Give thanks in all circumstances

In the midst of strife and conflict, we need a spirit of thanksgiving 

Jonathan P. Hackbarth 

You are undoubtedly familiar with the childhood poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Lesser known is the author of that poem: an American writer named Sarah Hale. Even lesser known is the influence she had on the holiday we today call Thanksgiving. 

The development of a national holiday 

When it comes to the history of Thanksgiving, most Americans will point to the first Pilgrim celebration or perhaps President Lincoln. However, were it not for Sarah Hale, Thanksgiving may not be celebrated in the United States as it is today. 

Most of us learned that the first Thanksgiving Day was celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621 to give thanks for the harvest after a terrible first winter in the New World. In 1789, President George Washington issued a Thanksgiving Day Proclamation to commemorate the first Pilgrim celebration. But Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president, discontinued it, calling Thanksgiving “a kingly practice.”  

Then, in the early 1800s, Sarah Hale began campaigning for the restoration of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She wrote letters and sought appointments with national leaders through the course of five presidencies. Time after time she was politely rebuffed, sometimes being told her suggestion was impossible or impractical. 

Finally, in 1863—in the midst of the Civil War—President Lincoln listened seriously to her plea that North and South “lay aside enmities and strife on [Thanksgiving] Day.” Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday in November as the official “National Thanksgiving Day.” This day was finally ratified by the U.S. Congress in 1941. 

The need for a spirit of gratitude 

Perhaps we need a “Thanksgiving lady” like Sarah Hale to campaign for a spirit of Thanksgiving today—not for a national holiday because we already have that, but for a spirit of gratitude within our hearts. And consider when she lobbied for Thanksgiving. The nation was divided, families were split apart by ideological differences, and strife and armed conflict created cemeteries for the dead. While it’s not in the midst of a civil war, much the same could be said about our nation today! 

What is the current conflict that scrolls across the headlines? Is it the ever-increasing violence in our world, both near and far? Is it the seeming downward spiral of decency and decorum among so many talking heads and influential voices in our nation? Is it conflict in your family?  In your marriage? Is it a nagging discontent with your lot in life? 

In the midst of all this, hear Scripture’s call for a spirit of thankfulness, “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Christ has ended the eternal conflict caused by our sin. Conflict and strife will remain part of this world’s headlines. But we are at rest; we are at peace. Jesus is our rest and peace, and heaven is our home. So no matter what the circumstances, we can live with a spirit of gratitude through Jesus. 

On this the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, consider the following prayer for God-pleasing thankfulness, written by Dr. Martin Luther: 

Ah, dear Lord God, only grant that we may believe and thank thee, who hast been so concerned about us, yea, hast given us everything in Christ. For this is the great and unspeakable mystery, hidden from all the wisdom of the flesh, that God, who to us is the heavenly and omnipotent Father in his majesty, actually died. He gave everything to his Son, who is of our flesh. To him he directs us. If we hear and accept him, we shall have everything. (What Luther Says, Vol. 3, #4360) 


Jonathan Hackbarth is pastor at Salem, Woodbury, Minnesota. 


 

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Author: Jonathan P. Hackbarth
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Does hating the war mean hating the warrior?

A Vietnam vet shares Luther’s perspectives on soldiers and the “sword” as well as tells his own personal story of discovery about what God says about war. 

Erhard P. Opsahl 

Many people today find war odious and are offended by anyone who is or has been in the military. This hatred was witnessed firsthand by most of us who returned from Vietnam to jeers and spit. And many today coming back to civilian life from stints in our Armed Forces are experiencing isolation and disrespect, even in some congregations. Why? 

Well, warfare is disgusting behavior. Soldiers participate in the awful barbarity of purposely destroying homes and cities while also taking the lives of others, including noncombatants. That is unthinkable, especially for many Christians.  

Christian advice 

It may be surprising to know that St. Augustine addressed the question of Christians and serving in the military during the Roman Empire in his book The City of God. Augustine affirms that two kingdoms simultaneously exist—an earthly, visible kingdom (secular government) and a believing, invisible realm. One is temporal; the other spiritual. Both answer to God. 

Maybe more unexpected is that five hundred years ago, the Reformer Martin Luther was pressured to write something on Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved, also translated as Christians Can Be Soldiers (Luther’s Works [LW], Vol. 46, pp. 89-137). 

A key character in the story behind Luther’s book is Assa von Kram (or Asche von Cramm, Aschwin IV, Ascanius von Cramm). Born about 1490, Assa was a heralded cavalryman from Lower Saxony who made his name on June 28, 1519, at the Battle of Soltau, a “nobles’ feud.” He led a 400-knight regiment on the battlefield in the victory of Henry the Middle over Henry the Younger. Martin Luther was a good friend of Assa. 

During the summer of 1525, Assa happened to be visiting Luther in Wittenberg and convinced Luther to commit to answer questions people had been asking Luther to address for five years. Apparently, interest was piqued by the fact that the Turks seemed determined in trying again to extend their Islamic sultanate/caliphate into Christian Western Europe. Another factor may have been the growing desire of some to exterminate the Lutheran heresy by force. Misunderstandings of Luther’s writing during the Peasants’ War were still being argued. Luther had voiced opposition to the peasants when they resorted to force and rebelled against the nobles. 

Luther wrote that the “sword” of an earthly kingdom/nation/state has been instituted to punish evil, protect the good, and preserve public order (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13,14). He stated that going to war is to bring about peace and obedience. 

“Killing” can be a “work of love.” For example, says Luther, a good physician cuts off an infected arm to save a person from dying. He wrote, “What men write about war, saying that it is a great plague, is all true. But they should also consider how great the plague is that war prevents” [LW, Vol. 46, p. 96). War can seem like an unchristian work completely contrary to Christian love. But he reminds us that “if the sword were not on guard to preserve peace, everything in the world would be ruined because of lack of peace” [LW, Vol. 46, p. 96). 

Accordingly, the work of being a soldier, in itself, is right and godly. Luther holds that God can tolerate a soldier who goes to war and kills, as one does to enemies by military law and in time of war. But, he also warns of the abuse of this power and again cites the example of physicians who would “needlessly amputate a healthy hand just because they wanted to.” 

Luther cites John the Baptist (Luke 3:1-18) as praising the profession of arms when Roman soldiers came to him for counseling. At the same time, Saint John rejected any abuse of their positions of power. Luther noted that Old Testament heroes who participated in war (e.g., Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and David) were not condemned by God. 

Readers of Luther’s book on the likelihood that soldiers could be saved also are referred to another of his writings: Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed (LW, Vol. 45, pp. 75-129).  

Luther makes two points to remember: 

1) Christians live under a spiritual government and are subject only to God. 

2) As far as body and property are concerned, Christians are answerable to their rulers here on earth and owe them obedience. Luther contends that “if worldly leaders call on his people to fight, then they ought to and must fight, and be obedient, not as Christians, but as members of the state” (LW, Vol. 46, p. 99). Worldly leaders are also subject to God, Luther adds. 


personal reflection 

My awareness of history in the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s centered on the specter of Communism taking over the world. There was Eastern Europe and the Iron Curtain, then Korea, then the Cuban Missile Crisis, and then Vietnam. The United States seemed to be playing “whack-a-commie-mole” around the globe. 

A charismatic young president was persuasive in urging Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” I enlisted in the Army right out of college. 

All of a sudden, some things seemed to change. The news media and academia led the movement of questioning the validity of the Vietnam War. Was it a “just” war? Were our soldiers out of control? Everyone agreed that the massacre at My Lai was a terrible tragedy. The battlefield was on TV every night at home. 

Four men under my command died during the year I spent in a mechanized infantry battalion. Little did I know that almost 40 years would pass before I recognized symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Studies circulated that 22 veterans a day were committing suicide; the average age was 55. I was shocked into action. 

Getting involved with veterans’ organizations helped me see sources of much of the pain. Current and former military people are not always certain about their acceptance by the general population. All too often, vets are being shut out of “civilian life.” Most non-veterans don’t seem interested in finding out about the sacrifices our military members and their families made—and continue to make—in order to help preserve America’s precious democracy.  

So what do we do? Where do we go? 

For me, the words of the Bible, St. Augustine, and Martin Luther are helping soothe the guilt that society imposed and still imposes on me and my comrades. Finally realizing that most Christians do not believe that all killing that soldiers do is murder opened my eyes even more. I am getting a picture that I should have seen much more clearly some five decades ago. 

The recently published Small Catechism confirms the proposition unambiguously and concisely, “God alone has the right to end a person’s life, but he delegates that right also to his representatives in government. A person serving under the authority of the government as God’s representative—a government official, a soldier, or a police officer—may carry out capital punishment, take life in a war, or take life to protect the lives of others” (Luther’s Catechism 2017, p. 77). 

Coming to a better understanding of this troubling issue helps me fight my doubts, distress, and depression each and every day. 


Erhard Opsahl, president of the Lutheran Military Support Group, is a member at Risen Savior, MacFarland, Wisconsin.  


Learn more about the Lutheran Military Support Group at lutheranmilitary.org. 


 

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Author: Erhard P. Opsahl
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Choral Festival offers lifelong blessings

“Joyful.  Exciting.  Amazing.  A taste of heaven.”  These are just some of the words used to describe the WELS National Choral Festival which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary November 10-12, in La Crosse, Wisconsin–the place where it all began. 

“Choral Fest allowed my choir family to grow along with my faith…We all stood together as one in faith and in song.”  Shelby Cary, Luther High School 

Luther High School, Onalaska, has a long tradition of musical excellence.  Frank J. Italiano directed the Luther High School band for many years.  It was an outstanding group and popular with the students. “Of the 60 kids in the school, 59 were in band,” recalls Dave Adickes, who inherited the Luther choral program early in his ministry.  Italiano held the first Lutheran band festival at Luther in 1960 and Adickes thought, “We should do the same!”  He dreamed big, calling it the National Lutheran Choral Festival and inviting eight WELS prep and high schools to sing in the first festival.  Nearly 300 students gathered to “celebrate God’s gift of music” and get a “sneak peek of heaven” as well as gain exposure to a wide variety of directors and techniques.  (D)MLC’s head of choral music, Professor Martin Albrecht, directed the mass choir, which fulfilled another objective–getting students to “love DMLC,” according to Adickes.  From the beginning, Friday night’s concert was a secular concert performed by the individual choirs in which “everyone cheered for everyone.”  Saturday was a day of rehearsal and fun, culminating with Sunday’s mass sacred concert.  The location of Choral Fest changed as various WELS high schools hosted the event.  Traveling to Choral Fest was “exciting for the kids and us.”  

“Some of the non-musical activities make Choral Fest Choral Fest even more than the singing!  These are often the most memorable, along with praising God with our talents for a whole weekend.”  Cameron Schroeder, Luther High School 

As the years went on, changes to Choral Fest included specialized clinicians, regional and national festivals held in alternate years with up to 21 high schools participating.  In 1982, the 25th anniversary of Choral Fest, Adickes again hosted the gathering at Luther High School.  This was the first time a special piece was commissioned for the festival, a tradition which has continued throughout the years.  Adickes says it’s “great to see how [Choral Fest] has grown and how the directors have grown and how much the quality of the music has improved.”  Choral Fest has “helped unite the schools and bring the congregations together” as students, directors, families and friends meet new people and enjoy God’s wonderful gift of music together.  Choral Festival continues “to do what we hoped it would do from the beginning,” says Adickes.   

“My kids love Choral Fest.  They make new friends, they are exposed to the directing styles of different directors, and they always express the deep joy they experience from singing beautiful music to God’s glory with fellow Christians.  As a teacher and director, what more could I want for them?”  Ned Goede, WISCO 

As Choral Festival celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, Luther High School will again serve as host, this time under the direction of Dave Adickes’ son, Paul.  Paul Adickes, former Choral Festival attendee, director, clinician and previous host, says “it’s really exciting for me to be hosting the 50th anniversary right here in the Coulee Region where it all started.  Each Festival has been a unique and wonderful experience for me and my students.”   

This year’s festival will be held at the La Crosse Center with “plenty of seating for everyone,” according to the younger Adickes.  Music from the past five decades, an alumni choir and commissioned works by Sarah Siegler and Dale Witte, including the final piece, an arrangement of “God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage,” which also serves as this year’s theme, are highlights of the anniversary.  The image of the Mississippi River Bridge, “an iconic feature in La Crosse,” adorns the posters, symbolizing how “Choral Festival 2017 will bridge the music of the past, present and future with the timeless heritage and hope that we have in the living and enduring Word of God,” says Paul Adickes.   

“I feel honored to be able to play at Choral Festival this year…Choral Fest honestly played a huge part in inspiring me to become a music teacher.  I knew that someday I wanted to be able to lead students to praise God and witness together just like my grandfather and father have.”  Jennifer Adickes, MLC 

Paul Adickes continues, “Choral Festival has endured for so many reasons beyond its musical value…The friendships that are created, the bonds of faith that are reinforced, and the words of faith proclaimed in song resonate in the hearts of our students long after the concerts. Choral Festival gives them an experience that is a lifelong blessing.” 


Please visit www.welsfinearts.org for more information about Choral Festival 2017, to register for the alumni choir or view a livestream of the secular and sacred concerts.


How God has blessed 50 years of the National Lutheran Choral Festival! From founder to director, present to past Choral Festival participants, so many had so much to say about their amazing experiences. Read on for a wonderful listing of God’s grace through his gift of music to these individuals and know that the blessings were multiplied many times over in the thousands of participants and listeners over the years. To God be the glory!  


MORE INTERVIEWS

Dave Adickes, retired teacher, Luther High School, Onalaska, Wis., and founder of the WELS National Lutheran Choral Festival: 

Dave Adickes recalls taking the choir for Luther High School to Choral Festival in Arizona with a side trip to the Grand Canyon. “We tried to sing at a chapel on a promontory overlooking the canyon,” he says. “We sang but were kicked out, so we sang outside.”  

Paul Adickes, teacher, Luther High School, Onalaska, Wis.: 

“I remember how exciting it was to be in Phoenix as a student, seeing the desert, and meeting fellow WELS students from all over the country. This was my first experience in a choir that large. It was amazing to hear that many voices singing together, praising God.”  

“I remember our coach bus getting stuck in the mountains at 12,000 feet while traveling to a Festival, and doing the Macarena with Lakeside’s choir on Interstate 80 somewhere in Nebraska.” 

“I remember the wonderful weekends I spent becoming friends with my fellow WELS choral directors, and I remember how much I have learned from them over the years.” 

“As a director, I remember several times being so moved that I was unable to sing during the sacred concert. The impact of hundreds of young people proclaiming their faith in song with such conviction is unlike anything else.” 

“As a clinician, I remember how humbling it is to stand in front of so many talented young people and to work with them. To be able to talk about our common faith, how it ties into the words and music and how the Holy Spirit would use that to reach the audience.”  

“Growing up, I always looked forward to Choral Festival, and I knew how much it meant to my father when he was directing. I sat in the audience for many Choral Festivals long before I was ever in high school. I guess I caught that passion from my father.” 

“I strongly believe that as long as we value music as one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind, there will be a Choral Festival. The next generation of musicians coming out of our WELS colleges is well prepared to take Choral Festival into a very bright future. Lord willing, I look forward to attending the 75th anniversary of Choral Festival!” 

Ned Goede, teacher, Wisconsin Lutheran High School, Milwaukee, Wis.: 

“I did attend the first Choral Festival at Onalaska Luther in the fall of 1967. I was a senior at Luther Academy in New Ulm. Our music professor, Eldon Hirsch, selected 12 seniors to represent the school at this festival. We rehearsed in the evening right after football and other practices and didn’t have time to shower. So we began calling ourselves the ‘Dirty Dozen’ after a famous movie at that time I still think of that group as the ‘Dirty Dozen.’” 

“The first Choral Fest secular concert (now called the Pops Concert) was a madrigal concert with each group singing one madrigal and one secular piece. There were no microphones and definitely no dancing. It’s very different today with each group doing specialized choreography and having sound and light options.”  

“I remember that the singers were packed in like sardines for the sacred concert, but we had fun and friendships that continued for many years afterward.” 

“Hosting the 40th anniversary at Wisco was a personally joyous and satisfying experience for me. But, the memory that will most be with me is watching these wonderful young men and women sing beautiful songs of faith from hearts of faith. I get emotional every year as I experience this.” 

“I never thought that I would be a part of the Choral Fest experience. I actually was not even sure I wanted to go into ministry at that time. So thankful the Lord guided me to choose ministry. (This is my 48th year in ministry.)”  

Cameron Schroeder, student, Luther High School, Onalaska, Wis.: 

“I love getting to meet students from other schools that are so similar to mine. We are from pretty much the same world, and now those different parts of WELS collide in one spot, and it’s a blast! I’m also very musical and so getting to sing in a choir of this size is a HUGE privilege that not too many people get to have. It’s a ton of fun!”  

“Last year, it was a free period between group rehearsals, and my friend and I wanted to meet people from other schools, so we both sat in office chairs with wheels that we found in our meeting room and then wheeled around the hallways, visiting other rooms and saying hi. Some of the non-musical activities make Choral Fest Choral Fest, even more than the singing! These are often the most memorable, along with praising God with our talents for the whole weekend.”  

Shelby Cary, student, Luther High School, Onalaska, Wis.: 

“Last year, I attended Choral Fest for the first time with virtually no expectations on what it would be like. I traveled with my show choir from Wisconsin to Nebraska in a bus. Upon arriving at Choral Fest, I realized that this would be an experience unlike any I had ever had. The atmosphere was fun, inviting, Christian-based, and we all got the opportunity to connect with students from around the country. We all had the same goal in mind: to work hard and do our best to praise God with this very special event. It was so incredible to work with the talented musicians who were our clinicians and the students who shared the same love of music and singing as we did. Choral Fest allowed my choir family to grow along with my faith.” 

“My favorite memory of Choral Fest was working with all of these student to create something beautiful. We all put in months of hard work and dedication in preparation for this one event, and it all proved worth it in the end. Singing with a group of hundreds of others just like me sent chills through my body. We all stood together as one in faith and in song.”  

Sam Wetzel, student, Luther High School, Onalaska, Wis.: 

“The reason Choral Fest is so special to me is because of the amazing feeling of Christian fellowship. I loved the camaraderie, but moreso the ability to praise God en masse. I remember that the individual choirs would occasionally and spontaneously break into song. Also, one night my friends and I stumbled upon a group of 50 or so kids crammed into a room. In the hollow center of the assembly, people would, one at a time, go into the clearing and display a skill to a roaring crowd. We spent a good ten minutes cheering on a yo-yoer.”  

Lauren Stuebs, student, Luther High School, Onalaska, Wis.: 

“There are many special things about Choral Fest. The one I would like to zero in on is the opportunity to meet with all our fellow Lutheran high schools. We get the chance to meet with over 400 young Christians. It’s a really wonderful experience to be able to get to know the people who will someday be the leaders in our synod. “ 

“I’ll admit that it is very hard to choose one specific memory. During the last song, ‘Oh, Church Arise,’ I remember getting chills. Everyone was really into the song, and the message was just uplifting and encouraging.”  

Jennifer Adickes, student, Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.: 

“Choral Festival is special because of the connections people make with each other. I am currently a senior at Martin Luther College. When I began my freshman year, I knew many of my classmates already through Choral Fest. We bonded immediately, reminiscing about singing together and the shenanigans that went along with it. In fact, this summer, I attended a wedding of a couple of my friends who met each at at Choral Fest my junior year! In addition to Christian fellowship, Choral Fest provides the opportunity to lift our voices together in praise to God. I remember looking over the sea of students and the congregation one particular National Choral Fest and feeling amazed that we were all gathered together, singing praise to our Father. Worshipping with such a large body of students who share my faith is an experience that may only be topped in the heavenly choirs.” 

“I have many wonderful memories from Choral Fest. I’ve attended ten of them! When I was younger, the Friday night Pops Concerts were my favorite. I knew that someday I wanted to perform a showy number (including choreography, of course!) with the Sound Foundation [Luther High School, Onalaska, Wisconsin]. I also got the unique opportunity of making connections and forming relationships with many high school choral directors. Now that I’m at MLC, having those connections has been a huge blessing to my ministry! I also have fond memories of ‘homeroom’ times during the festivals. This was a time where we had the option to relax in our designated rooms between practices. Instead, however, we chose to wander to the homerooms of other schools and make friends. We talked, joked around, and became friends. Many people that I met this way at Choral Fest are still dear friends to me!” 

“I feel honored to be able to play at Choral Festival this year. My grandpa is an incredibly driven, talented, loving man. It’s crazy to think that 50 years ago, Choral Fest had its start with him! I’ve been watching my dad conduct at Choral Festivals for as long as I can remember. Even when I was a little kid, I loved telling everyone, ‘That’s my dad!’ Because of the example set by both my grandpa and father, I decided to be an elementary education and secondary vocal music double major at Martin Luther College. Choral Fest honestly played a huge part in inspiring me to become a music teacher. I knew that someday I wanted to be able to lead student to praise God and witness together just like my grandfather and father have.”  

Penny Nell Mielke, teacher, Crown of Life Lutheran School, West St. Paul, Minn.:  

“Looking forward to this year as [my daughter] Maddy is blessed to participate. My sister and I [Winnebago Academy, Fond du Lac, Wis.] both have great memories of the 25th Choral Fest, and our mom was in the first one!”  

Beth Biedenbender Henry, teacher, Trinity Lutheran School, Coleman, Wis.: “My first Choral Fest was in Arizona. I went with my sister Rachael. It was the most memorable for me, not only to sing with so many other talented voices but also it created friendships that are still around today. I met cousins I didn’t know from California, stayed with my godparents who moved to Arizona from Michigan, got to experience God’s marvelous creation of the Grand Canyon, and sing his praises for all who came. That was the start of eight wondrous years from high school [Michigan Lutheran High School, St. Joseph, Mich.] through college of singing and enjoying it. Each year after that you couldn’t wait to see your friends again and make new ones!”  

Jane Falck Grobe, teacher, Salem Lutheran School, Stillwater, Minn.: 

“Fun and fellowship! Great memories and wonderful choirs! The one I attended [as a member of Fox Valley Lutheran High School choir, Appleton, Wisconsin] was at St. Croix ironically!”  

Jessie Bilitz Polzin, stayathome mother, Hugo, Minn.: 

“I met my eventual husband my junior year at Choral Fest. We reconnected later in college with a ‘Hey! Didn’t I meet you at Choral Fest?!’ The rest is history!”  

Rebekah Haag Thoma, teacher, St. Peter’s Lutheran School, Sturgeon Bay, Wis.: 

“It was a taste of heaven! It felt as if I was singing with the heavenly choirs!”


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Author: Ann Ponath
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

What it means to be truly Lutheran: Public ministers of the gospel are called to serve

Joel D. Otto

Priests in the Middle Ages had two primary tasks: Correctly perform the sacraments of the church to earn God’s grace on behalf of the people and listen to confession. The people were required to confess all their sins to the priest at least once a year. Priests had to learn how to cajole people into remembering all their sins. They also had to investigate and probe the circumstances and motives of those sins to know what earthly punishments the person had to perform. The priests had to be spiritual detectives. And they knew everyone’s secrets. 

This wasn’t the only problem among clergy at the time of Luther. Some of the more radical reform movements had self-proclaimed, self-appointed preachers. They took on the duties of spiritual leadership without being properly called to do so. 

Truly Lutheran public ministers of the gospel are called to serve God’s people with the gospel. First, they are properly called to do this work. Individually, every Christian has the right and privilege to “declare God’s praises” (1 Peter 2:9,10) and every Christian can forgive sins (John 20:19-23). But when Christians gather together around the Word and sacraments, someone who is gifted and trained needs to be called to serve the group with the Word and sacraments. Otherwise, disorder could result (1 Corinthians 14:33,40). The Augsburg Confession stated the point succinctly and clearly. “It is taught that no one should publicly teach, preach, or administer the sacraments without a proper [public] call” (Article XIV). The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is calling public ministers of the gospel through the church’s call (Acts 20:28). 

Second, truly Lutheran public ministers are called to proclaim the Word faithfully and administer the sacraments rightly. Pastors and other public ministers of the gospel are not spiritual detectives, entertainers, or corporate executives. They are not to act as dictators in the church (1 Peter 5:1-3). They are simply servants of Christ whose name they proclaim, and servants of Christ’s people whose blood purchased them as his people. That’s why the qualifications Paul listed for public spiritual leadership emphasize a Christian character that won’t be an obstacle to the gospel. He wrote that a spiritual leader should “be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable . . . not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:2,3). These qualified public ministers are called to use the Word and sacraments for the spiritual benefit of those whom they are called to serve. So they also need to be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2).  

Truly Lutheran public ministers of the gospel need to know the Word and know how to communicate the Word. That’s why Luther encouraged, “Pray diligently, as Christ Himself commands us to pray (Matt. 9:38), that God may grant us faithful laborers and pastors who are sincere and adhere to the Word” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 28, p. 62). 


Questions to consider 

  1. Read 1 Peter 2:9,10. Explain how this passage relates to the public ministry.

Every Christian is a royal priest, God’s special possession, part of the people of God, by faith in Jesus. Every Christian has received mercy. Every Christian, therefore, has the right, privilege, and duty to “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” In other words, every Christian is to proclaim the gospel. But when two or more Christians get together to proclaim the gospel, or when a group of royal priests desires to proclaim the gospel in places where they cannot go, then one of those “royal priests” has to serve as a leader; one of those royal priests has to serve in those other areas of ministry. For the sake of order and so that the gospel will be proclaimed faithfully, someone has to be chosen, trained, and called to serve the group with the gospel or serve on behalf of the group.

2. Describe how the teaching of the divine call is comforting to both called workers and congregation members.

Called workers can have the confidence and comfort that, even in challenging situations, they are serving where the Lord has called them to serve at this time. Likewise, for the congregation members, they can be sure that the called workers who are serving at this time and place are those whom the Lord has placed among them. The Lord has worked through the church to place his workers where he wants them to serve at this time (see Acts 20:28).

3. How does the Lutheran view of the public ministry affect the way that we educate future called workers (especially pastors)?

Since those who serve in the public ministry are called to proclaim the Word to and on behalf of the church, public ministers need to be taught the Word. Since those public ministers need to have the ability to teach the Word, those gifts need to be developed and cultivated. Therefore, the education of public ministers, especially pastors, emphasizes the tools needed to study the Word in depth, including the languages in which the Bible was written. The education of public ministers will also focus on learning how to communicate the Word. Therefore, classes in education, preaching, evangelism, and counseling are important. Since public ministers are serving the church and reaching out to the lost, they also have to understand people and the world in which we live. Therefore, classes in psychology and history are also part of training called workers.

 


Contributing editor Joel Otto, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 


 This is the last article in a 14-part series on key doctrinal emphases that Luther brought back to light through the Reformation.  Find this article and answers online after Nov. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist. 


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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Monuments: Lasting memories – Part 7

As you look aheadremember the Israelites’ monument at the Jordan that shows how God keeps his past promises and continues to fulfill his promises for the future.  

Samuel C. Degner 

The people of Israel gazed out across the Jordan Valley. There it was, right in front of them: the land flowing with milk and honey, the one they had dreamed of for generations. Exhilaration must have filled their hearts as they pictured the places where they would put up their houses—houses, not tents! 

A promise kept 

But then again . . . they had been here before. Forty years earlier, their forebears had looked at the same landscape and concluded they could never take it from its occupants. Now, those Canaanites were still there. Moses, on the other hand, was not; the one who had led them to this point now lay buried somewhere in Moab. Then there was that river at flood stage . . . perhaps the people hadn’t noticed its distant roar at first. Was it excitement or fear that made their hearts beat faster? 

That mix of anticipation and uncertainty is timeless. Brides and grooms feel it as they prepare to enter marriage, expecting both joys and challenges. So do graduates as they step into a wide open future, full of both opportunity and danger, without those who had guided them to that point. Retirees may wonder whether the coming years will be as golden as they imagine. Christians nearing death see paradise lying before them as well as the pain they may have to traverse to get there. 

As you survey your future, consider the Israelites at the Jordan (Joshua chapter 3). By God’s power, they walked across the dry riverbed into a land that would no longer be promised but simply theirs.  

A future guaranteed 

This was more than the fulfillment of a centuries-old promise. God showed himself to be a “living God,” always present with his people and fully capable of giving them the Canaanites’ land. He wanted Israel to know they could confidently follow Joshua just as they had followed Moses, who had once led them across a different body of water. In other words, God was fulfilling his words from the past and guaranteeing his words about the future. 

To help his people remember this lesson through the coming years of conquest and for generations to come, the Lord commanded one man from each tribe to take a stone from the middle of the riverbed and place it at the Israelites’ camp (Joshua chapter 4). What a powerful monument: Rocks, worn and wet from years under a river, now stacked on dry land! A memorial to a promise kept—and a promise of more of the same. 

Somewhere in that same river, some 1,400 years later, stood a living monument with the same message. As Jesus stepped out of those descending waters, another miracle took place: A dove and a voice from heaven, said, “This is my Son” (Matthew 3:17). It marked a promise kept: The Savior had come, who was the reason God brought Israel to that land in the first place. It was also a sign of good things on the horizon: Jesus’ perfect life on earth earned us a perfect life in heaven.  

As you make your way toward that promised land, you can trust the same living God’s presence and power to bring you safely through the obstacles in your path. The future that lies before you may both fill your daydreams and keep you up at night. But the Lord goes ahead to defend and bless you. It’s his promise. 


Contributing editor Samuel Degner is a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin. 


This is the seventh article in a nine-part series on Old Testament monuments and what they mean to us today.  


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Author: Samuel C. Degner
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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God’s best is yours

Have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.” Genesis 45:20 (English Standard Version)                                             

Daniel J. Habben  

“Have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.”  

These were Pharaoh’s words to Joseph’s brothers. After Joseph had revealed his identity to his brothers, Pharaoh instructed them to return to Canaan to fetch the rest of the family before returning to settle in Egypt. This was a generous offer! With a famine overshadowing the region, Pharaoh could have been reluctant to play host to more hungry mouths. But he not only invited Joseph’s extended family to Egypt, he also told Joseph’s brothers not to bother bringing their possessions. Everything they needed would be provided from the best of the land.  

God’s riches 

In the face of such an offer, it would have extraordinarily rude and foolish of the brothers to dismiss Pharaoh’s generosity—to insist on hauling to Egypt everything stored in their attics, garages, and junk drawers. In essence, the brothers would have been saying, “We don’t believe you, Pharaoh. We don’t think you will really give us what we need to live. And we don’t think that what you are offering is better than what we already have.”  

Joseph’s brothers weren’t that rude or foolish. But that’s often my shocking response to God’s gracious promises. Sometimes I hold on to my worldly attitudes because I’m not entirely convinced God will share his vast riches with me—even though he’s promised to do just that. Think of how the apostle Paul assured the Philippian Christians: “My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19, emphasis added). I’ve been offered the best! I don’t need to cling to my worldly concerns as if to a life preserver.   

Our concerns 

What about you? What’s in your grasp that makes it difficult to see and appreciate God’s great blessings? Are you holding on to resentment? Let it go! God knows best how to handle the situation. He calls you to exercise patient forgiveness and leave the judging up to him. Do you see how this makes you rich? It’s as if you have your own private investigator looking into the matter so that you don’t have to worry about it.  

Are you grasping for approval from nonchristian friends? They aren’t going to speak up in your defense on judgment day. They can’t bring a loved one back to life. They can’t soothe your guilty conscience or prepare you for eternity. But your glorious and gracious friend Jesus can and will.  

And what things are so important that they divert your attention from God’s riches? Are you stretching to the breaking point to snag that luxury vehicle with those awesome gadgets, or do you treasure that stylish patio furniture or some other thing? Their warranties won’t outlast judgement day.  

It’s tempting to expend oodles of energy and concern over worldly goods and concerns, but they are only baubles and distractions compared to the riches of God’s glory that are yours through faith in Christ. Such riches free us to live generous lives—to share our faith, our time, our abilities, and our income with an open hand. 

So fix your eyes on Jesus, the king of the universe, who says to you, “Have no concern for your earthly goods, for the best of heaven is yours . . . forever.” 

Oh, what a promise! I don’t need to weigh myself down with distractions and stuff. The Lord gives me the worldly things I need, but they are unimportant. If I have Jesus, I have everything.  


Contributing editor Daniel Habben is pastor at St. John’s, St. John’s, Antigua, West Indies.  


 

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Author: Daniel J. Habben
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Abiding truth: Part 11

Heaven is our home, and God promises we will rise glorious to live there forever in perfect joy. 

Mark E. Braun 

We are accustomed to seeing a jowly, rotund image of Martin Luther. But in his early life he was often frail and sickly.   

Earthly sickness 

A description of Luther in his mid-30s called him so “emaciated from care and study” that one “can almost count his bones through his skin.” He recalled that as a monk he nearly killed himself “by fasting, abstinence, and austerity” (Luther’s Works [LW], Vol. 8, p. 173). He suffered at times from rheumatic fever, upper respiratory infections, inflation of his nasal cavity that led to a ruptured eardrum, an abscess in his leg, and various infectious diseases.  

As he grew older, Luther was afflicted with kidney stones, digestive problems, and gout. The care he received from doctors sounds as dreadful as the diseases it was intended to cure. In one treatment, Luther complained that doctors gave him so much water to drink “as if I had been a big ox.” Doctors later prescribed a “tonic” of garlic and horse manure boiled together. Luther rarely suffered in silence, and his laments were blunt and earthy.  

His final sickness was preceded by heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and pain down his left arm. He died of a heart attack three months after his 62nd birthday.  

The root cause of all his illnesses, he knew, was not medical but theological. Luther remarked on the perfection Adam enjoyed before the fall: 

For us today it is amazing that there could be a physical life without death and without all the incidentals of death, such as diseases, smallpox, [and] stinking accumulations of fluids in the body. In the state of innocence no part of the body was filthy. (LW, Vol. 1, p. 110) 

Our first parents “lived among the creatures of God in peace, without fear of death, and without any fear of sickness” (LW, Vol. 1, p. 113). It was sin that caused “hideous lust, depravity, troubles, sicknesses, and other evils” (LW, Vol. 4, p. 5). From the story of Job “one can gather sure enough proof of what Satan is able to do and what he desires most.” Satan “sends enemies” and “even infects the body and fills it with boils” (LW, Vol. 3, p. 270). 

Luther frequently called his own body a “maggot sack” and a “decomposed rascal” (LW, Vol. 28, p. 112,110).  

Heavenly joy 

But in a series of sermons on the great resurrection chapter 1 Corinthians 15 begun in 1532 and extending into 1533, Luther celebrated God’s cure for sin’s corruption. Human reason, he knew, can only conclude that “the world has stood so long, that one person after another, remains dead, decomposes, and crumbles to dust in the grave” (LW, Vol. 28, p. 69). Yet our assurance of resurrection is grounded in the resurrection of Christ, “the chief article of the Christian doctrine” (LW, Vol. 28, p. 94).  

In our resurrection, “everyone’s body will remain as it was created.” Yet for the resurrected man or woman “it will no longer be necessary to eat, to drink, to digest, to sweep, to live with husband or with wife, to beget children, to cultivate the fields, to rule home or city” because “all that pertains to the essence of these temporal goods and is part of temporal life and works will cease to be” (LW, Vol. 28, pp. 171,172). The form of our resurrection body “will be a wholly different, more beautiful, and perfect existence, devoid of all infirmities and wants” (LW, Vol. 28, p. 172). Death itself will be undone. Death will say to us: “Stop eating, drinking, [and] digesting, and lie down and decompose so that you may acquire a new, more beautiful form, just as the grain does which sprouts anew from the soil” (LW, Vol. 28, p. 182). 

The resurrected body “will sally forth into heaven” to “play with sun and moon and all other creatures” and will be “delighted by this.” It will be so satisfied and blessed that there will no longer be any thought of eating and drinking. “We will be illumined by [God] and know him, not only with regard to the soul, but our whole body will be pervaded. It will be as clear and light as air,” and “yet we will have a true body” (LW, Vol. 28, pp. 189,190). All this will be true because “God did not create man that he should sin and die, but that he should live.” Since Christ has removed all the filthy, shameful effects of sin, “all will be pure, and nothing that is evil or loathsome will be felt any longer on earth.” This can only happen when we “first shed this old, evil garment through death” (LW, Vol. 28, p. 203). 

Later in 1533, in a sermon on John 14:6, Luther summarized our great hope: 

I am baptized in Christ, and believe that he is my Savior and the Way on which I am to come to heaven. Hence, though I do not know the duration of my sojourn here or how soon I will divest myself of this bag of worms, I do know that I will live with him eternally. Even though this mortal body closes its eyes and all its senses, and though it does not know what will become of it—this is immaterial. It should not know or perceive this, but permit itself to be carried to the cemetery, to be interred in the ground and reduced to dust until God raises it up again. And yet, God be praised, as a Christian I do know where I will go and abide; for I was assured of this in Baptism, and likewise in the Sacrament. (LW, Vol. 24, pp. 44,45) 


Mark Braun, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a member at Grace, Waukesha, Wisconsin. 


Luther still speaks 

Busy as Luther was, his eyes of faith were focused on heaven. In a sermon on Titus 2:13, he urged believers, “We should learn to bring our eyes, our hearts, and souls to bear upon yonder life in heaven and in a lively hope await it with joy. For if we would be Christians, the ultimate objects of our quest should not be marrying, giving in marriage, buying, selling, planting, building—activities that Christ says (Matt. 24:37f.; Luke 17:26ff.) the wicked will be engaged in especially before the Last Day. To be sure, we, too, must use these things in order to satisfy the needs of the body. But our ultimate quest should be something better and higher: the blessed inheritance in heaven that does not pass away” (What Luther Says, Vol 2, #1891) 

Luther was no stranger to death. It had invaded his parsonage and carried off two daughters, one 8 months old and the other 14 years. But the Reformer found his comfort in what the Scripture said and what he therefore preached. Since Christ had paid fully for sin, death could no longer be punishment for the believer. Instead it was the necessary step from earth to heaven. 

See how important is the message of the gospel that God restored to the church through his servant Luther. Without the assurance that sin’s punishment has been paid, death would still be sin’s horrible wage. Hell would still be the sinner’s painful destination. For eternity, the sinner—both body and soul—would be locked behind hell’s dismal prison doors. 

Luther lived with his eyes of faith focused on heaven. While he waited, though, he was busy preaching the victory won fully by the Savior. 


Richard Lauersdorf is a pastor at Good Shepherd, West Bend, Wisconsin.  


 

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Author: Mark E. Braun & Richard E. Lauersdorf
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Light for our path: Levels in heaven

Could you explain the different levels in heaven? I was told that people who do the greatest works on earth will get the upper levels in heaven. I have a hard time with this because it sounds like work righteousness. 

James F. Pope

Your question provides the opportunity to marvel at the gracious love of God Christians enjoy in equal measure and in unique ways. 

Salvation: equally enjoyed 

You are correct in rejecting work righteousness as a way to heaven. If we were to attempt to save ourselves, we would have to be perfect, keeping every part of God’s law every second of our lives. We cannot do that. In addition, our attempts at personal holiness come to a crashing stop when we realize that we begin life with a sinful nature. We cannot be perfect on our own to enjoy salvation. Jesus was perfect for us. His holy life and substitutionary death are the reasons for our salvation. Our works do not contribute in any way to our salvation (Titus 3:5,6). The salvation we enjoy is God’s doing. 

More than that, the salvation you and I enjoy is what all Christians possess. The book of Revelation illustrates that well. In one vision, the apostle John describes Christians who had been killed for their faith being given “a white robe” (6:11). The garment represents the robe of righteousness Jesus won and which people “wear” through faith in him. Each of those martyrs received a white robe. Some did not receive half a robe; others, two robes. All enjoyed salvation equally. Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) also teaches that God’s children equally enjoy his salvation. 

While all Christians enjoy the same gift of salvation, Scripture speaks of God customizing his gracious blessings. That brings us to the main part of your question. 

Degrees of glory: individually blessed 

Rather than speaking of levels of heaven (as the Mormons do), we understand Bible passages like Daniel 12:3; Matthew 25:23,28,29; Luke 19:17,19; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 9:6; and Revelation 14:13 to address the subject of “degrees of glory.” That expression describes the individual blessings God will graciously bestow on his followers in connection with their faithful earthly lives. We will have to wait to see what that specifically means. 

What it means now is that we do not serve the Lord with the idea of getting something from him in the future. That is the mercenary attitude of which you spoke in your question. Such an attitude can easily plague Christians. 

I once had a number of conversations with a person who was interested in joining the church I served. The person’s profession of faith and our church’s statement of belief matched until she brought up “once saved, always saved.” In spite of citing Bible passages that speak of people falling from faith (for example, Matthew 13:20,21; 1 Timothy 1:19), she regarded apostasy as an impossibility. Hypothetically conceding to her position, I asked what reason she had to attend worship services in church. Her answer made everything clear: “To get more jewels in my crown.” 

Now I got it. Her stated motive for doing God’s will was to get something in return. That is an attitude we need to reject. Any way that God chooses to bless our Spirit-driven lives of love (Philippians 2:13) is grace. Pure grace.   


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Heart to heart: Parent conversations : What should we do when our children grow silent?

What should we do when our children grow silent?

There are days when we all would long for some silence as parents—during those long colicky twilight hours; the “why” stage of toddlerdom; the early grade school years when we’re treated to an unending litany of made-up knock-knock jokes; and the “you’re so uncool, why can’t I . . .” rants, stomping, and door slamming of pre-teens and teens. Yet, there are also times when we get concerned once that silence materializes. Our authors this month give us some options for how to deal with that kind of silence. So far, none of them are willing to offer ways to achieve silence during those other stages. . .   

Nicole Balza


It seems that we live in fear of quietness. Not only do we as a culture shy away from it, but we don’t particularly like it when our children grow quiet.  

I would encourage you to embrace the quietness. 

One of the benefits to homeschooling for six years was that I easily was able to incorporate quiet time with God into our day. Now that most of them are in brick-and-mortar schools, it is a little more difficult, but my children have learned the benefits to taking quiet time. 

Jesus modeled quiet time on a regular basis. Whenever his disciples couldn’t find him, it was usually because Jesus took time out to be in solitude with his Father. 

What a gift to model to our own children. When we are frustrated, scared, confused, or even full of joy, how often do we find solitude to hang out with Jesus? When my children are angry or overwhelmed, they can learn to take the time to break away from the chaos (or even the perceived chaos) and lean on the true Comforter. 

What about when our children grow quiet to isolate themselves in an unhealthy way? Tad and I work hard to create space. Safe space. Space to feel disappointed, hurt, overwhelmed. Let them share without judgment or the need to fix (this is a constant struggle for me). Listen. Really listen. Without reacting.  

Sometimes our kids just don’t want to talk to us. I truly believe that is okay. Tad and I have prayerfully asked for guidance to find Christian mentors for each of our children. We found people who foster relationships with our children so they can go to them when they don’t feel like they are ready to talk to us. We intentionally ask people who we know will provide the spiritual guidance that will bring our children closer to Jesus.  

One last thing I would like to add is to pray. Pray for your children. Not only in the quiet of your bedroom at night, but also out loud in front of them. Maybe pray outside their closed door. Maybe pray in the car while they are strapped . . . I mean, buckled . . . in. Maybe even put your hands on them and literally pray over them. Let them hear the words you share with your heavenly Father on their behalf. Maybe pray in their room when they aren’t in there. Whatever it looks like in your home, keep praying. 


Jenni Schubring and her husband, Tad, have five children ranging in age from 8 to 16. They are also licensed foster parents.  


One of the greatest skills of parenting is communicating with our children. Truly hearing them, reflecting their words, giving them an understanding that their thoughts and feelings are heard and acknowledged. Don’t we all want people like this in our lives? What a wonderful demonstration of love to be fully present with another person in close communication.  

As children grow and develop and experience a multitude of new things, there is a lot to process and understand. What if we get the sense that our child doesn’t want to talk about it? Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

Parents of young children: Now is the time to set the stage for a lifetime of proper communication. Get them used to talking about their day. Consider making it a bedtime ritual. Share one great part of your day and one not-so-great part—both child and parent. Then spend time in prayer thanking God for the highs and asking for his help regarding the lows. This early communication sets the stage for the teen years.  

Another thing to keep in mind is our children’s temperaments. By nature, don’t some kids seem to think out loud and others internalize? Some kids want/need to be verbal. Others, not so much. We parents have these same natural preferences. 

Here’s a recent example in my family. I picked up Kayla from an after-school practice and said, “Hi.” I got a hi back, and then I settled into a comfortable silence. After a few seconds, Kayla said, “Ask me something about high school.”  

Boy, do I have it made in the communication parenting skill area with her! Not only did my extroverted daughter tell me about her day, but she even interjected questions to herself for me! “Let’s see, what else happened today?”  

Now my seventh-grade son, Josh, is a bit different. I picked him up from school and made the mistake of asking him a close-ended question: “How was your day, buddy?” He replied with, “Good.” Insert silence. 

I have come to understand that Josh prefers to process his thoughts internally and needs to be drawn out with more questions such as, “What was your favorite thing today?” “How come?” “What did everyone play at recess?” Reflecting some of his thoughts and feelings keeps the communication going. But there are times when an introvert simply needs to spend time in thought in order to process effectively. Silence is important.  

Is it a problem when our kids are silent? Maybe for some. If Kayla grew silent, I’d be quite concerned. I would check on her for sure. Josh’s silence can be harder to decipher. Is it his natural tendency or could he be troubled? Whichever the case, my wife, Kelly, and I make it our goal to watch for those opportunities to check in and give both kids the understanding that we are here and willing to talk if or when they need to. It is our way of demonstrating our love for God in their lives.  


Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a pre-teen son. 


Sometimes I think half the battle of parenting is not to take anything too personally. When your teenage boy goes quiet, for instance, it’s usually not about you.  

It can be a hard adjustment, though, because wasn’t it just last week when he was sitting in the kitchen, going on and on while you were browning the ground beef? I once listed everything my 11-year-old son talked about in a 20-minute stream-of-consciousness deluge, at which my only requirement was to nod and grunt. His oration included palindromes, peristalsis (which is why you can drink milk upside down), how his arms were getting stronger (so adorable), and the middle name of Harry Truman. (It’s “S,” by the way. I know this because he told me.) 

But then the chatterbox morphs into the one grunting, and you panic a little: Why doesn’t he talk to me anymore? Is he in trouble? Does he hate me?  

What I learned is this:  

  • A bit of silence is normal. Teens are supposed to grow up and separatefrom their parents. Part of that is talking to you less often.  
  • Asking a million questions does not work. Even though you just want him to know you’re interested in his life, it can come off as prying and controlling.
  • It sometimes works to ask about a friend: “So why isn’t Riley going out for choir this year?” That can lead to an actual conversation—about other friends, Riley’s pool party three weeks ago, and maybe even the girl he’s had his eye on. (Mission accomplished.)
  • Respect his privacy. Don’tshare the news about that girl he has his eye on with your book club.  
  • Don’t make everything a teachable moment. If he tells you he’s going to skip college and take his garage band on the road, just say, “Okay!” Chances are, he’ll figure outhow dumb that is all on his own. But if you shut him down right away, the next time he has a big dream or crazy idea, he won’t bring it to you.  
  • Have adult conversations about adult topics at the dinner table—the latest political question, a home budget issue, something you saw at the store that made you uncomfortable. Let everybody weigh in. Treat all responses, even the immature ones, with equal respect.

Now it’s possible that a teenager’s silence is a warning sign. If he’s hiding in his room all the time or is exceptionally surly, he may be struggling with something bigger than he can handle—a traumatic breakup, guilt over a sin, an Instagram situation that exploded, some kind of violence, even depression or substance abuse. 

In this case, although he’s silent, he’s actually crying out for help, and you need to be the parent. Search his room. Check his social media. Ask another adult he trusts—an uncle or teacher—if something’s going on that you should know about. If the situation warrants, talk to a counselor with him.  

But that’s the exception. Usually a little silence is just part of your teenager’s individuation—growing up and separating himself from you. (This is the goal, remember? We don’t want to be doing their laundry when they’re 23.)  

If you give him respect and love and space, he’ll know he can come talk to you whenever he wants toYou’ll be browning the ground beef some evening, and suddenly he’ll feel the need to tell you—everything. Whether he’s 11 or 17 or 30, just nod and let the boy talk.  


Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his teenage son.  


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Heart to heart: Parent conversations : What should we teach children about the Reformation?

What should we teach children about the Reformation? 

There are times when things are so engrained in our life that we take them for granted and struggle to even explain them. I think being a Lutheran can be like that—especially for us “lifers.” That’s one of the reasons I love reading the “Confessions of faith” articles shared in FIC each month (p. 14). It’s refreshing to hear from those who are new to Lutheranism, to be reminded of the treasures that Martin Luther restored to the church. Reading the perspectives of the two Lutheran dads featured here helped me too.  

Want more resources to help teach Reformation truths to your children? Visit nph.net and consider a new short film titled God’s Plan for Luther and Me; the book Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed The World; or the graphic novels on Katie and Martin Luther.  

Nicole Balza


When it comes to teaching our children about the Reformation, especially our young children, we have to admit the challenge of it. Perhaps the most obvious challenge is that the official date for recognizing the Reformation is Oct. 31. There is a part of me that wishes that Martin Luther would have had some foresight with his choosing of a date! Didn’t he know that this would become Halloween and that children would be hopelessly distracted? I am thinking that it probably isn’t enough to dress up your children as Martin Luther to help them understand the joy of the Reformation.  

In addition, the Reformation isn’t just competing with Halloween. It’s also competing with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. My daughter, Tayley, came home from public school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day impressed in ways that I rarely see, trying to tell me the story of the civil rights movement. In fact, she is having the hardest time accepting that Martin Luther King Jr. was named after another Martin Luther who was even greater.  

With that said, perhaps the greatest challenge in teaching our children about the Reformation are the truths themselves. Most of the key ideas are framed by Latin slogans or solas. Whoever decided to frame the Reformation in this way didn’t have children in mind. What is more, if someone challenged us Lutherans to put the Reformation itself into a single sentence, we might say, “The Reformation was all about the Bible’s teaching that we are justified by grace through faith by Christ alone.” Try teaching that to your six-year-old!  

The ideas of the Reformation are saving and powerful, but they are also abstract. Somewhere along the line, I remember learning that kids under a certain age simply cannot grasp abstract concepts. For parents wanting to teach their children about the Reformation, these are the challenges. 

I’ll tell you what I am going to do with my kids to meet the challenge. I am going to teach my kids about the Reformation during the entire month of October. Really, whenever it comes up in daily life, we are going to talk about it. I am going to buy a children’s book from Northwestern Publishing House. There’s one called Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed The World that looks especially good, but I’ll look into other possibilities as well. We will talk about the different “Martins” and why Oct. 31 is special to us for better reasons than candy. 

But what about the truths of the Reformation? How can we share abstract truths with them in meaningful ways? We will let Luther guide us with Scripture. His first thesis, which guided the other 94 theses, stated, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matthew 4:17] he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” This is where everything started. Luther wanted the world to know that the life of a believer has two parts: 1) contrition or sorrow over sin and 2) faith in the saving life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. These are actually pretty simple concepts to understand. That’s what I intend to teach my girls.  

I am going to teach them to apologize to each other and to their God. I am going to hold his law in front them and show them their sin. Then, I will show them their Savior who died for them. I will speak to them of Jesus’ love and grace and about how forgiven and washed and loved they really are. I probably won’t even call it repentance. They will learn that word later, but they will learn about Jesus. That’s really my number one goal.  

Even if they never do come to know with great clarity the difference between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr., I want them to know Jesus. That after all is what the Reformation is all about. 


Timothy Bourman is a pastor at Sure Foundation in Queens, New York, and co-host of the podcast Project 1517. He and his wife, Amanda, have three young daughters.  


 Would you like to tell your children a story this Halloween? The 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation gives you that chance.  

You can tell the story of a young man bothered by the practice of paying off sin’s punishment with money. You can tell the story of a young man who was brave. He didn’t keep his mouth shut, even before those older than he, because he cared about their souls. You can tell the story of a young man who cared about God’s truth, wanting to understand what true repentance meant and wanting the leaders of the church to treasure God’s grace. It is an amazing Halloween story, the posting of 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517. 

There is a story to tell. But that story didn’t end on Oct. 31 five hundred years ago. There is a continuing story you can tell every day you are with your children. In fact, you get to live out the story. On each of your days you have the chance to put on display divine Reformation truths that are at the heart of our salvation—grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone.  

We all know these Reformation concepts. Yet as parents, it is easy to live something other than grace and faith and Scripture. When a child has sinned, we may forget that any Christian discipline intends to have an ultimate happy ending in the grace of God. In our pride we may overlook the reality of our absolute dependence on God, the centrality of faith for eternal life and for every other moment in life. In the busyness of life, we may speak of Scripture’s importance but let its priority slip. We may speak a story of Reformation when the anniversary hits, but it’s sometimes hard to live out the Reformation during those many moments God gives us with young precious souls. 

Being a parent means knowing sin and Gods forgiveness. That’s a Reformation truth. There are times when we sin against our child by assuming the worst and thinking they had done the very thing we had warned them against, only to find out that we were wrong. Can you look your child in the eye and tell him you are sorry, explain that you have a sinful flesh too, and ask him to forgive you? There is no greater joy than to hear a representative of Christ, at the young age of seven, smile and forgive. 

There’s another side of that knowledge. Your child sins, and she is sitting on the couch in the basement in a timeout. After some screaming and crying there is silence, and then a very different voice rises up the stairs: “I’m sorry.” Can you walk down the stairs and have the first words from your mouth be, “I forgive you, and Jesus forgives you too”? Yes, parents can offer guidelines and loving consequences after assuring their child of forgiveness, but we don’t want the threats to replace forgiveness and only say, “Don’t let that ever happen again.” Those little souls can be tricked by the devil; they can be crushed when God’s love is withheld. You don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that. We know how precious God’s love has been to us. Shower his grace on those you love. 

Being a parent means depending on someone else for your salvation and for every other challenge in life. Can you humbly commiserate with your children? Can you agree with them that we are all weak and we do not have the power to obey as we want? Can you mourn with them over their wicked flesh, but then can you give them hope as you remind them that our peace when we disobey and our power finally to obey comes not from ourselves but from our God? We depend. We trust. By God’s grace, we believe. Faith—that’s a Reformation truth. 

Being a parent means listening with your children to words that come from a God whose word made the world and raised the dead. Bible stories are powerful words. The truths of those stories are power to rebuke, to comfort, to guide. Read God’s stories. Talk about God’s stories. Have Scripture be a daily meal in your home—that’s a Reformation truth. 

There is a Reformation story to tell. Do speak of Luther’s Reformation. But even more, make the Reformation—by God’s grace and power—your daily beating heart.  


Stephen Geiger is a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin. He and his wife, Anna, have six children ranging in age from 1 to 10.


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Spreading the Word in Germany

Being able to speak in “one voice”—a voice that shares the pure law and gospel message—is something Michael Herbst, pastor at St. Johanneskirche, Zwickau-Planitz, Germany, saw and appreciated at the recent synod convention. Herbst and his son, Daniel, represented the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) in Germany at the WELS convention during this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation. 

“It was so good to get the Lord’s Supper together with all of us,” he says, in reference to the opening worship service. “It’s good to see and hear that we are one voice.” 

That fellowship with WELS and other sister churches in the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference means much to the 1,250-member German church body, especially because many people in their country don’t want to hear the gospel message. According to Herbst, while many claim to be members of the State Church (a mix of Lutheranism, Reformed, and United Protestant) or the Catholic Church, they are not really interested in attending. And the message they hear from these churches can range from moderately conservative to extremely liberal. The State Church waters down the law and is tolerant of anything that is preached. “I have to say first [that people] are lost because they are sinners, but that is not the message in the State churches,” says Herbst.  

But the 16 congregations in the ELFK are not afraid to share the law and gospel, a message Martin Luther stressed, even at a time when many Germans are tired of hearing about the Reformation.  

In fact, they are using the Reformation to reach out into their communities. A series of lectures called “Das Wort Hat Getan” (the Word did it) will give ELFK pastors an opportunity to share more about Luther’s teachings. Herbst’s congregation in Zwickau-Planitz is also hosting a synodwide special worship service on Reformation Day for all its congregations and the local community to celebrate and share the gospel message for which Luther fought. 

Joint gatherings for choirs, youth, brass, and more are not uncommon for the ELFK congregations. The ELFK also runs a large bookstore filled with conservative Lutheran materials and trains called workers in its own seminary in Leipzig. An independent elementary school run by an association of ELFK churches, Dr. Martin Luther School in Zwickau-Planitz, offers an education and the gospel message to many students who are not members. “These children have heard God’s Word, and God can plant his Word in their hearts,” says Herbst. “It’s not important for me that they come to our congregation. For me it’s important they come to Christ.” 

Challenges still abound. The seminary currently has no students, and outreach is difficult due to the indifference to religion of much of the German population. But the ELFK continues to stand firm in the Word in the land of Luther. 


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Author:
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

One lesson from Reformation history

Mark G. Schroeder

The bus made its way through rolling hills and green pastures, very much reminding me of the beautiful landscape of southern Wisconsin. But it was not Wisconsin.  Piercing the morning sky in the distance was the spire of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. I soon would be standing in the birthplace of the Lutheran Reformation. 

At our first stop in Wittenberg we found ourselves at the doors of the church where Martin Luther posted 95 theological statements, or theses, that he wanted to debate. Inside that church, we stood before the grave of the Reformer himself, with his right-hand man Philip Melanchthon buried just a few feet away. 

Just a few blocks down the street, we stopped at another church—the City Church of St. Mary’s. It was here that Luther preached hundreds of sermons, explaining scriptural truths in a language that the lowliest peasant and the youngest child could understand.  

Strolling down the cobblestone streets of Wittenberg, we passed the home where Philip Melanchthon lived and stopped at the home of Lucas Cranach, an artist and friend of Luther. 

Then, at the end of the street, I found myself at the Black Cloister, the former monastery given to Luther as a home for his family and a place where visitors and students became lodgers. I stood in the room where Luther sat at the head of the massive table—Katie seated to his right—and where often 40 or more people would gather for meals and lively conversation.  

It may have all happened five hundred years ago, but seeing those places made the events of the Reformation seem anything but ancient history or dusty remnants of the past. 

One thing, perhaps more than any other, struck me as I strolled the streets of Wittenberg. Halfway through the tour, it began to rain—softly at first, then more heavily. We ducked inside a café, and then the rain stopped. I couldn’t help but think of one of Luther’s more memorable illustrations: “For you should know that God’s Word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been. . . . And [you should] not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 45, p. 352,353). 

Sadly, the empty Lutheran churches and the decline of Christianity in Europe have proven Luther’s words to be true. In the centuries after Luther, the gospel has moved from its gracious downpour in Europe to other lands. Here in the United States, we have been blessed with the nourishing showers of the gospel for centuries. One can’t help but wonder: Are we about to see history repeated through our own ingratitude and contempt? Will the gospel shower continue its move to other lands and other people because of closed ears, hard hearts, and thankless complacency? 

By God’s grace, it is never too late for us as individuals and as a synod to listen to Luther’s warning and seize the gospel and hold it fast; to hunger and thirst for the Word as if our eternal life depended on it (because it does); to feel the precious raindrops of God’s grace and to pray that the rain of his gospel continues to nourish our faith and to equip us to serve; and to rededicate ourselves to proclaiming the truths we treasure as Lutherans. 

If that is the lesson we learn from the history of the Reformation, it will be a lesson well worth learning. 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Monuments: Lasting memories – Part 6

A monument marking the burial of a wife and mother also marks the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Samuel C. Degner 

The monuments we see most often may be the ones we like the least: a headstone in a cemetery, a plaque on a vault, an urn on a mantel. They are sad reminders of sin’s grave consequences. 

Hopes unfulfilled 

When Moses wrote down the Spirit’s words in the book of Genesis, he mentioned an old monument in Palestine, one put down by a grieving but believing wanderer some four hundred years earlier. It was a simple memorial—just an upright stone—that marked the burial place of Jacob’s dear wife Rachel (Genesis 35:20).  

Imagine how Jacob felt as he set up that stone. He had fallen in love with Rachel in less than a month. He had worked for his uncle Laban 14 years to make her his bride. She was the mother of Joseph. Tragically, she died giving birth to Benjamin on the journey to Jacob’s home.  

Often grave markers appear to us as reminders of dashed dreams: A life seemingly cut short by disease or accident, a grandparent that never got to meet a grandchild, a husband whose wife lived alone for many years. Surely, you’ve felt the bitterness in your heart as you walked away from the headstone or gently set the urn in its place. 

However, as Jacob set up this stone over his wife’s fresh grave, could it be that his mind was not on hopes unfulfilled but on promises kept? 

Promises kept 

This new monument stood not far from Bethel, where Jacob had set up another stone perhaps 30 years earlier. In fact, he had just stopped there to worship again—and how things had changed since his last visit! The one-time fugitive was heading home. He had made peace with his brother and no longer feared for his life. He was not alone anymore but accompanied by his wives; 12 children (and one soon to be born); and enough flocks, herds, and servants to split into two camps. He even had a new name: Israel. The Lord had kept his word spoken at Bethel years earlier to protect Jacob, bless him, and bring him back. Certainly he would also keep his promise to give Jacob many descendants, who would own the land under the stone and through whom eternal salvation would come to the world. Rachel would live with Jacob—in his heavenly Father’s home! 

Not many miles from the place where Rachel was laid to rest, another stone would mark a grave. This one was rolled over the opening of the tomb that held Jacob’s descendant, Jesus of Nazareth. How his followers who watched it set in its place must have felt the bitterness of their unfulfilled hopes! But this stone didn’t stand in place for long; on the third day, an angel rolled it aside. No need for a stone over a vacant tomb!  

Jesus’ empty grave now stands as its own monument, proof that God has kept his word to us: Our sins are buried and eternal life is ours. His empty tomb also changes our perspective on the graves of those dear to us. Death still brings heartache, but Jesus’ resurrection promises life after death for all those who believe in him.  

So, the monuments we place near our departed loved ones can serve not as reminders of unmet expectations but as signs pointing to a hope that is sure to be fulfilled. 


Contributing editor Samuel Degner is a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin.    


This is the sixth article in a nine-part series on Old Testament monuments and what they mean to us today.


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Author: Samuel C. Degner
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Synod convention overview

Synod convention celebrates our great heritage 

From the opening hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”—complete with a 45-voice choir, instruments, and organ—to the closing anthem “God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage” sung acapella three days later, the 64th biennial convention of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod highlighted the blessings of our Lutheran heritage. 

More than 400 delegates and advisors attended the convention, held July 31–Aug. 3 at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis. The convention theme, “Our Great Heritage,” connects with the important anniversary confessional Lutherans are celebrating in 2017—the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. 

In the opening President’s Report, WELS President Mark Schroeder stressed the importance of the blessings God gave to the church through Martin Luther and the faithful witnesses that followed him. “We can’t help but thank God for the many blessings that God has passed down through the generations to us,” he says. “It’s a rich and priceless inheritance—not of money or property but of the truth of his Word and the life-giving power of the gospel. It’s a heritage that has been treasured, protected, and preserved, and which has now been entrusted to us. It’s a heritage for us to defend and hold on to, so that we can share it with others now and with generations to come.” 

Daily devotions reflected on the three solas of the Reformation, grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone. John Brenner, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., also presented an essay entitled “God’s Word is our great heritage,” which focused on one of the teachings brought back to the light by the Reformation: The Bible is the totally inspired and inerrant Word of God. 


Learning about work being done 

Reports from WELS areas of ministry shared how WELS is working to spread this ageless, unchanging gospel message.  

  • LarrySchlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions, gave an overview of expanding gospel-outreach opportunities around the world.He reported that since the last synod convention in 2015, WELS has made contact with and been involved in some capacity with 14 new mission fields around the world. Now WELS works with close to 50 world fields, ranging from places where WELS sends missionaries to locales with contacts from national churches to groups that are using materials from Multi-Language Publications. Delegates also heard firsthand about world mission work from missionaries who live in Africa, Russia, and East Asia.
  • Outreach opportunities in the United States and Canada were also highlighted—including new and enhanced ministries started in 2017 in placessuch as Waukegan, Ill.; Hendersonville, N.C.; and Milwaukee, Wis. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions, also underscored growing cross-cultural ministries to the Hmong, Sudanese, Vietnamese, and Spanish-speaking populations.
  • Training called workers to preach and teach is an important part of preserving our heritage. Paul Prange, administrator of WELS Ministerial Education, talked about quality and quantity of workers as he looked at the ministries of the four ministerial education schools—Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich.; Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis.; Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.; and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis.
  • Representatives from the Congregational Supportshared updates on resources and information that can help congregations in the areas of outreach, education, discipleship, worship, and member assistance. A special report from Jonathan Hein, director of the WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling, highlighted key findings from a comprehensive demographic survey of WELSconducted over the past two years.

Highlighting Reformation 500 

Celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation continued with presentations that highlighted Reformation history as well as shared materials and ways for congregations and individuals to celebrate the Reformation. 

Michael Herbst, vice president of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) in Germany, was a special guest of the convention and shared more about the history of our sister church and how the ELFK continues to reach out in the land of the Reformation. 

Herbst was not the only special guest at the convention. Representatives came from three Lutheran church bodies with whom WELS will be declaring fellowship during the convention: the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia; South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (Hong Kong); and East Asia Lutheran Synod. Guests from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Church of the Lutheran Confession, and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod also attended. 

John Braun, chairman of the Reformation 500 Committee, reported on available Reformation 500 resources, including Bible studies and a children’s film taken from the popular Martin Luther film, A Return to Grace: Luther’s Life and Legacy. Delegates were treated to a viewing of A Return to Grace, which included a question-and-answer period with the film’s executive producer, Steve Boettcher, and author of the companion book Luther’s Protest, John Braun.  

To celebrate the anniversary, the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) decided to prepare a new “Ninety-five Theses for the 21st century.” Fifteen pastors from around the world put together the document, which was approved by the CELC at its triennial convention in Grimma, Germany, this past summer. A video of confessional Lutherans from around the world reading some of these theses was shown to the delegates.  


Go to wels.net/2017synodconvention to read the President’s report and the essay, to view presentations, to look at photos, and to watch news videos filmed at the convention. 


Convention resolutions set direction for the future 

During the convention, 21 floor committees met to consider information that pertained to their assigned area of ministry and to offer reports and resolutions to the convention floor that will set the course for the next biennium. 

Delegates adopted the resolution approving the Synodical Council’s proposed ministry financial plan (budget). This plan keeps WELS on solid financial ground, but, according to Todd Poppe, WELS’ chief financial officer, near-flat Congregation Mission Offerings and increasing costs could make it difficult to maintain ministries beyond this biennium. The Synodical Council authorized a greater use of reserve funds to maintain ministry for 2017–19. 

Delegates did express some concern about the amount of support for the Board for Ministerial Education, particularly for Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn. The amount of debt for Martin Luther College graduates has been an issue of concern in recent years. Other delegates noted that adding support to one area of ministry means that support would need to be removed from another area.  

The Synodical Council’s unfunded priority list, which helps allocate additional resources received above those projected by the ministry financial plan, was also adopted. Some of the prioritized ministry programs not in the current ministry financial plan include Publication Coordinating Commission theological works, more new Home Mission starts, enhancement of World Missions, financial assistance to MLC students, another Christian giving counselor, capital projects at ministerial education schools, and support to various Congregational Services ministries like Military Services and Prison Ministry. 

A resolution to support the synod’s new long-range plan was adopted. Titled “Our Great Heritage,” this plan will help guide the work that WELS will undertake from 2018–25. 

Delegates adopted a resolution that will constitutionally change the name of the Congregation and Ministry Support Group to Congregational Services. The Congregation and Ministry Support Group recommended the change because it wanted a shorter and more memorable name that better communicates the central mission of the commission. 

Recommendations of the Compensation Review Committee were reviewed and adopted by delegates. The 2015 synod in convention called for a thorough review of the WELS Compensation Guidelines. The Compensation Review Committee of the Synodical Council recommended only slight modifications to the current guidelines but also worked on repackaging the guidelines to make them easier to apply by calling bodies.  

Discussion ensued when a resolution was presented to require all early childhood and Lutheran elementary schools to require a $7.50 annual fee per student and all high schools to pay a $4.00 annual fee per student to help support the work of the Commission on Lutheran Schools. Since 2007, schools have been encouraged to give a voluntary supplemental contribution to assist with Lutheran Schools’ operating costs. Delegates who spoke against the motion believe that these costs should be included in the WELS ministry financial plan. The motion was defeated. A motion did subsequently pass urging delegates to “strongly encourage all of their schools to participate in the voluntary supplemental contribution.” 

Synod leaders now will move forward during the next biennium to carry out the direction that was supported by convention delegates. The next synod convention will be held in 2019 at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. 


 Read all the convention reports and resolutions as well as learn more about the new long-range plan, the unfunded priority list, the recommendations of the Compensation Review Committee, and details of the ministry financial plan at wels.net/2017synodconvention. 


A growing Lutheran family 

The synod in convention had the joy of officially welcoming three Lutheran synods from around the world into fellowship.  

Representing the synods at the convention were Rev. Dr. Kebede Yigezu from the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE), Rev. Titus Tse from South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM) in Hong Kong, and two pastors from East Asia Lutheran Synod. 

Kebede founded the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia in 2012 and, at the same time, added a seminary so that he can teach other Christian pastors, in addition to Lutheran pastors, the pure Word of God. Today, the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia has nearly 400 members and has already seen graduates from its seminary. Kebede says the declaration of fellowship is a historic moment for the LCE. “It is meaningful for us because faithfulness to Scripture is a very important matter of life and death. Jesus says ‘If you hold to my teaching . . .’ So, faithfulness to what he says, what the Scriptures say from Genesis chapter 1 to the last chapter of Revelation, is very important. We are very happy because we know that WELS is faithful to the Scriptures and is a confessional Lutheran church.” 

Founded in 1977, SALEM has 10 congregations and six pastors. The synod’s history is tied closely to Asia Lutheran Seminary, the WELS ministerial training school located in Hong Kong. Tse says, “We recognize that it’s important that we’re keeping the faith, and we can share with future generations the importance of keeping the faith because of this relationship with WELS, a church that shares our faith.” 

East Asia Lutheran Synod was established in February 2017. It was formed from five Lutheran groups and has 280 baptized members. The synod is just getting started but is already looking ahead to how it can expand and grow as well as begin international mission work. One of the pastors said, “It’s a numerous number of people who come to convention, and it’s a blessing to see there’s a huge church group at our back to support our church even though we are very far away and in a very different situation.” 


To learn more about of WELS’ sister synods, visit celc.info. 


Bible study important part of compensation guidelines 

One of the important issues coming in front of delegates at the 2017 convention was a set of revised compensation guidelines put together by the Compensation Review Committee to help calling bodies determine adequate compensation for their called workers. The delegates adopted the guidelines through a resolution put together by Floor Committee #8. 

But Michael Woldt, pastor at David’s Star, Jackson, Wis., and chairman of that floor committee, says the numbers and guidelines and new compensation calculator were only part of his committee’s discussion. “The message that the floor committee really wanted to get out was not just adopting the calculator and guidelines but looking at the Bible study and the prayerful, thoughtful approach to compensation as the most important element and the starting point,” he says. 

The compensation guidelines begin with a Bible study that explores the guidance God’s Word gives about what compensation full-time called workers should receive. In a report presented to the convention, Floor Committee #8 wrote, “Special thanks is given for the Bible study portion of the report. We strongly encourage all calling bodies to review this Bible study on a regular basis.” The report also noted that the Compensation Review Committee is planning future Bible studies and instructional videos related to called worker compensation issues. 

Notes Woldt, “The calculator is not where you start. . . . You start with the Bible study and make that front and center.” 

The report also included one final note: “No guidelines or resources, no matter how well-crafted, will ever eliminate selfishness, greed, or discontent in the hearts of those serving in the public ministry or in the lives of those being served by faithful ministers of the gospel. That is the work of the Spirit. No guidelines or resources, no matter how well-crafted, will ever provide the financial means for struggling congregations to compensate their called workers according to synodical guidelines. That too is the work of the Spirit as God’s people grow in the grace of giving.” 


 The compensation guidelines and calculator as well as a new video Bible study presented by Prof. Earle Treptow, chairman of the Compensation Review Committee, is now available online at welsrc.net/human-resources. 


Elections 

The following individuals were elected at the 2017 synod convention to serve on various boards and commissions: 

First vice president 

Rev. James Huebner 

Recording secretary 

Rev. Robert Pasbrig 

Synodical Council  

Pastors-At-Large—Rev. Joel Jenswold, Rev. Jonathan Schroeder 

Teacher-At-Large—Mr. James Moeller 

Board for World Missions 

Chairman—Rev. Paul Janke 

Layman—Mr. Arlin Bornschlegl 

Board for Home Missions 

Chairman—Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn 

Board for Ministerial Education 

Chairman—Rev. Duane Rodewald 

Teacher or staff minister—Mr. Gerald Zeamer 

Laymen—Mr. Paul Hahm, Mr. Dean Waldschmidt 

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Governing Board 

Chairman—Rev. Jonathan Scharf 

Board of Appeals 

Pastor—Rev. Joel Leyrer 

Teacher or staff minister—Mr. James Moeller 

Layman—Mr. Kennith Gosch 

Commission on Evangelism 

Chairman—Rev. Donn Dobberstein 

Commission on Lutheran Schools 

Chairman—Mr. James Sievert 

Northwestern Publishing House Board of Directors 

Parish pastor—Rev. Joel Schroeder 

Teacher or staff minister—Mr. Matthew Groth 

Laymen—Mr. Joel Raasch, Mr. Edward Wolf 


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Author:
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Christ, the center

John A. Braun

Over the past few years, I have grown closer to Luther than I ever imagined. Research, reading, writing, research again, reading more, and writing again have brought Luther into focus more clearly for me than ever before. For that I am grateful. I don’t consider myself a Luther expert, but the focus I have acquired is important. 

I think that the greatest clarity comes from understanding the central principle Luther found in the Scriptures and on which he stood. It was Christ! He said and wrote as much often.  

When he learned that so many of the common people in the churches in Saxony, had “no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine,” he wrote the Small Catechism which has one of the greatest confessions of his faith in Christ: “I believe that Jesus Christ . . . has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.” Luther captured the central message of the Bible. For Luther it was never a dry academic principle. Luther wrote personally; he said “me.” That’s the beauty of Luther. He points us to Christ because he treasures Christ. We too have come to treasure Christ. 

This wasn’t an isolated incident. At home in Wittenberg, boarders, friends, and relatives often joined Luther at the supper table to listen to him and learn. Once he said, “If anybody strays from the center, it is impossible for him to have the circle around him, he must blunder. The center is Christ” (Luther’s Works [LW], Vol. 54, p. 45). Again Christ and, therefore, faith and forgiveness. 

Luther had to struggle to discover the greatness of God’s grace in Christ. He was tormented by his unworthiness before a holy, just, and omnipotent God. When the Holy Spirit opened his eyes and enlightened him, he confessed it was as if paradise was opened for him. Then the words of Scripture became a clear message of Christ that Luther was not willing to abandon, no matter what the cost. 

Perhaps we may consider Luther a kind of idol when we consider all that God brought to pass because of him. But human idols are not perfect, and neither is Luther. He was a sinner whose flaws are easy to discover. But Christ was his treasure and hope. He said, “The Christian faith differs from other religions in this, that the Christian hopes even in the midst of evils and sins” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 70). 

Rather than  being an idol to whom we give blind reverence, Luther is a signpost, pointing us to the Scriptures and to the message of the Scriptures—Christ.  

In the past few months I also have read comments by my brothers and sisters in the faith about being Lutheran. A few of those comments are included in this issue. Some of them are in the special insert, and another page shares thoughts from confessional Lutherans around the world. As I read all of these comments, I stand in grateful praise to God for what he has done in bringing them also to be signposts pointing to Christ. As you read them, I suggest you consider how many times they point to the certainty of salvation in Christ.  

Not only are they all signposts, but they are also examples that encourage us all to share our faith and to point others to Christ. For Luther, for these believers, for all of us, Christ is the center. Christ is still the message the world desperately needs. 


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Confessions of faith: Hometown: Eisleben

A German from communist-controlled Eisleben becomes a Lutheran in British Columbia. 

Ann M. Ponath 

“In spite of the countless times I have transgressed against my holy God, he assures me time and again that I am his forgiven child. Nothing and nobody bars my way to heaven! Now it is safe for me to die.”  

Earlier this year, Forward in Christ asked readers what it means to be Lutheran (see insert). This inspiring quote arrived from Canada. Even more interesting—the writer, Monika Weihmann—grew up in Eisleben, Luther’s hometown. She commented: “Martin Luther was a real Mensch; he had his faults and limitations, yet the Lord used him so greatly. What a blessing he has been to all of us.”   

Just how did a German from communist-controlled Eisleben end up as a Lutheran in British Columbia? Monika explains: “I was born in Eisleben when it was still behind the Iron Curtain. Growing up under the communist regime, I was anything but [Lutheran]. Yet the Lord had plans and has been an everyday part of [my life] for 54 years now.”  

Growing up in East Germany 

Monika was born just two weeks after the end of WWII in May 1945. Her father, who had been in the German Navy during the war, did not return home to his family after the war. Her parents divorced, and Monika’s father eventually immigrated to Canada. 

Monika says, “My mother had to fend for herself and two girls in post-war East Germany. Life was tough.” Her mother worked at a grocery store while the landlady “made sure my older sister, Erika, and I didn’t get into too much trouble.” Food stamps, stamps for coal, and supplies were often gone before you got to the end of long lines. “Everyone we knew was equally poor, but we all survived,” says Monika. “In retrospect, I can apply Matthew 6:26 to our situation, but no one in our world considered God at all.” 

Under Communism, “religion was definitely not part of the ideology, but our family was never religious,” says Monika. “Church was for Christmas Eve, weddings, baptisms, and funerals.” As for Luther, Monika says everyone knew of him and the bronze statue in front of the church where he preached his last sermon. But she says, “In the East German version of history, Luther was the great ‘social reformer’ who went against the church and the corruption that was so prevalent.”  

Monika was baptized in the Lutheran church “because that’s what one did then.” But things changed quickly. “By the time this first post-war generation reached the age of confirmation, the communist regime had devised a substitute in the form of ‘Jugendweihe,’ a so-called ‘youth dedication,’ where we dressed in formal clothing—exactly as if we were to be confirmed,” she says. “We had a convocation and promised to be true to our State as long as we lived.” Following the ceremony, there was a big family gathering, including Monika’s godparents. She says there were Christians in East Germany, “but not in my little world.” 

Monika’s world changed when her mother took a job some distance away and left Monika with her grandparents for three years. “My grandmother became the dearest person in my life,” she says. Because she was living with her father’s parents, there was some contact with her father in Canada. Eventually the family planned that Monika would join her father after she finished primary school.   

But there was another step along the way. Monika was reunited with her mother and sister in 1959. Then all three of them fled East Germany via train through the western sector of Berlin. They lived in several refugee camps until her mother and Erika relocated to central Germany. Monika worked as a live-in maid in Hamburg, waiting for funds to join her father in Canada. 

Discovering her Savior in Canada 

Monika’s adventure in Canada began in 1962. “My father had a new family there, including a half-brother and sister. There was a homestead with some animals and there was snow up to the roof which lasted until May,” she says. “My brother and I hunted rabbits in the bush behind the homestead, and we rode old Goldie bareback, because there was no saddle and only a rope for a bridle.” 

Monika’s father also had a young neighbor, Fred, who “was like a son to him.” Fred was working in a gold mine in Yellow Knife when Monika first arrived, but once they met, “there was no doubt in our minds that we would marry,” says Monika. Fred’s Lutheran family “gently nudged” Monika to take classes at their church. “So this little communist was enrolled in confirmation instruction, and the Holy Spirit continued the work he had begun,” she says. 

In 1963, Fred and Monika were married, and by 1971 they had been blessed with four children: Ingrid, Stephanie, Donovan, and Byron. “Although we had our babies baptized, it wasn’t until a concerned neighbor asked us to bring our children to Sunday school that we began attending a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod church in our small town,” says Monika. They quickly got involved in church—Fred becoming a church council member and Monika a Sunday school teacher—and it became an integral part of the family’s life. 

Monika recounts, “God blessed us so richly. We were able to purchase a fuel agency, worked hard, and were involved in our community and church. Our children grew up in the relative safety of a small village. [We had] a large family and good friends.” 

In 1982, they pursued an opportunity to serve a Lutheran mission in Ghana, West Africa, leaving two of their older children behind. At the end of 1989 they returned and settled in British Columbia. The Weihmanns’ children who had remained in Alberta had families of their own and were introduced to a WELS church. “Because they could not agree with the other synod’s practices, they all became WELS members,” Monika says. Monika and Fred were also compelled to leave their church as “the church situation deteriorated more and more” and joined WELS in 1994.  

The closest WELS church is in Washington, two and a half hours away, but the Weihmanns are members at St. Peter, St. Albert, Alberta, where their family lives. “Every Sunday we join them via livestreaming, and at Christmas and Easter we drive the thousand kilometers to be together,” says Monika. “It is not an ideal situation for us here. We do miss the fellowship of believers, but all of our unchurched friends give us the opportunity to practice Christian charity and love as well as serious witnessing during our home devotions and conversations.”  

A family favorite Bible passage is this: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). As Monika reflects on God’s guidance in her life and considers the Reformation’s anniversary from her unique perspective, she says, “God’s Word in its truth and purity has survived these many years and will continue until the Lord puts an end to this world. There may never be another Luther, but thank God there are still many Lutherans!”  


 Ann Ponath is a member at Christ, North Saint Paul, Minnesota. 


 

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Author: Ann Ponath
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Luther’s far-reaching influence

As a Doktor Biblicus, Doctor of the Bible, at the University of Wittenberg, Martin Luther influenced the culture of the world around him as well as the church.  

Paul E. Koelpin  

First and foremost, Martin Luther returned the church back to the foundation of the Scriptures. We remember grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, and Christ alone.  

But Luther’s impact stretches beyond his work of advancing the truth of the gospel and the wisdom of Holy Scripture. Luther is considered one of the most historically important people of the last millennium. He was consistently ranked in the top 10 in polls conducted around the year 2000—a reflection of the status he has enjoyed for centuries.  

While that kind of press has raised his reputation, it has also blurred his image. By many who measure his impact, he is perceived chiefly as an enlightened visionary, a political pioneer, or a cultural icon. Surely Luther offered perspectives on everything from politics to science to music to education. As an expression of faith, Luther believed that every element of earthly existence should be understood as ordered and ordained by God, who also reconciled the fallen world to himself in Christ. His influence then is both sacred and secular, both direct and indirect.  

Some historical contributions 

Luther did not set out to become famous or to change the world. He did set out to reform the church—the rest was, in some ways, a byproduct of his role as a reformer. So, as we sift through the interpretations to consider the reach of his influence, we offer a partial list of historical contributions that are related to Luther and the Reformation movement. 

Language.Luther is often credited with “standardizing” elements of the German language. His translation of the Bible into German was both a monumental and momentous achievement. Luther communicated the original languages of the Bible to the German people in a clear, creative, and enduring way. Luther was also a prolific writer—by far the most widely published author of the mid-1500s. An 18th-century German historian said of Luther that he “awakened and unbound the German language.” Luther was in a unique position to influence, promote, and unify the dialect and idiom of public German discourse. With so much of the German that was read both publically and privately connected to Luther’s work as translator or writer, there is no doubt that his impact on the German language was significant. 

Education.The Lutheran Reformation was, essentially, an education movement. This thought encompasses both Luther’s emphasis on teaching the Christian faith (as through his catechisms) and his promoting of schools in general. In his 1524 treatise To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools (Luther’s Works [LW], Vol. 45, pp. 339-378), Luther strongly advocated that governing authorities support elementary education for both boys and girls. He understood that, under God’s provision, education was impartial to gender. Luther perceived the benefits both for the “spiritual and temporal estates”—to train leaders in the church and for governing the state. Luther was conscious of the need to prepare young people to be productive citizens. He saw schools as a means to preserve discipline; order; and, especially, the truths of Scripture.  

Scientific investigation.For some, the association of Luther with advancement in the field of science may be surprising. After all, he is often remembered as disapproving of the Copernican heliocentric theory. But Luther actually was quite critical of scholars and theologians who denied the value of scientific investigation. In his commentary on Ecclesiastes, he wrote, “It is not an evil thing to investigate the nature and the qualities of things. Besides, the causes and the objects of this world are the most evident of all, far from difficult to know” (LW, Vol. 15, p. 18). He believed that greater discovery would simply disclose the greatness of God. Luther would not have favored scientific speculation, but he clearly encouraged closer examination of the universe. 

Church/statedistinction. Tension and overlap between church and political authority were characteristic of the Middle Ages. Luther experienced firsthand the chaotic consequences of just such confusion and disorder. His study of Scripture led him to conclude that “God has ordained two governments: the spiritual, by which the Holy Spirit produces Christians and righteous people under Christ; and the temporal, which restrains the un-Christian and wicked so that—no thanks to them—they are obliged to keep still and to maintain an outward peace” (LW, Vol. 45, p. 91). Luther’s clear distinction between the roles of church and state has enjoyed wide application since he first articulated it in the 1520s—our own American Constitution bears witness to this influence.  

Because intersection with political authority was unavoidable for Luther, he is linked, often inappropriately, to many of the political movements that emerged after his work of reforming the church. Luther has been variously credited with laying the foundations for modern democracy, initiating modern nationalism, and instigating revolution. It is true that he gave expression to a life of “freedom,” but Luther meant to highlight the kind of freedom we experience when Christ releases us from captivity to sin and guilt—the freedom of the gospel. Christian freedom was not an end in itself; it was, rather, an invitation to serve others in love. 

Music.Luther famously said, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise” (LW, Vol. 53, p. 323). He was a musician, composer, and arranger who understood the power of music to “comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate” (LW, Vol. 53, p. 323). So much of Luther’s theology has endured through such hymns as his majestic anthem “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (Christian Worship [CW] 200), the melodic Christmas carol “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” (CW 38), or the reflective Easter song “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” (CW 161). He transformed worship to include congregational singing as a regular feature of the service. Luther’s emphasis on music set the context for other historically significant Lutheran composers such as J. S. Bach and Felix Mendelssohn. 

Long-lasting impact 

The reform movement that Luther spearheaded changed the 16th-century world in which he lived. For many historians, the “Reformation Era” marks the transition from medieval to modern time. Luther represents a major change or shift in mindset—away from a society dominated by the Roman Catholic Church to a place of greater autonomy, governed more by the dictates of conscience and reason. Reforming the church took on a life of its own, and it shaped more than just the church.  

From his lecture stand in Wittenberg and the various pulpits from which he preached to the books and pamphlets that were published under his name, Luther had the advantage of having the title “Doctor.” He was in the role of professor and pastor, someone whose words were meant to influence.  

Luther’s words and ideas—shaped by his Christ-centered theology—cast a wide net. They still do. 


Paul Koelpin, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm. 


 

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Author: Paul E. Koelpin
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Called to serve: Katharina von Bora Luther

God provided Luthers wife with many different opportunities to serve.  

Rebecca DeGarmeaux  

In this anniversary year of the Reformation it is fitting that we should remember Martin Luther. The number of books written about him and his work is second only to those written about Christ himself.  

But an often forgotten figure in Reformation history is Martin’s industrious wife, Katharina. Because primary sources on her life are scarce, most accounts are fictionalized works that attempt to fill the many gaps in her history. But it is possible to piece together the little that does exist to compile a fairly complete picture. What we have shows her to be an industrious woman who served in many different roles. 

The nun 

Katharina was born Jan. 20, 1499, to Hans and Katharina von Bora, members of the lower nobility who were little more than poor famers. When Katharina was only five years old, her mother died. Her father soon remarried, but Katharina never had the chance to become close to her new mother. Perhaps because of financial challenges for the family, Katharina’s father soon put her into a convent to ensure that she received a good education. Five years later, she was moved to another convent at Nimbschen near Grimma, where two of her aunts were nuns. She would have learned much from them and the other nuns in the convent. 

In the convent, Katharina was a student, then a novice, and finally a nun. All of these roles or vocations required obedience to her teachers and superiors. At that time, becoming a nun meant that she chose the vocation that would assure her of the best chance to please God. The Fourth Commandment was a part of her life. It was also the only life she knew, a factor that would affect some of her decisions as she grew. 

But then things changed. Martin Luther’s writings found their way into the convent. She and her fellow nuns soon realized that their vows had been made under false pretenses and were not valid. Luther taught that all vocations were equal before God. When the nuns at Nimbschen realized that God did not need their vows and works, they decided to leave the convent. Under cover of darkness on Easter Eve, April 4, 1523, they left in an empty wagon used to deliver herring to the convent. 

The wife and household manager 

Once they came to Wittenberg, life changed dramatically for Katharina and her friends. Some were able to return to their families; some quickly found husbands. Some lived and worked in influential homes in Wittenberg, as Katharina did, first with Mayor Reichenbach and later with the artist and entrepreneur Lucas Cranach. 

Perhaps while living in the Cranach home, she met the young nobleman Jerome Baumgartner. Their relationship blossomed. But although many in Wittenberg presumed that the two would marry, Jerome went home to his family and never came back. It seemed likely that Katharina would remain unmarried, a life that was not easy in the 16th century. 

Kathrina’s life did change. Katharina married Martin Luther on June 13, 1525, and she became a wife and mother. But there was more. The Black Cloister, where the Luthers lived, was a large building where she served as cook, housekeeper, head groundskeeper, and manager of her household staff. She oversaw the improvement and expansion of the building, while also running a boarding house for an ever-changing mix of university students, relatives, and friends. Since Martin turned the family finances over to her, she was the family accountant. She was also a farmer who bought and improved several plots of land where she raised a significant portion of the food for her family, renters, and guests. She embraced every opportunity to serve God in each role. 

The mother and nurse 

Motherhood brought both great joy and great sorrow to Katharina. She and Martin were blessed with six children, three boys and three girls. Two of the girls died young. Elisabeth was only eight months old, and Magdalena was twelve years old. Katharina also suffered a miscarriage, which left her ill for several months.  

Both Martin and Katharina loved and cherished their children and understood the importance of being parents. In fact, Martin made the unprecedented move of naming Katharina as the children’s guardian in his will. The Luthers’ remaining four children, Hans, Martin, Paul, and Margaretha, all married but not until after both of their parents had died. All but Martin had children of their own, and descendants of Paul and Margaretha survive to this day. 

While in the convent Katharina learned what it meant to be a nurse. Her Aunt Magdelena had been in charge of the convent dispensary and later moved in with the Luthers. Katharina used her nursing knowledge when Martin suffered from numerous digestive problems as well as when the Luther home was used as an infirmary when the plague came through Wittenberg.  

The widow 

Probably the hardest role of Katharina’s life was that of widow. After Martin died on Feb. 18, 1546, she found herself oppressed by both friends and foes. Martin’s will, leaving everything to her and naming her as guardian for the children, was challenged as unlawful. Yet with the help of a few friends and through her strong-willed determination, Katharina hung on to that which was hers. When war and plague came through Wittenberg, she repeatedly left the city for the safety of her children but also returned to rebuild and press on. 

In the fall of 1552, the plague forced Katharina to flee Wittenberg one last time. Katharina’s destination wasn’t clear, but she, Paul, and Margaretha headed toward Torgau. Shortly before they got there, the horses pulling their wagon shied. Katharina jumped from the wagon to steady them but ended up falling into a water-filled ditch. Her children got her to Torgau, where she found herself paralyzed from a combination of the fall and getting drenched. Three months later, on Dec. 20, 1552, she died from her injuries. It is said that at the end she confessed, “I will stick to Christ like a burr on cloth.”  

Because the plague was still raging in Wittenberg, most thought it unsafe to take Katharina’s body back for burial. She was buried at St. Mary’s church in Torgau, just a few blocks from the house where she lived her last few months. Her grave and marker are still there today. 

Throughout her life, Katharina Luther was a student of the Bible. She rose at 4 a.m. every morning to begin her day with devotion and prayer, earning her the nickname “Morning Star of Wittenberg.” She learned that it was not necessary to hide away in a convent to live a God-pleasing life and that her daily duties of wife, mother, housekeeper, landlady, farmer, and many others were godly vocations.  

May this be her legacy among us today. 


Rebecca DeGarmeaux, director of the ELS Ottesen Museum, is a member at the Evangelical Lutheran Synod congregation Mount Olive, Mankato, Minnesota. 


 

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Author: Rebecca DeGarmeaux
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Semper reformanda

Andrew C. Schroer 

Let me tell you a little parable: 

An elderly man sat as his kitchen table with his pastor. He had invited his pastor to celebrate with him. 

“Raise a glass with me,” the elderly man, who was obviously inebriated, said to his pastor. He had been an alcoholic for as long as the pastor had known him. 

“I’m celebrating,” the old man continued. “Fifty years ago today, I gave up alcohol completely. I was sober for over 25 years of my life. That’s something to celebrate!” he exclaimed, as he sloppily sipped his beer. He did not mention the other 25 years he was not so sober. 

Right now, Lutheran and Reformed churches around the world are raising their glasses to celebrate. They are singing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” They are remembering Martin Luther. Some are traveling to Germany to see the Reformation sites.  

Five hundred years ago, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-five Theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, in an attempt to reform the church. 

The Christian church had strayed from the truth of God’s Word. Corruption and error abounded. The good news of forgiveness and heaven that Jesus won for all people had been muddied by rules, rites, and regulations that were supposed to earn the gifts God freely gave. 

Martin Luther and other reformers sought to bring the church back to God’s Word, back to the gospel, back to Jesus.  

We are also celebrating the Reformation. We are raising our glasses and celebrating our heritage as Lutherans. But we need to be careful. Many of those who are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation are like the elderly alcoholic celebrating his past sobriety with slurred speech and unsteady legs. A number of Lutheran and Reformed churches today are mired in the false teaching and legalism that Luther and the other reformers so strongly opposed. Already in the generation directly following Luther’s death, some of the great reformers began to stray from God’s Word. 

Throughout the history of the Lutheran church—and really the Christian church as a whole—there has been a constant need of reform. False teaching and legalism continually rear their ugly heads. 

Reformed churches today love to use the Latin phrase “Ecclesia semper reformanda est” (“the church is always being reformed”). What they mean is that the Christian church is in constant need of reformation. 

Some misuse that phrase to say that the church constantly needs to change its teaching to be relevant to its times. As heirs of the Reformation, we reject that idea and stand firmly on God’s never-changing Word and its eternal truths. 

Yet, we can understand the phrase correctly. The church is in constant need of reformation lest it falls back into the addiction Luther opposed. As sinful human beings, we need to continually repent of our sins and reform our sinful ways. 

In the same way, as a church body, we need to be humble and vigilant. Just because our ancestors were sober 500 years ago, don’t think that false teaching and legalism can’t worm their way into our churches and pulpits. 

Go ahead and raise your glass to celebrate. Thank God for our great heritage. But then stay vigilant. Stay humble. Go back to God’s Word. Keep the focus on Jesus. Give God the glory. 

That’s what reformation is all about. 


Contributing editor Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas.  


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Maintaining the faith in a secular college

Secular colleges engulf WELS students in new, even unchristian, ideas—but students shouldn’t be afraid. 

Richard Wilkosz 

Martin Luther went to college to become a lawyer, but that changed. Take note, students and your worried parents: The imminent change of the college experience can be a blessing. 

Suddenly, in just one semester, you already may be rethinking your career path, political views, and more. Young adulthood is tumultuous—a typical undergraduate student switches majors three times. What else could you expect from so much discovery about the world and your place in it? Family and friends may not always understand or approve—Luther’s father fumed when his son left law school for monkhood—but do not focus on a growing distance between you and those who love you and watched you grow up. Focus on the faith that still binds you together.  

Christianity has always appealed to diverse people, starting with the apostles. Simon the Zealot was part of a movement to overthrow the Roman government. Matthew was a Roman employee. Did they agree on earthly issues? Yet they were united by Christ’s heavenly mission. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Earthly differences and changes do not have to send ripples over your unshaking citizenship in that kingdom. 

It’s not a sin to hear someone out who thinks differently. In fact, Peter writes, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). “Everyone” has no exception—those of other faiths, those who deny God, and those without firm beliefs. Using “gentleness and respect” is to first listen—really listen. The skill is difficult to learn but necessary to have.  

Fortunately, you have every chance to practice. Secular colleges exchange as many ideas as they can cram into one place. Participate in the discussions. When listening, you gain valuable new perspectives. When speaking, you have the blessed opportunity to share Jesus. 

Empathy is the key. See it in Paul where he writes, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. . . . To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law). . . . I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22). 

Now see how he put it in practice. Paul listened before saying, “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22,23). Paul learned about the Athenians. His message then became personal and compelling enough to convert new followers in a place overflowing with gods and strange beliefs. 

Luther listened as well. He studied the classical philosophers, the Catholic Church of his time, and the Bible itself. Some sources confirmed his faith; others did not. Those new and different voices only helped inform his own personal, compelling message of faith. You can do the same, while at the same time declaring with Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.” 


Richard Wilkosz, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is a member at Redeemer, Weston, Wisconsin. 


 

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Author: Richard Wilkosz
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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What it means to be truly Lutheran: The church is believers in Jesus

Joel D. Otto

In Luther’s days, there were differing views about what the church looked like. The Roman Catholic Church considered the one holy church to be the church of Rome. Others, like Anabaptists and even Calvinists, sought a church that was pure in members and ministers. They tried to create a perfect church and community where God’s law reigned supreme and everyone was living holy lives. Both views emphasized the outward nature of the church. 

Luther went back to Scripture. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The one holy church is not a visible organization. Instead, the church is made up of people who believe in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:2). Therefore, God only knows members of the holy Christian church because only God can see faith in a person’s heart (2 Timothy 2:19). We know where the church is because believers gather around the Word and sacraments, but in these visible congregations there will always be hypocrites (Matthew 13:24-30,36-43).  

The church always will be under attack from false teachings and worldly influences (Matthew 7:15; 2 Timothy 3:1-5). But the church will endure because the Word of God will endure (1 Peter 1:23-25). We have God’s promise that when the Word is proclaimed, he is at work to accomplish his purposes (Isaiah 55:10,11). That is why the church gathers around the Word and sacraments and uses the Word and sacraments. Jesus promised his presence when believers gather in his name (Matthew 18:20). The Spirit is at work through the gospel of Jesus, bringing unbelievers to faith and strengthening the faith of believers (Romans 10:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:13,14; John 3:5,6; Titus 3:5).  

When we see believers and the gospel under attack, we can wonder if God is still at work and if the church will endure. But we find comfort in God’s promise to preserve and bless his little flock (John 10:27-30; Luke 12:32). Instead of getting envious about larger church organizations, we endeavor to faithfully do the work Jesus has given his church to do. Believers simply proclaim the gospel and administer the sacraments (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15). 

Luther summarized this well when he confessed in the Smalcald Articles, “We do not concede to them that they are the church, and frankly they are not the church. We do not want to hear what they command or forbid in the name of the church, because, God be praised, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is: holy believers and ‘the little sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd.’ This is why children pray in this way, ‘I believe in one holy Christian church.’ . . . Its holiness exists in the Word of God and true faith” (Part III, Article XII). 


Questions to consider 

  1. Read Ephesians 2:19-22. Why does Paul say that we are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets”? What does it mean that Jesus is “the chief cornerstone” of the church?

The words “the apostles and prophets” refer to the Scriptures. They were the human authors God used to give us his holy, inspired, inerrant Word (2 Peter 1:21). Through his Word, God reveals his saving love for us. Through his Word, God reveals what we are to believe in order to be saved. Our faith rests on the solid foundation of his Word, and his Word is powerful. It is God’s power through which he gives us the faith to believe (2 Timothy 3:15; Romans 1:16; Romans 10:17; 1 Peter 1:23-25). 

In ancient times, the cornerstone was laid first. It had to be cut perfectly square because the walls lined up from the cornerstone. If the cornerstone wasn’t perfect, the walls would be crooked and the building would probably collapse. The church (and God’s Word) finds its center in Jesus. Only faith in Jesus saves (e.g. John 3:16). Only faith in Jesus makes us members of his church (1 Corinthians 3:11). All of God’s Word revolves around God’s promise of a Savior and the fulfillment in Christ (John 5:39). All of the teachings of God’s Word are really lined up on Jesus. 

  1. Read Matthew 16:15-18 and 24:14. How do these words of Jesus assure us that the church will endure?What comfort do Jesus’ words provide when we see the gospel and the church under attack? 

First, we have Jesus’ clear promise that the gates of hell will not overcome his church. Satan is our most powerful enemy.  So if we have Jesus’ promise that the devil won’t conquer the church, then nothing else will. Second, we also have Jesus’ promise that the gospel will be proclaimed until he returns. The gospel (in both word and sacraments) is what sustains, strengthens, and grows the church. If the gospel will continue to be proclaimed, the church will continue to endure (Isaiah 55:10,11; 1 Peter 1:23-25). 

These promises are immensely comforting because it can be easy for Christians to get discouraged and lose heart when it seems like false teachings and sinful lifestyles are running rampant in our world. We can feel like God’s church will fade away when we don’t see our church growing like we think it should or desire; we feel like such an outcast minority. We can feel helpless when the government or other forces in society ridicule the truth of God’s Word or it seems like their attempts to silence the gospel will succeed. But we have Jesus’ powerful promises. The church will endure, even against the darkest, most evil forces. The gospel will continue to be proclaimed until the end of the world, even in the face of persecution or false teachings. 


Contributing editor Joel Otto, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  


This is the 13th articles in a 14-part series on key doctrinal emphases that Luther brought back to light through the Reformation. Find this article and answers online after Oct. 5.


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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Abiding truth: Part 10

Gospel freedom is often a Reformation truth we take for granted.  

Wade R. Johnston 

What has become the most memorable Reformation truth of our hymns, the most powerful of our preachments, the most lasting in our conversations as brothers and sisters? What was the point of Luther’s Reformation? It’s the very thing we so easily take for granted, that the church in every age has been tempted to move beyond, that resonates so poorly with our fallen human nature: that Christ was crucified for sinners—and you qualify.  

How can we take this for granted? Can we forget both what we were and what we are? We were dead in trespasses and sins, lost, condemned under the law, slaves to iniquity, under God’s wrath. We were that way before we could walk or talk, cheat or steal. We were born that way. Now we are children of God. We have been redeemed, forgiven, ransomed, set free. We have been born that way, born again in the waters of Holy Baptism. We are this, not on our own, but in Christ, by grace, through faith, which is the gift of God through the Word.  

At the heart of Luther’s message is the distinction in Lutheran theology, law and gospel. The law kills. The gospel makes alive. The law accuses. The gospel pardons. The law exposes. The gospel clothes. The law says “do,” and it can never be completely done, and the gospel says “done,” and all that is done is freely given, completed by Christ who died and rose for us.  

Saint and sinner 

We find freedom in this gospel. And yet we remain sinner-saints this side of the grave. That is, while we are children of God, the sinful flesh still hangs around our neck, the old Adam still kicks and screams, tempts and prods. For this reason, we can take the gospel for granted. The old Adam tugs and pushes us back under the law or into lawless immorality.  

Perhaps we want to let works back into salvation, to do something—any something, even just a little—to help Christ out, to climb the ladder to heaven just a little under our own power. The other temptation is that we want to plunge into lawlessness, to abuse our freedom, to live as though we have been freed to sin and not freed from sin.  

Whatever the case, freedom can be scary, and life as a sinner-saint is a struggle. We can easily get distracted, sidetracked, bored, or ungrateful with God’s good gifts and his gospel.  

Freedom to live 

As we celebrate this 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, now is the time to refocus and to reclaim our freedom, not by doing, but by receiving and by hearing. And Christ is still speaking. The Word is still living. The Spirit is still active. The church is still standing. The pulpit, altar, and font still call out, “Freedom, freedom, here is true freedom, freedom to live life in a world given back to you, all as a gift, all in Christ, all for your neighbor. You need nothing more. You are free from sin to live for Jesus and others.” 

The gospel isn’t just a set of facts; it’s a force. It’s a force that stakes claims and declares realities. Luther realized this. The righteous live by faith. That’s right, they live! Confident in their standing before God, the righteous are set free to stand in grace, walk in the Spirit, and serve with the trust that no work is too small in Christ’s sight, no neighbor too unworthy, no audience too slight. The Christian is called out of point-keeping and ladder-climbing and kudos-earning into spontaneous, selfless, joyous service to Christ and neighbor—not for salvation, but as one saved. The Christian is free. Free to be a father or mother, to enjoy a meal, to dance, to sing, to do his or her job, to talk and listen and laugh, not in order to be something, but rather having been declared, already being, something—namely, God’s own child.  

When everything is a gift, all that is left is freedom and joy and peace, even in suffering. Enamored with Christ, who first loved us and gave himself for us, we receive the world and all that is in it back again from his pierced hands for what it is. We look forward to a new heaven and a new world that will transcend anything here or anything we can imagine. We can let today be today, this world be this world, and thus live freely in the moment and in this life, even as we pine for the new Jerusalem that awaits.  

Next time you find yourself less than impressed with the church’s chief message and gift to the world, Christ crucified for sinners, remember that you qualify. Ask yourself if you’ve fallen back into slavery, whether to sin or to work-righteousness; whether you’ve been living tit-for-tat, as someone with no tomorrow or with a today that is less than a gift. And then remember you’ve been buried to such fruitless effort; that you’ve been baptized into new life; and that you are a son or daughter of the Jesus Christ who died your death, not for you to live in chains, but to set you free.  

One of my favorite prayers is a short one: “Jesus, be Jesus for me.” Jesus is Jesus for me. And Jesus is Jesus for you. That is the whole point of the Scriptures. Jesus came to be Jesus for us.  

So, look around. See the world around you. See it for what it is, your family, your friends, your job—all of it. It’s for you, from Jesus. It’s a world given back to a sinner declared a saint, to a dead man or woman brought back to life.   


Wade Johnston, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a member at Nain, West Allis, Wisconsin. 


As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, this is the ninth article in a 12-part series on our Lutheran heritage.


Luther still speaks

Richard E. Lauersdorf

As the Reformation continued, Luther voiced a deep concern. In a sermon on John 7:37-39, he warned, “When the Word of God first arose, twelve or fifteen years ago, people diligently listened to it, and everybody was glad that ‘good works’ were no longer to plague them. They said: God be praised that we now have water to drink. For then we were thirsty, and the doctrine tasted fine; we drank of it and found it a precious teaching. But now we are sated; we are tired of the drink and are surfeited with it” (What Luther Says, Vol. 3, #3817). 

“Familiarity breeds contempt,” states an old proverb. This can happen also with the “pearl” of the Reformation, the teaching that we are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ’s work of redemption. The more we hear this saving truth the more it might fade in value in our sight. 

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” the pastor preaches in every sermon. Having heard it all before, we might be tempted just to nod nonchalantly. “Jesus died for me,” we teach our children. But again that blessed truth can become a sentence recited only by rote instead of with joy.  

Our itching ears may want something new, something more modern and relevant. Something that centers on man’s efforts instead of on God’s timeless grace. Something that addresses the needs in society instead of the thirst of the soul.   

This month as we celebrate the Reformation, may the Lord of the church give us a renewed thirst for the gospel water of life. 


Richard Lauersdorf is a pastor at Good Shepherd, West Bend, Wisconsin.


 

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Author: Wade R. Johnston & Richard E. Lauersdorf
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

The sounds of the Reformation

We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. Psalm 78:4 

Joel C. Seifert  

Bam! Bam! Bam! The sounds came from the hammer driving the nails through the paper. A Catholic professor posted his 95 theses to the door of the university church.   

Fwoosh! Three years later, Martin Luther held a copy of a letter from the Pope. In it, the Pope condemned many of Luther’s ideas. Knowing he was at risk of excommunication, Luther stood in front of a crowd and dropped the letter into a fire, watching the flames consume it.  

“Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God!” Six months later, Luther refused to recant his teachings at the Diet of Worms. He would stand with God’s Word, no matter what it cost him. 

Those were the sounds of the Reformation. But open up your catechism, and you’ll find words written by Luther that call to mind some of the most dramatic and powerful Reformation sounds of all. Over each chief article of faith, Luther wrote this: “As the head of the family should teach it in the simplest way to those in his household.”  

Let Reformation truths sound loudly in our homes 

God gave the apostle Paul a helper, Timothy, a “son in the faith,” to help carry out the gospel ministry. Timothy had learned God’s truth at home. Paul wrote: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). 

Even though the visible church of their day had lost a clear view of Jesus and preached work-righteousness, Timothy’s grandmother and mother passed on the truth of Scripture at home. Luther reminds us: Most certainly father and mother are apostles, bishops, and priests to their children, for it is they who make them acquainted with the gospel.  

They say that good character and values are “more caught than taught.” Our children are always watching us and learning from our examples. But faith is only taught, never caught. Our children don’t learn of Jesus by watching us speak honestly and act fairly. They learn as we sit down with them, open the Bible, and let God tell them of his wonderful works. “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.”  

We speak God’s Word, and faith lives in them! 

From Christian homes to the world 

It happens in seemingly humble and gradual ways. A nightly devotion. Morning prayers. Asking questions about Sunday school lessons and sermons. Every day, as countless Christians read their Bible, God pours out his Spirit. Soul by soul, believers learn to love God’s truth and take their stand on it.  

What does a Reformation sound like? As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, you’ll hear preachers proclaim grace from pulpits. You’ll hear churches resounding with powerful cantatas and echoing with “A Mighty Fortress.” You’ll go to Bible studies about holding onto God’s Word in truth and purity. Those are wonderful sounds! 

And, Lord willing, behind all of those sounds you’ll hear some of the most beautiful and influential sounds of the Reformation as families gather to read and listen to the Bible, the catechism, or devotions. Those are the sounds of the Reformation. And when they ring out, God’s truth echoes again in the next generation. 


Contributing editor Joel Seifert is pastor at Shining Mountains, Bozeman, Montana.  


 

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Author: Joel C. Seifert
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

God’s love: Our song forever – Part 4

Luther’s key musical reform of the church was that his hymns literally put the words and teaching of the gospel on people’s lips.

Aaron L. Christie

Luther’s Small Catechism is a witness to the fact that the Lutheran Reformation was primarily a reform of the church’s teaching. Millions of illiterate people were in desperate need of Scripture’s teaching. Luther’s solution was the Small Catechism—careful summaries of biblical truth that could be easily memorized. Lutheran boys and girls have been asking “What does this mean?” ever since. 

In his Large Catechism, Luther provides us with a window into the purpose of his hymns: “When these parts have been well learned, one may assign them also some psalms or hymns, based on these subjects, to supplement and confirm their knowledge. Thus young people will be led into the Scriptures and make progress every day” (Preface, 25). In short, the songs were to be intimately connected with the student’s biblical learning. Based upon Luther’s advice, Lutheran pastors and teachers have been assigning their students memory work from the hymnal ever since.  

A little over a year after Luther’s catechisms came off the presses, the Lutheran territories of Germany presented a confession of their faith before the emperor in the city of Augsburg on June 25, 1530. This confession opens the same window on a Lutheran view of the hymn’s role in worship: “Moreover, no noticeable changes have been made in the public celebration of the Mass, except that in certain places German hymns are sung alongside the Latin responses for the instruction and exercise of the people” (Augsburg Confession XXIV:2,3, emphasis added). 

This is most certainly true: Luther and our early Lutheran fathers firmly believed in teaching hymnody. 

Practically speaking, how did this play out in the Reformation of worship? For a man who grew up dreading the fire of purgatory and praying to saints, it is simply astounding how conservative Luther was in the reform of the church’s worship. Luther didn’t opt for an ax to hack down everything; instead he picked up the surgeon’s scalpel. He used a steady theological hand in reforming the service. Most of his changes removed praying to the saints and references that made the Lord’s Supper a sacrifice for sins. 

Another significant reform was the people’s role in worship. For the average worshiper in the Middle Ages, worship was a “spectator’s sport”—something that the priest did at the altar rather than something engaged in from the pew. If the common people sang, the songs usually retold the legends of the saints rather of the story of the Savior. Luther’s key musical reform of the church was that his hymns literally put the words and teaching of the gospel on people’s lips.  

Luther’s key musical insight for the church also happens to be the Scripture’s key insight. In many Scripture references, we can easily find the saints praising God by proclaiming the gospel in song. This leads us to another key Lutheran emphasis: The truths of the gospel are more than a body of facts we can recite. The truths of the gospel are God’s saving power (Romans 1:16)! Through their hymns, Lutheran Christians proclaim the saving power of Christ! 

Now take a moment to peruse Luther’s hymns in our hymnal. Luther’s poetry may be vigorous and engaging, but rarely, if ever, does Luther get personal, expressing what he thinks, feels, or does. Instead, Luther’s hymns teach the Scriptures. They were deliberately penned to place the words and doctrines of Scripture on people’s lips and hearts. That’s why anti-reform voices in Luther’s day would often quip that Luther’s hymns had damned more souls than all his sermons combined! 

Some of Luther’s hymns simply put the psalms into verse and rhyme: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (Christian Worship [CW] 200/01); “If God Had Not Been on Our Side” (CW 202); “O Lord, Look Down from Heaven” (CW 205); and “May God Bestow on Us His Grace” (CW 574). Through them, the songs of Israel’s temple became the songs of Wittenberg’s shopkeepers. 

Several of Luther’s hymns were based on the songs of the liturgy or Scripture’s canticles: “Kyrie, God Father in Heaven Above” (CW 266); “All Glory Be to God Alone” (CW 262); “Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old” (CW 267); and “In Peace and Joy I Now Depart” (CW 269). Through them, the ancient songs of the church became the song of peasants and maids. 

An important group of hymns show us that Luther knew how to take his own advice to “assign them also some psalms or hymns.” Luther’s so-called “Catechism Hymns” serve as a musical supplement to the catechism: “The Ten Commandments Are the Law” (CW 285); “We All Believe in One True God” (CW 271); “Our Father, Who from Heaven Above” (CW 410); “To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord” (CW 88); “From Depths of Woe I Cry to You” (CW 305); “Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Savior” (CW 313); and “O Lord, We Praise You” (CW 317). Through these hymns the doctrines of Scripture became the song of school boys and girls. They serve as a musical answer to “What does this mean?” 

A final group of many other hymns brings the saving story of Christ to the people. “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” (CW 377) and “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” (CW 38) are two prime examples. Through these hymns the eternal gospel goes to work in time and space, converting human hearts to faith and confirming the faith of the converted. 

The Reformation of the church was born of an academic debate over the role of indulgences in repentance. The Reformation not only survived, but it grew and thrived because it deliberately placed the preaching, teaching, and singing of the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center of the home, the classroom, the pulpit, and the hymnal. Our Lutheran fathers learned these scriptural lessons with care. And we well have fared! 

Hymns that teaches us the gospel: It is pure privilege to sing them. We need to sing them. The world needs us to sing them. 


Aaron Christie, the chairman of the Hymnody Committee, is pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconisn.


This is the fourth article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.


The WELS Hymnal Project wants your feedback as it works on finalizing which of the more than 700 hymns from Christian Worship and Christian Worship: Supplement will be included in the new hymnal. Every month the WELS Hymnal Project will post a selection of hymns online, indicating which hymns are slated to be kept and which are slated to be cut. You can view the monthly list and, if you want, choose up to 10 hymns from the cut list that you would like to see kept in the new hymnal. To review this month’s list of hymns and take part in the process, visit welshymnal.com.

 


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Author: Aaron L. Christie
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Martin Luther vs. books

Why was Martin Luther against so many of the books that are in the Roman Catholic Bible and some that remain in ours also? Also, why did the Protestant Bible throw away so many books, ones it had before the Reformation? 

James F. Pope

Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) is one of the great Reformation emphases. The term underscores the truth that Scripture alone is the source and foundation of our faith. Since that is the case, it is important to understand what constitutes “Scripture.” Your questions help sharpen that understanding by addressing some misconceptions. 

Opinions of Martin Luther 

Like other theologians before and after him, Martin Luther had opinions of certain biblical books. His views on the book of James, for example, are well-known. To Luther, the book of James seemed to support the idea that people contributed to their salvation by their good works. However, a careful look at the context of the book of James reveals that the author is reminding Christians that good works flow from saving faith. Still, Luther had concerns about the book of James, as well as the books of Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation. 

So how do we regard these concerns and thoughts of Luther? We recognize them as his opinions. While we thank God for giving Luther many insights into God’s Word, Luther is not the foundation of our faith. Jesus Christ is. Luther’s writings are not the foundation of our faith. The Bible is. Sola Scriptura. We can disagree with Luther when it comes to something like his views on the book of James. There is no disagreeing, however, with Jesus Christ, and he is at the forefront of the answer to your second question. 

A pronouncement by Jesus Christ 

Your second question refers to the Apocrypha—the seven additional books that are in Roman Catholic Bibles. There is a faulty starting point with the question though, thinking that all followers of God have always recognized the apocryphal books as being divinely inspired. That is not the case. The apocryphal books were never included in the Hebrew Bibles of God’s Old Testament people. The Jews listed the Old Testament books in three categories: the law, the prophets, and the writings. The apocryphal books were not included in any of those categories. 

Jesus himself testified to that during his earthly ministry. When the risen Lord appeared to his frightened disciples on Easter Sunday evening, he explained that his suffering, death, and resurrection were all fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy. He told them: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). (The psalms are prominent among the “writings.”) Jesus pronounced the Hebrew Bible—without the Apocrypha—to be the authoritative Word of God.  

So, it is really not a case of the Protestant Bible throwing away books it had before the Reformation. When it comes to the Apocrypha, it is a matter of the Roman Catholic Church adding those books to its version of the Bible. And, incidentally, Rome officially did that in 1546, three years after Luther’s death. 

Finally, you might be interested to know that Martin Luther included the Apocrypha in the German Bible he produced. His preface said the Apocrypha was not inspired but was useful for reading. That was another way of indicating “Scripture alone.”  


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.


 

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Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us