Printed comfort and strength

The gospel was central to the mission of Northwestern Publishing House 125 years ago and still is today.

Raymond W. Schumacher

The fields are ripe for harvest. Jesus reminded his disciples of that in Samaria. They are still ripe. Our task is always to put the gospel in contact with people.

With a clear understanding that the spiritual harvest fields are ripe, a Christian immigrant from East Asia works to translate Bible study materials to train church leaders in her native land. She marvels at the ability of the citizens of the United States to be able to worship freely, and at the abundance of materials we have at our fingertips—Bibles, as well as devotional books, Bible studies, commentaries, and worship materials that are faithful to the Scriptures. She recognizes the importance of the written word for spreading the message about Jesus and for training and encouraging fellow Christians back home.

The written word is a critical part of sharing the gospel. It places the gospel in the hands of people so the Holy Spirit can convert, strengthen, and comfort. One hundred twenty-five years ago, another generation understood its importance. On June 23, 1891, our forefathers resolved to open a bookstore and print shop. Two months later, on Aug. 28, Northwestern Publishing House (NPH) was officially incorporated. In the century and a quarter since, NPH has prepared printed materials that maintain Lutheran doctrine and practice. Those materials have been translated into many languages and spread around the world.

Meditations shares the gospel

But what happens at NPH doesn’t only find its way into world mission fields. It also reaches the hands of people in our own country. Four times each year, a truck backs up to the loading dock on the east side of the NPH warehouse and unloads seven pallets stacked high with Meditations devotional booklets.

The staff packs and ships the 90,000 printed copies to the congregations of the synod. In many homes, husbands and wives benefit from the spiritual interlude as they read the devotions together. In other homes, entire families use Meditations. Some church groups reflect on the message of a devotion as they gather together for a meeting. Some booklets are left in nursing homes or hospital waiting rooms to be read long after the date stamped on the cover. Only God knows how many hearts are encouraged through these devotions.

The gospel and our children

Each week more than 20,000 children in Lutheran elementary schools—and thousands more in Sunday schools—study the Bible using the Christ-Light religion curriculum. This sizeable army of young people is being prepared to find its way in a world scarred by sin, where dangerous and confusing messages bombard impressionable minds. Teachers use the materials to combat a variety of distractions that threaten to derail faith.

In addition, this last year alone, an estimated 14,000 sixth- through eighth-grade students grew in their understanding of Christian doctrine as they focused on the six chief parts of Luther’s Catechism.

If those numbers seem impressive, keep in mind that we live at a time when the student population is lower than in the past. It fills us with awe to think of the sheer numbers of those who have prepared for confirmation, communion, and service in the church using catechisms and curricula developed as a result of a decision made in 1891.

Sing and make music

God’s people come together to worship the God who has saved them. The gospel has touched their hearts and moved them to sing praises. Not only do they sing praise, but in their worship resources they also find comfort and strength. Christians of all ages wrap their arms around their hymnals and carry them—along with their Bibles—in good and bad days. Music for organ, piano, and other instruments inspire and lift up the hearts of God’s people. Working with the synod’s Commission on Worship, NPH has produced a hymnal that has sold more than 469,000 copies—a resource that is common in almost all of the synod’s 1,270 congregations.

The familiar red book, along with its blue supplement, provides the structure for worship services that are built around the confession and absolution of sins. They are a source of liturgies as well as hymns that place before us a satisfying musical feast that refreshes us by pointing to Jesus and the forgiveness hungry souls crave.

More resources to share the gospel

The NPH Board of Directors, made up of one professor each from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and Martin Luther College, one teacher, two pastors, and four laymen, recognizes that the appetite and need for solid Bible-based material extend beyond Sunday worship and Sunday school and Lutheran elementary school classes. For that reason, the board has tasked six theologically trained editors with the development of books and resources that will help church leaders carry out their ministries on the solid foundation of God’s Word.

Pastors, teachers, and church leaders have benefited through a wide array of professional resources: biblical commentaries; Bible studies; doctrinal studies; as well as books on biblical counseling, evangelism, stewardship, preaching, youth ministry, church life, and more.

The editors at NPH also seek to develop materials that will assist God’s people in applying God’s Word to the variety of challenges and issues they face. One such project is a series of devotional books for those who have learned they are terminally ill, those grappling with grief at the loss of a loved one, or those troubled by loss of other kinds. So far those devotions have benefited thousands of families and individuals. After weeping beside a freshly opened grave, grieving loved ones have found rest for their aching hearts in God’s words of comfort from those devotions in the quiet hours afterward. They are reminded of a greater comfort than that their loved one’s memory will live on in those left behind. The greater comfort, rather, is the promise that the loved one now enjoys the bliss of worshiping at the throne of the Lamb, the same Savior worshiped while on earth—the Savior whose words assure us, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).

God’s pledge to us is that he will bless this gospel message, whenever it is proclaimed. “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). We can only speculate about the great things God has accomplished over the course of 125 years of publishing. Souls found comfort. Marriages were saved or strengthened. Hearts were given courage to face spiritual challenges. Generations of pastors, teachers, and church leaders were encouraged to stand solidly on the truth.

Today, we can’t help but wonder if our forefathers had even an inkling of how God would bless that decision made 125 years ago and bless the church as a result of that decision.

Ray Schumacher, an editor at Northwestern Publishing House, is a member at St. Peter, Helenville, Wisconsin.

This is the first article in a two-part series on Northwestern Publishing House and the printed word.

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Author: Raymond W. Schumacher
Volume 103, Number 8
Issue: August 2016

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