Jeffrey L. Samelson
WELS is not perfect.
There—I said it. From comments I’ve heard and read, it’s clear that some people think we believe our synod can do no wrong—and perhaps never has. Maybe too often we actually believe that ourselves. This magazine can inadvertently contribute to this perception, being filled with successes on the mission field; blessings to individuals and churches that come from following and trusting God’s Word; and, of course, anniversaries like the 100 years of this magazine celebrated in these last 12 issues. The end of a year like this provides a valuable opportunity to take stock of our achievements, but we should not forget our imperfections.
Shall we start at the top and confess that the synod and district presidents through the years have sometimes acted when they shouldn’t have and failed to act when they should have? What about individual WELS members? Consider how so many of us are happy to be ignorant of basic Christian doctrines; fail to value the means of grace provided through our churches and ministers; and generally struggle to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
We can mention the church councils that have been more concerned with budgets than with ministry and mission or that have placed personal loyalties or the appearance of peace above meeting the needs of sinners—siding with the powerful, turning a blind eye to abuse, ignoring problems of doctrine and practice. District and synod conventions have approved positions and programs that later proved imprudent, and right decisions have been made at the wrong time. We admit to doctrines that have been poorly expressed or taught and to simultaneously trusting in our history for orthodoxy and taking our confessional Lutheran heritage for granted.
Too many can testify to incidents in our WELS “culture” when some have gone too far with our freedoms, have aimed to cut down those whose successes have lifted them too high above the rest, have elevated school and family loyalties higher than
the church, or have stopped taking seriously things that we should. We have shamed people who needed support, and we have supported those who should have been shamed.
So no, WELS is not perfect; its people are sinners. We still say wrong things, break promises, miss deadlines, deny errors, exceed speed limits, prioritize things we should not prioritize, and fail to love God and our neighbor as we should. Just like everyone else.
And just like everyone else, the answer to our imperfections is God’s grace. He sent his own Son to pass through manger, cross, and tomb, not only to take away all our sins but also to transfer to us Christ’s own righteousness. We are not faultless, we are forgiven; we are not perfect in ourselves, we are made perfect despite ourselves.
So why then be WELS Lutherans? Because of God’s grace and blessing, we are convinced that the Lutheran church is where we will best find the things the Lord wants to give us—the law preached firmly, the gospel preached sweetly, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper administered faithfully, and words of forgiveness and restoration spoken generously. Our synod is blessed to be a fellowship where those gifts are treasured, preserved, and promoted with a fidelity and orthodoxy not frequently found.
All the good things of our WELS—past, present, and future—are not ours by right or nature but entirely by grace and to God’s glory alone. We don’t celebrate ourselves; our confidence is in Christ.
Contributing editor Jeffrey Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.
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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 2014
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