Tuesday, September 14, 2010

It’s a Good Day to be a Lutheran

After his election July 13, Rev. Matthew C. Harrison addressed the convention and introduced his wife, Kathy, to the assembly. Following is the edited text of his brief statement.

"If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one rejoices, all rejoice together. Right now, there are many rejoicing, and there are many suffering.

Luther says when you're walking along, and you strike your little toe on a chair or a table leg, what happens is the whole body bends over, the face grimaces, and the body grabs that little toe. There is no use saying, "That's just a little toe," because the whole body suffers.

This, I realize, is a tumultuous change in the life of our Synod. I wish to thank President Kieschnick for his heart for evangelism and his deep desire to move this Synod forward. Many are suffering, and it will be very challenging times to work together.

I wish to inform you that you have kept your perfect record of electing sinners as president of the Missouri Synod. I guarantee you I will sin and fail. I will fall short. I will sin against you. I wish also to say that right now I forgive all who in any way have sinned against me or anybody else and plead your forgiveness for anything that I said or did that offended you.

I beg of you your prayers. I beg of you your daily prayers and intercession. These are challenging times. I promise you that I will be as straight with you as I possibly can, to the best of my ability, guided by the Spirit of God.

I pledge to you that I will not coerce you. I will do my best, by the Word of Christ, to lead with the generous Gospel of Jesus Christ, which forgives us all of our sins and motivates us to love and care for our neighbor in mercy and compassion. And I will work as hard as I possibly can for unity around the clear and compelling Word of God and nothing else." (Lutheran Witness, August 2010).

Everyone knows that first impressions matter. Perhaps none have been more important in recent years for the public life of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, than the one you just read. Many of you have probably heard of Pastor Matthew Harrison. Redeemer Lutheran used one of his books, Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action, for Bible study in fall of 2008. This is a must read for any Christian. We are also preparing to study his most recent book, A Little Book on Joy: The Secret of Living a Good News Life in a Bad News World, in Sunday morning Bible study later this fall.

Yes, first impressions matter. And, for those of you who might be saying. "Harrison-who? Synodical President–what?" – this is our newly elected president of the LC-MS.

Like the men of the early days of our synod, Pastor Harrison is just that, a man with a pastoral heart. He is also a theologian and a man of mercy. For the last 9 years he has been heading up the mercy arm of the LC-MS, known as World Relief and Human Care.

And upon being elected, the first thing out of his mouth at the convention was God's Word. The second thing: another confession, a confession of his own sin. For it is God's Word and the confession of faith in the same that will bind us together, not synodical bureaucracy or governance. Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, not Sola Structura.

Hopefully it is no surprise to you that the Missouri Synod is in the midst of difficult days. She faces a host of challenges from the world around her. And sadly, she also faces many divisions from within. President Harrison speaks openly and plainly about the tumultuous times in which we live. Our church body is divided on a number of issues from political disunity and partisan politics to a wide range of theological issues, for example, the role of theology and mission work, doctrine and practice of the Lord's Supper, theology and practice in Lutheran Worship, the place of women in the church, and lay ministry, just to name a few.

In order to begin to address these issues others, President Harrison has set a tri-fold theme for the newly elected boards and directors: Witness, Mercy, Life Together. In the Greek it's even better: Martyria, Diakonia and Koinonia. This is a remarkable Biblical picture of the work of the LC-MS both nationally and internationally.

These words also form a picture of the work of the local congregation. The Church's witness in the community, the family and the congregation begins, hinges and centers upon Christ's martyrdom for us on the cross. The article of Justification by grace through faith in Christ is the article upon which the Church either stands or falls. The witness of Christ Crucified for our sins gives birth to a clear, unashamed confession of the Gospel through hymns and liturgy, through doctrine and practice and through our life of mercy. Diakonia. This is where Christ serves us and we, as His masks, serve others in need. This is our life together, koinonia. We first come to know this life together in the waters of Baptism. And Christ's Koinonia with His people continues in the Koinonia (1 Corinthians 11) of the Lord's Supper. Fellowship is always fellowship in God's Word and Sacraments. Therefore, life together - in everything from meetings to car washes, from movie nights to Bible studies and all activities - flows from Christ's gifts at the altar, font and pulpit and leads right back to His gifts.

You will, no doubt, be hearing more from our Synodical leadership in the weeks and months to come. Read the publications of the Synod. Stay informed about what is going on in our District, and Synod. Believe it or not, these things really do matter to our local congregation. And of course, keep President Harrison and all our church leaders in your prayers. They bear an enormous burden for the sake of the Church. And yet that burden is not theirs but Christ's. For this is not our church, but Christ's Church and He will continue to serve us with His good gifts. Indeed, it is a good day to be a Lutheran. In the LC-MS we are clearly and unequivocally built upon the theology of the Reformation, remember your solas – not because it's Luther's theology – but because it is the clear confession of the Word of God. And therefore our Confessions, the Book of Concord, the Catechisms – even our hymnal – serve as a trumpet for the Gospel here in our community and throughout the world, that in these gray and latter days there may be those whose life is praise, each life a high doxology (LSB 834:4). It is a good day to be a Lutheran. It is a good day to confess what the Scriptures teach, what our Confessions teach for a world in dire need of Witness, Mercy and Life Together.

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