3.5 things I learned in 7 years in South Asia

In 2003 my family and I left Africa after 21 years to serve a congregation in the United States. At that time I wrote an article for the WELS Board for World Mission’s newsletter entitled, 10 Things I Learned In 20 Years In Africa.

Flash ahead 16 years. . . and my wife and I are unexpectedly having to leave our work in South Asia to come back to the United States. To mark this occasion, please allow me to tell you briefly about 3.5 things I learned in 7 years in South Asia.

1) The caste system really hinders the spread of the gospel. In Zambia and Malawi, I saw how people from different tribes often didn’t get along well together. But the walls that tribalism erects in Central Africa pale in comparison to the barriers that the caste system builds to repel the gospel in places like South Asia. It’s rare for a Hindu of any caste to speak to a Christian. It’s practically unheard of for an upper caste individual to do so. God’s Word, of course, can accomplish great things. But it faces an enormous challenge among well over a billion people who live in South Asia. Something to keep praying about.

2) It isn’t easy to train a pastor in another culture. When you think of training a pastor, you first think of some sort of school where students study the Bible and its teachings; where they learn ways to share those teachings with other through sermons, classes, and conversations. Certainly, that is the foundation of a pastoral training program. But in WELS, future pastors also benefit greatly from having a host of role models; other, often older, pastors who know how to touch people’s hearts with a sermon, men who display the love of Christ in word and action.  But such role models often aren’t available in many of our mission fields. In classes you can describe practical situations and ask students, “What would you do?” But it’s not the same. Something more to pray about.

3) The Lutheran liturgy is really, really important. In our world mission fields, many congregations do not have their own pastor. These congregations are served by dedicated laymen. And for this reason, many of our world mission fields also prepare a “sermon book.” A sermon book contains a simple sermon translated into the local language for every Sunday of the year. In spite of the sermon book, I often wondered if they were adding a smattering of false teaching to their sermons. But there is one thing that can’t be “messed up”: the liturgy. And because all of our congregations use a simplified Lutheran liturgy, translated into the local language, I can be sure that each and every Sunday the Christians at that congregation are confessing their sins and receiving God’s forgiveness. I can be certain that they are hearing a summary of the gospel in the Apostles or Nicene Creed. I know that they are worshiping in the name of, and receiving the blessing of, the Triune God. Something to be grateful for.

And the ½ thing. . . it’s never easy to leave a world mission field. When we left Africa in 2003, our family mourned our loss for a long time. I suspect it will be the same now. We will miss the work, the people, and the life. But my wife and I will carry on, grateful for the blessings that we had and certain that the Lord will continue to bless the people and the work in South Asia, even as he will bless us in our new call in the United States.

Written by Rev. Mark Rieke, former Friendly Counselor to South Asia

Friendly Counselor Mark Rieke and his wife Sue are moving to La Crescent, Minn., where Pastor Rieke has accepted a call to serve First Lutheran Church after unforeseen circumstances made it impossible for them to return to their home and his call in South Asia. Please keep Mark and Sue in your prayers during this transition!

 

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Preach The Word – Simple Preaching

Welcome a new writer: Nathan Nass has served at St. Paul / San Pablo Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI since 2018. After graduating from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2013, he served at St. Peter Lutheran Church in St. Peter, MN from 2013-2018. In this new series of Preach the Word, he will encourage us to preach simply and clearly for the benefit of all our hearers.

Simple Preaching

“Preach to the milkmaids, and the doctors will be edified.” When I first heard that comment by Martin Luther, it instantly became one of my favorites. Let’s preach the Word so simply and clearly that even the humblest of our hearers understands, and the most intelligent will benefit too. “Preach to the milkmaids, and the doctors will be edified.” I was happy when I was asked to write for a new series of Preach the Word with a focus on the idea of Luther’s axiom: Simple preaching.

Then I tried to find where Luther said it. I don’t think he did! That quote is nowhere in the American Edition of Luther’s Works. It’s nowhere online either. I googled the phrase, and the only occurrence is in the July-August 2013 edition of…Preach the Word! Sorry folks, but it doesn’t sound like Martin Luther ever said, “Preach to the milkmaids, and the doctors will be edified.”

“He’s the best preacher who can teach in a plain, childlike, popular, and simple way.”

But here’s what Luther did say: “He’s the best preacher who can teach in a plain, childlike, popular, and simple way” (AE 54:384). It should come as no surprise to hear those words from the man whose love for God’s Word and love for God’s people led him to translate the Bible into his people’s language and to write a simple catechism for every family to use in their homes. Despite the fact that Martin Luther is credited with an IQ of 170 and is often included on lists of the most intelligent people in world history, he valued simple preaching that everyone could understand. Here was his philosophy:

“We preach publicly for the sake of plain people. Christ could have taught in a profound way but he wished to deliver his message with the utmost simplicity in order that the common people might understand. Good God, there are sixteen-year-old girls, women, old men, and farmers in church, and they don’t understand lofty matters! … Accordingly he’s the best preacher who can teach in a plain, childlike, popular, and simple way” (AE 54:383-384).

Luther encouraged simple preaching.

In fact, Luther had strong words for those who aimed their preaching at theologians and neglected the common people:

“Cursed be every preacher who aims at lofty topics in the church, looking for his own glory and selfishly desiring to please one individual or another. When I preach here [Wittenberg] I adapt myself to the circumstances of the common people. I don’t look at the doctors and masters, of whom scarcely forty are present, but at the hundred or the thousand young people and children. It’s to them that I preach, to them that I devote myself, for they, too, need to understand. If the others don’t want to listen they can leave. Therefore, my dear Bernard, take pains to be simple and direct; don’t consider those who claim to be learned but be a preacher to unschooled youth and sucklings” (AE 54:235-236).

Of course, simple preaching isn’t a matter of dumbing things down. It’s not about avoiding difficult subjects. It’s striving to teach deep scriptural truths in simple ways. It’s unpacking difficult subjects so that everyone from sixteen-year-old girls to old men, from first-time visitors to life-long members can understand them. Far from being easier or less time consuming, simple preaching is hard! That’s why Luther said, “He’s the best preacher who can teach in a plain, childlike, popular, and simple way.”

So that everyone from sixteen-year-old girls to old men, from first-time visitors to life-long members can understand.

In my congregation, we offer English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to everyone who is interested. On the first day of each new session, we have a full house of students with all different levels of English—from beginners who don’t speak a word of English to advanced students who speak English as well as I do. Here’s our struggle: We can’t possibly tailor the classes to every individual’s need, so for whom do we plan the bulk of the material—advanced students or beginner students?

Here’s what we’ve found: If we plan materials for advanced students, they love it, but beginner students are completely lost and never come back to our classes. We lose them after the very first night. But if we plan materials for beginner students, even the advanced students gain valuable practice, and everyone benefits. The truth is, it’s way easier for our teachers to prepare materials for advanced students. But despite the extra effort required, it’s way more beneficial to everyone involved to have simple materials that everyone can benefit from.

Does that hold true for our sermons as well? I’m convinced that it does. I once went with a group of WELS men to a men’s conference. I particularly enjoyed one thought-provoking presentation. Afterward, I asked the men in our group what they thought of that presentation. Three of the men said, “It was awesome! I loved hearing that man speak.” Six of the men said, “I didn’t get it. I couldn’t follow him from the very start.” Do you think that presenter’s goal was to have one-third of his hearers walk away blessed? Or to have all of his hearers walk away blessed? Whoever made up that quote, “Preach to the milkmaids, and the doctors will be edified,” had a point. If you preach to pastors, the pastors and a few others will benefit greatly. If you preach to the simplest people in the pew, everyone can grow in God’s Word.

How often do people walk away from our worship services—and especially our sermons—with the same feeling those six men had at that conference? Excitement over God’s Word is quickly replaced by, “I couldn’t follow what he was saying.” Or, “I get more out of the children’s sermon than the actual sermon.” There are so many reasons people neglect God’s Word. I don’t like the thought, but is it sometimes because my or your preaching goes over their heads? When I don’t put the time or thought into making my preaching of God’s Word clear and simple for all, the sad result is that people walk away without understanding as they might. Should I be surprised (granting also other factors) when guests don’t return? When people don’t invite? When teens don’t come?

Am I a simple preacher? Are you? I don’t know how you preach. But I do know me, and I could benefit from thinking more about preaching simply and clearly for all of God’s people. I have to admit that on the same evening when I read Luther’s quote above about sixteen-year-old girls understanding his sermons, I had just preached a sermon with two sixteen-year-old girls in the front pew. My sermon that night wasn’t written for them—at all! It was written for the mature adults behind them. It’s one thing for our listeners to walk out of church and say, “I didn’t like it.” Like or dislike is often beyond my control. It’s a whole different thing for our hearers to walk out of church and say, “I didn’t get it.” That’s crushing. God’s Word is meant to be understood. I just want you to ask yourself: Do I preach God’s Word simply and clearly so that everyone can understand, or are my sermons geared for the mature Christians I expect to see in my pews?

Luther took great pains to preach simply, but simple preaching wasn’t Luther’s idea. He picked it up from Jesus. “Christ could have taught in a profound way but he wished to deliver his message with the utmost simplicity in order that the common people might understand” (AE 54:383). “In my preaching I take pains to treat a verse, to stick to it, and so to instruct the people that they can say, ‘That’s what the sermon was about.’ When Christ preached he proceeded quickly to a parable and spoke about sheep, shepherds, wolves, vineyards, fig trees, seeds, fields, plowing. The poor lay people were able to comprehend these things” (AE 54:160). Luther saw in Jesus a purposefully simple preaching so that the commonest people could understand.

The Gospels are filled with the simple preaching of Jesus. Think of the short, clear illustrations that peppered Jesus’ teaching: “You are salt” (Matthew 5:13). “You are light” (Matthew 5:14). “Look at the birds…” (Matthew 6:26). “See the flowers…” (Matthew 6:28). Even visual aids! Jesus’ “I am” statements in John are perfect examples. “I am the bread of life” (6:35). “I am the light of the world” (8:12). “I am the gate for the sheep” (10:7). “I am the good shepherd” (10:11). “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25). “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6). “I am the true vine” (15:1). Simple, clear truths for God’s people.

Jesus certainly didn’t ignore difficult topics, and he certainly didn’t dumb down God’s message, but he most certainly explained difficult concepts in simple, clear language. Jesus never delivered a doctrinal treatise on grace. Instead, he told the parable of the lost son. Jesus didn’t give us any essays on justification. Instead, he told a simple story about a Pharisee and a tax collector. As incomprehensible as the doctrine of the Trinity is, Jesus found the simplest ways to talk about his relationship with the Father, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him” (John 5:23). Whole books are written on the topic of neighboring. Jesus? The parable of the good Samaritan. Sanctification? Big topic! “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Simple explanation.

It’s not that doctrinal discourses are bad. We have them in the Bible, especially in the Epistles. When Jesus preached to people, however, he preached to them on their level. He preached clearly. He gave illustrations. He told helpful stories. He used visual aids. He took great pains to preach the deep truths of God’s Word in simple ways, because he wanted all people to be saved. Now let’s be clear: Not everybody loved Jesus. Not everybody got it. Some still walked away without understanding his teaching, including his parables. It took a special out-pouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost for even his own disciples to really catch on. His simple preaching style wasn’t a magic bullet. But Jesus went out of his way to make the message of salvation so clear and simple that even the smallest child can grasp it by faith. Simple preaching.

I can’t help but add how the apostle Paul talks about his preaching in his letters. Note these statements:

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:2-5 NIV).

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-2 NIV).

“I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Corinthians 14:18-19 NIV).

A Christian preacher’s goal is to set forth the truth plainly, using understandable words, so that every hearer’s heart can be pointed straight to Jesus Christ and him crucified.

I hope you’re willing to grow with me in simple preaching. Let’s start with this: Whom do we have in mind when we write our sermons? Think about that. It really matters! Here’s whom Luther had in mind: “I will not consider Drs. Pomeranus, Jonas, and Philipp while I am preaching; for they know what I am presenting better than I do. Nor do I preach to them, but to my little Hans and Elizabeth…. Therefore see to it that you preach purely and simply and have regard for the unlearned people, and do not address only one or the other” (What Luther Says, § 3610; see also Lockwood’s CPH commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:19). I have to admit that sometimes I have only mature Christians in mind when I write sermons. Is it any surprise when it’s mostly mature Christians who attend? One neighboring pastor told me he often thinks of a 19-year-old, fresh out of high school. Another pastor thinks of his soccer teammates who have no connection to a church.

Here’s another evaluation tool: Did you know that Microsoft Word will tell you what reading level you’ve written for? It’s a rather impersonal but helpful gauge of how simple your sermon might be. In Word, go to “File,” then “Options,” then “Proofing,” then make sure the box “Show Readability Statistics” is checked. Then exit the file menu and run a spelling and grammar check of your document. Ignore all the suggestions, and a little box will show up at the end with your readability score. My last four sermons have averaged a 3.5 on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scale. What about yours? In comparison, this Preach the Word article registers a 7.0 on that same scale. I hope it makes sense to use bigger words and longer sentences when writing to pastors than when preaching to a congregation.

Microsoft Word will tell you what reading level you’ve written for.

Finally, practice simple speaking and writing, and then ask for feedback from others. Over the past six months, I’ve been writing short devotions three or four times a week. Writing simple, clear devotional thoughts on God’s Word has helped me write simple, clear thoughts in my sermons. I’ve also begun posting my sermons and devotions on a blog—upsidedownsavior.home.blog. Feel free to check it out and share your feedback with me. Then find a way to get feedback on your own writing and preaching. Whom can you trust to tell you the truth about your sermons?

Whom can you trust to tell you the truth about your sermons?

This advice about preaching has always stuck in my head: Know God’s Word. Know God’s people. Know how to get God’s Word to God’s people. Simple—but so hard! When people hear God’s Word in our churches, I hope they go home and say, “That was written for me.” Because it was! God’s Word—every part of it—wasn’t written just for doctors and theologians, it was written for milkmaids—and for you and me. Jesus took great pains to communicate God’s life-saving Word simply and clearly to us. May God use our simple preaching of his Word to point people—all people!—to Jesus and his cross. Because that cross was meant for every one of us.

Here’s a preview of what’s coming in this series: We’ll consider the curse—and blessing—of knowledge. We’ll tackle the challenge of biblical illiteracy in our society and how it affects our preaching. We’ll look at some practical sermon-writing suggestions like having a strong central theme and a clear outline. Please share your comments and suggestions on simple preaching with me at nass.nathan@gmail.com.

May Jesus bless you as you set forth his truth plainly!

Written by Nathan Nass


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Audio, Acoustics, and Video in the Worship Setting – Part 1

Audio, Acoustics, and Video in the Worship Setting

Part 1: Acoustics

Our company is a design consulting firm. We design audio, video, and acoustic systems primarily for liturgical churches—Lutheran, Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, etc. With 30-plus years of experience, we have worked with many situations both in new construction and in existing buildings.

In this series of articles we will explore room acoustics along with sound and video systems, noting how these elements are inseparable. To accomplish the goal of clearly communicating the Word at worship, these elements must work together. We will give tips and pointers about things to look out for, to take caution against, and things to pursue in the quest for developing the best spaces possible for worship. Finally, we will look at operating system “gotchas.” We will investigate problems like bad audio quality from a video, audio feedback, unclear or washed-out video images on a projection screen.

Sound and acoustics are inseparable.

Everything we discuss—design concepts and operational things alike—is based on the laws of physics. These laws provide the foundation for everything we do in system design and operation. We must follow them. After all, the good Lord gave them to us, so it’s our responsibility to work with them and not try to get around them!

As happens far too often, we get the call from a congregation needing a “fix” for a bad situation. The issues vary: poor speech clarity, feedback issues, “hot” and “dead” spots from the sound system, poor video images, poor sound quality from a video. The issue might be unfulfilled needs from when the current system was installed or when the building was constructed, or something more sinister.

A common misconception is that a problem is isolated and that a simple inexpensive “fix” like a new microphone is the solution. Sometimes that is the case. Unfortunately, in many cases the solution is not so simple or inexpensive. Allow me to tell a story, a true story. We’ll use this story as a backdrop to talk about how sound and acoustics are inseparable, how they must work together for a successful worship space.

In many cases the solution is not so simple or inexpensive.

Case Study

We were called to a church several years ago to solve issues with the sound system. It was a good-sized congregation and worship space. The building was five years old at the time. The premise was that they needed help with their sound system. There were some feedback issues, and worshipers could not always hear clearly. The committee felt that if we retuned the system and possibly provided some help with using the microphones, the problem would be solved.

When we arrived at the church, we found that the issues ran much deeper than just retuning the sound system. When the building was constructed, the congregation declined the recommendations made by a reputable acoustic engineer. They took the lowest sound system bid and required that speakers be either completely recessed or as invisible as possible.

At first glance the space was very bright and inviting. Loudspeakers were tucked into inconspicuous cavities. But reality was extremely unfortunate. The congregation was worshiping in a literal echo chamber. Coverage from the speakers was blocked by the sides of the cavities that made them so inconspicuous. Air handling system noise was loud enough to require one to shout to be heard. Feedback was common. The spoken word echoed like a bad surround sound system. Vocal solos sounded awful—though not the fault of the soloist!

Members were leaving the congregation. What was the purpose for coming to worship if one could not hear the pastor or a soloist because of feedback, echoes, and poor speaker coverage?

This congregation thought they had two simple issues to resolve. In reality those “simple issues”—feedback and lack of clarity—required a major rework of both room acoustics and sound system. No sound system was going to work with a room “misbehaving” as badly as that one. And the sound system was poorly laid out. When we visited the church for evaluation and testing, we stayed for weekend worship. People came out of the services asking hopefully if we could help them. “Can this be fixed?” they asked. It was an expensive “fix,” but after two years of planning and implementing sound and acoustic renovations, we heard members exclaiming on our return visit, “We finally have a church!”

It is surprising how often this sort of scenario plays out. It is equally surprising how many building committee meetings I have sat through where the committee has spent an hour or more discussing the paint color or the light fixtures for the narthex but only a few minutes about what in my opinion should be the overriding priority in the church: How are we going to effectively and clearly communicate the Word at worship? I understand that we want our worship spaces to look the best they can in honor of our Lord. But don’t we want people to hear clearly when they come to worship?

The question seems simple enough. But whether discussing a new building project or seeking solutions for an existing one, the answer is multifaceted. And it takes time, effort, and talking to the right people to answer questions properly. There is cost involved, but the key is spending money once on getting sound and acoustics right as opposed to spending money two or three times in search of a “fix” for unwise decisions of the past.

Let’s dissect what happened in this church: the “bad stuff,” the causes, and solutions to fix the “bad stuff.” The laws of physics will be intertwined in the discussion as we travel from a really bad situation to a much improved one. As we proceed, you may be reminded of or discover a similar situation in your own church.

As stated earlier, this church in appearance was inviting. Light yellow color splashes the walls. The space is open; it does not feel “closed in.” A cruciform shape with chancel platform at the cross-section lends itself to a closer view of the clergy.

Acoustically, the space should be conducive to sound/tone projection from front to back. The ceiling is peaked and open, which should further aid tone projection. Floor and walls are hard-surfaced. Pews have a thin cushion on the seat only, which has the potential of providing some acoustic balance between room empty and room occupied.

The hard surfaces are indeed desirable, especially for conducting liturgical worship with a need for speech clarity along with pleasing choral and organ music. But in order for that music to come alive so that the worshipers can understand song text and clergy sermon, there are several principles to follow.

Design Principles

One principle is that the hard surfaces on the side walls must be “diffusive.” That means the surface needs to be broken up, or uneven: slanted surfaces in varying degrees, wood slats up to four or six inches deep, or uneven brick. All of these will break up the sound waves that hit those surfaces and alleviate the “flutter” or echo from side to side in the space. Doing this will not reduce reverberation, but it will make the reverberation more pleasing.

A second principle is that the rear wall surfaces must either be diffusive or even somewhat absorptive. The rear wall can be a staunch enemy of spoken word clarity and musical quality if left untouched. Sound that hits this wall will “slap” back into the nave, creating a distinct echo for speech and a “smear” effect with music. Treating the rear wall will prevent that “slap” from occurring and will make the entire listening experience better.

A third principle is that some absorptive element in the space is necessary. The amount and placement depend on the room size and shape. But the objectives are to a) create an environment that “comes alive” for music while also allowing for articulate speech sound, and b) create an environment that is acoustically consistent between unoccupied and occupied—for example, a small wedding or a full Easter festival service. Pew cushions (seat only) will help, and sometimes absorption on wall surfaces is necessary. Acoustic plaster or fabric wrapped or other absorptive core panels are examples.

However, in this church, the walls are smooth and parallel; sound waves that hit them bounce back and forth unhindered. The rear walls—central nave and transepts alike—are tall, hard, and smooth. Consequently, sound waves that hit these surfaces bounce back to create a distinct echo in the worshipers’ ears. There is not enough absorptive property to the pew cushions to make them effective. The end result was a worship space that acted just like an empty gymnasium, with measured reverberation in excess of 3.5 seconds and sound echoing and “slapping” with no mechanism in place to dissipate the sound.

And the choir and soloists? They are located in a transept, arranged to sing directly into the opposite transept wall. There is no direct path for their sound to travel into the central nave, so they must be supported by the sound system.

Another principle to follow in worship space design is to keep the HVAC system as quiet as possible. HVAC noise has several sources: rumble caused by vibrating duct work, the hissing sound created by air trying to move through spaces in grates that are too small, blower fans moving too fast for what is needed in the space. The goal is to produce no more than about 50 decibels (dB) of ambient (background) noise in the space. This level is less than average normal conversation, which is usually measured at about 70-75 dB.

The HVAC system in this particular congregation hit a home run in the wrong direction. Shortcuts were taken with duct work that was not insulated well. Vent openings were much too small to allow air to pass through quietly, and blowers were much too strong. The result was rumble, hiss, and whistles that added up to over 70 dB of ambient noise.

When this church building was designed, the architect enlisted the aid of a good acoustician to recommend solutions to create a good acoustic space, solutions that would follow the principles listed above. The desire was for a worship space that would come alive for music but also deliver good speech intelligibility without too much ambient noise, aided by a well-designed sound system.

Such a sound system would feature loudspeakers of a size and type to aim the sound into the pews without allowing too much sound to reflect off walls and ceiling, especially rear walls. It would need to support the clergy clearly and support the choir without the obvious perception that they were being mic’d. And since the choir needed to be mic’d, the system would need to be designed so that some speakers—those that face the choir so they can hear the liturgy—would be shut off when the choir sings.

Besides these functional needs, principles in good sound design need to be followed. First, speakers need to be seen in order to be heard. We can’t “bend” sound around objects and walls on the way to the listeners’ ears; we need a direct path.

Second, to have the best chance at delivering good intelligibility, the sound system must be driven at a level at least 20 dB above the ambient noise level. For example, if we reach the goal of 50 dB ambient noise level in the space, then the sound system must be driven to a minimum 70 dB.

Third, the speakers need to be located as much as possible between the listener and the talker—in this case the clergy in the chancel. This helps the listener to associate the source of sound with the source of action. If the speakers are too far to the sides or are facing in from the rear, then more echoes like a poor surround sound system are created, and intelligibility is damaged.

Did the church get a good sound system? No. Many of the feedback issues we were asked to address were the result of the choir “singing to itself” because the speakers were playing directly into the choir microphones. Other feedback issues were the result of trying to overcome HVAC noise and a large cupola over the altar that reflected sound back down to the chancel and into microphones. They tried to turn up the sound system level, but the needed level was 90 dB or more. The space acoustically could not handle that level, and neither can the worshipers’ ears since this sound level is like a loud home stereo or a small bar band.

In an attempt to conceal the loudspeakers, cavities were constructed to house them. The cavities were small enough that much of the sound from the loudspeakers was blocked by the cavity walls. And the sound that did get out from the cavities was aimed mostly at the walls as opposed to projecting directly toward the pews. In short, the coverage was poor, echoes were abundant, and feedback was prevalent.

Well, all righty! This was quite a mess! How did we get from “can we fix this?” to “we have a church again!”? Let’s walk through the solutions.

Solutions

HVAC Noise. Without a major building renovation, we could not do anything with the HVAC system since duct work was underground and/or concealed in walls and with grates built into floors. The church’s working solution was and is to heat or cool the room before worship and then shut down the blowers at least during the sermon or for longer depending on room temperature fluctuation. This flawed HVAC system is a strong testimony to achieving a good design in new construction!

Room Structure and Acoustics. The walls were built. We could not change their shape. But we could add things to make them uneven. Again, the principle is to have uneven surfaces and some absorption to avoid the “flutter” between side walls and the “slap” from the rear wall.

It is also critical that, whether new construction or a retrofit, we preserve the aesthetic value of the worship space. We do not want anything looking like an afterthought. With that in mind, the congregation enlisted the aid of the building architect to turn the “fixes” into architectural elements in the space.

We added wood panels with slats perpendicular to the nave and transept wall surfaces to provide the diffusive element. This helped break up “flutter” which had been an issue even 85 feet between the transept end walls. We also added fabric wrapped absorptive panels to the nave rear walls and to the side walls to knock down the “slap.” We added absorption inside the large cupola located above the altar to break up and absorb the sound that was echoing down from above and causing more feedback.

Sound System. Our next article will go into detail regarding sound system applications (microphones, loudspeakers, and such). But I summarize here by saying that new, more articulate microphones were utilized for clergy and choir. And new loudspeakers were deployed—still low profile but outside the cavities and with better ability to aim the sound directly to the pews. And the speakers were split into zones so that the choir is no longer “singing to itself.”

The end result was a “new” church. Reverberation was reduced somewhat to alleviate the “smear” that damaged musical sound; yet the space still was very much “alive” for choir and organ music. “Slap” and “flutter” were nearly completely eliminated. Now the worshipers’ ears could hear as the Lord intended: receive and process a syllable once, then bring in the next syllable with no echo. The sound system was now feedback-free and sounded natural and clear for every worshiper.

It pays to get it right the first time!

This story is no fairy tale, but there is a moral: When looking at church acoustics and sound, it pays to get it right the first time! Take the time to plan for the right combination of wall shapes and diffusive and absorptive surfaces. Get the sound system right. Budget the funds to make it happen, including bringing the professionals on board who can do the complex design work. When you add in all the work you put into light fixtures, paint color, and wood finishes, the end result will be a worship space that “is a church!”

Next up: the sound system. What is sound? How do I get it right? What are the “gotchas”?

Written by David Hosbach

David Hosbach is President of DSH Audio Visions LLC, Milwaukee, WI. A 1983 graduate of Dr. Martin Luther College, his clients include: the Chapel of the Christ, MLC, New Ulm, MN; Peace Lutheran Church, Hartford, WI (WELS); the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Mobile, AL; and hundreds of parish worship spaces of all sizes. For more information visit www.dshaudiovisions.com.


 

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Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

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We need Africa

Africa needs us! How many times have you heard that on TV or in your church? Most often people think of Africa as grassy savannas filled with wildlife, poor villages, and sickness and disease running rampant through the continent. In some aspects that is very true, however there are many stereotypes about Africa that are equally false, just like stereotypes about Americans and the United States. Africa does need us; but, did you ever think that we as Christians may need Africa?

Sunset at Mvuu Camp inside Liwonde National Game Park

In July 2019, the Central African Medical Mission (CAMM) brought a group of ten people from the U.S. together to tour Malawi and see firsthand the work of our Lutheran Mobile Clinic which CAMM oversees. CAMM, established in 1961, serves the people living in the central region of Malawi in conjunction with local Lutheran churches. The Lutheran Mobile Clinic in Malawi brings medical care and supplies to the villages of Suzi, Msambo, Thunga and Mwalaulomwe every week. CAMM is entirely funded outside of the WELS budget by grants from charitable organizations and individual donors. Our hope in bringing such a large group of visitors to Malawi was to increase awareness among stateside WELS congregations and donors about our Mobile Clinic’s mission of mercy.

Inside the newly refurbished clinic room at Mwalaulome Lutheran Church

The twelve-day trip allowed us to take in the people, the villages, and the varied landscapes of Malawi. We were able to enjoy the beaches of Lake Malawi and walk through a nearby village. We saw many of God’s created animals at Camp Mvuu while on safari, and we saw the physical needs of the Malawian people treated at the CAMM mobile clinic in the village of Thunga. It is hard to describe the atmosphere and the number of people waiting to be seen by our nurses on a clinic day. The staff works diligently to make sure all the waiting people are seen.

The beauty of Malawi is breathtaking and filled our hearts with joy. Seeing children run alongside our bus waving and jumping excitedly brought smiles to our faces. Seeing the medical assistance provided to so many villagers on clinic day was eye-opening. I feel slightly ashamed that in the past I have been impatient because my doctor was 20 minutes late for an appointment, while visitors to the Mobile Clinic walk miles and wait hours to be seen in a room filled with about thirty other people.

Children show off their new toothbrushes they received at Thunga clinic

I feel guilty for wanting a really nice sweater or newer car when I think about Malawian children who only want an empty used water bottle to carry to school, or the Malawian mothers who just wanted medication to make their baby well again. In spite of Malawians’ lack of material possessions, they are grateful for their family, their faith, and access to medical care through our Mobile Clinic. So, yes, Africa may need us but we also need Africa to get perspective on our lives. We need to see the joy of children running to us barefooted. We need to witness the gratefulness of those receiving the next immunization for their child so they don’t become sick. We need to tell others about the blessings of our mobile clinic’s ministry that, from our perspective, is occurring in the middle of nowhere. We need to be reminded that we have Christian brothers and sisters halfway around the world that shares our love for Jesus and His blessings. We need the opportunity to put Christ’s words into practice: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.” – Matthew 25:40

As we recall our CAMM trip and the blessings of a safe and inspirational journey, this bible verse comes to mind, “Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and let them enjoy abundant peace and security.” – Jeremiah 33:6

Written by Angela Sievert, Public Relations Coordinator for the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) 

 

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Holy Smoke Ride

There are two things that strike me about home missions. First, opportunities for outreach come up way more often than we’d think— if we keep our eyes open for them. Second, apart from sin, just about any activity we are involved in can be brought into the service of the Savior. Permit me to share with you something that’s a little of both.

I have been a motorcycle guy since I got my driver’s license a whole lot of years ago at age 16. That’s partly because it was a cheap mode of transportation (in the beginning), and partly because motorcycles are just so much fun. My first was a little 50cc scooter my dad bought for me so I could get to my first “off the farm” part-time job in town. (That job was as a lifeguard at the community pool in St. Charles, Michigan. Tough job, I know, but someone had to do it. But I digress…) Over the years since, the motorcycle just got bigger. In 2017, our Treasurer at Ascension, Paul, bought his first motorcycle and became an avid biker. Since I was already riding, it was just natural that we became riding partners. Over the past two years the circle of friends who became part of our riding group grew. The time spent on rides with those guys has been a wonderful way to develop friendships and to recharge my batteries for service. Over the past three riding seasons, I have logged hundreds of miles and had dozens of meals with those guys. On the weekend before last, we rode 300 miles (round trip) for a cheeseburger and deep-friend Oreos. For motorcycle guys, that is completely normal behavior. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination. It’s about the camaraderie, not the cuisine.

Pastor Dan Simons (front) and some of the Holy Smoke Ride group

As those relationship have grown stronger, one of our group suggested that we do a ride that would start with church at Ascension and leave from there for a Sunday afternoon ride. He suggested that since I am the pastor at Ascension, I ought to plan it. I get that black and orange is not a liturgical color and a Harley jacket is a far cry from an alb, but out here in home missions, it might kind of work. The Holy Smoke Ride was planned, guys had the opportunity to sign up, and then we prayed for good weather.

That ride happened on August 25. Of the 8 guys who committed to the ride, 3 of them were in worship on Sunday morning. Ascension, in their usual friendly way, welcomed them, fed them with refreshments after the service, and made them feel at home. No one batted an eye at the row of motorcycles parked in front of church.

The ride was 100 miles of beautiful weather, excellent lunch at a gem of a smoked meats/BBQ joint north of here, and great conversation. After the ride was over, the group was invited back to our house for some “afterglow.” My wife, Maria, provided her crazy-good salsa & chips, tamales, and ice cream. The camaraderie and conversation continued until nearly dark. The Holy Smoke Ride is history, and we are already planning future rides. This one, everyone agreed, was one of the best.

I don’t know what might come of this as far as new members for Ascension goes. Statistics indicate that millennials and generation z are not big into motorcycles. But for late baby-boomers, it’s still a thing, and there are plenty of boomers who still need to get connected to the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I don’t know what God may bring from this. That’s his work in his own time. I do know that there are three guys who heard about the love of Jesus on Sunday morning who had never darkened our doorway before. I do know that I have the privilege of being a Christian friend, salted into a group of guys I count as friends. It will be interesting to see where this road leads. As far now, I’ll just crack the throttle, keep the rubber side down and shiny side up, and enjoy the ride!

P.S. – Over lunch one of the guys asked about the riding jacket I was wearing. He asked where I got it. When I told him that it was a gift from the members of the church I served in Milwaukee on the occasion of my 25th anniversary in the ministry, he was clearly surprised (in a good way). It was clear a paradigm shift had occurred for him about “church.”

Written by Pastor Dan Simons, home missionary at Ascension Lutheran Church in Macomb, Mich.

 

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Faces of Faith – Fang

I met Pastor Fang for the first time in 2012. He and a few other leaders from the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC)  gathered with me in a small hotel room in Hanoi, Vietnam. We spent a few days together studying the Word of God, quietly, so as not to attract attention. Then the men left to their villages.

Fang was a very polite and humble student in my class, but he challenged me with all kinds of questions about Scripture and leadership. At that time I seemed like a baby pastor to them, compared to many other Hmong pastors who preached their philosophies, ideologies and traditions. For almost two years, Fang and I confronted each other in the classroom on a regular basis. He thought that my teaching—that sinners are saved by grace alone—was not based on the Bible. His reasoning was that if sinners are saved by grace alone, it is too simple and can’t be trusted. It’s like giving a math test of 1+1 = ? to university students. He said, “Sinners need to cooperate in their salvation by doing good and living a holy life.” He added, “None of the other Hmong pastors teach like you. They all teach that if we are good, God will love us, and we earn our salvation through our own merits.” Even so, he kept coming to my training – thanks to God.

In June 2014, Fang came to me and said, “Pastor Lor, I apologize for being angry with you and even labeling you as a cult preacher. Now, I totally admit that sinners are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Throughout my ministry, I’ve tried so hard to please God with good works. I thought that I could be saved through them. But the harder I tried, the more distant from God I felt. The more guilty I felt. I also gave many rules to my members. After two years of studying with you, I have been moved by the Holy Spirit to believe that I am saved through faith in Christ alone.”

Salvation by grace alone means a lot to Fang. He told me that since his members understood grace, they are more active in the church’s activities and more confident in their outreach to their community. Now they can say that they are saved and that they are children of God. Before that, they were hesitant to witness that they were saved because they weren’t sure that they were good enough to be saved.

Pastor Fang’s funeral

Last October, I was invited to preach for the Hmong National Conference in Lai Cau. More than 1,000 people attended the conference. Fang and his wife, Yong, came to me. She said, “Pastor, I appreciate your hard work and how you trained my husband in the word of God. He is now a better husband and is a more caring pastor to his members.” I asked his wife, “How so?” She said, “The love of God motivates my husband to love us more. He was a man of traditions, but now he has a gentle and humble heart.” I told her, “Praise God for his love and mercy! And continue to support your husband’s ministry.”

Sadly, on July 18, 2019, Fang was taken home to his Lord. He was on a trip to assist another family who had lost a loved one just two days earlier. He preached for several hours under a hot sun, and then he was invited to stay with a family for the night. Early in the morning when the lady was done cooking, she called out for everyone to come to breakfast. Fang didn’t answer the call. The man of the family went to wake him up. We still don’t know the cause of his death.

He will be missed by many, especially his fellow workers in Vietnam. His associate called me hours after his death, “Pastor Lor, Pastor Fang passed away this morning. It was a tremendous lost to the congregations in this area because he served his Lord and members from his heart. We all miss him a lot. We know that you will miss him too.” Through his ministry, the Holy Spirit brought many to believe in Jesus. He was a model of faith not only to his members, but also to the community near and far in Northern Vietnam. Both he and his wife worked so hard in their rice field to make sure that they could serve their family and members. He told me, “Pastor, I am not rich but I thank God that he gives me the strength to work in my rice field so that I can support my family and do the work that my Lord has entrusted to me.” I remember one day, after a break from long hours of training, he brought me a well-cooked whole chicken and said, “Pastor, my wife and I thank you for sharing the word of God with us. We have nothing to pay you, so we brought you this chicken.” I didn’t know what to say, so I split the chicken and ate it with him and the other students. That was one of the most enjoyable moments in my life. I ate the chicken with tears in my heart.

More than 600 people, both the Christian and non-Christian community, attended Fang’s funeral. I thank God that he knew the truth that he was saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. No doubt he could have accomplished much more if he had lived longer, but God knows what is best for him and his family. Now, he is united with the saints in heaven, safely in the arms of our Heavenly Father. He is protected by our Lord Jesus Christ. He has no more tears, and he suffers no more persecution due to his faith in Christ. No more worries about his rice field so that he can take good care of his family and members. Peace is his in Christ forever!

Brothers and sisters, let’s remind ourselves daily that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Grace may not mean much to some of us, but for Fang, it was his only hope: his only hope in Jesus. He was willing to endure hardships for the sake of the gospel so that he could bring it to lost souls—sinners saved by grace through faith alone in Christ. God gives us the best treasure, so let’s share our best treasure to all nations, tribes, and languages through our prayers and stewardship.

Thank you for supporting the training in Hanoi, and please continue to pray for your brothers and sisters in Vietnam.

Written by Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator

 

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Be strong and courageous

My name is Qiang Wang, a Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) vicar of Saviour of the Nations Lutheran Church in Vancouver, Canada. I immigrated to Canada with my wife Susan and my son Ricky in 2013. At that time, Susan and I were Buddhists. Thanks be to the Lord that he sent Chinese Christians preaching the gospel to us almost immediately. At first I rejected their efforts. Later I decided to read the Bible on my own in order to argue with them. The Spirit created faith in my heart through the Word. On the Thanksgiving day in 2014, Susan and I were baptized into Jesus. Shortly after my baptism, I started to read the People’s Bible Commentaries which I borrowed from Pastor Geoff Cortright, who is the pastor of Saviour of the Nations. Since November 2015, after a 3-day trip to Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, I have been studying in the PSI program full-time almost 4 years. God willing, I will finish PSI training at the end of this year and graduate from the Seminary in May 2020.

With funding from WELS Joint Missions, WELS-Canada, and Saviour of the Nations, I moved to Coquitlam as a missionary on July 1, 2019, in order to start a new Chinese mission.

Why Coquitlam?

Right now, the population of the city of Coquitlam is about 170,000. Coquitlam is one of the fastest growing Chinese areas in North America. In 2016, the local Skytrain expanded to include Coquitlam. As a result, the city is projecting explosive growth as commuters can now live in a more affordable community and easily connect to the amenities of Vancouver. City planners estimate that by 2026 the population will reach 200,000, an increase of 60,000 people in a 10 year span. Of that 60,000, half are Chinese people. The city of Coquitlam has plans to build up a larger core centre, with high rise towers and dense urban living. In the neighborhoods surrounding Coquitlam Town Centre, 23% to 49% of the homes speak Chinese. An increasing number of Chinese businesses and restaurants have moved in, catering to first generation immigrants. Additionally, what makes Coquitlam potentially the best regional choice to plant a Chinese church—it is currently under-served by Chinese churches.

Vicar Qiang Wang, his wife Susan, and their friend Richard (standing) after a long day of moving

When I received the final decision from our congregation that I would start a new Chinese mission in Coquitlam, I was excited and a little bit intimidated. To start a mission from scratch is not a small task for anyone. Our Lord is good! The first date of our moving, July 1, is Canada Day. God blessed us almost immediately through different ways. After a whole day moving and cleaning, I was exhausted and hungry. All our stuff was unpacked. We didn’t know where to have our dinner. Richard Yu, my friend and schoolmate from back in China and who now lives in Coquitlam, brought food and drinks to our new apartment. We enjoyed the food and shared the gospel with Richard. Suddenly and unexpectedly, an excellent fireworks show started, which we enjoyed from our new balcony.

We kept giving thanks to the Lord. Through Richard, God told us that we are not alone! He uses everything around us to bless us. Through the fireworks, God gave us a warm welcome! He is with us!

“Be strong and courageous!” Three times the Lord encouraged Joshua to be confident to succeed Moses in leading God’s people into the Promised Land. I believe that God will lead us to a wonderful future in North American. We pray that God establish a vibrant Chinese Lutheran worshiping community of believers in Coquitlam through our ministry. It will be a blessing not only for Coquitlam, but also for North America, and perhaps even for as far away as China.

Written by Vicar Qiang Wang, Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) student and Chinese missionary to Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada

The Chinese ministry in Coquitlam was approved to receive partial funding from WELS Joint Missions in May 2019 (with financial assistance also coming from WELS-Canada and Saviour of the Nations). To learn more about WELS Joint Missions, visit wels.net/jointmissions.

 

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Real faces, real lives, real souls

I was nervous this year. This was our fifth year of holding an art camp for children ages 5-10. Some experts suggest that church outreach events have a shelf life. Some say the shelf life is three years. Others say five years. But both say that after a certain amount of time a congregation needs to change the event because it grow stale. This was year five of art camp.

So, I was nervous this year. Between not being able to quickly recruit volunteers and then a slow year for registrations, I was thinking we were going to have as many volunteers as kids. We did everything we had done in the past to advertise, but two weeks out from camp we had less than half the registrations we normally have. I was worried that our volunteers coming from Wisconsin, Illinois, Connecticut, New York, and Ontario would come for nothing. Maybe the experts were right.

I continue to struggle to learn this lesson—the Lord blesses in his own way in spite of my nerves. This year we had 57 kids. Not the most we’ve ever had, but then I took a closer look at the registrations. 52 of the 57 were non-Redemption children. 21 of 57 were returning children. 16 children were registered due to referrals. Maybe most exciting was that this was the first year we had more local children registered (31 of 57) than Ft. Drum children registered. That is important for us as we continue to try to break into a community that one community leader said “lives in relationship silos.” By statistical measure, this was our most successful art camp to date.

Still, I was nervous this year. Rain was in the forecast for our gallery afternoon and barbecue. A time when we try to make connections with parents. Stats are interesting, but they mean little if connections aren’t made and Jesus isn’t shared with people. But the wind moved the clouds and the sun shine was warm. People came. Real faces, real lives, real souls came.

A soul named Danielle brought her granddaughter to camp. She had tattoos down her arms and across her chest, gauges in her ears, a ring in her nose, and a face that could tell two lifetimes of stories. She came to the barbecue with her daughter and their friend, “Aunt” Becky. We talked about Jesus and it was like water for two weary souls.

Another soul was a young mother who thought she should find a church since her daughter was getting older. But she was skeptical and wasn’t sure if there was a church that would value her daughter. “We have a message here just for you and your daughter,” I said, “It’s all about forgiveness given to you by God through Jesus. He loves children and so does our church.”

There was another soul. A mother of three. A burnt out Catholic. She was starved for grace, but Catholicism was in her DNA and she was struggling with what to do. “Are you going to church now?” I asked. She said no. “Bring your kids; come and listen to God’s message of grace,” I said.

I could keep sharing with you the real faces, real lives, real souls that God brought us for three days this past July. This art camp was successful for many reasons, but most of all it was successful because real faces, real lives, real souls came, and the Word was planted.

Written by Pastor Aaron Goetzinger, home missionary at Redemption Lutheran Church in Watertown, N.Y.

 

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A church planter’s checklist

A mission planter has a check-list of items a mile long. We need instruments, people to play the instruments, worship folders, a place to print worship folders, coffee, songs, and on and on it goes!  Perhaps the biggest item on the list of things to accomplish is finding a place to worship. As you continue to invite people and share the gospel, one of the natural questions that arises is, “where are you meeting?” All I could say was…”Aaaaah, we have some options!” It was frustrating trying to find a place we could rent for worship and ministry.

I was called to launch a second campus for Shepherd of the Valley in Westminster, Colo. The target area is to the west about 15 minutes. Hundreds of homes had already been built on the northwest side of the city of Arvada and hundreds more were planned in the coming years. A large space of thousands of acres had been set aside for commercial development. There was only one church in this whole five mile radius, a church a little more than 2 years old. All signs pointed to a ripe mission field. That’s exactly what we found as we surveyed and participated in community events.

People were yearning for connections and longing to be better parents and spouses. As we chatted with them, we shared the gospel and let them know we were planting a church in their area to serve them. There was a lot of interest! However, we lacked one thing. . . a space for ministry and worship. Where do you start?

Ralston’s Crossing Event Center. . . and Shepherd of the Valley’s new worship location

On the advice of other mission planters and friends, I started asking the schools in the area. I was met time after time with a big NO! They didn’t have the staff to open the building, or they just didn’t want the hassle of a renter. We looked for commercial space to rent and convert, but in an area so new there wasn’t any good or affordable commercial space. Lots of people and no places to meet. Where would we meet? What would we do if we didn’t find a place? I feared we would have nothing since it was April 2019 and we planned to start in the fall.

The last possibility was an old Presbyterian church, built in 1911, now a wedding and event center. I hadn’t met the owner, the site was a bit out of our target area, but the location was along a state highway and many local people knew where it was located. It’s worth a try. I sent the owner an email two weeks before Easter, described what I was looking for, and asked about renting. The following Monday as I sat in the car in the Home Depot parking lot, my phone rang. On the other end was the most pleasant, upbeat voice I’d heard in awhile,

“Is this Jeremy? I’m so glad I got a hold of you! I received your message you were looking to rent the chapel. How can I help? I have to tell you, when I heard your message I was ecstatic you asked! I’ve never rented to a church before. This is going to be so much fun!”

What followed was nothing short of God’s gracious hand. The owner, Randy Miller, said to me, “I heard your message and was so excited to have a church meet in the church again! This is going to be exciting.” Randy asked us what we wanted to pay. He opened up his entire property for us to use on Sundays (check out these pictures!) and encouraged us to have as many outdoor services as we wanted to have. He talked about adding us to his main sign. He said to me, “You sound like a really nice guy so I’ll probably just give you a key and you can have access when you need it.”

Since then, Randy has moved schedules around so we have sole access on Sunday mornings. His wedding season goes from May through September, so for the rest of the year we have the place all to ourselves. Randy has said many times, “I’m so excited to partner with you and have your congregation here.”

It was struggle to find a place and extremely frustrating to be turned down by over a half dozen different spots or find nothing to rent within your budget. Ralston’s Crossing Event Center has been a blessing from God. The owner has been inviting people to attend our new church. This was just another reminder that the Lord guides the steps of his people and promises to be with them wherever we go.

Written by Pastor Jeremy Belter, home missionary at Shepherd of the Valley Candelas in Arvada, Colo.

 

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Faces of Faith – Sebastian

It was a moment parents dread: an early morning phone call from the hospital.

“Your son has been in an accident. It’s critical. The doctors don’t think he’ll make it. Come right away.”

Sebastian had always struck me as a responsible teen. Respectful, polite, hard-working, active in the church – the kind of child that makes parents proud. One night he and a friend were riding Sebastian’s motorcycle home from a party. A different motorcycle blew through an intersection and struck the vehicle Sebastian was driving. He and the friend riding behind him went flying. Sebastian’s body cushioned his friend’s fall, but the pavement cracked Sebastian’s helmet and caused severe head trauma.

Sebastian’s parents, Henry and Eliana, are good friends of mine. Pastor Henry is a missionary in our sister synod in Medellín, Colombia. He is called to help others start churches in Colombian and Venezuelan cities. I heard of the accident from Henry and immediately left for the hospital. What do you say when a brother in the faith and his family are going through a severe test? We lived in different cities. I was unsure whether Sebastian would be alive when I arrived.

Sebastian presenting at his new church in Ibagué

After hours of travel, I got to see the family and shared my favorite Psalm with them: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord…” – Psalm 121. I assured them, “The Lord is with you. He is watching over you.”

“The first three days were critical,” recalls Pastor Henry. When he arrived at the hospital, Sebastian’s skull was cracked and his brain was visible. “After a few days they disconnected him from the machine to see what would happen.” He began to breathe on his own.

After a week, with a bandaged head, the medical team sent Sebastian home. He spent another month in bed, with his mom serving as his primary care provider. The next months his parents retaught him how to dress, eat, speak, and carry out basic skills.

Prior to the accident, Sebastian was studying to be a motorcycle mechanic. However, the trauma his brain suffered made school impossible. His mind found it hard to focus. Nearly three years passed. No longer a teenager, Sebastian grew more and more frustrated. He felt like a burden to his family. He began to struggle with depression.

Then one week, Pastor Henry was making his regular rounds and dropped in on a mission congregation in Ibagué, Colombia, which is about seven hours away from where he lives. Worship there is held in a hotel. Victor and Paulina work at the hotel and are leaders in the new church. Chatting after church, they mentioned to Pastor Henry that they were looking for someone to help them manage the hotel. “As a joke,” Henry recalls, “I told them, ‘You should hire my son.’” What a surprise when Victor and Paulina made the trip the next week to interview Sebastian for the position!

Arrangements were made, and in March of this year Sebastian moved away from home to live and work at the hotel with Victor and Paulina. “It’s been a huge blessing for everyone,” Pastor Henry says. “Sebastian is able to help start a church and stay close to God.”

Sebastian at his new church in Ibagué

I asked my friend, Henry, if a particular Bible passage brought them comfort during these past three years. “Yes brother, it was the one you read to us during the most difficult moments, Psalm 121.”

When David wrote those words some three thousand years ago, he had no idea how they would comfort a Colombian called worker family during their most difficult challenge. But God knew. Sebastian may never fully recover from the injuries he suffered during that early morning accident, but he can know God is watching over him, just as he watches over all his children.

Written by Missionary Mike Hartman, field coordinator for the Latin America missions team

 

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A cross-cultural camping trip to remember

On July 20-21, my church family (Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church) was able to take a beautiful camping trip to the Oregon Coast. With lots of laughter and some incredible food, the weekend was wonderful.

After a nine-hour drive from Boise to a little outside of Newport, my family and many others arrived at our group camp site. The site itself was quite sandy, and many trees guarded it from the wind and sun. Overall, we had a little less than ten tents set up around the large campfire, which was most certainly not the only heat source used to cook.

Peace in Jesus 2019

Over the course of our stay, all the people involved had been to the beach at least twice. As it was about a five-minute walk from our campground, we were able to see it quite frequently. Enjoying its views and doing fun activities there was the highlight of my (and I’m sure many others’) stay at South Beach State Park.

One thing that I would like to highlight is the high quantity of the youth on this trip. On the second night of our stay, all the teenagers went to the beach in the dark to play a very fun card game, strengthening friendships while having a great time. This was not the only activity young people enjoyed, as hacky sack and word games were also incorporated. Overall, the stay was very enjoyable for all ages.

Sunday morning was a service to remember. In the beautiful nature of our campsite, the church body was able to hear a meaningful sermon highlighting God’s amazing creation of the ocean. Not only this, but special hymns were performed and heard by many, leaving a lasting impression in the memory of this church camping trip. Even our church choir sang a meaningful anthem about God’s enduring love.

For every meal of the day, there seemed to be a delicious feast for all to take part in. The Vietnamese culture that makes up almost our entire church family had a heavy impact on the food made during the camping trip-I can assure you, no one complained. Although not specific to the culture, at one point an entirely whole (huge) tuna was cooked for people to eat, followed by spicy grilled squid the next day. One thing that can be said for certain is that hunger never entered our camp!

Peace in Jesus had a wonderful church camping trip to the Oregon Coast. Complete with full stomachs, endless fun, and the beautiful Word of God, this stay was one to remember; and leaving our temporary home was less than easy.

Written by Laura Hope Kramer, member at Peace in Jesus Vietnamese Lutheran Church, Boise, Ida. 

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My Mission Journey: Gail

Grace Lutheran Church in Falls Church, Virginia, sent a Mission Journeys team to Ukraine this summer to assist with four separate Vacation Bible School (VBS) programs hosted by WELS’ sister synod, the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC). Gail Kelley was a member of the team and shares her experience: 

Our trip to Ukraine started with a conversation on possible evangelism or mission trips our congregation could participate in, somewhere with a culture different than our own. We were looking for an opportunity for our members to visit and serve with fellow believers in another culture, as well as to learn new evangelism ideas for our own community in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Within a year, God opened the door to an incredible opportunity–the chance to visit and assist the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) with four separate Vacation Bible School’s at several local congregations.

We gathered up a team from our congregation and were blessed with many prayers, financial gifts, and words of encouragement from members who could not travel with the group. Four of us headed to Ukraine in June with a few other WELS members from other congregations and began the trip of a lifetime!

Our group split into smaller teams and headed out to the four different VBS’s over the course of two weeks. Each volunteer taught English lessons, Bible lessons in Ukrainian (with the help of local translators), a craft lesson, and music. Each town and congregation we visited was very different, but it was quickly evident that we were all united in the most important way–through our shared faith and love for God’s Word and his people!

The first Sunday in Kiev we attended church with the Bishop of the ULC. The Bishop pointed out several photos on the wall of the church’s lobby. These photos were taken during the early 20th century and reflected one of many vibrant, growing congregations hosting many festivals and worship services. The Bishop explained to our visiting group the history of the church in the past century, and the terrible trials they endured throughout the second World War and Soviet era. The Bishop also pointed out a large wooden cross hung on the wall, covered in a beautiful, traditional Ukrainian embroidered cloth. This cross was hidden in a congregation member’s home during a time when religion was strictly forbidden throughout the country. The Bishop explained that corruption and bribery are current trials the country is facing; asking our group directly what they would do when presented with a bribe and fighting persecution. Recognizing and understanding the depths of the trials the ULC has endured for the sake of the cross was incredibly humbling and filled me with a new sense of awe regarding God’s enduring promise to “never leave us or forsake us” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Meeting various members of the ULC and experiencing their hospitality and deep faith was humbling and inspiring in so many ways. And then of course there were the children and translators we were working with–all so very special and many eager to learn about Christ and his message (both in Ukrainian and English!). Most translators were not ULC members and spent the week translating lessons, Bible stories, and prayers for our group. I pray that the conversations we had and Bible verses we reviewed planted a seed in many hearts!

One of the many miracles from trips such as this one is the personal growth and impact on the volunteers–our entire group agreed we came back to our homes learning much more and growing in our faiths in more ways than we could have imagined.

Lord, give us the strength to stay courageous through trials and fix our eyes on your cross (Hebrews 12:2)!

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Pastor Chaplai

Pastor Chaplai is one of 60 Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) leaders who are receiving theological training in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). In March 2019, the leaders gathered again for two weeks of training. The first week was a study of the first 400 years of church history in the New Testament era. The second week was a study of the Bible’s teachings about Church & Ministry. The intensive courses included 6 hours of class activities during the day and assigned readings in the evenings.

Pastor Chaplai shared his story with PSI Professor Rev. Brad Wordell, with Bounkeo Lor serving as translator:

On coming to faith: In 1997 one of my children was sick. No remedies were helping. I decided that I wanted to visit a Christian church in our area, to see if they could pray for my child. Before I went, other people warned me about the dangers: “The church will make you give them all your money”, “If you decide to stop going to their church, they will persecute you.” We decided to go anyway. I brought my whole family. They kindly welcomed us and told us about the Bible. They prayed for us. We told others what happened. Later that year, my family and five other families were baptized. But as the church grew, the persecution against us also grew. We were fined by local authorities. We were arrested and threatened. One night the locals captured several families, put them all in a truck, drove 160 kilometers to a very remote place and dropped them off in the middle of the jungle to die. But they survived. One time many of the Christian men in our village were captured and taken to a house, where we were interrogated separately. They told me to denounce my faith like all the other men had done. I told them, “I don’t know about the other men, but I still believe in Jesus.” They locked my legs in stocks. They would threaten me, pretend like they were going to hit me, and demand that I sign a piece of paper renouncing my faith. When I refused, they would lock me up again until the next day, when the process would begin again. Finally, after many days, they gave up. They told me I was stubborn and let me go. I went back to my church and told everyone, “Don’t be afraid of them.” The community trusted me. Many families came to me to learn about the Bible. One time, in four days, 60 families became Christian!

I didn’t know much about the Bible. We did not have Bibles to give to people. As the church grew, the local government put more pressure on us. They would arrest us and slap us repeatedly in the face and then release us. But there were too many of us. Some officials came to our church pretending that they wanted to become Christian. They wanted to check us out and see what we were really doing. For two years we were being watched closely by soldiers. Finally they gave up and left our village. A few years later, I moved to Sa Pa to start a new church there. The persecution there was severe. In spite of brutal beatings, the Christians did not renounce their faith. One night, everyone in the village was baptized secretly in the freezing cold water of a nearby river (We didn’t know that immersion is not a requirement). For three years, I had to travel by night and teach the Bible to people between midnight and 5 am. We would sleep during the day. In 2003, I was chosen to be the leader of the whole area. In that same year, the persecution began to decline.

On ministry: My ministry has been very blessed. I might be the only pastor here who is able to say that every one of my relatives is a Christian – every one! I now oversee eleven congregations. I serve 1,934 members in 324 families. I still travel to new areas to tell people about Jesus. I have to be careful in some of those areas because of resistance and possible persecution. Because I was one of the first ones to believe in my region and because all the Christians think of me as their leader, so many people are coming to me all the time for all kinds of help. I must admit to you that ministry is very difficult. Many times I have wanted to give up. But I keep serving because I love God.

On learning: If it were not for these classes, I most certainly would have quit before now. I want to say thank you to WELS because you have given me peace. I did not have peace until I learned the gospel in these classes. All of us here are learning so many things. We take the things we learn here and teach them to our people. The printed materials, translated into our language, are very useful to us. All of us are baptized now, including our babies. We have peace and joy from the true teaching of God’s Word.

What WELS members can pray for: I ask the members of WELS to pray for me and the members of my churches. They are immature in their faith and do not understand “the priesthood of all believers.” They have not learned how to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God and to serve together in the body of Christ. I want to motivate them with the gospel, not the law.

Brad Wordell, part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) Team, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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Faces of Faith – Pastor Chaleunsouk

The following is an interview I conducted with Pastor Tom Chaleunsouk. After you read this, say a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for his grace and his gift to the church.

Tom Chaleunsouk was born in 1952 just outside Vientiane, the capital city of the country of Laos. In the early 1970s he worked as a night watchman on the American Air Base in Vientiane. Tom was married in 1973 to his wife Kaysone, who was from the same village. By 1980, they had been blessed with three children.

After the Vietnam war ended, the air base was abandoned by the United States government and regime changes were taking place in Laos. The Lao communist government actively sought to find all those who assisted or worked with the Americans during the conflict, which placed the lives of thousands in grave danger. Many were killed and many were sent to concentration (“re-education”) camps in the northern part of the country.

Pastor Tom (right) and his wife Kaysone (third from right) during a youth volleyball tournament at the church

In 1980, having been warned that his life was in danger, Tom took the bold step of fleeing across the Mekong River which runs along the border of Thailand and Laos. To avoid being seen by communist soldiers, he crossed the river in the middle of the night on an evening in October when the monsoons were nearing the end and the river was at flood stage. The crossing was about a quarter mile wide. He crossed alone to protect his family from possible capture or death in the event he was caught by the authorities. He could not swim, so he fashioned a triangle of three bamboo poles and plastic bags into a kind of life preserver. He tied them under his arms and jumped into the river. On the other side of the river, he was picked up by Thai soldiers and put into the United Nations refugee camp in Nong Khai.

Meanwhile, arrangements had been made for Tom’s wife, Kaysone, to secretly follow Tom across the Mekong River with their three small children. Kaysone’s father took them to the river where a boat was waiting for them. Their oldest child, Thephone (who was four years old at the time), began to cry. For fear of being caught by the communist soldiers, Kaysone’s father took the boy back to the village, leaving Kaysone and the two youngest children alone. They successfully crossed the river and were taken to the U.N. refugee camp. It would take another four years before Tom and Kaysone were reunited with their son.

Tom and his wife were raised in the Buddhist religion. In the refugee camp, Tom met a Thai Christian evangelist who held gatherings in the camp. He approached Tom one day and invited him to join them, where he shared God’s word and prayed for him and his family.

In 1981, Tom and his family were brought to the United States and sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church in Pease, Minnesota. They were welcomed by the community, which helped them acclimate to a new country and culture. Tom and his family were eventually baptized, and Tom’s desire to not only learn more about Christianity, but also to be able to teach his native people about Jesus, became a driving force for him.

The Nong Khai church (left) and sala (right) in Ban Houymakhat. A sala is a covered open structure. All of the house church mission groups gather with the congregation here on the first Sunday of the month for a joint communion service and fellowship.

The family moved to Lakeville, Minnesota, where they started attending Bethlehem Lutheran Church. After Tom made his interest in becoming a pastor known, two pastors who were part of a multi-cultural WELS outreach team in St. Paul came to visit. Tom began part time studies with the WELS Pastoral Studies Institute in 1998, and was enrolled full time in 2000. In 2005, he graduated and was commissioned as a missionary to the Issan (Thai-Lao) people in Thailand.

Over the course of his service to the Lord and his church, Tom has continued to offer pastoral instruction to interested students in Nong Khai, Thailand. Together with one national pastor and one national evangelist as well as some dedicated laymen, Tom oversees four “house churches” in different villages and a central church in Ban Houymakhat, Thailand.

Pastor Tom and his wife Kaysone have been and continue to play a vital role in our mission work among the Issan people in northeastern Thailand. Through their untiring dedication and service to the Lord, many have come to know their Savior. Pray that the Lord blesses them with health and a safe working environment!

Written by Rev. Ken Pasch, Thailand Field Coordinator

 

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A Lutheran seminary for a Confessional Lutheran church body

On a recent trip to the Asia-Pacific Rim, I spent almost two weeks with the faculty and staff at a small Lutheran seminary.

The request of their team was this: “Be our consultant. Speak to us about ways that we can fulfill our calling as a Lutheran seminary.”

Our studies were grounded in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. We studied the Smalcald Articles which reminded us that the first and chief article of our faith is redemption and justification by faith. We were also reminded that no teaching of our seminary may come from any place other than the Bible. Those same Smalcald Articles reminded us that the goal of seminary training is pastors who know how to do pastoral care, preaching and teaching God’s law and gospel, equipping God’s people to live lives of repentance, and to use the keys with each other.

Building on that foundation, we talked about the WHAT, the HOW, and the WHY of theological education at a confessional Lutheran seminary.

WHAT is their mission? To train evangelical Lutheran pastors who want to and know how to serve Christ’s flock and to reach out to others. WHAT kind of institution do they want to be? They decided on the following:

  • An institution which is centered on Jesus Christ and the Bible principles of Scripture Alone, by Grace Alone, by Faith Alone.
  • A culture where faculty, staff, and students work hard and are always growing.
  • A place of learning where the growth of the students (knowledge, faith/character/attitude, and skill) is strongly pursued.
  • A place where God’s people can learn from their mistakes.
  • A place where God’s people love each other.

HOW are they going to accomplish this mission? The faculty and staff agreed that they need to be in the Word together and that they needed to be praying for God’s help. They agreed that solid teaching in every course is vital. They also agreed that that they need to have a functional system for communication and accountability regarding curriculum, goals, and students. Finally, they decided that they need be examples for each other, admonishing and encouraging each other in love and humility.

As for the WHY of their service, they agreed that their motivation is the Savior who died and rose again for them. In Jesus Christ, they want to give glory to God in all they do. In Jesus Christ, they want to serve as the best faculty and staff that they can be.

Please pray that the Lord continues to guide and bless the faculty and staff who serve at this worker training facility. Please pray that they can be a blessing to the students entrusted to their care, and that those students, in turn, will be a blessing to many people in their region.

Written by Rev. Brad Wordell, professor for the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI)

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All about telling people about Jesus

The conversation took place in January. I had just told our leadership team that I didn’t think we should do our outdoor Easter service again this year. I thought my reasons were pretty valid. 1) It was a lot of work on our mission church, 2) it was located somewhere other than on our church grounds, and 3) even though attendance had climbed each year for the past three years, only one person came back to our church for a second visit. In other words, we saw no church growth because of our efforts. So, I had suggested that we have our Easter worship at church this year.

However, they didn’t agree. They thought we should host the outdoor Easter service one more year. So that’s what we did, but this year we decided we weren’t even going to promote our church. With that in mind, we changed up our Easter morning just a little bit. We had a worship service filled with songs, Scripture readings, a sermon, and prayers. However, we didn’t take an offering. We didn’t try and collect people’s information through connect cards or anything else. We all went in with the attitude that we were just excited to have the opportunity to share Jesus with them that morning. If they came back the next week, we’d get their information then. But on Easter, it was all about telling people about Jesus.

Children’s message

And God blessed us! He sent 138 people to worship with us that morning. 77 of them were guests. Just like we planned, we didn’t collect anyone’s information, but we did have great conversations. We didn’t take a collection, but we gave them a brunch and an Easter egg hunt.

Several weeks later, nine people who attended our Easter service for the first time this year are now regular attenders at our church.

It is so easy to fall into the church growth mindset. It’s easy to worry about the numbers and to be only concerned about the statistical growth. But when we fall into that mindset, we are trying to take on the job of Jesus. He’s the one who makes churches grow. Our job is a lot simpler than his. We simply get the joy of telling others about Jesus. That’s all our job is.

We love Jesus. We love people. We love telling people about Jesus. When we have that attitude, Jesus will grow the church.

Written by Rev. Stephen Apt, home missionary at Divine Savior Lutheran Church in Liberty Hill, Tex. 

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Online outreach in a restricted-access country

Imagine a country where it is illegal for churches to gather without special permission, to proclaim any gospel other than what the unbelieving government approves. A country where churches, obviously, cannot do any promotion, canvassing, or big outreach events, where all social media is controlled by the powers that be, and where most everything that is perceived as coming from the West is considered suspect by the authorities. How would you do large-scale outreach and evangelism in a setting like that, especially when you know that there are millions of people in that country who are looking for meaning and are open to spiritual direction?

Believe or not, one group has still launched an outreach website on the approved social media platform through the help of Multi-Language Publications (MLP). It is not overtly Christian, at least not at first glance. It talks about sports, common marriage problems, and movies that are popular. Each blog post offers simple life advice and insights on these topics to get people’s attention and then quotes a relevant Bible passage. Finally, at the bottom of the article there is a link to more information. From there, readers can access a page that tells them more about the Christian message through articles such as “Who is Jesus?” and “What is the Bible?”

Now, keep in mind that there is no way to promote this web page. There is no Facebook targeted advertising campaign; there are no flyers; there is no canvassing. There is only word of mouth. Praise God that several “Promoters” (outreach-minded brothers and sisters) have agreed to post the weekly articles on their local version of a “Facebook Wall.” Praise God that, in the first 12 hours of the first article being released, there were already 753 views! Within a few days, there were over 1,200 views! But, more importantly, 120 people (10%) had gone on to view the article “Who is Jesus?”

By Facebook, Twitter, and Google standards, these numbers are insignificant. But the impact in a restricted-access country filled with spiritually curious people is powerful, and it is growing. In fact, this site is the sister of two other sites launched earlier, also with the help of MLP. The one launched in March, a simple discipleship website, had 7,300 visits last month. The second, a leadership training site, had 15,600 visits last month. Remember, there is no promotion; just one person telling another, “Hey, check this out!”

Please pray that these sites continue to grow and reach tens of thousands of people every month. Our goal for the first year is 150,000 visitors, and our 3-year goal is 1,000,000. Please pray that these sites are not shut down by the government. Pray that the authors, website manager, and “Promoters” have the courage to continue boldly and clearly proclaiming the gospel. But most of all, pray that the Holy Spirit works through the gospel on these sites to create and strengthen the faith of many people.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

To learn more about WELS Multi-Language Publications, visit wels.net/mlp.

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Seeds are small. But they grow.

Our Lord so often compared his kingdom and its growth to a seed. Seeds are pretty small. But they grow.

It began with just a small group of WELS military personnel and civilians gathering once a month in Minot, N.D., and a WELS pastor from Bismarck, N.D., being willing to travel the 110 miles north to serve them. For years. And then our Lord gave us a seminary graduate named Nathan Walther and his wife Heather to serve this field. Pastor Walther was installed at Grace Lutheran on July 13, 2014. Since then—in spite of crazy high building prices that prevented us from pursuing early childhood ministry as an outreach strategy, and in spite of many difficulties finding available space for our mission, and in spite of the long cold winters—our Lord’s Word has not returned void, but has accomplished the purpose for which he sent it. Today, Grace Lutheran is a congregation of 54 members. And they keep moving forward. In fact, even as I write this, they are closing on a deal to purchase and move into their own worship facility.

It began with just a small group of WELS members meeting in the living room of the city planner and his wife. This was in 2008, in Williston, N.D., a small town that had a regular influx of transient WELS workers who were part of the oil patch. Then our pastor in Circle, Wolf Point, and Terry, Mont., started making regular trips to serve them, driving 120 miles one way. Then came the oil boom. This small town went crazy, more than doubling in size, as oil companies raced in to drill wells. And through it all, our group continued to meet and mature, so that now they aim to be what our Lord has made them—to be the church in their corner of our Lord’s vineyard, as we await the time a full-time missionary can be called to that field.

Home mission church in Dickinson, N.D.

It began with just a small group composed of members from our two sister congregations in Sioux Falls, S.D. Their small city, which had always felt more like a town than a city, had become a community of a quarter of a million people living in and around it. It was time to plant a mission in an area that was always just beyond the reach of their evangelism efforts. And so it is that, on July 21, Craig Wilke will be ordained and installed as our missionary in Brandon, S.D.

It began with just a small group of WELS members, ten adults and five children, gathering at a community center in Dickinson, N.D., to live stream worship from the next closest WELS church—Redeemer, Mandan, N.D., 92 miles to the east. Then Our Saviour’s in Bismarck, which is next to Mandan, got involved as well. In the spring of this year our District Mission Board was able to put in a request for a full-time missionary for that field. Though there were not enough funds to grant our request, this group has no intention of just sitting on their 15 pairs of hands. They know there is work to be done while it is day.

Our Lord so often compared his kingdom and its growth to a seed. Seeds are pretty small. But they grow.

Written by Rev. Jonathan Werre, Chairman of the Dakota-Montana District Mission Board

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Faces of Faith – Sherry

Over 2,000 years ago, God sent a man named Philip to minister to a royal official from Ethiopia. Their time together was short. They had one Bible study about the book of Isaiah and a conversation about the blessings of Baptism. Soon after, the Ethiopian was baptized in the name of our Triune God and Philip was taken by the Holy Spirit to another town to go and minister.

That short encounter between two men centered around the good news of Jesus Christ caused the nation of Ethiopia to be one of the most influential Christian centers in all of Africa.

Just like God sent Philip to the Ethiopian, I like to think that God sent Sherry Deaton to Faith Church or maybe he sent Faith Church to Sherry Deaton. Either way, the encounter is nothing short of a miracle.

Two years ago, I received a phone call from Sherry who said she had received a flyer from our church the year prior. She was now living in the area and she recognized our sign out front. She asked if we could meet. We put it on the calendar and then, like so many others, she called to cancel.

That could have been the end of Sherry’s story, but God wouldn’t let me let her off the hook that easily. We rescheduled and that’s when I found out about her past. She had grown up in a broken home. Lived on the streets for a while in her early teens. Eventually she had three kids. Got hooked on meth. Lost her three kids to Child Protective Services (CPS), and in her early 30’s found Jesus. Or as she would say, “Jesus found me.”

Three different missionaries came knocking on her door on three different occasions and the third time was the charm. She was enveloped by God’s love and that’s when her new life began. God freed her from her addiction to drugs. Over time, he graciously gave her children back to her and two of them are now members at Faith Church.

Sherry is the perfect example of God’s amazing grace and his promise that he will never leave us the way he found us. If you were to ever meet Sherry in person, you’d have no idea that she has such a colored past. She’s got a sweet East Texan accent, a huge smile, and a Holy Spirit glow that is infectious. And she’s open enough to tell anyone her jaw dropping stories of unbelief and rebellion so that she can quickly introduce them to their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Sherry works part-time at a pregnancy counselling center where she gets to work with women and their families that are going through some of the very same situations she herself has faced. Her experiences and her love for Jesus uniquely qualify her to speak into these women’s lives. Because of her faithful work, many mothers and children have received the gift of baptism, a new life in Christ and a family of believers to surround them with love and support.

On June 2, Sherry was commissioned as Faith Lutheran Church’s Deaconess over Women’s Ministry. Sherry has had many “Philips” sent into her life to show her Jesus’ love and now, like Philip, God is sending her into many other people’s lives. Please pray that God would fill her with his love and strength to continue on with this amazing work!

Written by Rev. Dan Schmidt, home missionary at Faith Lutheran Church in Tyler, Tex.

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

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Faces of Faith – Bidit

On occasion, I have met WELS members who imagine that the work of a cross-cultural missionary involves learning exotic languages or traveling to far flung places to share the gospel. Usually when people imagine cross-cultural ministry this way, they also imagine that they could never do. At least for me, the reality has been quite the opposite. Let me share an example through the recent work I have been able to do among the Nuer people from South Sudan who live near Vancouver, British Colombia. I don’t have to go anywhere, and I don’t speak the Nuer language (except for one word). I don’t deeply understand the culture. I have never been to South Sudan. Yet God has enabled me to reach a group of about 60 people in this culture. How? By giving to me special gifts in the form of Nuer leaders like Bidit (pronounced Bi-deet).

Like many of the other South Sudanese in our area, Bidit came to Canada as a refugee when he was a young man. He hopes someday to return to his country and serve his people. But for the time being, he has grown up to be the father of five, a leader in his community, and the kind of servant of God who makes my life as a missionary easy. The gospel clearly flows from his heart.

For the sake of his family and their cost of living, Bidit lives over an hour away from our Sudanese mission in a bedroom community of Vancouver. Yet every Sunday, he leaves his house 3 hours before church begins to first bring his family to church. Then he drives around the community picking up other South Sudanese people who need rides to church. He always comes prepared with a case of water and beverages to make people feel welcome at our South Sudanese mission service. After he arrives, Bidit is often the one leading the service in his Nuer language. When the people are talking in Nuer, he will come sit next to me and interpret so I can understand what they are talking about. After the service is over, Bidit will discuss with me who we should visit this week—for example, we came together twice this week to visit a gentleman who was hospitalized with a serious illness. Later, after our weekly chats on the phone, Bidit messages everyone in the South Sudanese community by Facebook to invite them to come to worship again next Sunday. If that weren’t enough, Bidit also just volunteered with Kingdom Workers to spend a month in Ethiopia to advance our gospel ministry among the Nuer people living in refugee camps there.

Do you see how easy this work becomes when God gives you a leader like Bidit? Instead of spending years to learn Nuer culture and language, my job is instead to equip leaders like Bidit,  through programs like the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). Instead of trying to organize a congregation in a foreign culture, I only need to prepare a sermon with clear law and gospel. Instead of traveling to Ethiopia, I only need to connect leaders like Bidit with our WELS partners. Through Bidit, hundreds more people are reached with the gospel than if I tried to do this myself. Please keep the lay leaders like Bidit in our cross-cultural ministries in your prayers! For it is through men and women like Bidit that God truly opens doors for the gospel across different languages and cultures.

Written by Rev. Geoff Cortright, home missionary at Saviour of the Nations Lutheran Church – Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

To learn more about South Sudanese ministry, a WELS Joint Missions ministry, visit wels.net/sudanese.

 

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Two Walking Miracles

“Two walking miracles.” That’s how Marlene Truax describes her twin grandsons, Thomas and Dakota.

Born at 26 weeks and weighing just 1 pound 13 ounces and 1 pound 11 ounces respectively, doctors gave them a 50% chance of survival at best. All the family could do was put them in the Lord’s hands and find peace in trusting him. As Marlene remembered thinking, “If they live; they live. If they don’t, it’s still the Lord’s plan.” The boys spent much of the next year in the hospital, and over those long months the prognosis was not always good. Even after their eventual release from the hospital, Marlene remembers that the first three years were an especially difficult struggle.

But even when survival was in doubt and the future very murky, one thing that was always certain was that the boys were loved. And as the boys grew, Grandma Marlene especially made sure that they knew not only about the love of family but the love of Jesus. Every Sunday they were in church at the Lutheran Church of the Open Bible in Whiteriver, and they were enrolled at East Fork Lutheran School.

This past May, these two walking miracles walked across the stage to receive diplomas as members of the first graduating class of the reopened East Fork Lutheran High School. It was a special moment and a testimony to the power of prayer, the goodness of our God, and the blessing of Christian family. As Marlene put it, it was also a time to be thankful. She was thankful for the people who have helped them along the way, and especially thankful to the Lord for taking care of them. She gives all credit to the Lord – that it was only through him that this special day was possible, only through him that these young Christian men can look forward to serving the Lord in their future, and only through him that we all have the promise to eventually live with him forever.

Her faith and thankful heart have been passed on to these two young men. Dakota’s advice and encouragement is to, “In everything, do it all for the Lord. Always thank God for waking you up every morning and for all he does. In everything be content and give thanks.” Dakota also had the opportunity this past year to take courses in the Apache Christian Training School (ACTS) and use his training to do readings in church. After high school, he hopes to continue learning and helping people to look to the Lord for help when life is difficult.

Thomas is also thankful for being able to learn God’s Word every day at East Fork Lutheran School. In his words, the most important thing he learned was God’s Word and, “how we will be with him if we believe and trust in him because he is the one and only God.” He hopes to teach that to others after high school.

Please join all of us on the Apache reservations in thanking our God for the miracles we can see and the ones we can’t. Thank him for providing mature Christians who make a difference in the lives of their family, friends, and communities, and the called workers who assist in sharing the love of Jesus. Pray for Thomas and Dakota and young Christians everywhere that they may grow in faith and godly living and accomplish the work God will give them to do in the years ahead.

Love in Christ from your Native brothers and sisters,

Rev. Dan Rautenberg, Field Coordinator for WELS Native American Missions

To learn more about mission work on the Apache Reservations, visit wels.net/apache.

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Wisdom from Wittenberg – Part 2

Wisdom from Wittenberg – Part 2

Martin Luther’s Pastoral and Practical Revisions of Worship


Creativity is careful to honor the arts.

Though Luther considered Karlstadt’s experiments to be troubling (see part 1), he realized that they weren’t unique. By 1524, worship experiments were underway all over Germany, many initiated by reformers who were becoming increasingly estranged from Luther in the wake of Karlstadt. In Allstedt, Thomas Müntzer—in addition to propagating Anabaptism—was composing a vernacular service1 and vernacular translations of ancient hymns. Nearer-by in Zwickau, Nicolas Hausmann, the very pastor to whom Luther had dedicated the Formula Missae, sent Luther in 1525 some new German masses for critique.2

Luther felt that they all suffered from the same problem: the old tunes didn’t fit the translated texts.3 While pragmatic, these mass experiments lacked artistry. While aiming at re-formation of the service, they were nothing more than “loosely connected amalgams of prayer, preaching, and singing.”4

Luther’s solution, a German service for Wittenberg, aimed for a higher standard. To achieve this, he enlisted professional help. In October of 1525 as the Deutsche Messe texts and tunes were nearing completion, Luther requested the Elector to dispatch court composer Conrad Rupsch and his protégé Johann Walter to collaborate with him. For three weeks, they scrutinized texts and tunes.5 By mid-November, completed drafts were sent to Torgau for electoral approval. The texts were clean, the notes well-matched and well-tuned. Whether or not he intended it, Luther was putting church musicians on notice: if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Luther also put preachers on notice. “I think that if we had a German postil (a biblical commentary in sermon-form) for the entire year, it would be best to appoint the sermon for the day to be read entirely or in part out of the book—and not just for the benefit of those preachers who can do nothing better. …otherwise we will reach the point where everyone will preach his own ideas and instead of the Gospel we will have more sermons about ‘blue ducks.’”6

Luther’s critique can seem confusing until we realize the sad state of preaching in and around Wittenberg. Preachers were either so clumsy in explaining a text or so eager to offer their own ideas that sermons spun off into nonsense. Luther’s sharp critique boils down to this: those who can’t appreciate the art of preaching ought to read and imitate someone who can.

Luther’s expectation for excellence in artistic craft appeared throughout the Deutsche Messe and its accompanying resources. When he translated ancient prayers,7 he did so in ways that recognized and appreciated their ancient form. When he enlisted the most respected poets to translate old hymn texts and compose new ones,8 he expected clear and elegant language. When he commended pastors to chant the lessons, he gave them specific instructions to ensure it was done well.

Why was Luther so adamant about art forms? The preaching problem is illustrative. When a preacher bungles a text or, worse, ruminates on something foreign to the text, what is happening to the gospel message? When a poet bruises the language or a composer mis-matches the tune, a disservice to the gospel is taking place. Luther’s concern for the arts in worship is not art for art’s sake. “In Luther’s view, music in the church functions as viva vox evangelii.” How do music and art carry out this task? “By faithfully reflecting in its own terms the honesty, integrity, truthfulness, and winsomeness of the gospel.”9 Luther’s pastoral heart expected any tool used to express the gospel to be expertly handled and any tune accompanying the gospel to be expertly crafted.

Luther’s passion for the arts is an extension of his foundational principle. Once the creative arts have been placed into the service of the gospel, it follows that our creative impulses would also be placed into the service of the arts. Luther was acquainted with prominent musicians who were working to define and explore new musical techniques and innovations. Luther’s humanist contemporaries used the term ars (“art”) to describe the rules and techniques that could be taught and learned, and the term ingenium (“genius”) to describe the musician’s original and creative impulses. Both concepts are not only important to music, but required.“Ars without ingenium is insufficient, and ingenium alone is despicable, since it places itself above all musical order.”10 There are thus two temptations to avoid: the first, to basically reproduce artforms with no passion or creativity; the second, to simply ‘do our own thing,’ preferring our own genius rather than realizing the rules and working within the limits of the art.

Luther might unleash his good-natured wit on us against these two temptations: “Your passion for the past is commendable. And your plan to preach like I preach is well-intentioned. But art without genius won’t do!” Alternatively: “Your genius is a gift of God. Your next sermon series might be a creative gem. And your new ideas for adapting a service may be great. But have you taken the time to appreciate the form of art that you are improving or replacing? Or are you simply offering an “ape-like imitation?”11

Luther’s carefully crafted service is a reminder that the pursuit of excellence through artistic standard and craft leads each individual (preacher, player, planner, and more) to appreciate their role as a steward of God’s creative gifts and to acknowledge that God has blessed us with far more than our own cherished “tavern tunes,” “tin whistles”12 and “blue ducks.”

Creativity is careful to serve the community.

Hausmann’s letter to Luther wasn’t the last request for Luther’s pastoral advice. Luther became aware of a troubling situation in far-off Livonia (present-day Estonia). This time, it had nothing to with artistic integrity. A new fanatical preacher, Melchior Hoffmann, was causing the same kind of upheaval that Karlstadt had started in Wittenberg three years earlier. Hoffmann was soon toe-to-toe with the disgruntled church council who sent him to Wittenberg for advice from Luther. They also sent a letter to Luther asking, in effect: “Tell us what we should do!”

We can only speculate about what they expected to hear. On the one hand, Luther could have prescribed a precise format of what was appropriate and what not.13 On the other hand, Luther could allow every congregation to determine its own way,14 based on the consensus of the pastor, the council, and the people.

But Luther offered neither of those solutions. Instead, he wrote, “I pray all of you, my dear sirs, let each one surrender his own opinions and get together in a friendly way and come to a common decision about these external matters, so that there will be one uniform practice throughout your district instead of  disorder—one thing being done here and another there—lest the common people get confused and discouraged.”15 In other words, ‘do what seems best to you; but please, do it together with your fellow churches.’

Luther offered pastoral latitude within limits.

This thread of regionally-determined liturgical unity rather than congregational independence is woven into the fabric of the Deutsche Messe. “I do not propose that all of Germany should uniformly follow our Wittenberg order…. But it would be well if the service in every principality would be held in the same manner and if the order observed in a given city would also be followed by the surrounding towns and villages.”16 Luther then also offered pastoral latitude within limits: “It shall be understood that such communion, hymns, readings, and preaching are under the responsibility of the pastor, and may be increased or reduced according to the circumstances of the day.”17 Pastors were free to make various choices within a liturgical framework shared among churches in the district.

Luther was defending pastoral and congregational freedom while at the same time advocating that the freedom of a particular pastor or congregation be limited by love which serves their neighbor. The freedom of the individual submits in love to the needs of the neighbor. In this way, congregations would avoid falling into the ditch of legalism while at the same time avoiding the ditch of faddism or creativity-run-amok.

So much for the principle. But how could such a balance of freedom and love be struck, especially among German people known for their streak of independence?18 Luther’s practical solution was peer review. Anything newly created for worship should, as a matter of course, undergo careful scrutiny. Luther then offered as first specimens his own paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer and his exhortation to the Lord’s Supper. “[How] this paraphrase should be read, I leave to everyone’s judgment…. I would, however, like to ask that [it] follow a prescribed wording … for the sake of ordinary people. We cannot have it done one way today, and tomorrow another different way, letting everybody parade their talents and confuse people so that they can neither learn nor retain anything.”19

Luther’s practical solution was a peer review.

Incidentally, neither of Luther’s specimens would survive. In Wittenberg’s first church order (1533), neither idea was included. Pastors and people simply returned to the familiar patterns of the Lord’s Prayer and Preface.

Nevertheless, Luther’s practical principles took hold. Worship patterns were codified in church orders and the concept of regional unity cemented in the language of the Lutheran Confessions.20 It wasn’t until the 20th century that some Lutherans were taken up with the idea of “absolute congregational autonomy in all matters liturgical.”21

This article does not suggest or imagine that all the congregations of a 21st century synod adopt a uniform and identical worship practice. Nevertheless, we also cannot ignore how important it was to Luther and the Lutheran confessors that congregations work together in adopting and adapting worship patterns.

Perhaps we can be encouraged that the Livonian problem did resolve. In 1530, only five years after their letter to Luther, their neighbors in Riga (modern-day Latvia) wrote: “So far as is possible and helpful to our people, we may agree not only with the people here in Livonia, but also with our neighbors and other states in the German lands in which the Gospel of Christ is also proclaimed clearly and richly—especially in the principal matters pertaining to outward divine service or ceremonies.”22

Creativity is careful to serve the congregation.

As the busy year of 1525 closed, Luther had nearly completed his worship revision project. The gospel had been carefully taught and translated in words and actions. The tunes had been professionally assessed. But would the Wittenbergers sing? Luther, the pastoral pragmatist, had already worked to ensure that it could be done.

Luther was a musical theologian. He received musical training from a young age, long before he entered the monastery. At the same time that he was learning the Latin chants in school, Luther was learning German folk tunes from his copper-mining father Hans and his mother Grete. He reports that during his early years “his father would relax with a beer and break out into song.”23

This pattern continued in Luther’s own family life. In a famous scene by Gustav Spangenberg, Luther is strumming away, teaching songs to his children from a printed manuscript. Since Spangenberg’s painting is from 1875, some dismiss it as unrealistically idyllic. But this activity would have been common in the Luther household.

Also interesting is the person glancing over Katie’s shoulder. Philip Melancthon was a frequent guest in Luther’s home. But why is he featured in this painting? In my estimation, Spangenberg was portraying an idyll of Lutheran musical pedagogy. Melancthon, the praeceptor Germaniae, represents the idea of Christian education. If the Reformation would endure, it would require musically trained theologians and theologically trained musicians.24

Lower altar panel at St. Mary’s – Lucas Cranach the Younger

How Luther implemented this musical training in Wittenberg isn’t as clear as we might like it to be. One hint comes from another allegorical image from 1547 by Luther’s colleague Lucas Cranach the Younger.

We see the gospel of Jesus at the center, Luther in the pulpit, and the people gathered to listen, pray, and presumably, sing. We notice that men and women are separated into groups (as Luther advised for the communion distribution), but we also notice a congregation of several generations worshiping together. We don’t see a choir, even though we know they used one. How much did the congregation sing? How much did the choir sing? What did a service in 1527 sound like? These questions will remain under debate.25 But if we step back and listen, some key notes emerge.

Luther oversaw publication of a congregational hymnal in Wittenberg. Though the earliest known copy is dated to 1526, evidence suggests that the laity had hymnals in their hands—an Enchiridion—as early as 1524.26

Luther also invited Johann Walter to compose three- to five-part concerted settings of the same hymns listed in the Enchiridion. This Geystliche Gesangk-Buchleyn was also published in 1524.

Luther relied heavily on the scholia (school choir) for modeling the new texts and tunes to the congregation. Students trained in singing during the week were placed centrally among the congregation when the hymn was sung.

With this information, we realize that the two scenes above complement one another while providing a clear picture of how pastor and people worked together in the instruction of hymnody, liturgy, and song—to grow in faith. “For this, one must read, sing, preach, write, and compose. And if it would help matters along, I would have all the bells pealing, and all the organs playing, and have everything ring that can make a sound.”27

The enduring importance of careful creativity.

Ten years after his famous walk to the Castle Church door, the brilliant professor, no longer a bachelor, sat up late one night to compose another document—not to an archbishop but to a good friend. Instead of venting about indulgences, Luther laments medical needs.

“My dear Amsdorf: A hospital has started up in my house. I am very fearful for my Katy, who is close to delivering, for my little Hans has also been sick for three days now and is not eating anything and is doing poorly; they say he’s teething, but they also believe that both are at very high risk.”

The letter to Amsdorf wouldn’t cause the stir of the 95 Theses. The letter’s lasting significance is found only in Luther’s closing salutation: “Written at Wittenberg on the Day of All Saints, in the tenth year after the indulgences had been trampled underfoot, in memory of which we are drinking [Wittenberg beer] at this hour.”28 The date was Tuesday, November 1, 1527. Had it been Sunday or Wednesday, Luther might have been leading worship. Had it been Friday or Saturday, he might have been preparing a sermon or hearing confession. But Luther was commemorating All Saints’ Day with Gemütlichkeit.

Luther provided a pastoral and practical manual for careful creativity.

How much had changed in the previous decade? One need look no further than the All Saints’ Church. The thousands of meaningless private masses had been abolished by the end of 1521. The ten aisles of relics had been removed by 1522. By 1524, the people who had once only stopped to look were now starting to stay and sing, with forms and hymns that they could understand. The results, of course, would be seen and heard far beyond Wittenberg.

Did the brilliant professor realize what he was doing? In 1523, Luther began by revising an old order of service for the sake of the gospel. In 1526, he advised a new order of service for the sake of the gospel. But far from a mere ‘alternative service’ Luther provided a pastoral and practical manual for careful creativity. The wisdom and principles evident in his approach continue to guide pastors and worship planners today.

Written by Mark Tiefel

 


The picture in the heading is “Luther Making Music in the Circle of his Family” by Gustav Spangenberg.


For full citation information for some notes, see part 1 of this article.

1“Deutsch Evangelisch Messze.” Cf. Leaver, Sings, 84-88.
2 The story is explained in Luther’s “An Exhortation to the Communicants,” LW 53:104.
3 “To translate the Latin text and the Latin tone or notes has my sanction, though it does not sound polished or well done. Both text and notes, accent and melody, and manner of rendering ought to grow out of the true mother tongue and its inflection, otherwise all of it becomes an imitation in the manner of apes.” “Against the Heavenly Prophets” LW 40:141.
4 Leaver, “Deutsche Messe,” 331.
5 The professionals didn’t feel Luther needed much help. Praetorius records a visit by Rupsch and Walter. “Herr Luther had composed the Sanctus in masterly fashion.” Schalk, Paradigms, 27.
6 Lange, Annotated Luther. Cf. LW 53:78
7 Cf. LW 53:127ff and LW 53:153ff
8 Cf. Luther’s Letter to Spalatin (end of 1523), LW 49:68-69, cited in Schalk, Paradigms, 26.
9 Schalk, Paradigms, 51
10 Hoelty-Nickel, Theodore. “Luther and Music” in Luther and Culture, Luther College Press. 1960, 147-148.
11 LW40:141, cited in Leaver, Sings, 86
12 This is not to say that a well-played Irish tin-whistle isn’t proper art! The reference is from Martin Franzmann, Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets, CPH, 1966/1994, 92 or 96. Cf. Aaron Christie, “Excellence for Christ in All Things,” Worship the Lord #42 (May, 2010).
13 Other reformers, such as John Calvin, would take this approach.
14 This path was advocated by Johannes Brenz. Cf. Elert, Structure, 333.
15 LW 53:47
16 AL 3:139, LW 53:63
17 For a fuller discussion of latitude and limits, cf. page 6 in Stephen Valleskey, “Lutheran Worship Reforms of the 1500s that We Can Still Use Today.” WELS South Central District, January, 2010.
18 “We Germans are a rough, rude, and reckless people, with whom it is hard to do anything, except in cases of dire need.” AL 3:142. What would Luther think of Americans?
19 AL 3:155; LW 53:80
20 By 1580, the pattern of uniform regional church practice had spread throughout Germany. “The confessors were willing to work out their issues of freedom and love for the sake of unity. They saw the exercise of ‘discretion’ … as completely in accord with the very confessions they penned and confessed. They went about exercising that discretion not only by defending it in the confessions, but through active efforts of visitation and through extensive publication of church orders.” Matthew Harrison, “Luther, The Confessions, and Confessors on Liturgical Freedom and Uniformity,” in Chemnitz’s Works, Volume 9: Church Order for Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel. Concordia, 2015, xv-xvi.
21 Harrison, xxi
22 Leaver, “Deutsche Messe,” 333-334
23 Leaver, Sings, 28
24 Cf. Hoelty-Nickel, 149
25 As they currently are. Joseph Herl’s Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism asserts that the choir played the major role, almost to the exclusion of the congregation. Robin Leaver makes the case for a singing laity. Cf. Luther’s Liturgical Music, Fortress, 2017, 209ff and especially Sings, 102ff.
26 Leaver provides an engaging narrative of its development in Sings, 106ff.
27 AL 3:140; LW 53:62
28 The second quote is referenced in Leaver, Church, 2. The first can be found in WA 4:4, #1162.

 


 

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Preach The Word – You Have to Do Something with This Jesus Character

Apologetics in Preaching

You Have to Do Something with This Jesus Character

God or bad man? This ancient dilemma has faced skeptics for centuries. If Jesus is not true God, then he is a liar for claiming divinity and therefore a bad man. C.S. Lewis made the dilemma famous as a “Trilemma: Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.” We will add one more and call it “The Four L’s: Legend, Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.” When we look at the evidence of Christ, only a few options emerge. Jesus of Nazareth is either a legend, liar, lunatic, or who he says he is, Lord Almighty.

The dilemma turned argument poses a striking challenge: You have to do something with this Jesus character. Ambivalence is not an option for the thinking human. It seems Jesus had this in mind when he said, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters” (Lk 11:23). A reasonable and thoughtful person will have an opinion about Abraham Lincoln, Joseph Stalin, current politicians, and many other famous people. A man cannot expect to be taken seriously if he says, “Stalin? I don’t know. I guess I don’t have an opinion about him.” How much more for the man who has been written about more than any other person, Jesus of Nazareth?

The burden of proof is on the skeptic.

First, the argument. Can we come to a reasonable conclusion that Jesus is a legend? No respected historian believes that the carpenter’s Son did not exist. There is too much biblical and extra biblical evidence. He is not a myth. Of course, the claim that Jesus performed miracles and rose from the dead is another matter. These claims are bolstered by the historical reliability of the New Testament texts and the fact that the earliest Christians risked martyrdom for their belief in his divinity. We encountered these arguments in previous issues. The challenge to the skeptic is to make a decision, legend or not? If the skeptic comes down on the side of legend, then he must back this up with more than an a priori stance against the existence of a divine being. The burden of proof is on the skeptic when it comes to the most famous person in the history of the world.

Can we come to a reasonable conclusion that Jesus is a liar? We humans are experienced liars but we almost always have a selfish motive. So what is the motive? What did Jesus gain for his so-called deception? Did he gain power, revenge, sex, or money (the reasons why we humans lie)? He only gained death by crucifixion. My Old Adam will take a lie a long way but the gig is up when they bring out the cross and nails! Why would Jesus lie? Again the burden is on the skeptic to prove that Jesus lied. There is no plausible motive for such a deception.

Can we come to a reasonable conclusion that Jesus was a lunatic? We do not live in an era or place, thankfully, in which an accusation of insanity automatically gets a person institutionalized. The burden of proof is most definitely on the accuser in this case. Can we find evidence of a certain pathology in the writings about Christ? This is not an obscure topic. Albert Schweitzer famously wrote his doctoral thesis on the sanity of Jesus. Can we find any indication from the ancient texts that the man from Nazareth had a mental disorder besides the a priori insistence that there is no God and therefore Jesus is crazy for thinking he is divine? No credible case has been made for this conviction. There is no evidence that Jesus was a lunatic.

This leaves us with only one option left: Lord Almighty.

The argument is not without its critics1 but it still serves a valuable apologetic purpose. The argument places an intellectual decision before the skeptic without making it a spiritual decision (decision theology). The skeptic cannot simply brush aside Jesus of Nazareth so easily. He or she is forced to think through this rejection. Is it because I don’t want to believe it, or do I have solid intellectual reasons for disbelieving in the divinity of Christ?

The argument is also particularly valuable in today’s cultural climate which I would describe as heavily moralistic. Righteous indignation seems to be at an all-time high. It is less and less acceptable to be indifferent about any matter. Nor is it good enough to simply have an opinion. Your righteous indignation, if it is to be taken seriously, must be active. We are tripping over ourselves to be more righteous than the next person. From straws to balloons to black lives matter to blue lives matter to all lives matter, we are activists in constant search for a cause. The higher moral ground is not a place of humility but a place of pride, and the race to get there first is fiercely competitive.2

The Four L’s are not the end of the conversation but only the beginning.

Here we find an apologetic opportunity to push the issue. You have to do something with this Jesus character. It deserves some thought. It deserves an open-mind. You cannot be indifferent. I do believe that there will be a time, if not already here, when we will get tired of these attempts at self-righteousness. It’s exhausting. I am sure the warriors will still fight but there will be (and are) better angels who yearn for a more thoughtful political discourse and robust discussion of religion, philosophy, and culture. The Four L’s are a good place to start a conversation. It’s not the end of the conversation but only the beginning. The goal is to have thoughtful conversation about the real Jesus and let the Spirit do his work.

There is a uniqueness about this particular moment, as there is about every particular historical moment. There is a strong desire for authenticity, thoughtfulness, and moral understanding as we emerge from the plastic, often shallow, and material-driven era of late modernity. Along with this comes a heightened awareness of the past, diversity, and the connection between the physical and the spiritual. Who are we? Where did we come from? Is the body all there is? How should we act? These are, of course, the same questions we have always asked. The difference is that we now live with the unfilled promise of modern progress.

We cannot escape the big questions of life. But why is that the case? Why are we not indifferent about the environmental impact of straws or human trafficking? Could it be that we are something different than just the material? We are not just a pile of molecules arranged differently than the soil. We are alive. But, then again, so are plants. We are different. We are aware of our surroundings and interact with the world in a more sophisticated way than the dandelion. But so do the animals. Yet we are different than the animals too, aren’t we? We are self-aware. We interact with language on a higher level. We strive for something more than squirreling away nuts for the winter. We seek beauty, morality, and progress. We are often overcome with a sense of wonderment. We also seek justification, that is, we desire value. We want our existence and our actions justified. We want to be just, right, righteous. Who doesn’t want to be seen as valuable, just, and right? We are, in short, created in the image of God, though damaged by the Fall. We know that we are important. Yet the greatest distinction is found in Christ. God became one of us to redeem us. This is what ultimately separates us from the dirt, dandelions, and squirrels.

We are right to push the skeptic’s worldview to its ultimate conclusions.

We are also confessors. We have opinions, right and wrong. We speak our minds, wisely and foolishly. As apologists we are right to force the issue: So what do you say about this? We are right to push the skeptic’s worldview to its ultimate conclusions. Can a material only view really explain the love I have for my children or the wonderment I feel looking up into the night sky or the rush I experience when I discover something new or accomplish a seemingly impossible task? Can a moral relativist justify her righteous anger towards the racist or the pedophile, let alone a capitalist economy? Can human rights survive in a worldview that sees no difference between a human and a chicken? The apologist is right to ask the skeptic, “What do you say?”

Have I inspired the people in the pews to be thinkers and confessors?

For the Christian preacher the question becomes this: Can I both present apologetical arguments such as the reliability of the New Testament texts and display the fullness of a Christian worldview? Can I offer something more than “Jesus, my friend” or “Jesus, my copilot?” Have I missed an opportunity to be profound? Have I missed an opportunity to have a real conversation about the real Jesus? Have I inspired the people in the pews to be thinkers and confessors? Can we send out evangelists (the people in the pews) armed with more than trite one-liners but with a deep understanding of the big questions? Can we send out confessors?

We see an example of Jesus asking a similar question of Peter in the readings for Pentecost 5 (July 14, 2019). In the Gospel for the day Jesus famously asks his apostle, “But what about you, who do you say I am?” (Lk 9:18-24). Zechariah speaks about the remnant which is refined in fire. God will declare, “They are my people” and the faithful will respond, “The Lord is our God” (Ze 13:7-9). God declares grace and his people confess. Our identity (the people of God) is made personal in baptism, a theme we encounter in the Second Reading (Ga 3:23-29). After Peter answers his Lord’s questions correctly, “The Christ of God,” Jesus explains who the Christ is and what he does: “The Son of Man must suffer many things.” This fits with the Psalm selection for the day, Psalm 22.

Here is an attempt to preach the good news of who Jesus is and arouse the listener to think deeply and, when called upon, confess Jesus as the Christ.

I think that there are as many Jesuses as there are people in the world. What I mean is this: Everybody has an opinion about Christ. There is a republican Jesus, a Marxist Jesus, a self-help Jesus, a life-coach Jesus, a moral crusader Jesus. You name it and you will find somebody who has that particular image of Jesus. Those images look remarkably like what the person wants Jesus to be. But Jesus is the ultimate iconoclast, breaking the image we have created of him.

Your Jesus often looks like he was made in your image instead of the other way around.

You too have an image of Jesus. You do. If you are honest, you will admit that this Jesus often looks like he was made in your image instead of the other way around. Such is the constant battle of being a sinner-saint. This is another reason to stay in the Scriptures. That’s where the real Jesus is revealed, shattering our images of him. And that’s a good thing because our image of God is only as good as our imaginations. I need a better God than that and so do you.

In the Gospel Reading we heard Jesus ask this question, “Who do people say I am?” The answer came from his disciples, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others, that one of the prophets long ago has come back to life.” All fine and reasonable answers, better than life-coach! But all those answers were incorrect.

Jesus then asked Peter, “But what about you?”

Peter got it right, “The Christ of God.”

Then Jesus explains Peter’s answer (I wonder if Peter’s answer was a catechism class answer, the right words but without full understanding). “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

A God who dies? Not exactly the image Peter or anybody else had in mind. Jesus really is the ultimate iconoclast, shattering the image we have of the divine. He is the God on the cross displaying a love our imaginations could never invent. He is the Psalm 22 God of whom we just chanted moments ago. “I am a worm and not a man,” he says, carrying our sins in our place. “But you, O Lord, be not far off,” he cries in sure hope of his resurrection and ours.

So I challenge you today as Jesus did Peter, “Who do you say Jesus is?” Is he merely your personal guide in life? You know, the guy you rely on for advice. Or is he the eternal creator who made you and this world, the reason up is up and 1+1=2, the one who knew you before creation and has set up good deeds for you to accomplish until the day he takes your tired soul to an eternal Sabbath rest?

Is he simply a motivational speaker or is he the one you are crucified with in daily repentance and resurrected with so that every day is a new day for you, forgetting the past as you stare into eternal freedom?

Is he only your moral guide, an example to follow, or is he the God-man who comes crashing into our world with words of absolution and a heavenly meal as medicine for your sinful soul?

Is he the rabbi who only tells you how to live or the one who lives in your place? Is he only there for you when times are good or does he give you permission to enter the darkness as he lays a cross before you?

Now consider what your friends and acquaintances say about Jesus. Who does the world say Jesus is? And how about this question: who are you? Who are the people you meet? Are we simply a pile of material or are we souls created by God himself, people so valuable to him that he died for them? What does the world say about Jesus and about humanity? I bet it is different than what we find in Scripture. Can you help them? Can you confess?

Can you confess the real Jesus, the cross Jesus, the Psalm 22 Jesus, to these precious souls? It’s not always easy to shatter someone’s image, is it? But Christ will give you the faith and the words. He will. You will fail at times. That’s okay. Keep confessing. And for every failure there is refinement, whether you feel it or not. Did you hear God through the prophet Zechariah today? The shepherd is struck and the sheep scatter, but there remain those he refines in fire, those he tests like gold.

That’s you. “These are my people,” God says about you, “My people.” Here is your identity: baptized into Christ, clothed in his righteousness, justified, not by your own actions but by his. Declared valuable, made perfect, dearly loved. “My people,” he declares. You are his people. And his people confess. “Who do you say I am?” Jesus asks you. And the answer comes every week, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.” This is who you are. This is who the refiner made you to be.

So, when the time is right you will be able to say, “Oh, no, my dear friend! Jesus is so much more than law giver, so much deeper than mere story, more real than myth, so much more important than teacher, friend, or guide, he is your everything. He is your beginning, your end, and everything in between. This is the Christ of God, lover of you, the sinner, giver of life to the dead, and consolation for the broken hearted. Oh, dear friend, here is Jesus, the Christ of God.”

Written by Michael Berg


1 Some objections are easily dispelled by someone with an average knowledge of the Gospels. One example is the claim that Jesus never thought of himself divine because he never claimed divinity. Other objections are more subtle. One example is that Jesus thought he was divine but that didn’t make him insane but rather a zealous Jew of his day. In this case a modern person can still appreciate his teachings without having to come to a conclusion that he is divine.
2 The tragedy of this situation is that legitimate causes are often obscured.


Books for Further Study:

The Psychiatric Study of Jesus: Exposition and Criticism by Albert Schweitzer
Tactics by Gregory Koukl
Prepared to Answer and More Prepared to Answer by Mark Paustian
Theologia et Apologia edited by Adam Francisco, Korey Mass, and Steven Mueller
Scientism and Secularism by JP Moreland
The Reason I Believe by Allen Quist
The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Andreas Köstenberger and Michael Kruger


 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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Memories in Malawi

Recently I’ve been digging through old photos, looking over the 25 years I’ve lived in Malawi as a missionary wife. There are an amazing amount of memories that come to mind looking over those pictures. My husband, Paul, was assigned to Malawi when he graduated from the Seminary in 1993. In remembering those early years, and comparing them to our life here today, several things came to mind.

The early years – Malawi, Africa

We didn’t know much about Malawi when we arrived in 1993 with our one year old son. Paul was called to serve rural congregations in the North of Malawi. We knew he was called to teach God’s Word to the people there. We had something valuable to share and were willing to do it. What we didn’t know at the time was that Malawi, and the millions of people who live here, had something valuable to teach us. Reflecting back, I can clearly see how God provided for us in big and small ways.

Our second child was born in 1995 while living in the small town of Mzuzu. When the doctor who delivered my baby asked if I had packed a flashlight, I realized that I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was. Power cuts and dim lights are common. I learned to be ready for scenarios I hadn’t had to think about living in the U.S.

After our daughter was born, we had planned to travel throughout Malawi. I learned that some items, like disposable diapers, were impossible to find in Mzuzu. I was resigned to traveling for 10 days with a toddler and a newborn with only cloth diapers. It was then that I learned that God is much better at planning ahead than I am. Weeks before I even knew I would need them, a group of Christian women in the U.S. had a baby shower for me and shipped an enormous box of disposable diapers to Malawi. The diapers arrived two days before our trip. God’s timing was the best.

Nitz Family – Christmas 2018

As Paul and I met the people of Malawi, we saw that many Malawians struggled with the effects of poverty. Shortages of food, water, medical care, and jobs impacted people’s daily lives. As the needs of Malawians were made known to us and we sought ways to help, Paul and I were learning a lesson about giving and hospitality that Malawians had to teach us.

From our early days of language learning and visiting people in their homes, to traveling to remote villages with Paul to greet people who had never seen a “European” woman and her  baby before, we were welcomed with clapping, singing, and smiles. Chairs appeared out of no where for us to sit on while our Malawian hosts sat on the ground. If possible, a bottle of Coca Cola or Fanta was procured for us. We never left empty handed. Mangoes, green maize, sweet potatoes, a live chicken – these people were happy to share with us. Not because we needed theses things, but because they wanted to show their love to us. Malawian’s have a phrase, Tikulandirani ndi manja awiri! We welcome you with both hands!They welcomed us not just with their hands, but with their hearts as well.

Yes, I’ve learned a lot during my years in Malawi. I’ve learned to drive on the left hand side of the road. I can navigate muddy, rutted roads that look impassable to the uninitiated. I’ve treated our neighbors’ dogs who had venom spat in their eyes from encountering a huge spitting cobra. I learned it’s not really a good idea to pick up a giant horned chameleon on the side of the road and try to to take it home in the car. These are all good things to know to live well in Malawi.

But most of all, I’ve learned that God’s people love each other no matter where they are in the world. God’s people in Malawi have shown their love to me and my family for 25 years, and by God’s grace we’ve been able to join with them in worship, Bible study, English classes, Sunday School, weddings, funerals, births, and graduations. While my own family is growing up and moving away, and I can’t physically be there for them in all the ways I wish I could, I am learning God provides for all our needs, big and small, in ways that I never even imagined He would.

Written by Susan Nitz, missionary wife in Malawi, Africa

To learn more about mission work in Malawi, visit wels.net/malawi.

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My Mission Journey: Forest

Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel on the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus sent out a Mission Journeys team during their spring break to assist Fount of Life Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., with canvassing and handing out invitations for worship and the pre-school program. Forest Wu, a senior at UW-Madison, was a member of the team and shares his experience: 

Another semester, another spring break, and a mission trip – all in my final year at UW-Madison. It has been an ongoing tradition at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel to invite college students to go on mission trips during spring break. Instead of becoming a “couch Cheeto” and binge-watching “The Office”, students are provided an opportunity to do something memorable for themselves, interact in a community, and most importantly, to serve the Lord.

Forest and Pastor Bilitz assemble packets to hang on doors

With the help of the WELS Mission Journey program, and through the support and prayers from our homes and the local congregation, I joined Pastor Bilitz and five other students. We were invited to serve Fount of Life in Colorado Springs, Colo. For two days, we canvased through neighborhoods in teams; we walked a total of 25 miles! In total, we handed out 2,700 invitations for people to come to worship or to check out the church’s pre-school program. In fact, by God’s blessing, some people had already expressed an interest after our first day.

During our canvassing, we were also fortunate enough to talk to some residents and personally invite them to church. Contrary to the expected rejections, most were happy to take the invitations while some even identified themselves as Christians. This experience reminded me of the time Elijah felt he was the only believer, but God said to him “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (2 Kings 19:18) To me, as a college student in a secular college such as UW-Madison, this is the comfort I needed to spread his gospel. Coming back from the mission trip, I have been more comfortable sharing my beliefs, especially in my Philosophy class and Theatre class, and I am comforted to find that it is true – I am not the only believer left, even in my secular community.

If you want to do something more to serve the Lord in your downtime, I recommend (12 out of 10!) participating in mission trips. Not only will you see the wonders that he has made, but God might also use and inspire you in an unexpected yet wonderful way.

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True Community

One of the challenges of serving in an eastern Canadian context is the strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church. Ontario is full of folks who have a “Catholic background,” but have not gone to church in years. This is a challenge for us because many people believe that they know “The Church” already and know that they don’t like it because of their experience with a Roman Catholic Church.

Ambyr and Nicholas

However, we have found that one thing that breaks that barrier is true community. That’s what happened with Ambyr. Ambyr grew up Catholic but was not attending church when she was invited to come to Cross of Life by her boyfriend, Nicholas (a life-long member of Cross of Life). And though she would say that not everything made sense to her right away and that she was nervous to be in a Lutheran church when she grew up Catholic, she kept coming back because she found a community. She found people who actually cared about her and wanted to see her at church.

She requested to take Faith Builders (our Bible Information Class) with me every week at a Tim Horton’s. Sometimes we just drank coffee and chatted about life, sometimes we studied Scripture, but all the time I got to be part of her life and show her that church is more than a big scary institution. It’s people who love Jesus and love people. During the class, she learned how free the grace of God actually is, and she was hooked. “Cross of Life has changed my life,” she has said to me multiple times.

But that’s not all. We confirmed Ambyr into our fellowship in January, and since then, she has joined a Bible study group, volunteered to help with A/V at worship, has brought a couple friends to Cross of Life, and all of this without even owning a car. She has to bus or taxi everywhere she goes. In fact, she has been so committed, that one time she even paid for a $40 taxi ride to get to church because she was volunteering for worship. Would you still come to church if it cost you $40 just to get there?

Oh, and one other thing: Ambyr is 19. She’s part of the generation that the church is struggling to reach. If Ambyr is any indication, maybe the best strategy for reaching young people is to just take time to love them enough to buy them coffee, listen to their story, and share Jesus with them for a couple weeks. No one is saying it’s efficient, but it’s certainly what builds true community.

God has truly worked a good thing in Ambyr’s heart, and our congregation is blessed to have her. And it all happened because someone invited someone they cared about, a congregation shared the love of Christian community, and a pastor shared the gospel.

I am reminded of Philip’s sharing of the gospel with the Ethiopian in Acts 8. Philip didn’t have to do any “pre-evangelism” or make a special program to get the man in the door. No, God set him up for success. All he had to do was share Jesus. Of course not all mission work is like that, and in a country like Canada that is even more post-Christian that the United States, frankly, it rarely is. But it’s stories like Ambyr’s that remind you that God knows his sheep, and his sheep know his voice. We just simply open our mouths to let his voice be heard.

Written by Rev. Caleb Schultz, home missionary at Cross of Life Lutheran Church in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

To learn more about WELS Home Missions in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Many languages, one family

Families who transition languages in their own home are common today. As immigrants continue to come to the United States, their families will experience language transition. The overwhelming presence of the English language in school and public media leads the youth in those families to learn and use English as soon as they can. That is happening as we speak! Often, homes are bilingual, but the languages used are simple phrases remembered or learned, so that children can communicate with parents.

But what do you do when the family wants to worship together? How do you foster the family atmosphere in the church when the older generation loves to hear the gospel in their heart language, but their children desire to hear it also in their heart language, and that language is different?

The confirmands

Congregations throughout WELS are wrestling with this reality. Santo Tomas Lutheran Church, in Phoenix, Ariz., is also wrestling with this reality. Santo Tomas was established as St. Thomas in 1964. In 1997, the congregation realized that to reach its community, it needed to work in the Latino culture and use Spanish. Men have been called and have served that family of God faithfully, sharing God’s Word from house to house in Spanish. God has blessed those efforts, and over 120 Hispanics worship weekly at Santo Tomas.

Over 10 years ago, the pastor realized that as he was teaching his catechism class to the adolescents in the congregation, more and more of them didn’t understand his Spanish. He was using terms and vocabulary that were foreign to his students. The students overwhelmingly wanted to hear and learn God’s Word in English. Yet, the ministry at Santo Tomas is in Spanish. Worship, counseling, outreach and fellowship all enjoy the frolicking tones of Spanish. How do you keep the family together?

Santo Tomas determined that God’s Word needs to be clearly understood–so they teach the catechism class in English. One of the current pastors, a native from Cuba whose English is not fluent, has the assistance of his wife, who is fluent. When it is his turn to teach Catechism, he prepares the lesson and his wife teaches and translates into English those words, phrases, and concepts that are not understood in Spanish.

The children learn in their heart language. But what about Confirmation Day? Imagine this: you have a church full of families who speak Spanish and wrestles with their English fluency watching and listening to a group of adolescents who are fluent in English and struggle with their Spanish fluency. Talk about an intercultural nightmare!

But it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Their confirmation examination doesn’t have the back-and-forth series of questions that many of us experienced in our confirmation. They elected to have the adolescents prepare short essays that answer the questions pertaining to the chief parts of the Catechism. The adolescents take time to prepare those essays. The pastors use the technical means available to them–projectors and screens–to put up outlines in Spanish of what the children are saying in English. They also hand select a few children, whose Spanish is more fluent, and then work with them so that they can deliver those essays in Spanish.

By the grace of God, on Palm Sunday this year, Santo Tomas had 16 adolescent confirmands. The congregation experienced both languages in worship. Everyone was enriched by the essays on God’s Word. Faces beamed with confidence in their heart language. Above all, God was praised–and God’s family grew in faith.

May God continue to bless the congregations who work with many languages under one roof!

Written by: Rev. Tim Flunker, Hispanic Outreach Consultant for WELS Board for Home Missions

To learn more about Hispanic ministry, visit wels.net/hispanic.

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Pastor Long

Pastor Long is one of 60 Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) leaders who are receiving theological training in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). In March 2019, the leaders gathered again for two weeks of training. The first week was a study of the first 400 years of church history in the New Testament era. The second week was a study of the Bible’s teachings about Church & Ministry. The intensive courses included 6 hours of class activities during the day and assigned readings in the evenings.

On coming to faith: An evangelist came to my village in 1997, but there was persecution in my village. The church in my village had two leaders. One of them was killed. The other one had to flee. Because I was a part of the local government, I knew what was going on among the Christians. As I learned more about Jesus, I came to believe in him. I kept my faith secret for many years. Finally, in 2003 I resigned from my government position and became an active part of the church. In 2007 I was called to serve as a pastor.

On ministry: I serve as a pastor in Lang Moua village in Hasan Province. I serve 366 families, about 1980 members. There are elders who assist me in the congregations. I preach twice per month and the elders also preach. I also teach the Bible at many gatherings each week. Many of my members want to receive Christian counseling; most of that work is done by the elders. I enjoy ministry. Serving God in any way makes me happy. I support myself as a farmer; my fields are in the mountains, and it takes me a couple hours to travel there. Also, I am often traveling to visit congregations in surrounding areas.

On learning: I started coming to Pastor Lor’s classes in 2013. But then my wife became sick, and I was not able to attend for a couple years. My wife is better now. We have three sons and one daughter. I am very happy that I can come here to learn more about the Lord.

What WELS members can pray for: I would ask the people of WELS to pray that God continues to strengthen my faith and to give me more knowledge, so that I can preach and teach the Word faithfully. I appreciate those prayers. Please allow me this opportunity to say to the people of WELS, “Thank you for supporting these classes. When we look back on our past selves, we see that we were like the Pharisees. In our sermons we were telling people that they needed to be better in order to be right with God. But now we know the Gospel and are living with joy. The members are happy. The elders are happy. I am so happy. We have given the blessings of baptism to all our children and infants.”

Brad Wordell, part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) Team, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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Wisdom from Wittenberg – Part 1

Wisdom from Wittenberg – Part 1

Martin Luther’s Pastoral and Practical Revisions of Worship


The story behind Luther’s creative worship

In the year 1517, The Feast of all Saints—November 1—just so happened to fall on a Sunday.1 The alignment of this date and the day of the week wouldn’t have escaped the notice of Christian worshipers. In fact, it would have amplified the din in town and city streets throughout Christendom. Across Europe, thousands of Christians would have thronged to the doors of their churches for what must have seemed like a Sunday morning, Christmas Day, and Memorial Day all rolled into one.

The scene in northern Germany would have been no different. But something different was about to happen, and it happened, in large part, due to a brilliant bachelor professor who, like the rest, would have been walking to and from worship on that particular Sunday morning. On All Saints Day, 1517, Martin Luther could not have imagined how much a document which he had written to his archbishop and posted publicly the night before was going to change his life and his congregation. So much, in fact, that now, even 500 years later, we are still celebrating the man and his moment at the church door.

Though we often tend to focus on the man and his moment, we rarely take the time to imagine what was actually happening on the other side of the door. In fact, it’s rather difficult to imagine. The style and pattern of worship inside the All Saints’ Church on that famous All Saints’ Day, 1517 would hardly be recognizable to us.

Perhaps some figures might be illustrative: In 1517, mass was celebrated 9,000 times at the Castle Church alone—a public or private mass offered every 53 minutes, without letup, for an entire year.2 40,000 candles were burned, consuming four tons of wax at a cost of $100,000. The prime attraction at All Saints Church was the collection of relics: 19,000 cataloged items neatly arranged in ten aisles.3

But the real heart of Wittenberg worship on All Saints Day was receiving the indulgence: walk through the door, say the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed, confess your sins to one of the dozen extra priests available, say a prayer for the pope. Once done, most people simply left once the priest had elevated the host. This was worship in Wittenberg under which the people were held captive to the careful control of the Catholic church and enslaved to the indulgence of the papacy. No one at the time could have known that the detailed document which Professor Luther had posted to the church door was about to change all of that.

The document that Luther had posted, 95 Theses, or A Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,4 was a breach in the dam. What flowed through that breach was Christian freedom. Throughout the five years that followed 1517, Luther began to experience for himself the unexpected effects of freedom. Sometime in 1518, Luther had a spiritual breakthrough in which the truth of the gospel finally set him free from the terrors of his conscience.5 By 1519, he was set free from his vows of monasticism. By 1520, he was publishing The Freedom of a Christian6 throughout Germany. And by 1521, Luther was finally called to defend that freedom before the Holy Roman Estates at Worms. Luther stood firm in his freedom, and the rest is history.

However, a breached dam often presents something of a problem. That problem was quickly experienced by the worshipers in Wittenberg. Luther’s associates in Wittenberg saw their new-found freedom as something to be experimented with. After Worms, Andreas Karlstadt concluded that since Rome had broken with the preacher of Wittenberg, it was time for the people of Wittenberg to return the favor. While Luther was away at the Wartburg, Karlstadt took over in Wittenberg and went on an “iconoclastic binge.”7 Worship services were flooded with new ideas and new forms. Suddenly, Germans who were used to Latin chants and prayers were hearing loud German phrases while receiving communion in both kinds from priests who wore no robes. None of them were sure why it was happening. It seemed the only reason was ‘because of Rome.’

Luther defended the gospel from the burst dam of freedom and creativity.

Throughout the five years that followed 1521, Luther would need to defend the gospel from the burst dam of freedom and creativity. Luther would respond from the Wittenberg pulpit in a way that was direct and abrupt.8 But he would also respond from his Wittenberg desk in a way that was subtle, quiet, and patient. Luther would find ways to change how communion was received. He would find a way to give the Wittenbergers a service of their own. But he would take his time in finding that way, and his approach would be pastoral and highly principled.

It would come about through a three-year-long worship project, begun in 1523 with an order of service meant to demonstrate how the mass could basically be used as is, save for a few critical changes. The project would reach its conclusion in 1526 with a second order of service, meant to show how worship life could be completely and creatively—but still pastorally and practically—adapted. These two documents, in which Luther recognized “something must be dared in the name of Christ,”9 would serve as two poles, each connected to the other, between which an ancient-future pattern of Christian worship would emerge.

Five hundred years later, the past is present. We worship in the land of the free. Innovation is addictive. Our creative impulses are rocket-fueled by communication technology. Often the question we hear isn’t “what can we change?” but “how much of this do we really have to keep in order to stay Lutheran?” We enjoy our liberty to tinker and experiment with worship. But perhaps Luther’s principled project can compel us to be careful with our creativity as we seek to adapt and shape the worship life of our congregations.

The remainder of this article and its part two companion will explore four aspects of Luther’s approach to creativity.

Creativity is careful to serve the gospel.

“The preaching and teaching of God’s Word must remain the most important.”10 This was Luther’s foundational worship principle. Everything he thought and did was not for himself, and not against Rome, but for the gospel. This is where Karlstadt had gone astray in 1522 and why his worship adjustments caused so much consternation. Karlstadt’s reforms were not initiated by or driven by an understanding of the gospel. This is what Luther addressed in the eight sermons that he preached following his sudden return to Wittenberg on Invocavit Sunday. Rather than allowing the gospel to do its subtle, quiet work through its various and familiar forms, Karlstadt sought to immediately renovate and redefine nearly every aspect of worship and preaching. His impatience, combined with a desire to liberate himself and the Wittenberg laity from the forms and patterns of Rome, drove him to a point where the gospel’s power was flouted in favor of his own fanatical enthusiasm.

Luther’s sermons were a call to faith, love, patience, and a renewed appreciation for the gospel principle: since God changes hearts through the power of the gospel, everything that we do—especially what we do in worship, and to an ultimate degree what we choose to add to or remove from worship—is done in the interest of conveying the gospel to people’s hearts. The Word must be allowed to do its subtle, quiet work. “We do nothing, the Word does everything.”11

The gospel principle did not lead Luther to the same conclusion that Karlstadt had reached. Wittenberg’s worship was free to change, but it was also free to be retained. In fact, much of the service ought to remain, owing to love for people and faith in the gospel. Much of the present order of service, after all, did preach the gospel, provided that it was heard in public (not just said in private) and provided that the clutter of indulgences was done away with. If the people were present, they would have heard sermons preached in their everyday language, just like we do. At the same time, they would have heard prayers not in everyday language, just like we do. The people knew what “Kyrie eleison” and “Credo” meant. Why alter them? Luther’s advice in 1523 but also in 1526 was to adhere to established patterns, since arbitrarily departing from them could be self-serving or Karlstadtian.

“We do not avoid the new but are careful to avoid novelty….”

In both services, the established pattern of liturgy was retained. Luther said, “This is necessary so that no sect arises from public worship as if I had devised this service out of my own head.”12 Luther’s subtle critique of Karlstadt and his motives deserves to be emphasized: “An order of liturgy is not simply to fulfill a personal need or plan or idea but must always serve the gospel.”13 On its surface, Karlstadt’s Wittenberg movement might seem driven by the desire for greater inclusion or clearer communication. But desires for better things ought to be checked carefully less like Karlstadt we charge ahead and miss our target. “Since we are rooted firmly in a rich tradition, we do not avoid the new but are careful to avoid novelty, eccentricity, or quixotic attempts at newness for its own sake.”14

On the other hand, perhaps Karlstadt had raised an interesting question. “If there are moments when the service isn’t clearly communicating the gospel, what do we do then?” To many, the Lord’s Prayer had become automatic. To many more, the mystery of the Lord’s Supper was just that—unintelligible. Here, Luther found ways to adapt. And Luther’s ‘way,’ as published in 1526, would be a form of worship catechesis.

The preface of the 1526 Deutsche Messe seems to be written by a man more interested in ‘a good catechism’15 than ‘a new service.’ In fact, when we look at the service, we recognize that the two interests are one and the same. “The preaching and teaching of God’s Word must remain the most important.”10 Where the Lord’s Prayer needs to be taught, teach it. Where the Lord’s Supper needs explanation, provide one. And so Luther did.

It is important to realize that Luther’s intention was primarily catechetical. Otherwise, there is a temptation to extract Luther’s statements from their context and then to force his ‘new service’ to serve modern ideas about what worship should be. Those ideas might sound like this:

  • “Such orders are needed for those who are still becoming Christians.”16 i.e. Luther was providing a new service that was more approachable to those new to the faith. This idea overlooks the fact that in Luther’s day, no one church shopped, adult baptisms were nearly unheard of, and every parishioner had been trained in the routines of church life almost since birth. It seems that in Luther’s mind, the service was about more than initiation.
  • “This service should be arranged for the sake of simple laypeople”17 i.e. Luther was adapting to the culture of the people in Wittenberg. Unless the service was translated into their language and idiom, they would be unable to hear and respond to the gospel. This idea might overlook the fact that Luther’s Latin service had been translated into German only a few weeks after it had been published and that people all over Germany were already worshiping in German. It seems that in Luther’s mind, the service was about more than language.
  • “Now there are three kinds of liturgies or Mass”18 i.e. Luther was willing to offer alternatives. A Latin service was preferred by some, a German service by others, another service by yet others. This idea might overlook the fact that Luther never drafted a third service. Nor did he object as the first two were merged.19 It seems that in Luther’s mind, the service was about more than preference.

Luther’s service was about more than initiation, language, or preference.

Rather than pitting these efforts against the other, Luther honored them all as expressions of catechesis. And he employed ancient and modern tools simultaneously in this effort. Luther sought to defend the gospel for a Christian culture which had a good knowledge of Christian tradition. To do this, he produced a Formula Missae which removed everything at odds with the gospel, while retaining everything that wasn’t. At the same time, he sought to declare the gospel to a “population becoming secularized and needing reintroduction to its Christian roots.”20 To do this, he produced a Deutsche Messe in which the truth of the gospel could still be ‘caught’ (as emphasized by the retained rituals21) and ‘taught’ (as emphasized by the added explanations).


Creativity in service of the gospel is the primary principle. Part two of this article will explore additional principles:

  • Creativity is careful to honor the arts
  • Creativity is careful to serve the community
  • Creativity is careful to serve the congregation

Written by Mark Tiefel

Pastor Tiefel serves at Emanuel, New London, WI. His service as a District Worship Coordinator has covered both the South Central and Northern Wisconsin Districts. He is general editor of a new edition of manuals for the WELS Hymnal Project.


Photo is of Weimar altarpiece, by Lucas Cranach the Younger, 1555. An analysis by Michael Zarling is at breadforbeggars.com. For another instructive image of early Lutheran worship, search for the 1561 altar panel from Torslunde Church. (Photo by Wolfgang Sauber, Wikimedia Commons.)


This article, part 1 of 2, is adapted from a presentation at the 2017 WELS national worship conference. Those interested may find additional information in a handout of the same title along with the worship folder for All Saints’ and recordings from that service at worship.welsrc.net/downloads-worship/worship-conference. Additional recordings are on the double CD “A Mighty Fortress” available from NPH.


1 Google, using the Gregorian Calendar, specifies Thursday. But prior to 1582, dates were determined according to the Julian Calendar. In that calendar, November 1 fell on a Sunday.
2 To say the Castle Church alone is tongue and cheek. The masses weren’t said constantly, but dozens were offered privately and simultaneously, often with no one else in attendance.
3 This is the scene described by Martin Brecht, Road to Reformation, 118.
4 LW 31:17-34
5 The date of this breakthrough is uncertain, but likely happened during the summer of 1518, while Luther was preparing his lectures on the Hebrews. Luther referred to it as a moment when “the gates of heaven were suddenly opened to me. Cf. Brecht, Road, 225.
6 LW 31:327ff
7 The phrase is coined by Frank Senn, page 275 in Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical. Fortress, 1997.
8 Many can remember the scene from the 1953 film: “How dare you lay hands upon the crucifix!”
9 The phrase is from Luther’s Preface to the Formula Missae. LW 53:19
10 AL (The Annotated Luther) 3:146, LW 53:68
11 LW 51:77
12 AL 3:142
13 Dirk Lange provides this note on the above quotation in AL 3:142 n.19
14 Schalk, Paradigms, 55
15 “Onward then in the name of God! First the German service needs a down-to-earth, plain, simple, and good catechism.” (AL 142)
16 AL 3:141
17 Ibid.
18 Ibid, 140.
19 Even during Luther’s lifetime, it was common for Latin and German settings of the same texts to be sung alongside one another.
20 Maschke, Timothy. Gathered Guests: A Guide to Worship in the Lutheran Church. Second Edition. Concordia, 2009, 155.
21 “The congregation assembled around the Word and the sacraments needs other forms than an individual needs when reading the Word or praying by himself. Unity demands the individual’s regard for the whole. Conversely, however, it also demands that the whole have regard for the individual. It demands regard for the ‘weak’—a demand, which in accordance with what Luther requires, is emphasized by many church rituals.” Elert, Werner. The Structure of Lutheranism. Tr. Walter Hansen. Concordia, 1962, 328-329


RECOMMENDED READING

For a fuller list, see Tiefel’s handout from the 2017 worship conference. The list below includes only newer or lesser known items.

Books:

Luther, Martin. “The German Mass and Order of the Liturgy, 1526.” Ed. Dirk G. Lange. The Annotated Luther. Volume 3: Church and Sacraments. Fortress, 2016.
Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation (1483-1521). Tr. James Schaff. Fortress, 1985.
———. Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation (1521-1532). Tr. James Schaff. Fortress, 1990.
Leaver, Robin. The Whole Church Sings: Congregational Singing in Luther’s Wittenberg. Eerdmans, 2017.
Maag, Karen and John Witvliet. Worship in Medieval and Modern Europe: Change and Continuity in Religious Practice. University of Notre Dame, 2004.
Schalk, Carl. Luther on Music: Paradigms of Praise. Concordia, 1988.
———. Music in Early Lutheranism: Shaping the Tradition. Concordia Academic, 2001.
Zager, Daniel. The Gospel Preached Through Music: The Purpose and Practice of Lutheran Church Music. Good Shepherd Institute, 2013.

Articles and Essays:

Herl, Joseph. “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Liturgies: Insights from the Sixteenth through the Eighteenth Century” in: Thine the Amen: Essays on Lutheran Church Music in Honor of Carl Schalk. Lutheran University Press, 2005.
Koelpin, Arnold. “Luther Reforms the Mass.” Focus on Worship. Summer, 1989.
Leaver, Robin. “Luther and Bach, the ‘Deutsche Messe’ and the Music of Worship.” Lutheran Quarterly 15 (2001).


 

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Preach The Word – Not without Testimony

Apologetics in Preaching

Not without Testimony

We are not left without testimony (Ac 14:17). This is true in every aspect of life. Imagine waking up to a world without any knowledge passed down to you. No set language to imitate. No wisdom to ponder. No technologies invented. I am thankful that I didn’t have to learn, discover, or invent all the agricultural, mechanical, or technological advancements I take for granted every day. We are not left without testimony.

Nor are we left without theological testimony. Not even the Gentiles Paul encountered, whether in cosmopolitan Rome (Rm 1:20) or backwater Galatia (Ac 14:17), were left without testimony. Natural law is common to all. Every human has enough information to conclude that there is a something out there beyond this world. Paul therefore states that Gentiles are “without excuse” (Rm 1:20).

Paul based his conclusion on evidence that we might categorize as the classical arguments for the existence of God.1 Consider a form of the cosmological argument: All things are contingent; nothing pops into existence by itself but rather depends on something or someone else for its existence (e.g. the carpenter made the table from wood). Since the universe is the sum total of all contingent things, then the universe is contingent. This requires a necessary being outside the universe which caused the universe. The universe could not pop into existence by itself.2

The cosmological argument not only points to the existence of a noncontingent being, it also points to certain attributes of this being. This being would have to be a free agent and outside of time and space. If this being created the universe, it would also be powerful and intelligent. This being would also be a person (philosophically) which means it has consciousness and rationality.

Love is conspicuously absent in the classical arguments.

The classical arguments, although debated, are powerful. Yet they don’t bring the skeptic to Christ. They may point to the existence of a divine being but not the Christian God. Notice also that love is conspicuously absent in the classical arguments. The gospel is nowhere to be found. If we are left with only natural law, we are left with only law. We can only conclude that the “god” of nature seems angry and doesn’t discriminate between the good and the evil of humanity.

Thankfully, we are also not left without testimony about Christ. Testimony about the existence of God is evident with a use of reason, but gospel testimony is only revealed. And revelation means words. Whether spoken, written, signed, or pictured, these words are always preached.3 The truth of the gospel must be preached, that is, revealed. And to be revealed it must be hidden, that is, clothed in word.

So words matter. Therefore, we are concerned not only with words but also with attacks on words. Today we encounter two attacks on words. The first is an attack on words themselves. The second is an attack on the texts of Scripture. Both are ultimately an attack on the Word. Jacques Derrida’s attack on logo-centrism4 is an attack on Christo-centricism (since Christ is the Logos). Yet we should not ignore the main point of his critique: Do words help us know truth, or do they get in the way of knowing truth? Practically speaking the answer is “yes” to both. Words are our best tool in discovering and transmitting truth. Yet who of us has not struggled to communicate a thought because words have failed us? Here we realize that the problem is not with words but with misuse of words and our failure to articulate truth with imperfect language.

Postmodern language games [bring] two apologetic opportunities.

While the Lutheran preacher is worried by these postmodern language games, he should also see two apologetic opportunities. The first is the recognition that we, as sinful language speakers, are limited in our ability to know truth and are weary of people who speak truth not to power but for power. The second is the urge to know is still engrained in all humans, even in those who claim “we cannot know.”

Do not Lutherans understand the bound will better than anybody? Are we not dismayed at the misuse of words by politicians and advertisers? We should be the least surprised people on the planet when sin is exposed. With a certain calmness (as opposed to the hysteria we experience in the contemporary world), we can slow down the anger and build a solid epistemology. Sparing ourselves (and our people) from technical language, we can simply argue that we humans are capable of knowledge. I suppose someone could always protest “Couldn’t this all be a dream?” But we don’t live our lives like that. We have basic beliefs upon which we build a view of the world.

Secondly we have a desire to know. More than that, we have a desire for joy, drama, importance, and wonder. We were made for something great and we know it. Nobody would describe as admirable the person who shrugs his shoulders and mutters “Who cares?” Lutherans are able to balance this very somber attitude of “We can’t know fully and it’s out fault” with the revelation of the Logos who fulfills our natural desire to know. True, we sinners cannot fully know anything, let alone God, but God provides everything we need in Christ. He is the Logos.

Heraclitus’ famous river analogy about a person unable to step into the same river twice5 seems to imply that change is so constant that meaning is illusive. But Heraclitus also said, “Listening not to me but to the Logos, it is wise to agree that all things are one.”6 Heraclitus understood that there was something outside which regulates all things. Heraclitus said “Listen to the Logos,” and John said “Here is the Logos dwelling among us.” Jesus is the Logos. He is what we are looking for but cannot see because of the blindness of sin. The urge to know is there in all. The way to know is in Christ. So we preach Christ.

The urge to know is there in all. The way to know is in Christ. So we preach Christ.

The second attack on words is an attack on the texts of Scripture. There is a general cynicism to the accuracy of the Gospel accounts. Once again, the apologist does not want to engage in circular logic (the Bible is accurate because it says so). Nor does the apologist want to cede the field to the skeptic. Instead the apologist wants to level the playing field so that the same criteria used to examine other ancient texts are used on the New Testament manuscripts.

A basic outline of such criteria can be found in countless books on apologetics. A quick summary will suffice here. Three tests determine the accuracy of ancient documents. First, the biographical test examines the autograph and manuscript evidence. How close to the events were the autographs written? How many manuscripts are there, and how early are those manuscripts? Second, the internal test concerns itself with the coherence of the text, the ability of the writers to be accurate (means, motive, and opportunity), and the text’s claims about itself. Finally, the external test asks if there is extratextual evidence to back up the claims of the texts.

The New Testament texts pass all three tests. We have good reason to believe in an early dating of the Gospels. The amount of manuscript evidence and the gap between the autographs and the manuscripts are by far the best of any document of the era (biographical test). The New Testament writers had the opportunity and means to record this data. They also had pure motives (they gained nothing for their testimony but martyrdom). The New Testament claims inerrancy and lays out a coherent message (internal test). We also have what amounts to a chain of custody of the evidence. We have insight into the vetting process of the books of the canon (e.g. John taught Polycarp who taught Irenaeus who taught Hippolytus). Add to this extra-biblical accounts of Christ (e.g. Tacitus and Pliny the Younger) along with archaeological evidence, and the texts pass the external test.

The Sixth Sunday after Easter (May 26, 2019) has much to do with testimony. The First Reading (Acts 14:8-18) is the story of Barnabas and Paul in Lystra and Derbe. The two missionaries are mistakenly identified as gods. In response Paul states that they work for the true God who had not left the Galatians “without testimony” of a supreme being who sends “rain from heaven and crops in their seasons” (Ac 14:17). Psalm 65 is an example of praise for such providence.

The Sixth Sunday after Easter has much to do with testimony.

The Second Reading (Rv 21:10-14, 22, 23) highlights the foundation of the apostles’ testimony. In Jesus Christ’s revelation to John, the church is pictured as the New Jerusalem. Written on the city’s foundations are the “names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rv 21:14). The apostles are equated to foundations because the church’s ministry is built on their testimony.

Finally, the Gospel (Jn 14:23-29) is Jesus’ own words about his relationship to the Father and his sending of the Spirit to the apostles. “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jn 14:24b-26).

Here is an example of how a preacher might include apologetic concerns about words, texts, and reliability into a sermon.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” What a lie. It doesn’t take us too long in life to realize that wounds inflicted by words heal slower than broken bones. Words matter. Words are powerful.

This makes perfect sense because we are people of words. Better yet, we are people of the Word. The world was created by words. God wants to deal with us with words. We deal with each other with words. He wants us to take him at his word. The whole story of the Bible is about people not taking God at his word and then God coming with his Word to save them. Finally Jesus is the Word. Now, you might say “But Pastor, I dream in color!” Or “I think in pictures.” Good for you, but how will you explain it to me? With words. For lack of a better way to say it, we are people of words.

We have more reliable historical data for Jesus than any other person of that era.

So we are very sensitive when people attack the Word. Maybe you have heard it said that the New Testament is unreliable history. “We don’t really know what Jesus said or did.” This is simply not true. We have more reliable historical data for Jesus than for any other person of that era, and it’s not even close. I won’t bore you will all the details, but just consider this one fact: We have more copies of the New Testament which verify the events of Jesus’ life than any document describing the most important people of ancient Greece or Rome. We have around 5,600 manuscript fragments of the New Testament. Most famous writings of the time have less than a dozen. A dozen! By far the largest manuscript collection of one book is Homer’s Illiad which boasts 643. It’s not even close to the evidence of the New Testament. All I am saying is don’t fall apart when you hear that the New Testament is fraudulent. It’s simply not true.

But there is another more subtle attack on words. It’s an attack on the ability of words to even transmit meaning. It goes like this: every word is spoken by an author who then loses control of the word. The word is just floating out there detached from what the original author meant by that word. Even the original author is using words that come with their own baggage. For example, when a poor kid on the tough streets of Philadelphia hears the word “run” he thinks of something different than what the long-distance runner thinks when she hears the word “run.” Fair enough. There are shades of meaning. But does that really mean that we cannot communicate with each other or even know anything for sure? The fact that we are using words right now disproves that theory. We are able to match reality with words.

Yet we all have experienced a time when words didn’t do the trick. “I’m at a loss of words,” we might say about an extraordinary event. It’s not that words have necessarily failed us but rather that we sinful users of words have failed. We’re the problem. And God knows this. He knows that we are so deeply flawed that we cannot wrap our heads around divine things and in fact, fight against them. Every single day I grow in appreciation of this passage from 1 Corinthians: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cr 13:12). God knows our flaws. He knows us better than we know us. And one day I will know. One day.

So God is very concerned with words. It is through the Word transmitted through preached words that you and I know salvation. Think about what we heard today. Jesus revealed to St. John the Golden Jerusalem, heaven. It’s pictured with twelve foundations with the names of the apostles on those foundations. Why such respect for the Twelve? Because of their bravery, wisdom, and integrity? Hardly. The Twelve are most important because of their testimony. They were the first to see and hear Jesus. Their greatest honor was to pass down this testimony.

In fact, this is what Jesus was talking about in today’s Gospel. These words of the Father were given to the Son and the Spirit. It is the Spirit who then comes to these eyewitnessing apostles. The Spirit inspired them to write, record, speak, and preach this message to others. Why? Why are all three persons of the Trinity involved in words? Why do they acknowledge this on the foundations of the Golden Jerusalem? Why is this the highest honor? Because of you, that’s why. Because of you.

Words matter. God’s words matter. They matter because this is how God deals with us. This is how he is revealed to us. This is how the Spirit comes to us. This is how you have faith. And these words have power, the power to save. They have power to cut through all the confusion of our modern world. We hear all sorts of stories, all sorts of words, all sorts of reports. We don’t know which words to believe anymore. But the gospel cuts through all of that and declares forgiveness for you. This is truth, for this Word is Christ and Christ is the truth.

We need this specific word. It is true that every person has been given testimony from God. Nature tells us that there is a designer of some sorts. Our consciences tell us that the designer is a moral being. There is a right and wrong. “He has not left himself without testimony,” as we heard Paul say today. But none of this tells me what I really need to know. A tree can tell me that there is a God. But it can’t tell me that Christ died on its distant relative for my salvation. I need to know Christ and him crucified for me. Only the Word tells me that.

God has gone to great lengths for your salvation. He sent his Son who lived, died, rose, and ascended for you. He has also gone to great lengths to give you words, and in fact the Word. The Twelve preached it and even died for it. The New Testament writers recorded it. The church copied it. Your ancestors confessed it. Your parents, biological or spiritual, taught it to you. And now it is preached to you. So that you would know. So that you would have peace. Words matter, don’t they? So here is the preached Word to you today, “You are forgiven!”

Written by Michael Berg


1 The four classical arguments for the existence of God are the cosmological, teleological, ontological, and anthropological arguments.
2 One important question in cosmology is the finitude of the universe. If the universe is infinite then no creative being is needed to explain the universe. The Kalam Cosmological Argument makes the case that time cannot be infinite. If the universe (and therefore time) is infinite then the time between when you started reading this sentence and the time you stopped would include an infinite amount of moments. But how could you traverse an infinite amount of moments? The fact that you have reached this present moment proves that the universe is not infinite.
3 See Luther’s distinction in The Bondage of the Will between the preached God and the unpreached God. We are to seek God where he intends to be sought, hidden but paradoxically revealed in word. Seeking an unpreached God, that is without word, ends with law not gospel.
4 Derrida attacks the idea that language is a fundamental expression of reality.
5 Heraclitus: The Cosmic Fragments, G.S. Kirk, 1954 Cambridge University Press, 366 -367.
6 The History of Philosophy Vol. 1, W.K.C. Guthrie, 1967 Cambridge University Press, 424-425.


Books for Further Study:

Can Science Explain Everything? by John Lennox
Can We Trust the Gospels? by Peter Williams
Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospel by J. Warner Wallace
Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli
History, Law and Christianity by John Warwick Montgomery
The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists by Ravi Zacharias


 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

Comments