Flipping Through the Hymnal

The hymns and songs of the church help me understand the timeline of the year. When I flip through the pages of the Lutheran Service Book, I notice the different sections of hymns. The hymnal is not organized in a progression of hymns from favorites towards clunkers. Organizing a hymnal from favorites towards disappointments would require a flexible binding because of the variety of opinions of favorites. The hymns of the church support both the life of the congregation moving though the church year and the life of our members as we move through our lives. The church moves each year through the birth of Christ to the End Times. As followers of Jesus, we also move from our baptisms, through difficult times and celebrations, and conclude with the joy of the resurrection into the kingdom of God.

Martin Luther Chapel, Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines

The Church Year

The first section organizes the hymns by the movement of the church year from Advent through the End Times. This section also includes the hymns for the feasts and festivals that will occur throughout the church year. My favorite hymn in this section is “Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia.” I love how this hymn echoes in our home every Easter with its powerful refrain, “Let us sing praise to Him with endless joy.” The tune from this hymn is from Tanzania and the rhythm gives me the encouragement that this good news is for all the nations.

Person and Work of Christ

The second section of hymns praises God for the person and work of Jesus Christ. These hymns give the Church the opportunity to put to melody praise and thanksgiving for our redemption and justification. In this section I enjoy singing “By Grace I’m Saved.” This hymn begins every verse with the words “by grace,” and each verse celebrates the different ways God’s grace changes our lives.

The Christian Church

The third section of hymns gives voice to the activities of the Christian Church. In this section I find hymns that celebrate the Word of God and the Sacraments. I find it difficult to highlight just one hymn in this section. Each page takes me to another hymn that reminds me of different moments in my work as a pastor. If I had to highlight one, the hymn “What Is This Bread” invites us to receive the wondrous love of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. I think this hymn is a wonderful study of the mystery of God’s love that Jesus reveals for us in this meal of bread and wine, body and blood.

The Christian Life

The fourth section of hymns highlights the personal life of a Christian with hymns about trust, hope, prayer, stewardship, mission and witness, and marriage. I enjoy singing “Listen, God is Calling.” I like that this hymn has a call and response pattern that gives the song a pattern of participation instead of just observation. The leader starts with the word, “Listen.” The people answer, “Listen, God is calling.” The leader and the people encourage one another to hear God’s offer of forgiveness, comfort, and joy.

Times and Seasons

The fifth section highlights hymns that support morning, evening, harvest time, and the New Year, which are all opportunities for us to sing in thanksgiving to God. I remember fondly singing, as a lullaby, to our children the hymn, “Abide with Me.” I also sing this hymn at the bedside of a person approaching death. I have confident hope in the words, “In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.” Where no other helper will assist me, I know that God will be my shepherd through life and death.

The Service

This next section includes hymns for the beginning of the service, the close of the service, and also biblical canticles. The canticles are songs from the Holy Scriptures that help us sing along with Simeon, Mary, Zechariah, and other faithful saints that have gone before us. At the close of the service, the hymn “Go, My Children, with My Blessing,” provides a benediction full of promise. I appreciate the closing hymns of a service that keep me singing in my heart throughout the rest of the week.

Nation and National Songs

The final section in the hymnal is a small collection of hymns that support community and nation with trust that God is sovereign over both the church and the state. This section is not a songbook of secular patriotic songs. These hymns are Christian prayers and praises to God. I know that during patriotic holidays I receive requests for a number of songs that are not in our hymnal. At St. Paul Lutheran Church we have developed the tradition of singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic and God Bless America, neither of which are in our hymnal, because these are songs that remind us of times in our country when we have been reminded to rely on God. Of the three hymns in this section, I most enjoy singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

I would like you to take some time and look through the The Lutheran Service Book and share with me your favorite hymns from each section. You can find this hymnal in our pews. I would also be interested in hearing from you your favorite hymn that is not included in our hymnal. You can place in the comments some of your favorites. I will focus on contemporary songs in a future article.

New Growth in the New Year

I am interested with how God will grow our membership as a congregation in 2017. Connection to a local community of believers is important. St. Paul wrote to the people in Ephesus, “There is one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). It is in the local church that we have the opportunity to experience unity with those the Spirit has called to faith. Jesus love His church, and so should we.

There is nationally a decline in church membership, and I am interested in slowing this decline at St. Paul Lutheran Church. To turn the tide against decline, I believe that God is providing our congregation with the gifts and resources necessary to reach the unreached and raise faithful children. God provides to us His Word which leads us to trust in Christ. Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ is His witness. We all can share the good news of Jesus with our friends and neighbors and invite them to church.

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The growth of the membership in our congregation will happen in more than one way. Congregations gain the overwhelming majority of their membership from natural growth, which is what happens when families in our congregation have more children. Our easiest growth is from children of adult members raised in the faith. As couples have children and the children are then baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church, our congregation will experience growth. We had some joyous baptisms in 2016, and I look forward to more in the new year. Infant baptism is a wonderful opportunity to witness that faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit and not a work of our own reason or strength.

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As our congregation grows through infant baptisms, we remain concerned that these children remain connected to a local church. I want all children baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church to be nourished and strengthened by God at work in His Word. The LCMS has lost 1 in 5 baptized members since the peak membership in the 1970s. The backdoor loss of people concerns me. We need to plan effectively for the spiritual care of people who are baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church so that they remain connected to Jesus. Handing down our faith to our children and our children’s children is important. Our congregation has joined the Family Friendly Partner Network to be better equipped as a church to partner with homes to pass on faith in Christ. Throughout 2017 we will look for opportunities to provide families the resources they need to be His witnesses.

We will also experience growth in 2017 through Lutherans from other congregations moving into this area and transferring their membership. As people move around they have to search out new banks, doctors, grocery stores, and also a new church. Church shopping can be an exhausting experience. I hope people visiting St. Paul will find a community of welcome and grace that helps them feel at home. When looking for a new church, people should place a high priority on joining a congregation where the Word of God is clearly preached and the Sacraments properly administered.

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We will not only experience growth through our own tribe (German-American Lutherans), but we will also discover that God is sending people to St. Paul who have not grown up Lutheran. I find it exciting when new people are present on a Sunday morning at St. Paul. I am encouraged when I see people going across the aisles and introducing themselves to guests. Outreach to people in our community is important. We desire to be a community that welcomes people who come from all sorts of experiences because we trust that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all the nations.

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There is a decline in religious identification in the United States. The recent dramatic increase in the number of people who claim no religious identity or affiliation is alarming. Our task is clear in this age of declining identity with religion. We will witness to people the truth. We are sinners in need of a Savior and Jesus is this Savior. Our message must remain focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the United States the attitudes of young people on average is negative towards religious institutions. There is a growing skepticism concerning any institution that claims authority. This negative attitude of young people may not be new, but it does remind me of the need for us to share Jesus Christ more than share the building or institution of the church. We do not invite people to join a corporation. We invite people to join the Body of Christ gathered at St. Paul Lutheran Church.

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I trust the Holy Spirit has placed in our community people who will believe the Word of God and find welcome at St. Paul Lutheran Church. I am confident the Holy Spirit has gifted each person in our congregation to be His witnesses. Please pray to God to send the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see the people He places into our lives.

Crafted by Truth – A Reformation Reading Plan

What happens when people are engaged in daily reading of the Bible? The results can be massively helpful for our walk in this world.

  1. We see our story and God’s story intersecting.
    When we walk with the words of the Lord daily on our hearts, we are better equipped to bring God’s perspective to the challenges and joys we experience. God has a story to share with us. After reading through the Bible, the story of God becomes more apparent. I have found it helpful to place the events of the Bible on a timeline and then discover parts of my life fit onto that same timeline. When I get farther away from the rhythm of God’s Word, my own life seems out of sync.
  2. We make connections between Bible passages.
    Besides becoming more comfortable with knowing the details of the Bible, I also find regularly reading the Bible improves my ability to connect the dots between different Bible passages. When Paul quotes in Romans 1:17 a passage from the prophet Habakkuk, I am better equipped to know why Paul quoted that passage. I enjoy the experience of reading one passage in the Bible and having that passage lead me to read another passage which then causes me to remember yet another passage.
  3. We slow the day down.
    When reading the Bible is part of my daily schedule, I enjoy how the pace of my day begins to slow down. I have heard athletes describe being “in the zone” and how everything moves at a different speed. I think daily reading the Bible puts my spiritual heart closer to the zone of having everything move at a different speed. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to bring me into the God zone.
  4. We deal with the tough passages.
    When working through a reading plan, I read books and passages that I previously passed over. I also find myself reading passages I have taken for granted. I appreciate reading the tough passages and putting on my big boy pants to figure out what God’s Word means. I also rejoice in the depth and width of God’s Word when I revisit oft-read passages.

CraftedDaily.com

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In the Michigan District we are celebrating the Reformation’s 500th Anniversary with a call to the Word. The Reformation refers to the 16th Century when people called for a reform of the teaching of the church. The website crafteddaily.com will show you how to signup for the Reformation Reading Plan. This plan, likethe Reformers, accents the joy of the Word of God. You will find in this plan a gospel ordering for your daily reading. The Bible readings are organized according to which books most influenced the Reformers. Signup for the Reformation Reading Plan and find yourself daily fed with grace. The reading plan utilizes the Bible app available on Android or iOS. Each day’s reading takes 10-15 minutes.

Bible reading plans are not only for adults.

The Barna Group conducted research commissioned by the American Bible Society. They surveyed more than 1,000 participants between ages 13 and 17. Most teens still see the Bible as a positive thing. 69 percent of teenagers personally own a Bible. 44 percent of teens read the Bible at least three or four times a year, and at least 25 percent say they read the Bible at least once a week. The main motivation for Bible reading among teens is growing closer to God. Despite postmodern teachings in schools that all religions reveal truth, American teens still regard the Bible as the primary holy book. The president of the Barna Group said, “In an increasingly secular culture, the Bible remains a highly regarded and well-read text among the vast majority of American teens—most of whom believe it to be sacred.” We have reasons to be filled with optimism because teens still care deeply about the relevance of the Bible to the world in which they live. Getting rooted in the Bible is needed in every generational level.

Too daunting?

Daily reading of the Bible, possibly reading through the whole Bible, may seem daunting or something only the professionals should handle. God has given His Word to all of us so that we may believe in Him. The Word of God reveals the very heart of God. The heart of God is not given only to professionals, nor should we consider the Bible only the possession of a few. God’s Word has been revealed so that all might come to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. So I encourage you to read the inspired Word of God. Do not just pick and choose sections. Take the time to read the whole Bible because we should all seek to understand the whole picture of God’s plan.  You may have already read through the Bible in the past, and now think to yourself “been there, done that.” Do not consider reading the Bible as a challenge to complete and then move onto some new challenge. We do not outgrow God’s Word. The Bible is deep and wide with wisdom.

Baptism is for Infants and Adults

ainfant-baptismThis is written in response to Wes McAdams blog article in which he attempts to explain why it’s not biblical to Baptize an infant.

http://www.radicallychristian.com/why-its-not-biblical-to-baptize-an-infant

First, he says, “Infant baptism is usually NOT even ‘baptism’”

Wes McAdams makes his first point because he believes that the Greek word for baptism means immersion. This Greek word is used in Scripture to refer to “washing.” He is mistaken to require of all hearts to believe in their baptism that they must be immersed.

The Greek word can mean cleansing or washing as well as immersion. It is just bad use of a dictionary to say that in Greek the only definition for this word is “immersion.”

Second, he states, “An infant cannot believe.”

I’m not really sure what Wes McAdams would do with the passage in which Jesus says, “Let the little children come onto me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14) The word “little children” is a specific Greek word that is used to describe an infant. The infants are the focus of the passage. Jesus speaks to us the promise that faith is an act of trust even before it may be words upon our lips.

Baptism of an infant is an opportunity for us to witness that faith is not a work of our reason or strength but entirely a work of the Holy Spirit, at work in the gospel, turning our hearts to trust in God to be our salvation.

Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit for an adult and for an infant. Adults in their arrogance are taught a lesson when they confess that the Holy Spirit may provide faith to an infant. We all were once dead in our trespasses and we are saved purely through the work of Christ (Ephesians 2:1-4). We receive this work of Christ through faith. Our saving faith is a gift from God that comes through Word of God (Romans 10:17).

In Matthew 28:19 Jesus said, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” All nations is a phrase that has been understood to mean “everyone.” Jesus desires that His saving messages be shared to everyone, regardless of race, color, sex, age, class, or education. If we say that infants are not to be included in the command of Christ, then where will we stop?

In the Old Testament an infant boy entered into a covenantal relationship with God through circumcision when eight days old. In Colossians 2:11-12, Paul shows that baptism has replaced circumcision.

Wes builds on the idea that baptism only follows an oral confession of faith and he says that neither parents nor anyone else can make that confession for a child. I agree that a child is not saved through the confession of faith that a parent nor anyone else will make for that child. A child and an adult are all saved equally through the work of Christ. In baptism we receive this work of Christ by the command of Christ in the water and the word. The benefits of baptism are not provided in a mechanical way just by being near the water. The benefits of baptisms are delivered through the water and the Word and received through faith. Faith receives the gift of baptism. When we confess our faith before a baptism, we are putting to words the very same faith that the Holy Spirit is providing to us through the working of His Word. We are not offering our faith as effective for an infant, we are showing our unity with the same faith that this child is receiving in Christ.

Third, he states, “An infant has not inherited sin.”

At this point Wes McAdams has significantly diverged from the way sin is described in the Scriptures and by the church for centuries. Scripture teaches that we are sinners from the time of our conception. Psalm 51:5 confesses, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Also in Romans 5:12, St. Paul explains that death has come to all because one man sinned. In other words, we all experience the effect of sin; we all die. The fact that infants die is a sign that they are sinners. We sin because we are sinners. We all have this condition even as infants and little children. One way to describe sin is that we are unable to have true fear or faith in God. When we describe sin only as actions we make sin something we can overcome through our own efforts. When we properly describe sin as a broken relationship with God, that is something that can be overcome only through the reconciling love of Jesus. Also in Romans 3:23 (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”) we find the truth that ALL have sinned and need the rescue of salvation that Jesus provides.

Now Wes uses Ezekiel 18:20 in an attempt to demonstrate that God does not hold the guilt of past generations upon future people. Okay, I am not judged on the sins of the past. Unfortunately, I am judged because I am a sinner.

Fourth, he notes, “An infant cannot repent.”

Repentance is the turning of a heart to trust in God. This repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit and is accomplished through the power of God’s Word. He turns repentance into an appeal to God, when in fact not one of us can make this appeal through our own human will. We are dead in our sins. We are blind in our sins. We are unable to turn to God through our own will. This failure of the human will is true for adults and for infants. The only ones that can be saved are those born again of water and the spirit (John 3:1-17).

Baptism is commanded by Christ and offers to all the benefits of the forgiveness of sins, rescues from sin and death, and grants eternal salvation.

Some other helpful places to read about baptism:

Martin Luther’s Small Catechism

http://wittenbergtrail.org/forum/topics/lutheran-responses-to

http://www.orlutheran.com/trinfbap.html

http://www.lcms.org/faqs/doctrine#baptism

Convention Musings

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The Cardinals vs. Phillies baseball games was a wonderful time.

I spent seven days participating in the triennial convention of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. I love the city of St. Louis and so it was a wonderful time to renew my friendship with that beautiful city. Christi and my boys, Henry and Lucas, also came down to St. Louis. I stayed downtown. They stayed out in Maryland Heights with Christi’s cousin. The Domsch family were welcoming hosts and their children and our children had a wonderful time together.

The Michigan District delegation stayed at the Drury Plaza at the Arch which was a wonderful choice. The hotel included a free breakfast, dinner, and happy hour. The bed was comfortable and the room was fairly quiet considering we were right on Washington Ave. The hotel is only a couple of blocks from Busch stadium and the Cardinals baseball team were in town so there was a lot of downtown excitement. I also had an excellent roommate who encouraged me to go running with him in the morning. Starting our days with a run around the St. Louis Arch was outstanding.

Three years ago a new president was elected to lead the LCMS. Before this convention began, President Harrison was reelected for a second term in a new election process. This year the delegates did not arrive with the pent-up anxiety about the vote for president because the vote happened electronically a couple of weeks before the convention. I know that others have commented that this convention had a more cordial environment and that this change in tone could be connected to the change in election process. There were some moments in the convention that made me shake my head in frustration, but there were also some joyous moments that encouraged me to remember the beauty of the church, the bride of Christ.

“At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing”

LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison distributed the Holy Communion during the convention’s opening worship service. My wife and I received the blood of Christ from President Harrison. He greeted me by name and invited me to, “Take drink, the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

One of those beautiful moments occurred during the Opening Divine Service on Saturday, July 20th. The time for distribution of communion was nearly finished. The next hymn we were supposed to sing was “At the Lamb’s High Feast We sing.” I think, because it appeared we were almost done with the distribution, the organist was not going to play this  hymn. After a couple of minutes, the congregation began to sing this beautiful hymn a cappella. After a couple of verses, the organist joined us. Receiving the body and blood of my Lord Jesus Christ and receiving the embrace of the body of Christ through the sounds of praise coming from the whole congregation was a wonderful way for the convention to begin.

Mercy

Delegates and representatives affected by disasters in the last triennium stood to be recognized during a presentation on LCMS Disaster Response.

I greatly enjoyed the moments during the convention when the consensus of our church body was so clearly found in our works of mercy. Three of the floor committees were named for the current mission emphases of the LCMS, “Witness,” “Mercy,” and “Life Together.” The “Mercy” floor committee work highlighted the wonderful work of mercy that Christ is doing through our church. For instance, the

Lutheran Church Charities' Comfort Dogs prepare for their time on the convention stage.

Lutheran Church Charities’ Comfort Dogs prepare for their time on the convention stage.

Lutheran Church Charities’ comfort dogs were brought forward and all those churches that had experienced disaster were invited to come forward. The convention was reminded in this moment that in our weaknesses the strength of God’s grace can shine through us magnificently.

Fellowship – Life Together

I appreciated the moments in the convention when we recognized our relationships with partner churches around the world. At this convention we declared altar and pulpit fellowship with churches in Liberia, Siberia, and Togo. After each of this resolutions declaring our unity were read and representatives from these churches were introduced, we all stood and sang the common doxology. Praise God! Through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments we are a part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

The convention recognized visiting international Lutheran church leaders Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Rev. Gennadij Khonin, Rev. Amos Bolay, Rev. Samuel S.Y. Navoh, Rev. James Kollie, Archbishop Christian Ekong and Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin. At left is LCMS President Matthew Harrison; at right is Rev. Dr. Al Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations.

Besides enjoying moments that recognized our life together with Christians around the world, I was also thankful for the renewal of so many friendships. For example, in the first two rows of section D I sat with 7 classmates from my time at Concordia Seminary.

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Taste at the Sem

At the Taste of the Sem event my family hung out with some of their distant cousins. We enjoyed the bounce house, live music from Erin Bode, great food, outstanding Schlafly beer, and delicious Ted Drewes custard (which my family enjoyed three other times as well).

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Baseball at the seminary.

My kids brought their baseball gear and a baseball game developed behind the Chapel of St. Timothy and Titus. Boys from the Fields, Gaertner, and Nafzger families had a great time.

Throughout my time at the convention I looked forward to the times when I could renew my connections with family and friends. For me, the convention was a time of life together.

Global Seminary Initiative

The Rev. Alexei Streltsov, rector of the theological seminary of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church, speaks to the delegates about the Global Seminary Initiative. Read more here: blogs.lcms.org/2013/delegates-affirm-global-seminary-initiative-encourage-unified-mission-work

This convention passed a resolution in support of the Global Seminary Initiative. This program recognizes the importance of training church leaders so that the mission of local churches can be led by well-equipped local pastors.

“The Global Seminary Initiative (GSI) helps to fill the need for trained pastors and leaders who are native to the region and cultures in which they serve. Professors from both seminaries of the LCMS are sent to help train and increase the capacity of partner church faculties, providing mutual consolation and encouragement to faculty and students in partner seminaries. Our seminary professors have taught in places like Siberia and South Africa, India, Argentina, Kenya, Lithuania, Chile and many other countries.” (http://www.lcms.org/GSI)

This program is an important part of the way the LCMS participates in spreading the gospel to all the nations. We seek to develop the theological strength of local church leaders so that the local church becomes the center of mission instead of the foreign missionary.

This program also demonstrates the current character of LCMS church relations. We are spending less time in maintaining or developing relationships with mainline church bodies that are clearly liberal in their view of Scripture. Instead of waiting for these liberal churches to change, we seek to increase, throughout the world, the number of church bodies that are faithful to the Word of God. The Lutheran churches in Ethiopia and Madagascar are examples of churches that have had historic relationships with liberal Lutheran church bodies and now they are turning towards the LCMS for theological education support.

Worship and Prayer

LCMS convention delegates were invited to retrieve a “bibelot,” a small reminder of Baptism, from the font after the service.

Throughout the convention we shared in times of prayer through the daily prayer services. The services were well conducted and the music was always excellent. We also had a time to remember our baptism through the Service of Baptismal Remembrance and Litany of the Resurrection. The service was pushed from Tuesday to Wednesday because the convention business on Tuesday was not ceased to leave time for prayer. On Wednesday we made sure to find time for this service of remembrance.After the service was over, we were encouraged to take a stone from the baptismal font. Each stone was imprinted with a word describing the gift of the Spirit. I picked up stones that said, “Peace,” “Patience,” and “Kindness.”

Rules of Debate

Not everything at the convention went smoothly. There was a sense of pace to the convention that caused the debate on motions to be ceased before a full sense of dialogue had been allowed. The chair of the convention would say, “Seeing that there are 9 pros and 2 cons in the queue, I will ask the assembly if it is their will to cease debate.” At this point either a vote through our voting devices or voice vote would be taken. Calling the question requires a 2/3 majority and only a couple of times was this not achieved.

I understand that the sides on a debate can appear to be quickly understood and the direction of the vote apparent so therefore the need for further debate can seem unnecessary. Yes, there were times in the debate during the convention when the voices at the mic were repeating the same arguments as the previous speakers. But I disagree with the suggestion that debate was unnecessary once the momentum of the vote was clear. I think that for our life together we need to be ready and willing to hear the con side. I must admit that the question of when debate should be ceased is a difficult one to answer. There was a need for the convention to keep moving and not get bogged down on the minutia. There is also a need in our synod to set a tone of listening.

The role of parliamentary procedure in a convention is to ensure that the debate is fair. During the debate of 5-11B (a resolution presented to the assembly to create a three person committee that would pre-approve a potential faculty member before he could be presented to the seminary board of regents), the president of the LCMS asked 1st Vice-President Herb Mueller to chair the convention so he could speak on the issue. He spoke twice before all others in the queue had a chance to speak, which was a violation of the standing rules passed by the assembly on Sunday. His second speech from mic 13  asked the assembly to pass 5-11B because he had concern that otherwise the seminaries would drift away from their relationship to the synod. This speech was out-of-order and unfairly biased the vote of the assembly. Someone could have yelled, “Point of Order” and asked his speech to be ruled out-of-order. I think there was some confusion because this resolution was debated in two different sessions of the convention and so the order of speaking was easily forgotten. I also think it would be difficult for any one in the assembly to yell at the synod president that he is out-of-order. After the president gave his speech, another speaker said, “We should vote for this resolution because President Harrison asked us to pass it.”

The oversight role of this three member committee that will pre-approve potential faculty is characteristic of some other resolutions passed at this convention. There was a resolution that encouraged the circuit counselors (renamed visitors) to be more active in their role of visitation of circuit congregations. There was a resolution that directed the district presidents to visit every congregation, (they can make these visits through their designees) and during these visits they should specifically ask about the communion and worship practice of the congregation.

The oversight role of the synod president, district president, and circuit counselors did not structurally change at this convention (except for 5-11B). Instead of significant structure changes like what happened at the 2010 convention, this convention did more to remind congregations and pastors that they are called to walk together in the synod. I think this emphasis on oversight will make some nervous. Others will not be nervous because either they realize they are presently on the side of the majority or they realize that most of the oversight power is placed in the hands of the district presidents who are too busy to notice what they are doing.

Encourage and Study

The synod in assembly cannot require any action of congregations or pastors. So the words “encourage” and “commend” and “remind” were ever-present in the resolutions. There were also many resolutions that called for further study. A resolution that calls for further study is essentially punting the issue to the next convention. A study will be asked for when there is not clear consensus in our synod about how the Scripture speaks to the issue to be studied. So the question of what to do with all the pastors on candidate status instead of serving in parishes was punted. The question of Christian citizenship in a time of conflict between a hostile secular government and the church was punted (this one wasn’t actually directed to be studied, it was not brought back to the floor once it was clear that there would be debate on this issue). The role of licensed lay deacons in word and sacrament ministry was punted. The relationship between men and women in church and society was punted. The effectiveness of the specific ministry pastoral program was punted. There were a number of issues that were punted to the next convention and I am curious if any of these studies will produce specific recommendations or just leave us generically all happy.

I am thankful for the opportunity to have represented the Ann Arbor circuit at this convention. I trust God will be at work building His church regardless of what we did at this convention. I hope we did not do anything that gets in the way of the proclamation of the Word of God or the administration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Baptism

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I love performing Baptisms at St. Paul Lutheran Church. The Baptism of babies, young children, and adults are all priceless moments in the life of our congregation. When I speak the Word of God and I generously pour water over the head of the person, I trust God to be at work delivering the gift of the forgiveness of sins. I fondly recall looking into the eyes of babies as the water hits their foreheads and witnessing their surprise. Some babies have cried, some have smiled, some have tried to wiggle out of my hands, some have looked steadily over to mom and dad, and others have tried to stay asleep. For all of these babies, the Holy Spirit is at work delivering the good news of Jesus Christ through the water and the Word. Our Lord Jesus Christ commands Baptism, and these priceless moments are not just moments of tradition or family reunion in our congregation.

Water and the Word

Baptism is founded upon the Word of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ says in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is not an empty human ritual. Baptism cannot be ignored as the invention of the church. These words from Jesus demonstrate that Baptism is divine. To be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is to be baptized by God. As a pastor I speak the words of Jesus’ command and I pour the water of Baptism, but it is truly the work of God. The water of Baptism is water full of the commands and promises of God’s Word.

A person may wonder how a handful of water and some words spoken by a pastor help a person. Water is just water. Water can clean dirty hands, but how does water clean the stain of sin that weighs down the soul of a person? When the water is joined with the Word of God, at the command of Jesus, it becomes a work of God. We respect the power of Baptism because we respect the power of God to work through His Word (Isaiah 55:10-11).

The Forgiveness of Sins

Christ instituted Baptism to save us from our sins. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). God is at work in Baptism delivering to us His promises. St. Peter writes, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). When we talk about being saved in the church we are talking about being delivered from sin, death, and the devil. St. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).

Faith Grasps the Work of God

The great benefit and power of Baptism is received through faith in these promises. Without faith, Baptism is of no benefit. We do not gain or merit or receive salvation through our works or activity, faith receives the promises of Baptism. In the book of Hebrews we read, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Also St. Paul writes in Romans, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Some may question if infants can confess with their lips that Jesus is Lord, but in Psalm 8:2 we are reminded, “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.” This psalm demonstrates that God has established that young children can praise God with their lips, even if it is in the broken babble of a child that we cannot understand.

Baptists and Lutherans agree that a person that believes in Jesus Christ will be saved. Lutherans and Baptists disagree on how a person comes to believe. We cannot come to Christ or make a decision for Jesus. As sinners we are spiritually dead and we cannot move to Christ on our own. The Holy Spirit delivers us to saving faith through the Word of God. The Holy Spirit gives this saving faith to a person as the person hears the Word of God. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Whether a person believes in Jesus Christ because of a sermon that he heard or by the power of the Word combined with water at Baptism, it is always God and the power of His Word that creates saving faith. Baptism is a treasured means by which God promises to deliver to us the good news of Jesus.

Infant Baptism

Sadly, there are churches and individuals that deny Baptism to young children and infants. We perform Baptism for infants and children for the same reason adults are baptized. We are all conceived and born sinful and under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own. We all are in need of the mercy of God that is promised in Baptism. When Baptism is rejected or ignored for young children and infants, then a person is ignoring the command of God. In Luke 18:15-17, Jesus invites the children to come to him. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus states that Baptism is for “all nations.” On the day of Pentecost, Peter said about Baptism, “The promise is for you and your children” (Acts 2:39). When John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb when he heard the word of God (Luke 1:41-44), we find the gift of faith present in a baby.

How can a baby have saving faith in Jesus Christ? In the same way that any person believes in Jesus, the Holy Spirit gives to us a heart that trusts the promises of God. We baptize babies because we baptize people in agreement with Christ’s command to baptize “all nations.” We trust the power and promise of Baptism is the work of Jesus Christ.

I encourage you to remember your own Baptism, and so remember the work of Jesus to deliver you from the domain of darkness into the eternal victory of Jesus’ resurrection. Martin Luther sums up well the joy and promise of Baptism when he writes, “We see what a very splendid thing baptism is. It snatches us from the jaws of the devil, makes us God’s own, restrains and removes sin, and then daily strengthens the new man within us.”

Making an Impact in the name of Christ

Rev. Joel and Iantha Scheiwe, friends of mine, are career missionaries for the LCMS in Asia Pacific. There is a new video posted that describes their work to share Jesus. Rev. Joel Scheiwe describes the collaborative outreach of the Lutheran Church–Hong Kong Synod, the LCMS, and our Concordia English Center in Macau. Iantha provides an update on the success of education scholarships with holistic personal development programs being provided in China through Concordia Welfare & Education Foundation.