career missionaries due to the events of Seminex. 16

J.A.O. Preus. Convention Proceedings 1975, “President’s Report,” 60.


Preus 1979, 58.


In one sense, the period of the 1980s until early 2000 was an attempt by the Synod to rebuild her mission efforts that existed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1979, the Synod Convention adopted Resolution 1-20, “To Expand the Kingdom Through Larger Number of Missionaries,” which called for the sending of 600 career missionaries.18 By the mid-1980s, the Synod was having difficulty obtaining the goal of 600. To address some concern that arose over the decline in the number of career missionaries, President Ralph Bohlmann wrote: Some mistaken information gets out once in a while, implying that we are declining in mission outreach. I don’t know whether a lot of people understand that during the last 10–15 years there’s been a dramatic change in mission strategy in The Lutheran Church— Missouri Synod, and in many other churches of the world as well. We no longer count the activity of mission outreach in terms of missionaries sent out each year, because the philosophy has been that the missionary goes in order to train missionaries who are natives in the church in which they work. Today, we have many evangelists, catechists, and pastors and lay leaders in churches that were once served as mission fields of the Synod. Such workers today number over 4,000 missionary personnel, compared with about 2,000 in the year 1980, and 2,600 in the year 1970, and 1,000 in the year 1950. It is true that the number of U.S. missionaries is lower than it once was.19 A significant point that Dr. Bohlmann made was that missionary outreach is not solely or limited to the number of Missouri Synod career missionaries. In addition to the role that Missouri Synod career missionaries played, the activities of our partner churches and their workers who in some cases are directly or indirectly supported by the Missouri Synod should be taken into account. This, indeed, is a valid point. However, it is more difficult to count or measure the work of partner churches as the work of the Missouri Synod even if such work is being funded or supported by the Missouri Synod. And as Dr. Bohlmann admitted, the number of Missouri Synod Res. 1-20, Convention Proceedings 1979, 129. “WHEREAS, At least 600 new missionaries are needed to double our present mission personnel by 1990; therefore be it Resolved, That The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod adopt the mission challenge for the ‘80s of 600 new missionaries from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod serving partner churches/mission fields and new outreach areas.” 18

Ralph Bohlmann. Convention Proceedings 1992, “Report of the President,” 70. 19

Journal of Lutheran Mission | The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

career missionaries in the 1980s was lower than it had been in the past. With the election of Dr. Alvin Barry, the Missouri Synod experienced an increase in the number of career missionaries. Again, as in all the previous cases, a number of factors were involved. One factor that greatly contributed to the increase was the improving economy of the United States. Funding for missions increased through donations from members of Synod and from foundations. In addition, there were geo-political factors such as the fall of the Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. This opened up new opportunities for mission work that had not been available in the preceding 50 years. This situation was not unlike the opportunities opened up for mission work after World War II. In the 1998 Synod convention, it was reported that there were 423 missionaries, divided into the following categories: 163 career missionaries (reflected in the accompanying chart), 130 long-term volunteers and 130 short-term volunteers.20 This is one of the few times Synod in convention reported not only career missionaries but also other categories. 1998 marked the high point of Synod missions in terms of career missionary numbers since the time of Seminex (1974). The decade of the 2000s brought several challenges for the number of career missionaries. Perhaps the most significant factor involved the events of Sept. 11, 2001, when the United States suffered terrorist attacks on her home soil. These events affected travel, immigration, economics, politics and the national mood and brought theological ramifications. After 9/11, the United States entered an economic recession/depression that it has not entirely recovered from in 2014. The national mourning after the terrorist attacks on the United States led to a number of pan-Christian joint worship events that raised questions of unionism and syncretism. The Missouri Synod did not escape controversy over whether or not it was acceptable for its pastors to participate. Contention over these joint worship services affected the Synod and thereby had an effect on missionary support. Due primarily to financial challenges, the Missouri Synod had a decline of 73 missionaries during this decade. Since 2010, the Synod slowly is recovering from the decline of the mid-2000s. At the time of the writing of this piece, the Missouri Synod has 90 career missionaries, the same as the Synod had in 1954. 20

Conclusion Since the end of the 19th century, the Missouri Synod has been actively engaged in international mission by the sending of career missionaries. A variety of factors have affected the increase and decline of the number of missionaries, including economic, political, theological and other related factors. Philosophical and theological approaches have influenced the increase or decline in the number of career missionaries, as well as strife and challenges within the Synod. Nearly every Synod convention since 1974 has included resolutions to increase the number of missionaries. The Missouri Synod has consistently desired to increase the number of career missionaries. The actual increase has not always been as successful as desired — at times due to human factors and perhaps at times due to the Church’s prayer that the Lord of the harvest send laborers, delaying that according to His purposes. Another general statement since 1974 that could be made is that the Synod is doing more with less funding each year. When one considers the $70 million ($529 million adjusted for 2014 inflation) the Synod spent on missions between 1962–1965 with a high point of 254 career missionaries, the Synod today has 90 career missionaries with a total budget of approximately $30 million (about $4 million in 1962 dollars). In the 2013, the Synod convention adopted Resolution 1-11, “To Recruit and Place More Career Missionaries,” which called for the doubling of career missionaries. Presently, all indicators show that the Synod should be able to double the number of career missionaries from the 2013 number of 68 to an anticipated 2016 career missionary number of 136. The story of Missouri Synod career missionaries is complex with no single factor or explanation. It also shows the Lord’s grace to His Church despite our foibles and weaknesses. The Lord indeed sends laborers to the harvest, and our prayer ascends praying that He sends more laborers so that the Gospel of Christ is proclaimed to all the world. The Rev. Dr. Albert Collver III is the LCMS director of Church Relations, LCMS director of Regional Operations for the Office of International Mission and executive secretary of the International Lutheran Council.

Convention Proceedings 1998, “Committee 1 Missions,” 56.

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Author Michael Horton notes

Book Review

Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World by Michael Horton (Zondervan Publishing) by Lucas V. Woodford

the folly of letting culture set the tone for the ministry of modern North American churches in contrast to more traditional churches where the Gospel is ordinarily proclaimed, delivered and administered through Word and Sacrament.


hat’s sensational about the ordinary? the reader through the challenges facing the North How can the average sell? What’s American church today — letting the culture set the extraordinary about the normal? Our tone for the life and ministry of the Church. He explores culture, and the church that allows itself to be positioned the over-sensationalized church with all of its lawby it, says, “not much.” oriented demands and juvenilization and points her Our culture constantly looks for the next big thing, back to the beauty and the joy of the ordinary manner is always selling something new and is ever lifting up of her existence, where the extraordinary message of the radical, epic and revolutionary Gospel is routinely, regularly and ways of life. Therefore, the cry of ordinarily proclaimed, delivered and ‘Why do we seem to some in the Church today is that administered through Word and new, radical, epic and revolutionary Sacrament: think that churches ways of ministry must rise to Why do we seem to think that need to imitate the the top too if the Church is to be churches need to imitate the perpetual innovation of successful. Christians must become perpetual innovation of Microsoft Microsoft instead of the instead of the patient care of a good superstars by selling everything patient care of a good for Jesus. Celebrity pastors need to gardener? Chasing the latest fad for lead the way to the next big thing. spiritual growth, church growth gardener? Chasing the Super (modern-day) apostles need and cultural impact, we eventually latest fad for spiritual to be over the top and always at forget both how to reach the lost growth, church growth it for Jesus, and contentment is and how to keep the reached. The and cultural impact, we to be shunned like the plague. As ordinary means of grace become eventually forget both a result, tricked-out, emergent, yesterday’s news. Like pay phones, everything-must-change, hyperso we are told by the emergent how to reach the lost missional, extraordinarily ambitious entrepreneurs, ordinary churches and how to keep the and audacious Christians and their may still be around here and there, reached.’ — Horton churches have become the modus but nobody uses them. In olden operandi in much of North America. days believers may have gathered True, ordinary isn’t fussy, isn’t flashy, has no bells and for ‘the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship … whistles and doesn’t sell. However, author Michael Horton ‘the breaking of the bread and the prayers,’ but that reminds us that the ordinary means of grace is precisely was before iPads. In past generations, Christ’s fruithow Christ has worked for some 2,000 years to bring the bearing vines may have been tended with daily extraordinary gifts of the forgiveness of sins, the promise family disciplines of catechism, Bible reading and of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting to prayer, but with my schedule? And to say that the people bruised, beaten and battered by their sins and the apostolic method of church growth — in breadth as sin of the world. well as depth — is preaching, teaching, baptism, the Full of wisdom and ever winsome, Horton takes Lord’s Supper and accountability to elders is likely to


Journal of Lutheran Mission | The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

provoke the response: ‘are you serious?’1 Horton insightfully tracks how the evangelical church has gone from understanding the “ordinary” to demanding everything be “extraordinary;” how “ambition” was historically and biblically always a vice (and sin), but has now been elevated to a virtue; how “contentment” was always a biblical virtue but has now been made into a vice (of mediocrity); how the “contractual” American mentality and way of life has replaced the “covenantal” biblical mentality and way of life; and how “passing away” is the preferred mode of speaking rather than talking of the death and resurrection. All these ordinary ways of talking about and proclaiming the Good News have been remade and replaced. But make no mistake about it: Horton is clear that ordinary does not mean mediocre. In fact, far from throwing a wet blanket on godly passion, my goal is to encourage an orientation and habits that foster deeper growth in grace, more effective outreach and a more sustainable vision of loving service to others over a lifetime. This is not a call to do less, but to invest in things that we often give up on when we don’t see an immediate return. The fact that ‘ordinary’ has come to mean mediocre and low expectations is a sign of the problem I want to address.2 Always focused on the next big thing, movement or fad in the Church, Horton says the Church actually fails to focus on the truly next big thing — the second coming of Jesus. Until Jesus returns, Horton reminds us that the ordinary things like catechesis (catechism) and liturgy (hymnal), Word and Sacrament are part of the wonderful ordinary way that faith has been passed on and taught for centuries and invites the reader to celebrate the ordinariness still today. Sadly, what is often given up on is the “ordinariness” of the Good News itself, namely, that Jesus Christ came to atone for the sins of the lost and the found; that Baptism is a gift of God’s grace; that the Lord’s Supper gives the forgiveness of sins. When these ordinary means just don’t seem to be doing what we think they should be doing in the right now, at this moment, immediate demands of our time, they are abandoned for something more flashy, more relevant and more radical.

However, Horton takes joy in lifting up the ordinary message that so many Christians find as inadequate: The power of our activism, campaigns, movements, and strategies cannot forgive sins or raise the dead. ‘The gospel… is the power of God for salvation,’ and, with Paul, we have no reason to be ashamed of it (Rom. 1:16). That is why phrases like ‘living the gospel,’ being the gospel’ and ‘being partners with Jesus in his redemption of the world’ are dangerous distortions of the biblical message of good news. The gospel is not about what we have done or are called to do, but the announcement of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ. ‘For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus sake, (2 Cor. 4:5).3 Amen to that! There are far too many well-intentioned but misguided methods, manners and techniques that in the name of innovation, accommodation and determination disparage the ordinary means of God at work through His Word and Sacraments, and yes, even in the liturgy, catechesis and the pastors of the Church. “They’re not enough,” we’re told. So something new must be invented and remade. However, Horton unequivocally, biblically and theologically demonstrates that they are indeed powerful and more than enough: “CNN will not be showing up at a church that is simply trusting God to do extraordinary things through his ordinary means of grace delivered by ordinary servants. But God will, week after week. These means of grace and the ordinary fellowship of the saints that matures and guides us throughout our life may seem frail, but they are jars that carry a rich treasure.”4 What is more, not only are they enough, but Horton also points to how the ordinariness of our daily lives (the ordinariness of our daily callings/vocations) is also something to be celebrated as part of God’s good creation and are, in fact, the means of maintaining a “faithful presence” to “enjoy our neighbors” rather than using them to achieve superstardom in the new ways of doing church: It is easy to turn others into instruments of our ambition rather than loving them for their own sake, as fellow image-bearers of God. They become supporting actors — if not props — in our life movie. Loving actual neighbors through particular actions every day can be a lot more mundane as

Michael Horton. Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 178–179.


Ibid, p. 40.



Ibid, p. 149.


Ibid, p. 28.

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well as difficult than trying to transform culture. Regardless of the role or place in society to which God has assigned us by our calling, we are content. Our identity is already determined by our being ‘in Christ,’ not by our accomplishments. The measure of excellence is daily love for our neighbors during this time between Christ’s two advents.5 Horton has provided an absolute gem for our times. As one who reads every new thing out there, this book was a breath of ordinary fresh air to fill my lungs. This book is a phenomenal and encouraging read! Before any pastor thinks he needs to start anew, joins the latest fad or hires a consultant, he needs to read this book. In fact, it is so good and timely that should be required reading for all pastors and aspiring pastors. Thank you, Michael Horton, for putting out such an important, needed and ordinary book! The Rev. Dr. Lucas V. Woodford is senior pastor of Zion Lutheran Church and School, Mayer, Minn.


Ibid, p. 161.


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Journal of Lutheran Mission | The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod


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Journal of Lutheran Mission | February 2015  

Journal of Lutheran Mission | February 2015  

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