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“I do.” “He did.”

Glenn L. Schwanke

Statisticians inform us that 2.3 million couples wed each year in the United States. That works out to some 6,301 weddings per day. June is the most popular month for weddings. About $72 billion is spent on weddings each year. The average number of guests invited to a wedding is 178. The average wedding cost is $20,000.

That last piece of information brings a tear to my eye. Why? Lord willing, our daughter is getting married this summer.

The date the wedding is scheduled is June 9, thirty-nine years to the day after my wife and I exchanged our wedding vows on June 9, 1979, at St. John’s, Clinton Avenue, Milwaukee. (The congregation is now called Loving Shepherd.)

I wish I could tell you what the pastor’s wedding address was about all those years ago. But I was far too nervous to take it in. Nervous because of the vows that my wife, Teresa, and I sealed with the simple promise, “I do.”

And this June 9? I will be nervous again, but not because I haven’t performed weddings before. I’ve had that privilege countless times over the years. Yet this marriage will be unique in my ministry. It’s for our only child.

I’ve had folks ask, “Does a pastor walk his own daughter down the aisle?” My response, “I plan to.” When we reach the front of the church, I’ll lift her veil, give her a hug and a kiss, hand her to her fiancé, and give him a firm handshake. Then I’ll step up to the altar, turn, and begin the service in my role as pastor.”

“Will you get emotional? Will you cry?” “More than likely, but I trust God’s Spirit will help me get through the service.”

Don’t miss the point. The service revolves around a man and a woman standing before their families and friends in God’s house. There they publicly declare their commitment to each other with the solemn pledge, “In the presence of God and these witnesses, I take you to be my wife/husband. I promise to be faithful to you, as long as we both shall live.” The service is about the simple promise, “I do.”

Yet the wedding ceremony is about far more than that! Think of all the family and friends who come to the wedding. Some of them rarely, if ever, go to church otherwise. Maybe they’ve never cracked open a Bible. What do they need to hear on the wedding day? What do we all need to hear? “He did.”

Jesus did what no sinner, no husband, no wife, can ever do. As Paul explains, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy. . . He did this so that he could present her to himself as a glorious church, having no stain or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27 Evangelical Heritage Version). Because of what Jesus did, our Lord will shower his grace into our hearts and homes in this life and then wrap his arms around us in the life to come in heaven above! Knowing this, I’ll make sure all the worshippers at this wedding hear, “He did.”

And for the bride and groom? I’ll print copies of the address, just in case, they’re too nervous to listen closely during the ceremony.


Contributing editor Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Optimist or pessimist?

Earle D. Treptow

Do you belong to the “pessimist party” or the “optimist club”? Your answer may depend on the day you’re asked. For instance, if asked whether your favorite team will win a championship, you may be a pessimist, conditioned by years of futility. But two months later, when the team is exceeding expectations, you may be an optimist.

On a more serious level, would you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist on the possibility of eliminating, or reducing, the mass shootings that plague us? Do you think steps can be taken to preserve life? Or do you feel that attempts to address the situation won’t make any substantial difference? How does your Christian faith influence your view?

Christians have learned, by the Father’s grace and the Spirit’s work, to tune their ears to God’s Word when they’re bothered by horrific events. What Christians hear is God speaking the truth about all people, including us: “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). We can’t be overly surprised by these senseless shootings. Sinners sin. The law that God has written on human hearts curbs sin, but it doesn’t stop all sin from occurring, as we know from our own personal struggles.

Christians also hear what Jesus said about the final days of this world: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). People will become increasingly self-centered. They will do what their corrupt hearts want to do, with little thought to the impact of their actions on others.

Christians who believe what God says about sinners don’t expect an end of senseless violence in this world. Laws may well be enacted to make it more difficult to get the kinds of weapons used in these shootings. Yet laws do not change hearts. Sinful hearts will remain loveless. Christians see the glass half empty.

But Christians whose ears are tuned to God’s Word also hear promises that fill their hearts with confidence. The Lord Jesus, seated at the right hand of the Father, promises to direct all things for the benefit of his people. The Lord is ruling over everything, even if rampant wickedness makes it appear that the devil has gained the upper hand.

When we reflect on senseless violence, we often focus only on the hard-heartedness of sinners and forget about God’s grace and power. The One who desires all to be saved promises to work through his powerful gospel to call people to repentance and faith.

What’s more, he promises to empower his people to speak the gospel through which the Holy Spirit miraculously transforms hearts and lives. Believing the Lord’s promise that he can “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), we take up the task of speaking God’s Word to the world. We need not feel helpless in the face of rampant violence. Jesus gave us the task to proclaim his heart-changing gospel to everyone, and he gave us his promise that the Spirit will accompany the Word we speak. Christians see the glass half full.

When Christians focus on sinful human beings, they’re pessimistic—sinners will continue to sin. When Christians focus on the grace and power of God, they’re optimistic—the Lord can change hearts. We know and confess the sinner’s natural depravity, which makes every sin possible. But we also know and confess the grace and power of our Savior-God, for whom nothing is impossible, not even transforming hearts and altering lives.


Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ Alone, Mequon.


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Fools

Andrew C. Schroer

It all began with an edict by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. The Julian calendar used by most of the Western world had some problems. Among other things, seasons and solstices did not always line up because the calendar did not accurately calculate leap years.

The new calendar, called the Gregorian calendar, established a more accurate number of leap years as well as other innovations. Pope Gregory’s calendar also established Jan. 1 as the official beginning of the year.

Though Jan. 1 had traditionally been the first day of the year on the Julian calendar, by the Middle Ages many Western European countries celebrated the new year on different days. In some countries, New Year’s was celebrated at the end of March and the beginning of April.

When Pope Gregory published his new calendar, there was no Facebook and no CNN. There wasn’t even radio. News about the changes spread slowly. Many continued to celebrate New Year’s on their traditional dates decades, and even centuries, later.

Those who continued to celebrate the New Year at the end of March and the beginning of April, either due to ignorance or just plain obstinance, were soon mocked by their fellow countrymen. They were called fools, and practical jokes were played on them.

According to some historians, thus began the celebration of April Fools’ Day.

Much has been made in the media about the fact that Easter this year falls on April Fools’ Day. It’s ironic. As Christians we often play the role of the fool for believing the Easter message.

For those who don’t believe in Jesus, what we believe seems ridiculous. We believe that because God was born as a man, nailed to a piece of wood, died, and came back to life, we are now free from any guilt or punishment for every bad thing we do. We believe we will live forever with him one day in a perfect place of happiness called heaven somewhere beyond our existence here on earth.

Many of the greatest scientists and scholars of our age mock us and call us dumb for believing the Bible. Even the apostle Paul was laughed off by the educated elite of his day (Acts 17:32). As Christians we are fools. To be more accurate, though, we are sophomores. You see, the word sophomore literally means “a wise fool.”

But even though the world considers us foolish, we have true wisdom. To the world, what we believe as Christians is weak and foolish. The apostle Paul reminds us of that but concludes, “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

How can anyone believe in what so many think is for fools? Only through faith can a person see its true wisdom and power.

Through Jesus’ humble death and glorious resurrection, we have become heirs of heaven. We are now sons and daughters of the King of all creation. Through faith, we have true understanding, but we can’t prove any of it. The world cannot see it. It seems foolish to them.

But instead of getting upset when the world calls us fools, instead of getting embarrassed, instead of feeling like you have to defend or prove what you believe, embrace the foolishness of the cross. Accept the fact that the world does not and will never understand. Jesus told us it would be that way. Some will mock us. Some will point and call us fools.

Don’t worry about it. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t back down. One day, God will reveal who the true fools really are.


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


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 105, Number 4
Issue: April 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Seeing with the eyes of the heart

Glenn L. Schwanke

Before the opening hymn, I wondered, “What happened to our hymn boards? The white hymn numbers shimmer against the black backgrounds. Did one of the electrical engineering students in our Campus Ministry figure out a way to backlight the numbers?”

A split second after those thoughts flitted through my mind, I knew the hymn boards hadn’t changed. My eyesight had. After cataract surgery, my vision was no longer clouded over by the yellowed-haze that had developed on my 60+ year-old lenses, almost like fog and grime on a windshield. Instead, with new lens implants in each eye, I was finally seeing white again. Colors jumped out at me in a way I hadn’t experienced since I was in the third grade.

That was when I couldn’t read the blackboard in our classroom. I always had my nose in the book, not because I was exceptionally studious, but because I struggled to read the print. But after getting my first pair of glasses, I walked out from the optometrist’s office onto the sidewalk to bask in the brilliant sunshine that flooded South 8th Street in downtown Manitowoc, Wisconsin. There I stood. Looking one way. Then the other. The colors took my breath away! Reds, blues, and yes, whites leaped at me like never before—almost as if I could reach out and touch them.

Cataract surgery for us older folks, or a pair of glasses or contacts for the younger generations, can make a night-to-day difference to our eyesight!

But there’s another type of clear vision that’s far more important. The apostle Paul tells us about it in his letter to the Ephesians: “I keep praying that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, will give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in knowing Christ fully. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know the hope to which he has called you, just how rich his glorious inheritance among the saints is, and just how surpassingly great his power is for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:17-19 Evangelical Heritage Version [EHV]).

Paul prayed that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,” because he knew how life’s struggles can fog our spiritual sight. Endless chemo or radiation therapy, a stroke that leaves us debilitated just as we were taking our first steps into retirement—all these things and more can jaundice our outlook on life. A failed marriage or the sudden, unexpected death of a child can so darken the mirror of our soul that we may even lash out in anger against our God.

How can our spiritual cataracts be removed? Only by God’s Spirit who performs surgery deep inside us with his sharp, double-edged sword, “the word of God” (Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17). Through that Word, the Spirit brightens our outlook on life by riveting our attention on Jesus and enlightening us with the trust to see Jesus for who he really is. Jesus is the one who made you and me brighter than the white numbers on the hymn board.

Well, that’s the way I see it, and I think the prophet Isaiah would agree with me, although he used a different picture for purity. He wrote, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Because of the crimson blood Jesus shed on his cross, our sins are buried. When our Father looks at us, he sees nothing but shimmering, blinding white.

For you see, everything looks different when viewed through the lens that is Christ.


Contributing editor Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, also serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 105, Number 3
Issue: March 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Men are pigs

Earle D. Treptow 

One big name after another showed up in the headlines accused of sexual impropriety, from harassment and groping to assault and rape. Included on the list were famous comedians, actors, and film producers, as well as leading politicians and journalists—men who took advantage of their positions and exploited others.  

The first story of a famous man abusing his authority and assaulting a woman might not have registered for many. It was the second, seventh, and tenth stories, following hard on the heels of the first, that sounded the alarm. Those who took the time to reflect on what had been alleged—and sometimes confessed—experienced a range of emotions, from anger toward the men who had perpetrated such crimes, to frustration with a society that enables abuse with its celebrity worship, to disappointment with a sex-crazed culture that suggests a woman’s body exists for the gratification of men. Exploit women and you show yourself to be despicable. Some men are pigs. Unfortunate, but true.  

The stories reported on national news emboldened other women to speak about the sexual abuse they had experienced at the hands of men from all different walks of life, many of whom had no fame or wealth to speak of. There’s one obvious link between the famous men and the rank-and-file men who have acted inappropriately toward women. They’re men. It’s not just some men who are pigs, but many.  

I’d rather not say that, of course, but I’m comfortable with it. I’m comfortable saying that many men are pigs, because it allows me to establish a safe distance between the pigs and me. The argument seems foolproof: Because I haven’t done what they’ve done, or haven’t been publicly accused of it, I’m different than the pigs. And better.  

Maybe I haven’t sinned in the same way other men have, but I do have something in common with the many pigs out there. I’m a man too. Worse, I’m a sinful man. I have the same sinful nature, capable of all sorts of disgusting thoughts and behaviors, even if I’ve been spared from committing the sins that make headlines.  

I must ask myself some questions that make me squirm: What have I done to contribute to the situation in which we find ourselves today? Where have I lived selfishly and self-centeredly, seeing women as existing for my benefit and purposes? How have I failed to be the salt of the earth Jesus designed me to be, to slow the decay in the world around me? When have I been silent when I should have spoken up about the continuing debt men owe to women, to love and serve and protect them?  

As it turns out, I’m part of those harassment stories, though my name hasn’t appeared in the articles.  

There’s only one thing for us men to do when we recognize our depravity and complicity: repent. We humble ourselves before the Lord each day, confessing that we are unclean pigs, thoroughly sinful by nature. And then we listen anew, with astounded hearts, to his word of full forgiveness in Christ. He absolves us of our failures and declares us righteous in his sight.  

Rejoicing in his steadfast love and continual forgiveness, we commit ourselves to being real men, men as God designed us to be. We take up with joy the task the Lord has assigned to us and for which he will equip us—to respect women and serve them, considering them better than ourselves.  


Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ Alone, Mequon. 


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 105, Number 2
Issue: February 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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The heart of the issue

Andrew C. Schroer 

For nearly three years now, I have had the privilege of serving on the ethics board of one of our local newspapers. The ethics board consists of various personnel from the newspaper, including the publisher and editors, together with three at-large members of our community. We meet monthly to discuss controversial articles, concerns readers have voiced, and the overall ethics of journalism. 

Recently the newspaper published an exposé on a local politician who is now embroiled in controversy. Almost immediately people began accusing the newspaper of having a political agenda that was clearly biased. The complaints were that the editors were getting revenge for previous wrongs or just didn’t like the politician. 

Having been allowed to peek behind the curtain and listen to the discussions beforehand, I am fascinated by how painstakingly the editors sought to be objective and evaluated the ethical ramifications of what they printed. 

Are they always perfectly objective? No. Do personal feelings at times affect decisions? I’m sure they do. But overall, I’ve learned that they truly do seek to be honest and objective. 

The comments I read from various sources this last week remind me of something God once said to the prophet Samuel. “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). 

Only God knows what thoughts and feelings fill our hearts and minds. 

Yet, so often, we fall into the delusion that we are God. We fancy ourselves mind readers. We presume to know other people’s reasons and motivations. 

When your husband suddenly doesn’t answer you, he must be mad at you because of what you said to him in the morning. When your coworker doesn’t respond right away to your text, she must be ignoring you because she is a jerk. When the newspaper runs an article that says something negative about a certain politician, it must have a political agenda and is therefore biased. 

That could be true. Or maybe your husband simply didn’t hear you. Maybe he was distracted. Maybe your coworker’s phone died. Maybe the newspaper is simply trying to report the facts its journalists found in their investigations. 

One of my favorite phrases from Martin Luther comes from his explanation to the Eighth Commandment. As he expounded what it means to not give false testimony against our neighbor, Luther encourages us to “take [their] words and actions in the kindest possible way.” 

In other words, don’t assume the worst. You cannot read minds. Only God can do that. You don’t know why they did what they did or said what they said unless they tell you. 

Remember that, especially when you and your spouse are having an argument. You can’t say, “You said this or did that because. . ..” You can’t see into your spouse’s heart. Don’t assume you know why. Talk about the behavior. Ask why. Tell your spouse the impression it gives you, but don’t assume you know. Only God can see into people’s hearts. 

Are people, politicians, and news organizations at times driven by selfish and nefarious motives? Of course. In this sinful world, all of us at times are moved by misguided motivations. But be careful. As sinful human beings, we tend to assume the worst about people—particularly those who have hurt us or with whom we disagree, and especially in our politically charged world. 

May God forgive us our sinful assumptions and give us generous hearts that take other people’s words and actions in the kindest possible way.  


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


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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“God” is not enough

Jeffrey L. Samelson 

“Dad, I don’t understand why you’re so bothered by my boyfriend not going to church or being a Christian like us. He believes in God, and that’s enough for me.” 

“People keep complaining that this isn’t a Christian nation anymore, but if you check the polls, it’s clear an overwhelming majority still believe in God.” 

What do those two comments have in common? They equate believing in “God” with being Christian. While it is true that belief in a deity separates the religious from the nonreligious, believing that there is a “god”—even one who bears quite a resemblance to the God of Scripture—is not the same as having faith in the one true God and in his Son, Jesus Christ. 

Which means not only that a person with such a limited faith is not a brother or sister in Christ but also that that person is not saved, not a child of God, and not someone we will see in heaven. James gives a rather sharp reminder to anyone comfortable equating monotheism with true Christian faith: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder!” (James 2:19). 

Yet still many people who call themselves Christians and attend Christian churches—even some of our own—will echo the opinions of our compromising culture and say, “All that matters is that you believe in God.” This kind of “faith” not only conveniently does away with the differences between denominations but even unites Christians with cults, Judaism, Islam, and countless other religions. Perhaps even more conveniently, this “lowest common denominator” approach to belief also does away with about 99 percent of the Bible: everything that reveals the Lord as the one, true, triune God; everything that expresses his particular will for the world; everything that records his unique dealings with humanity; and, most important, the exclusive truth that heaven is gained only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, without any role for one’s works or merit. 

But it is only in the Scriptures—the Word of God—that the Lord has revealed himself and his salvation to the world. Denying those truths is far from a neutral thing. We do no one any good by considering a “god enough” belief “good enough,” because that kind of “faith” dismisses most of the Bible and makes God a liar. Ironically, some may think love means not judging that anyone’s faith is insufficient, but God’s judgment on an insufficient faith is an eternity apart from his love. 

This season is an ideal time both to remember and to act on this. Even though much has been done in our society to take Christ out of Christmas, it is still an effective occasion to introduce or reintroduce others to what exactly we celebrate: the particular and personal intervention of the one true God in the life of the world as not just a vague or fill-in-the-blanks deity, but as “the LORD [who] saves.” That’s what “Jesus” means (Matthew 1:21). He became flesh and blood just like us, was born in Bethlehem, and is Christ the Lord. That is good news of great joy for all people.  

That there is a god is not news, and mere belief in “god” will never be good enough. Let’s instead profess and promote a rich, deep, and complete faith in the One in whom all the fullness of God dwells, who came to earth “to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:20). 


Contributing editor Jeff Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland. 


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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Needed

Earle D. Treptow 

I’m needed. 

Maybe that sounds a bit arrogant, but I have it on good authority. The American Red Cross regularly tells me so—by personalized e-mail. I know what you’re thinking: “I hate to burst your bubble, but all the Red Cross really needs is your blood.” True enough. However, since they need something from me, they still need me. I’m needed.  

You are too—and not merely by the Red Cross.  

Even if no one has expressed that thought to you directly, it’s true. People all around you need you—and that’s exactly the way God designed it to be. In each of the callings the Lord has chosen specifically for you, be that as friend, neighbor, congregation member, sibling, employee, spouse, parent, or child, he has surrounded you with needs. The needs vary dramatically. Your employer needs an honest day’s work. Your child needs a ride to her piano lesson and your insistence that she practice. Your grieving friend needs your support and a sympathetic ear. Each of those needs is a God-given opportunity to glorify him and bless others. While God doesn’t need your good works—“[God] is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything” (Acts 17:25)— your neighbor definitely does.  

Sometimes the needs of others overwhelm us, because the opportunities far outstrip our time and abilities. We want to be needed, but on a more modest scale, with needs that are more easily met. We desire opportunities to serve, but would prefer to schedule them at more convenient times. As the needs of others pile up around us, the sinful flesh proposes the logical solution. “Withdraw,” the sinful nature suggests. “Let others deal with those needs.”  

The one who masquerades as an angel of light chimes in: “You need to step back from the needs of others and focus on your relationship with God. Those stressful interactions demand energy that really should be spent on prayer and meditation.” The devil is oh-so-sneaky, offering what appears to be a pious reason to disengage from the needs of the people around us. But the devil is an inveterate liar.   

While God invites us to spend time with him in his Word each day so that he might bless us with his love, he never describes it as an “either-or” proposition. Allow God to serve you through his Word, absolutely, just as Mary did while sitting at Jesus’ feet. But then, because you have been served by the One who loves unconditionally, you are eminently qualified to demonstrate that unconditional love to others. The people God has placed around you need you and the unconditional love you have experienced in Christ. Desperately.  

You are needed even by people who think they don’t need you; they may have told you so in no uncertain terms. You’re needed by the coworker who belittles Christianity because he had a bad experience with the church in the past. He needs your patient, persistent love. The friend who stridently speaks against the Bible’s “outdated teaching on morality” to justify his sin needs you. He needs your gentle instruction in the Word of the God who loves him in Christ. The neighbor who insists that Christianity provides nothing more valuable than any other religion needs you and your positive witness to Christ her Savior, who died that she might live.   

Disengaging from people in their need, even when they plead with us to do so, is simply not an option. Christ stopped to serve us in our need, though by nature we wanted nothing of the sort. We who bear Christ’s name can’t help but do the same for others.   


Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Calvary, Thiensville, Wisconsin.  


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Semper reformanda

Andrew C. Schroer 

Let me tell you a little parable: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what reformation is all about. 


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


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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Not caring is not an option

Jeffrey L. Samelson

Imagine that in the news today you hear newly released numbers of casualties from a civil war being fought in a foreign nation. You are shocked to learn that more than 900,000 people were killed in just the last year—almost one out of every five people. Since the war began, almost 60 million lost their lives. How would you respond?

With a “little war” killing only hundreds or thousands, you might easily say, “Well, that’s their business, not ours.” But with numbers like these—even if it were only about 100,000 in the last year—you would likely say, “Something must be done! This can’t continue!” You and other citizens might pressure your government to intervene—to do whatever it takes—and to do it quickly to stop the senseless deaths. As a Christian, you would pray earnestly for an end to the killing, recognizing that God’s heart is broken by that evil even more than yours. You would seek other ways that you could help. You might even get your church involved, sharing God’s love and concern together as his family.

Another option might be just to say, “Hey, that’s just life and death in this messed-up world. I’ve got plenty on my mind as it is, and I’m sure that if God cares he doesn’t need me telling him what to do.”

What if those deaths were all happening in your own country?

They are! About 900,000 innocent human lives were snuffed out by abortion in the United States last year—roughly one out of every five pregnancies. And yet many leaders within the Christian church treat it as something that “just is”—a reality to which we simply have to adjust. Some suggest that there is nothing more we can do, and the deaths continue to mount.

Perhaps you too simply conclude there is nothing you can do. Maybe the reason is that you don’t know anyone who’s ever had an abortion, so it’s not really worth your attention. Or perhaps you do know someone close to you who has had an abortion, and so you don’t feel comfortable being “judgy” about it. Or maybe you just don’t want to think about abortion.

Yet what breaks God’s heart should break the hearts of his people. We, as Lutherans, strongly affirm that infants need Baptism because they are sinners. We should understand the tragedy of abortion as well as anyone: It is taking the life of another person. That murder also eliminates that child’s opportunity to gain salvation through Baptism or hearing the gospel. Thank God, then, that Jesus won for us forgiveness on the cross—forgiveness for those who get, perform, or just encourage abortions as well as for those who have become complacent about the mass murder going on around them every day.

With the remission of those sins in Christ and the reminder of what abortion really is, we, as God’s people, find that not caring is not an option. You can get active politically or just speak up among friends. What you choose to do as a citizen is up to you. As Christians, though, we are all compelled to pray and to give witness to the truth with our teaching. We also can take some additional steps. We can volunteer at pregnancy centers, help unwed mothers, and do many other things to try to influence others and to stop the killing. We are God’s salt and light in a sin-darkened world.


Contributing editor Jeffrey Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.


Christian Life Resources is a WELS-related ministry devoted to educating and mobilizing Christians on beginning- and end-of-life issues according to God’s Word. Learn more at christianliferesources.net.


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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 104, Number 9
Issue: September 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Proud to be Lutheran?

Earle D. Treptow

“Raise your hand, if you’re proud to be Lutheran.” Hoping to avoid embarrassment, you take a quick peek around the room to see what others are doing. Raise your hand and risk being viewed as proud and arrogant or embarrassed. Lower your hand and risk hiding your faith and failing to confess before others.

Before you decide whether to raise your hand or not, reflect on the answer revealed by your daily life. What do your attitudes and actions say about how you view being Lutheran?

I cannot speak for you, so let me mention what I’ve observed in myself. As I read about church bodies that exchange the truth of God’s Word for the “prize” of cultural relevance, I’m proud to be Lutheran. When I argue with a friend whose church views Baptism as nothing more than an act of obedience, I’m proud to be Lutheran. I proud to confess God’s truth about Baptism.

I’m proud that I haven’t fallen for the false teachings so many others have because they haven’t faithfully searched the Scriptures. I’m proud that I still hold to what God says in his Word, unlike those who have essentially rewritten it to suit their fancy. All of that is to say that I’m proud to be Lutheran . . . but I shouldn’t be. In the end, my celebration of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation becomes this: “I’m proud of me and my orthodoxy.”

Sometimes my attitudes and actions send a different message regarding what I think about being Lutheran. When I tire of hearing that I can do nothing to contribute to having life with God or when I want the preacher to fast forward through the message of forgiveness in Christ and get on to how I should live to please God, I’m not exactly proud to be Lutheran. When I won’t invite people to worship because I feel that close Communion seems unloving, I show myself embarrassed to be Lutheran. All of that is to say that I’m not proud to be Lutheran . . . but I ought to be.

Whether it’s misplaced pride or inappropriate embarrassment, the problem is the same on both sides. I’m entirely too concerned with self, either in thinking that God must be impressed with my commitment to the truth or in wanting to minimize teachings that I feel stand in the way of the church’s growth.

To be Lutheran is to put aside everything you’ve done for God and to hold instead to Christ’s perfect righteousness in your place. Being Lutheran means clinging to Christ alone for the forgiveness of all your sins and finding your value in God’s unconditional love for you in Christ. It means finding your joy not in how you’re feeling about the Lord, but in his promises. We do not wish to boast in Luther or in a body of doctrine, but in Christ. Boasting in Christ is good, proper, and God-pleasing, because the Lord himself works it in us. “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord’ ” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

So, go ahead and raise your hand!


Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Calvary, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 104, Number 8
Issue: Augsut 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Mocking millennials

Andrew C. Schroer

Man buns and skinny jeans. Shaggy beards and yoga pants. Starbucks and selfies. That’s how other generations tend to see millennials.

They live in their parents’ basement. They march in protests. They are constantly on their phones. They are dreamers. They can’t handle criticism.

That’s how many of us from other generations tend to view millennials. So we mock them on Facebook. We make sarcastic remarks about how they were all given trophies in Little League. We share posts about how they are scared to eat at Chick-fil-A and how they don’t even know what they are protesting. We call them lazy. We call them crybabies. We call them narcissists.

We wring our hands and worry about a future with them in control.

Like any generalization, some truth can be found in the stereotypes. Millennials are a product of the world in which they were raised—a world where truth is relative and all opinions are given the megaphone of social media. In the end, they are sinners, just like you and me.

Generalizations and stereotypes, however, are never the whole story. Stereotypes can warp how we treat and view millennials. Not all millennials wear skinny jeans and yoga pants. Not all millennials march in protests and live in their parent’s basement. Not all millennials are selfie-taking crybabies.

And even if some of them are, mocking them doesn’t help. One of the age-old responses toward those we consider weak or thin-skinned is to tear them down. We think we need to toughen them up, so we make fun of them. We mock them. They need to learn not to be so sensitive.

Though that is an age-old response, it is not God’s response. In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul encourages us to build each other by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Should we confront the weaknesses and sins of the millennial generation? Of course, just as we need to confront other generations’ weaknesses and sins. But we should do so in love. We should do so remembering that not all millennials are the same. We should do so with grace and forgiveness flavoring our words and attitudes.

We should do so, understanding that for many millennials, the greatest sin of all is bullying. Millennials tend to view truth as relative. They value tolerance above all else.

If you mock them or tear them down, they won’t hear what you are saying. They will simply look at you just as another intolerant bully.

As a pastor, I am constantly being bombarded by articles and posts on social media all saying the same thing: Millennials are leaving Christian churches in droves. The reasons for this seeming mass exodus are diverse. Sometimes it is because of their sinful attitudes which flow from a warped worldview. Other times it is because they view Christian churches as intolerant and unloving.

So what should we do? How should we respond to this generation that sees the world so differently than we do? Love them as our Savior God loves them. Speak to them honestly and openly about the dangers of moral relativism. Confront the sins and failings that have permeated this generation’s thoughts and attitudes. Let God’s love and forgiveness shine in what you say and do.

Be firm. Be real. Be loving.

But more than anything else, please stop mocking millennials. That’s definitely not helping.


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


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 104, Number 7
Issue: July 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Chopped liver syndrome

Jeffrey L. Samelson

At the company picnic, the time comes for awards and recognitions, and the boss asks for everyone’s attention. He begins a small speech, lauding the work done by a 20-something new hire who over the last six months managed to bring in $5,000 in new revenue. The boss then asks everyone to applaud. All the employees clap except one—a middle-aged loyal worker who brought in over $200,000 in sales each of the last four years. She says, under her breath, “What am I, chopped liver?”

You might be familiar with the expression. It signals frustration or resentment when others are praised and you are overlooked or your contributions are ignored. And while we might want to think that such feelings have no place in believers’ hearts or among Christians, being slighted is all-too-often real. Might you be experiencing—or contributing to—“Chopped Liver Syndrome”?

Perhaps it has to do with members who have moved away from your congregation, and you lament that your church no longer has their talents in art or music or their friendly way of greeting visitors. Sadly, you don’t realize that every time you express those feelings you make the remaining faithful members feel like their skills with crafts or choir or their every-Sunday efforts to welcome guests are unrecognized and unappreciated.

We also might find the syndrome in our synod when the treasures of our Lutheran heritage are undervalued or ignored while the latest and greatest new ideas and practices from evangelicalism are hailed by fellow members of WELS as signs of churches that truly love and God and care about reaching the lost. Confessional Lutherans worldwide in this Reformation anniversary year will be frustrated at the attention paid to the observations of those who are Lutherans in name only or whose teachings and practices are as opposed to the gospel and scriptural truth as they were in the 16th century, all while we, who celebrate as Christians and churches who actually believe and teach what the Bible teaches as Luther did, are dismissed as too small or backward to be of interest. When we see the heterodox and heretical praised for their devotion while the orthodox are ignored, should we say, “What are we, chopped liver?”

It’s not a new thing in the church. The apostle Paul, in his letters, ends up having to remind the members of churches he founded, like the one in Corinth, that the honor they were giving to some of the “latest and greatest” teachers that came to them was honor that belonged properly to those faithful to the Word. We even see something like “Chopped Liver Syndrome” in God himself. Through the Old Testament prophets God points out how his people faithlessly go chasing after other gods, giving them praise, offering them sacrifices, and looking to them for blessings and prosperity—all the while ignoring him, the faithful Lord who guided, loved, and made them his own; brought them out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land; and blessed them abundantly.

“What am I, chopped liver?” might sound a little self-centered. But in the church we shouldn’t consider it self-centered. The gifts and service of every member of Christ’s body need to be appreciated, and the whole body suffers if they are not. And when Lutheran teachings and traditions are undervalued, truth is lost and faith is weakened. Do your church a favor. Don’t treat its treasures—its people or heritage—as chopped liver.


Contributing editor Jeffrey Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.


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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 104, Number 6
Issue: June 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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A more beautiful world

Earle D. Treptow

For the tidy sum of $5 million, Airbnb purchased 30 seconds of airtime during the Super Bowl. In the commercial, the founders of Airbnb concisely stated their position: “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.”

I considered it a thinly-veiled accusation: “If you speak up for marriage as God designed it or confess that Jesus Christ is the world’s only Savior, you make this an ugly world.” The commercial struck me as a not-so-subtle request to shut my Christian mouth. I quickly dismissed the commercial as anti-Christian. I don’t need to listen to people like that.

But I thought of my own bias and the way I treat others. About two minutes into an honest examination, I could identify a host of unaccepting words, unloving attitudes, and unkind actions. I realized that we regularly operate with a double standard. We forgive our own foibles readily, yet quickly give demerits to others.

Practiced in this skill, we have no problem rushing to judge strangers, especially those who show themselves strange and different to our way of thinking. In effect, we claim ourselves superior. We declare them unworthy of our respect and undeserving of the hard work involved in seeking to understand or serve them.

Jesus could have played the superior card with everyone he met. Successfully! But Jesus didn’t distance himself from those whose lives and thinking were a mess. Instead, he had compassion on them. He spent time with them and listened to them. And then he was judged: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). He welcomed sinners eagerly, wanting to serve them in love. Love moved him to speak to them privately about their sin, not to show himself superior but to call them to repentance. He invited them to confess their sin, to find in him their righteousness, and to change the direction of their lives.

Let’s not bother playing the superior card. The people around us don’t need our “I would never do such a thing” arrogance. They don’t benefit in the least when we speak dismissively about the way they think or live. Neither do we, for that matter! People around us need Christ and his love, not our handy labels or our disdain. If you insist on labeling people, then use this one instead: an individual for whom Jesus shed his blood.

Jesus offered himself as the atoning sacrifice for those whose lives are a mess and whose thinking doesn’t line up with what God teaches in his Word. That means he died for individuals actively engaging in homosexual relationships, for people who mock Christians as out-of-touch, and for those who dismiss the idea of Christ being the only way to eternal life. That means he died even for, of all people, us.

It turns out that we’re no better than anyone else. We’re beggars who live only by the righteousness of Another. We humbly speak God’s Word to others. We do so, not primarily to make this world more beautiful, but so that many might enjoy life in the far more beautiful world God has prepared for all who trust in Christ.


Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Calvary, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 104, Number 5
Issue: May 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Homophobic?

“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means” (Inigo Montoya from the movie The Princess Bride).

Andrew C. Schroer

It happened again recently. Another Christian celebrity was accused by the media of making “homophobic” remarks. We hear that adjective tossed around regularly in our world today. Any negative comment or sentiment expressed toward the LGBT community or about homosexuality is labeled “homophobic.”

The term “homophobia” was coined by psychologist George Weinberg in the 1960s to describe “a fear of homosexuals which seemed to be associated with a fear of contagion, a fear of reducing the things one fought for—home and family.”

Homophobia is an irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals based on the fear that you or someone you love might somehow be infected by their homosexuality or that others may think you are homosexual if you associate with them. That fear often manifests itself in cruelty or violence toward homosexuals.

Homophobia is real. Men especially are susceptible to such feelings of anger or hatred as they deal with their own insecurities. Many homosexuals around the world have suffered discrimination, abuse, and even violence due to homophobia.

But I am not homophobic. My church is not homophobic. My God is not homophobic.

The fact that the Bible calls homosexuality a sin does not make the Bible homophobic. The fact that my church rightly teaches it is a sin and the fact that I openly espouse the teaching does not make us homophobic. Neither God, my church, nor I have an irrational fear or hatred toward homosexuals.

We love them. We want them to be with us forever in heaven. Just because I say something is wrong or sinful does not mean I hate the person who commits the sin.

When I, for example, confront my young son with his stubbornness, I am not being obstinaphobic. I am not acting out of an irrational fear or hatred of my son’s stubbornness. I love him. I know God does not want him to act that way. I know his sin, like every sin, deserves God’s punishment in hell. I know my son needs to repent and find forgiveness in his Savior Jesus. So I openly confront him with his stubbornness.

God calls us as Christians to lovingly and firmly confront others with their sins so that they repent and find in Jesus the forgiveness they so desperately need. He gave us the Ten Commandments to help us identify what sin is. When a church, pastor, or individual Christian challenge behavior contrary to God’s will, that doesn’t make them homophobic or any other “phobic” we might imagine.

Do some Christians fall into the trap of homophobia and act out of irrational fear and hatred? Of course. Such behavior is just as sinful in God’s eyes as the sin of homosexuality, and whoever is guilty of it needs to be called to repentance. As Christians we need to be careful not to let fear or hatred taint our conversations about homosexuality.

If you are not a Christian, however, or do not agree with what God says in the Bible about homosexuality, the one thing I ask is that you be fair. Stop accusing all those who disagree with you of being hateful, ignorant, or irrational.

And please, stop calling us homophobic. I don’t think that word means what you think it means.


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


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 104, Number 4
Issue: April 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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It’s not hate but love

Jeffrey L. Samelson

“I’m confused,” we might say. “You accuse me of being hateful, unloving, and unworthy of the name ‘Christian’ when I say God has much to say about sexual relationships. But at the same time you say you are not hateful or unloving when you say with strong language that I am wrong. What principle are you following? Have you actually thought any of this through, or are you just more comfortable accusing me of hate than actually considering what God has to say and that you might, in fact, be wrong?”

If you are at all like me, saying something like that is the way you would like to bring many a conversation or confrontation to a conclusion—or, perhaps, add to the beginning of an actually productive exchange of ideas. It’s a sad fact of life that many in our culture have decided both that any criticism of others’ values and behaviors (theirs in particular) is hateful and that their own criticism of Christian standards and teachings cannot possibly be hateful.

What is even more tragic is that such thinking is not limited to those outside our churches. Many Christians seem to operate as though they have been personally authorized (by what or whom is unclear) to redefine and redirect the teachings of Christ’s church to make them more acceptable to our culture, simultaneously labeling the faithful as “backward” and “unloving.” They see no contradictions or irony in affirming on the one hand that they love Jesus and believe that the Bible is God’s Word, but on the other hand claiming that Scripture’s condemnations of presently popular sins and calls for repentance are “not what Jesus would say” or “things real Christians don’t believe anymore.”

Our first instinct in responding might be anger or resentment at the idea that holding faithfully to God’s own definitions of what is loving and Christian makes us unloving and unchristian. We might also want to complain about the hypocrisy of those who sanctimoniously judge us as evil for making judgments. Yet such reactions will do little to correct the underlying error of these accusations and judgments.

With non-spiritual criticisms we seek to restore a foundation of logic and mutual respect in our discussions of hot-button issues that put us at odds with the culture’s prevailing worldview. Gently pointing out their contradictions and appealing to fairness might open the door to explaining that our criticisms are not, as they suppose, about lifting ourselves up over others as righteous judges but about pointing others to truths they need and will be blessed to understand.

With misguided Christians we must stress that when we say what God himself says about sin, we are not only speaking the truth but we also are speaking it in love. To refuse to call sinners to repentance is unloving because it leaves them condemned to an eternity in hell. Christlike love desires sinners to repent of their sins and to find salvation in Jesus. There is no other way to heaven.

These are not mere academic or abstract disputes; real lives and real relationships hang in the balance—not just with “those people” but with friends and family members. We cannot let our own discomfort or fear stand in the way of what needs to be believed and spoken. It is not only possible to love someone dearly and still call him or her “wrong,” but where sin is concerned, it’s also absolutely necessary.


Contributing editor Jeff Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.


 

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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 104, Number 3
Issue: March 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Exercise your freedom of speech

Earle D. Treptow

In the days following November’s presidential election, people across the United States exercised their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Some expressed their disappointment through derogatory Facebook posts and scathing tweets or took to the streets in protest. Others celebrated the results.

According to the First Amendment, Americans are free to speak what’s

on their minds. With some limitations, we have the right to voice our opinions about elected leaders. That’s not, however, the way God would have his people think about freedom of speech.

Those who have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit have a freedom of speech far surpassing the freedom protected by the First Amendment.

We are free, first, to speak to God directly in prayer. Though our sin makes us unworthy of that privilege, “in [Jesus] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12). We have the right to bring our concerns to the One who spoke this world into existence, knowing that he is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

If you’re concerned about the future of the country in which you live, exercise that freedom of speech. Speak to the One who rules over everything everywhere for the benefit of his church. Ask him to grant wisdom to those who serve in the government so that they recognize their solemn responsibility as his representatives. Pray that the Lord would lead the citizens of this country to live in accord with the law he wrote on their hearts.

Because the sinful nature clings to us in this life, we sometimes use our words to tear people down, including those God has placed over us in the state. We put others down to elevate ourselves, to assure ourselves that, while we may not be perfect, we are at least better than “those people.” Sadly, we’re often more interested in what we feel about ourselves than what God himself has said about us in Christ. He has declared us innocent and the delight of his heart. Since we have perfect security in Christ, we need not seek it in tearing others down.

Secure in God’s declaration of us, we are free to speak about others in a respectful way. The apostle Paul encourages us, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). We who have experienced grace in what God says about us are free to show grace to others in what we say about them.

Exercise your freedom of speech! Speak about others with respect, including those whom God has placed over you in the government, whether you feel they’ve earned it or not.

We have one more freedom of speech

in Christ: We are free to speak the good news of Jesus to everyone. The Lord has commissioned us to be a blessing to others as we testify to God’s love for all. Real change happens when the Spirit of God changes hearts, and he does that through the message of Christ. So, speak up. Proclaim the extraordinary grace of God in Christ.

Exercise your freedom of speech as a Christian. Speak, in prayer, to the One who rules over all for the benefit of his church. Speak respectfully about God’s representatives in the government. And speak the Word of Christ, by which the Lord changes hearts and lives.

God will bless your speaking.

Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Calvary, Thiensville, Wisconsin.

 


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 104, Number 2
Issue: February 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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God bless Donald Trump

Andrew C. Schroer

On Jan. 20, Donald John Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States of America. After a long, contentious, circus-like presidential election, the eccentric real estate tycoon came out on top. The American electorate has spoken.

So I say, “God bless Donald Trump!” though my prayer for President Trump has nothing to do with my political preferences.

I pray for President Trump because my Savior God wants me to pray for my leaders. Paul wrote, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1,2).

Do you struggle to say those words—“God bless Donald Trump”? Maybe you didn’t vote for him. Maybe you consider him insincere or misogynistic. Maybe you differ with him ideologically over foreign policy or the economy. I hope and pray you disagree with the crude and rude way he sometimes speaks of other people.

Yet God wants you to pray for him—to pray that God blesses our new president, to pray that our Lord will help him to govern wisely, to pray that his time in office be a blessing to us and others. God wants you to pray for President Trump.

And he wants you to mean it.

God wants you to love Donald Trump as you love yourself (Matthew 22:39). He wants you to honor and obey him as the person he has placed in authority over you (Romans 13:1,2).

That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything he says and does. That doesn’t mean you should sit idly by if you believe he is leading our country poorly or immorally. God has given us the unique privilege of living in a country where we are free to speak out with our voice and vote.

But do so respectfully. Do so out of love for God who has redeemed you and given you a role as a citizen in this country. Sadly, our modern world has lost the ability to disagree respectfully.

After such a contentious election, filled with vitriol and venom, you may still be angry with our new president. Just look at how you speak about him in private conversations or on Facebook. Do you find yourself referring to him as “Trump” with disdain? Do you add a derogatory adjective before his name? As Christians, we do not refer to our leaders in such a way. Even when we disagree with him—even if he does something of which God does not approve—he is still President Trump, the authority which God has established.

God does not hate President Trump, nor should you. Forgive him, respect him, pray for him, just as Jesus forgives and intercedes for you. Accept God’s will that President Trump be our president.

Yes, the American voters chose him, but it was God who made him our president. God placed President Trump over us for our good (Romans 13:4). So trust God. Trust that he has a plan for us and our country. Trust that he is working all things for our good.

Trust that no matter who sits in the Oval Office, our God still reigns supreme.

That is why I will continue to pray for President Trump. That is why you should as well.

God bless President Donald Trump, and God bless America.

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

 


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 104, Number 1
Issue: January 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Too much Christmas?

Jeffrey L. Samelson

Little Abby was puzzled. “Daddy, when Aunt Emily had baby William and we went to see them at the hospital that night, didn’t we go again the next day?”

“Yes, we did. Why do you ask?”

“Well,” she said, “why didn’t we stay home since we’d already gone just the night before? Hadn’t we had enough?”

“Of course not! You know how long everyone, and especially Aunt Emily and Uncle Sean, had waited for a baby, and we were all so excited to see William. It was a really big deal and a very happy thing. I don’t think anyone could have ‘had enough’ of that!”

“Oh. Then what did you mean when you said we wouldn’t be going to church on Christmas Day because by Sunday morning we would have ‘had enough’ of Christmas? Isn’t the birth of Jesus a really big, very happy thing for us?”

Even if you’ve never missed a Christmas morning service in your life, chances are you at least have some understanding of how someone could feel he had “had enough” of Christmas. Maybe it’s that one radio station that starts 24-7 Christmas music even before Thanksgiving. Perhaps you’ve worked retail during the holiday season, and you just can’t take any more of the crass commercialism. Maybe it’s just the fact that the Christmas displays and catalogs keep showing up earlier in the fall every year, or perhaps too much Christmas is more about overindulging in holiday treats or being overwhelmed by family and social obligations.

We might call it “sugar shock.” The complaint that you’ve had or experienced too much Christmas is usually all about being overdosed with the saccharine sentimentality and the froth and frosting our culture applies to its idea of the holiday. After the zillionth repeat of “Rudolph” and the umpteenth holiday special that extols the “Christmas spirit” but never mentions Christ, it’s easily understandable that a Christian might say, “Enough!”

So go ahead and sequester yourself from the Santas and mute “Rudolph” if it’s all too much for you, but don’t miss the once-a-year opportunity to focus on the great and mighty wonder that is the birth of Jesus. There’s no better antidote to the emptiness of Christless commercialism and seasonal platitudes than the full and nourishing telling— and retelling—of how God promised the world a child who would rescue us from sin and death and then delivered that Son into our human story that night in Bethlehem. God came to be with us—Immanuel—and save us.

So yes, we go to church! We ponder and prepare through the season and services of Advent, focusing on the promises of the Lord to come. And when Christmas itself comes, we sing the songs that actually tell what a really big deal this holy day is. We rejoice to hear the accounts of angels’ visits and manger-cribs because Jesus’ birth is a very happy thing, and we eagerly come together in worship and fellowship as the people who have peace because of this newborn King.

There’s no such thing as too much grace, good news, or glory to God in the highest. Even when we get to heaven, we will never have “had enough” of Christmas.

Contributing editor Jeffrey Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.


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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 103, Number 12
Issue: December 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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#ShoutYourSin

Earle D. Treptow

In the fall of 2015, a few women decided to mount an offensive against the pro-life movement. Turning to social media, they settled on a provocative hashtag still in use a year later: #ShoutYourAbortion. “The era of compulsory silence is ending,” says their website. “Abortion is normal. Our stories are ours to tell. This is not a debate.”

Shocking, right? Disobeying God’s clear command is one thing; shouting it out for all the world to hear is entirely another. To declare it courageous for a woman to end an unwanted child’s life is to rebel against the law God has written on human hearts.

Why do they speak so brazenly about their sin? It’s not that they want to get into a debate about the propriety of their actions. Nor does their brazenness arise primarily from a desire to help the unenlightened see the need for abortion. The issue is far more personal than that. Stated or not, realized or not, they’re trying to evade their consciences. Desperately. Like a child yelling, “I’m not listening! I’m not listening!” they shout: “Abortion is normal. Abortion is necessary. Abortion is courageous.” Shouting out their sin solves the vexing problem of conscience. Their consciences can’t be heard over the racket, and they can continue on a path away from God’s grace.

Pro-abortion advocates aren’t the only ones seeking to evade their consciences. Like dogs instinctively shaking off water after a bath, we sinners desperately want to shake off shame and guilt. Some try to convince themselves that since their actions make them happy, and since God wants them to be happy, their consciences must be mistaken.

Others deal with an accusing conscience by burying their sin out of conscience’s sight. In shame, they go silent. They refuse to talk to anyone about their sin, not even a Christian friend, because they know that Christian friend would look at them differently. They try to wipe what they’ve done from their memory as if, magician-like, they could snap their fingers and make sin and guilt disappear.

We think we’re so clever, devising ways to deal with accusing consciences. But they don’t actually work. There’s only one solution for an accusing conscience, and it’s one we natural-born sinners never could have imagined. The Lord invites you to #ShoutYourSin. Not in defiance or rebellion, standing up for your right to sin. He bids you to #ShoutYourSin to him in confession, even though your conscience will suggest that you’d be a fool to do so. Your conscience, however, doesn’t know God. Not as he truly is. The apostle John tells us what happens when we confess our sins to the holy God: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

So #ShoutYourSin to him, as counterintuitive as that may be. That’s the God-approved way of dealing with an accusing conscience. Get used to the fact that you are a real sinner and then rejoice to know that you have a real Savior. In Jesus’ blood, the Lord takes away your guilt and, in so doing, cleanses your conscience. In peace and joy, you are then free to #ShoutYourSavior for all the world to hear!

Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Calvary, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Happy anniversary

Andrew C. Schroer

This month we celebrate the 499th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On All Hallow’s Eve (Oct. 31) 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed a document to the door of his local parish. The document consisted of 95 theses he wished to publicly debate concerning abuses he saw in the Roman Catholic Church.

The nailing of the Ninety-five Theses changed the world. Most historians include it in their top ten list of history’s defining moments. Every non-Roman Catholic Christian church, except for the Eastern Orthodox churches, can trace its roots back to the moment Luther’s hammer struck that nail.

Next year, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation will be celebrated, not only in Lutheran churches, but by numerous church bodies around the world. A major PBS documentary will be released. The History Channel will highlight Martin Luther. Historians and scholars will wax poetic as they give their unique insights as to who Martin Luther was and what the Reformation means. Our synod is already making plans to celebrate the historic event and maximize the publicity surrounding it.

This year, though, there will be no PBS documentary. The History Channel will most likely focus its attention on Halloween, as it does every year at this time. Few non-Lutheran churches will notice. Even our celebrations will be much more subdued. Sure, some communities will have joint Reformation services. But even then, all the conversations and excitement will be about what we are going to do next year for the 500th anniversary.

But why? Why is the 500th anniversary so much more important than the 499th? Why is our world so fascinated with round numbers? We celebrate our parent’s 50th wedding anniversary with big parties, fabulous trips, and wonderful family reunions. But what about their 47th anniversary or their 52nd? Why don’t we celebrate those with as much fanfare?

Why mark the 100th day in office for the president and not his 123rd? Why celebrate a baseball player’s 500th homerun and not his 484th? Because we as a society consider round numbers implicitly better and more important. One author calls it “the mathematical tyranny of round numbers.”

In the end, they’re just numbers.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all for celebrating the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the Ninety-five Theses. I am excited about the publicity it will bring and the opportunities it will give us to share the good news of the gospel with a world that so desperately needs it. Pastors and local congregations should already be planning their celebrations and looking for ways to take advantage of the opportunities it will provide in their local communities to talk about what it means to be a Lutheran.

But don’t forget to celebrate the Festival of the Reformation this year. It is just as important and meaningful this year as it will be next year. In the end, the Festival of the Reformation isn’t about Martin Luther, being Lutheran, or being WELS. It’s about how God has preserved his gospel throughout history. It’s about how he has used flawed human beings like Martin Luther, you, and me to stand up for and speak out the truth.

It’s about the free gift of heaven and forgiveness Jesus won for us by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

That’s something to celebrate every year.

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


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 103, Number 10
Issue: October 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Organs or guitars?

Jeffrey L. Samelson

Organs or guitars?

Actually, it’s not about the instruments. Maybe it was for Great Aunt Tilly, way back, the first time someone played a guitar in church and all she could say was, “I just don’t like it!”

Or maybe you want it to be about the instruments, because that makes the arguments easier. But that’s not what it’s about.

Perhaps you have escaped the discussions and disputations so far, but for years now there’s been a lot of talk—some of it heated—about how we worship in WELS. Too often it’s summed up as something like: “Those people like organ music” and “Those other people like drums and guitars.” That’s a mischaracterization because it places the disagreement in the category of personal preference, when in fact the differences go much deeper—into questions of theology and our identity as Lutheran Christians.

Just what is “Lutheran”? The limited changes in the church that Martin Luther and his true followers advocated for made the Reformation conservative. Our Lutheran forefathers were not radical reformers as some of their contemporaries were. Their goal was to remove false doctrine and unscriptural practices from the church, but they were careful not to change anything that didn’t need changing. Much that had been passed down through the centuries was worth preserving for their own and future generations.

A big part of that heritage was the liturgy and other traditions connected with worship, like observing the church seasons and festivals. Luther and the others re-centered the service on the gospel and gave back to the laity what had been restricted to the clergy. Along with these corrections, they developed a theology of worship that informed their decisions, instructed the church at large, and inspired generations to follow. Think of the magnificent music of Johann Sebastian Bach or the deep devotional hymns of Paul Gerhardt!

As the centuries passed, however, it became easy for Lutherans to neglect the theology of their worship and just stick with what was comfortable and familiar for them. It all became a matter of personal preference. That meant that when suddenly, new worship “styles,” practices, and, yes, instruments, were being introduced, many were unprepared to explain why these new things were theologically good, bad, or indifferent, and how exactly what belonged to our Lutheran heritage was better and wiser or worn and outdated.

We’ve learned since then. Worship is just too important to the life of the church and to the faith of the Christian for any of us to be comfortable with ignorance and insistence on one’s personal opinion. It’s not by any means a neutral thing whether we have a praise band up front playing the latest Christian hits or a robed minister presiding over an ordered liturgy of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. If we argue for one or the other based on what we like, we can’t assume that the person arguing the opposite has a different set of likes. Confessional Lutherans take these matters seriously because the gospel itself is at stake—for us and future generations. These are not just matters of practicality or personal preference.

Oh, now you want to know what exactly a confessional Lutheran theology of worship is and what it means for you and your congregation? Good. That’s exactly the conversation we need to be having.

Contributing editor Jeffrey Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.


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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Are you a people-pleaser?

Earle D. Treptow

People-pleasers, as we commonly use the term, are individuals who do whatever is asked of them to ensure the happiness of others. Though they probably belted out the word no with gusto as two-year-olds, they find it exceedingly difficult to use that word with their bosses, their friends, and some members of their family. Even when they lack the time or the ability to do what is asked, they can’t say no.

Why can’t people-pleasers say no? Perhaps some worry that others will perceive them as selfish or self-absorbed. Others can’t say no because, by their way of thinking, dealing with the stress of another item on their lengthy to-do list is easier than dealing with the feelings of guilt sure to wash over them later. Perhaps, whether they realize it or not, they’re actually hoping to get something from others. They want to feel loved and needed; they’re seeking validation.

There’s a far better place for us to find validation. Through faith in Jesus, we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. God declares that he is well pleased with us, because Jesus accepted our guilt and endured our punishment. Gone, in Christ, therefore, is the pressure of having to perform to get God to be pleased with us. Secure in the Lord’s unwavering love, we need not live by the approval of others. We don’t have to be people-pleasers. How freeing!

At the same time, however, God wants us to please the people he has placed in our lives. St. Paul writes, “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me’ ” (Romans 15:2,3). Rather than saying, “I don’t really care about my neighbors since God rejoices over me,” the child of God says, “I want to serve the people in my life. Since the Lord committed himself to me in Baptism, promising to bless me and care for me throughout life, I am free to commit myself to others.”

The apostle Paul points us to our Savior as both model and motive. Jesus, the delight of his Father, never used his power to guarantee a life of ease. Instead, he tirelessly loved and blessed those whom most people despised—the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the sinners—and found himself despised as a result. The leaders of the Jews were none too pleased with him. Yet, for them too, Jesus willingly sacrificed himself. He was pleased to do what was in the best interest even of those who didn’t appreciate him at all.

Because Jesus was a people-pleaser, that is, because he did what was good for sinners, including us, we are free to be people-pleasers too—not so that we can get something from them, but because we want to give something to them. We can be people-pleasers, eager to do what will be in their best interests. We can say yes to putting the needs of others before our own, to bless them because God has so richly blessed us. We can serve even those who don’t appropriately appreciate our efforts, because the Lord has served us first.

With that kind of people-pleasing, God is most pleased!

Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Calvary, Thiensville, Wisconsin.

 

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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 103, Number 8
Issue: August 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Our God reigns

Andrew C. Schroer

The field has been narrowed down. After a dizzying primary season, full of surreal debates, crazy comments, and canned soundbites, the Republican and Democratic parties will finally nominate their candidates at their party conventions.

Many Christians are anxiously wringing their hands wondering who the next president will be. Some are filled with frustration about who is left standing after the debates. Others are excited. Still others are filled with dread. I’m here to tell you: Don’t worry about it.

Don’t get me wrong. As a Christian, you should be concerned about the upcoming election. God has called you to be a light to the world. He has called you to speak the truth in love. As Christians, we should participate in the political process. We should let our voices be heard. We should vote our consciences.

We should be concerned about who becomes the next president. It should sadden us when government officials don’t live up to their high calling. Injustices should anger us and lead us to act.

We don’t need to worry, however. Again and again, our God tells us in his Word not to worry about the future. He lovingly whispers, “Do not be afraid.” Why? Because no matter who is running our country—no matter what is happening at home or abroad—our God reigns.

God is in control. If you have a chance today, read Psalm chapter 2 in your Bible. See how God reacts when leaders and governments contend against his will. He laughs. They can’t win. In the end, Jesus wins, and because he wins, we too will win.

Kingdoms will rise and fall. Presidents will come and go, but our God reigns. He will control all of time and history for the good of his children. If he did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also make everything else work for our good (cf. Romans 8:32)?

Now, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Look at history. Tyrants can quickly steal our freedoms. They have come in other places and other times. The power and prosperity we enjoy can disappear in less than one generation. That has happened even in our own national history. Our nation’s future as a world power is by no means guaranteed.

In the end, though, we need not fear. God’s Word still will be preached. No ruler or government throughout history has been able to silence it. They have tried more than once, but God provided for and protected his children. No matter what happens here, we are citizens of God’s heavenly kingdom because of Jesus.

Yet, many Christians in our country worry. They fret and fuss about our government. Some think that if we can just get the right candidate or right party in power, all our problems will disappear. They fear that if the wrong people get elected, we are doomed. The government, however, cannot solve our problems. Only God can. He has demonstrated his love for us by giving us his one and only Son.

So this November as the candidates vie for your vote, let your light shine. Participate in the process. Let your voice be heard.

In the end, though, even if your candidate is not elected—no matter who becomes the next president of the United States—don’t worry.

Our God reigns.

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

 

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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 103, Number 7
Issue: July 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Enemies, allies, and agendas

Jeffrey L. Samelson

The 2016 American presidential campaign has revealed a challenge. You find yourself defending a particular party or candidate merely because they have been attacked by someone whose views or policies you oppose, or you end up attacking some others merely because they appear to be aligned with someone you oppose. You end up wondering, “How did I get here?” when you realize that you are now supporting someone you really don’t agree with or arguing against someone who thinks as you do.

There are two old sayings: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” and “The enemy of my friend is my enemy.” Those may offer useful guidance on the battlefield or to resolve some major conflict for the short term, but as Christians whose first loyalty is always to our Lord, they can be problematic in politics, in our personal lives, and in the church.

We are often encouraged to form alliances based on false dilemmas, as in, “Candidate X is for this good thing; if you don’t support him, then you’re opposed to the good things she stands for.” In fact, Candidate X may also be for bad things we cannot support. In reality, other candidates may be worthier of our support. We may find the same thing happening in the workplace, in some groups we belong to, or even in our families as sides or factions are formed around some issue or personality. Tragically, we see it also in the church, when “for” or “against” on some single issue—finances, furnishings, or something else—is used to divide everyone into “us” and “them.”

Christians, however, don’t let common enmities or agreeable alliances stand in for faithfulness to God and his will. Sometimes that requires abandoning what is convenient or comfortable for careful consideration and hard choices. This goes with the “deny yourself” part of Christ’s call to “take up [your] cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). We learn to discern (Philippians 1:9-11).

So we do well to remember that there are deep ditches on either side of the narrow, scriptural, Lutheran middle road. “At least it’s not Catholic” doesn’t excuse aligning yourself with a Protestant church full of its own errors. Saying “We’re on the same side on this important social issue” does not condone ignoring false doctrine. You may properly disapprove of Aunt Agnes’ lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean she’s wrong about Grandma’s health care. Pastor Smith may truly have handled yesterday’s discipline case poorly, but that’s no reason to oppose him today or avoid his Bible class.

Many people will try to get us to sign on to their agendas, but our ultimate agenda has to be the Lord’s, and that means asking hard questions: What witness to Christ am I giving with my support? Will this opposition burn bridges for the gospel? By being loyal to my friend, am I being disloyal to my Savior?

Sometimes God’s will coincides clearly with some person, party, or politics we favor, and then we can confidently give our full support. But this doesn’t happen as often as we want. Too often going “all in” means compromising Christ. So we study his Word, pray for wisdom, act in love, and seek his will in all things, rejoicing in the alliance God made with us by sending his Son to be our Savior.

Contributing editor Jeffrey Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.

 

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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 103, Number 6
Issue: June 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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