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Same message, same power, same promise

Mark G. Schroeder

Does this sound familiar to you? 

  • A world that is hostile to God and to all that he stands for.
  • A society and a culture that is focused on materialism and the all-consuming desire for pleasure. 
  • A culture in which traditional moral values are eroding, where families are disintegrating, where human life is devalued,and where violence is rampant. 
  • A world obsessed with all things sexual, and in which unspeakable perversions are not only tolerated but glorified.
  • A society that embraces a belief system that denies absolute truth and rejects any distinction between right and wrong, good and evil. 
  • A world in which Christian beliefs and teachings are attacked and ridiculed.
  • A religious scene in which false teachers entice more and more people with their deceptions and lies. 

If that sounds like the world and the culture we live in, you would certainly not be wrong. But, in fact, this is also a description of the Roman world at the end of the first century—the very world in which God placed his first New Testament believers to carry out their God-given mission.  

It’s tempting to look around and conclude that the world we live in is worse than ever before and that today’s challenges of reaching unbelieving souls with the gospel are greater than in the past. But in reality, things today are no different from the Roman world and pagan culture. And just as today’s world presents the same challenges to God’s church, so it also has the same opportunities for the power of the gospel to work in the hearts of people. 

Consider what God did in that world of the first century. It was only a handful of disciples that gathered around their risen Savior on a hill outside Jerusalem just before he ascended. Jesus sent that little group into a hostile world on what must have seemed like an impossible mission. But armed with the power of God’s Word and with the unbreakable promises he had given them, those first believers did not retreat from that challenge. When Jesus told them to go, they went—with joy, with commitment, and with confidence. 

And God blessed their witness. The book of Acts tells us repeatedly that, as God’s people proclaimed the gospel, the Word of the Lord grew—despite the challenges and opposition. As the Holy Spirit worked, the Word grew in the hearts of people. It grew eventually to cross the oceans and to span the centuries. It grew and spread to the point where, through the faithful witness of generations of God’s people, it came to you and to me. 

The gospel still faces hostility and opposition in today’s unbelieving world. But that powerful gospel is still at work, changing hearts, changing lives, and changing eternities. We carry out the same mission as those first-century believers, and, like them, we are reminded wherein the success of our mission lies. Our mission and our witness does not depend on us, on our own cleverness, on our will power, or on our abilities. Nor is its effectiveness in slick programs or effective marketing strategies. The strength and success of our mission is found in the power, faithfulness, and love of a God whose Spirit works through the proclamation of his Word and the administration of his sacraments. The success of our mission lies completely in the hands of the One who has promised us that his Word will not return to him empty and that the gates of hell itself will not be able to overcome his church. 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 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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A tragic inconsistency

Mark G. Schroeder

People around the world were transfixed by the drama taking place in Thailand. A boys’ soccer team and their coach were trapped in a cave after monsoon rains filled the cave and cut off their route of escape. The rescue effort and the attention it received were a testimony to how much people value human lives. 

A storm was brewing in the hills around Branson, Missouri, the vacation destination of thousands of people each year. The captain of a tour boat decided to head out onto the lake despite the dark clouds and lightning in the vicinity. Sadly, the winds and waves caused the boat to capsize, its fixed windows trapping people inside the sinking vessel. Seventeen people lost their lives, but what received the most attention was the fact that nine members of one family, most of them children, were among the victims. There was genuine grief over the loss of life, a grief more deeply felt because of the loss of young children. 

Another school shooting is the focus of breaking news reports and round-the-clock coverage for days. The loss of young life shocks a nation, because all agree that human life is precious.  

The desire to save and preserve human life is seen every day in the field of medicine, as new drugs, medical devices and technology, and treatment procedures are developed. Due to advances in medical research and the dedicated efforts of scientists and medical personnel, lives are saved. 

Why do we care so much about the dramatic rescue in a cave on the other side of the world? Why do we grieve so sincerely when nine family members lose their lives in a boat accident or students are gunned down in their classrooms? Why do even unbelievers marvel with gratitude when even one life is preserved and extended by medical treatment? It’s because our society still claims to recognize the value of human life. 

But then comes the tragic inconsistency. Many of the same people who held their breath for the rescue of the boys in the cave are people who have carried signs in demonstrations advocating a woman’s “right to choose.” Many who mourned the loss of children in a boating accident or in school shootings do not shed a single tear for the millions of children whose lives have been ended before they drew their first breath. In the same building where life-saving surgery is performed, “procedures” are taking place that abort unborn children. Even many Christian churches that claim to be advocates for the poor and the defenseless in our society have absolutely no problem defending a person’s right to end the life of the most defenseless of all. 

Sad to say, legalized abortion has been with us for decades. We dare never allow ourselves to become numb to the number of lives lost and to reduce them to little more than statistics. Nor should we be content as Christians to do nothing. Rather, we need to pray for God’s help in preventing our attitudes and beliefs to be shaped by a society that sees some lives as more valuable than others. It goes without saying that we will want to do all we can to protect life by exercising our rights and responsibilities as citizens. But, most of all, we will recognize that people’s tragic inconsistency can be cured only as they are transformed by the powerful gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s that message that God has entrusted to us to proclaim in our congregations and to share individually with our friends and neighbors.  


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 10
Issue: October 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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True unity

Mark G. Schroeder

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). Those words of King David remind us of the blessings that come when families are united in love and in a common purpose. They illustrate the joy that comes when individual Christians share a common faith and a common mission.  

These words apply as well to Christian church bodies, when groups of Christians are united in their common stand on God’s Word and in the doctrines that they proclaim. When such unity exists, there you find genuine, God-pleasing fellowship.  

God’s visible church on earth should always be striving for that kind of unity—not an outward unity that ignores or minimizes differences and disagreements, but a true unity built on God’s truth. When God grants the blessings of true unity, that unity should be cherished and nourished and expressed. When there are divisions in the church, God’s people will seek to restore unity brought about by agreement in the teachings of the Scriptures. 

The Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC) was formed in the late 1950s when some members and congregations of WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) members were convinced that WELS and the ELS were not acting in keeping with biblical fellowship principles in their dealing with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Since that time, citing doctrinal differences, the CLC has not been in fellowship with WELS or the ELS. 

For the past several years, representatives of the WELS, the ELS, and the CLC (three from each synod) have been meeting in formal doctrinal discussions to determine whether God-pleasing doctrinal unity exists between the three synods, which would make possible a re-establishment of fellowship. The first question addressed by these representatives was, “When do churches in fellowship with each other need to separate?” Bible passages were thoroughly examined, and past doctrinal statements and convention resolutions of the three synods were reviewed to clarify current positions and remove any past misunderstandings. 

As a result of these discussions, the “Joint Statement Regarding the Termination of Fellowship” was adopted by the nine-member group. It was viewed as a necessary starting point for further discussions on other matters of doctrine and practice. The “Joint Statement” was then adopted by the conventions of WELS and the ELS in 2017. 

This past summer, the convention of the CLC considered the statement. The convention said, “We acknowledge with joy that the ‘Joint Statement Regarding the Termination of Fellowship’ is a scripturally sound presentation of doctrinal principles.” But the convention did not formally accept the statement, saying that it “does NOT resolve all of the issues involving the doctrine of fellowship.” (It should be noted that the statement was never intended to resolve all issues but was to serve as a necessary first step.) So, the CLC neither formally accepted nor rejected the statement but instead resolved to make a final decision on the statement at its 2020 convention. The convention expressed the hope that discussions could continue in the meantime. 

WELS and ELS representatives will meet in October to discuss what the next steps in the process should be prior to the CLC’s formal action on the statement in 2020. We pray that this process can continue in some way as we seek to determine whether agreement between the synods exists and whether full fellowship can be considered. 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 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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Trained and ready

Mark G. Schroeder

Long before soldiers are sent into battle, they undergo rigorous and thorough training. They train to improve their physical strength and endurance and to instill discipline and a sense of teamwork. They learn to use their weapons with skill and confidence. They train and train again, so that when the time comes, the skills they have learned will be used instantly and instinctively, without thought or hesitation. 

No general would send his troops into battle without giving them thorough training. And every solider recognizes that training is one of the most important factors to achieve success for himself, for his fellow soldiers, and for his country. 

Another important factor for a soldier’s success in battle is the support he receives from “back home.” It’s the letters and phone calls; prayers; and encouragement of friends, family, and fellow citizens that remind soldiers why they are fighting and help soldiers to devote themselves fully to their mission. 

It’s August, and throughout our country young men and women are preparing to head into battle. For some, it will be their third or fourth tour of duty. For others, it will be their first taste of combat. The battle will have extremely high stakes for them and for the people they represent. And the enemy they face will be fierce, committed, and unrelenting. 

But this battle will not take place in faraway deserts or jungles. Instead, many of our young people will be heading into the hostile territory on the campuses of secular colleges and universities. The dangers will come in the ideas, instruction, and pressures they will encounter in classrooms and dormitories. They will encounter furious assaults on their faith, their values, and their very souls. 

Atheist professors will try to teach them that there is no such thing as absolute truth—much less biblical truth. Science, despite its changing conclusions, will be elevated to godlike status, and anyone who believes that God created the universe in six days will be mocked. Faculty and fellow students will vigorously defend the killing of unborn children and promote a distorted view of God-given sexual identity. Our young people will be accused of being bigots when they express their beliefs; they will be branded as naïve when they confess their faith. They will be ostracized from their social circle when they refrain from sexual immorality and the abuse of alcohol and drugs. The attacks against faithful Christian students will be relentless and furious. They will stop only when that Christian student gives in, goes along, or remains silent. 

God knows the importance of training for such battles. God says we are responsible to show our children “the way they should go” (Proverbs 22:6). “Bring [your children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). I’m confident that WELS parents who are sending their children off to college have made good use of those 18 years of training time. Because you have trained them in God’s Word and taught them to know their Savior, you have equipped them to withstand the most furious attacks. 

So send them out with confidence and trust that God will give them the strength to hold on to their faith and confess their Savior without hesitation. And keep up that support from the home front. Encourage them to be faithful in worship. Help them connect with a WELS Campus Ministry or campus pastor. Remind them who they are and whom they serve. And pray for them. Protected by God’s strength and armed with his powerful Word, it’s a battle that they will win.   


Want to help college students in the battle? Register them with WELS Campus Ministry at wels.net/campus-ministry for free helpful materials, including Forward in Christ magazine and Meditations 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 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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Wise use of pastors

Mark G. Schroeder

Our synod is experiencing a shortage of called workers. The shortage of pastors is especially a concern. Prior to assignment day in May, there were more than one hundred pastoral vacancies in parish positions. Even with the assignment of graduates, the number of remaining vacancies is higher than it has been in recent years. It’s not a crisis, but it is a concern.

We continue to believe that this shortage will be temporary and will end when God in his love and wisdom decides otherwise. In the meantime, while we recognize that God is the one who provides workers for his church, all of us need to do our part to encourage young men to consider the pastoral ministry for their life’s work.

Recently, I received a letter from a WELS layman who asked some good questions about how we use our pastors in this time of a pastoral shortage. He noted that we use pastors to fills many roles other than that of parish pastor. He asked if it is necessary for pastors to serve in those non-parish roles and if we had considered using non-pastors for those positions.

For example, many of the tutors, who serve as dormitory supervisors and teachers at our ministerial schools, are graduates of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and are ordained pastors. We believe that tutors are some of the best recruiters for ministry. So, rather than looking at the tutor position as taking away pastors, we believe that more young men are gained for the ministry precisely because we have pastorally trained tutors interacting every day with students.

At Martin Luther College, over 20 members of the faculty are pastorally-trained men. Could non-pastors be used to fill those positions? Since MLC is our college of ministry, where pastoral training takes place on the college level, we believe it is vital that men who have seminary training make up a good share of the faculty. We do look to use non-pastors in subjects where it is not vital to have a professor who is trained as a pastor. Similarly, pastorally-trained faculty members are vital at our prep schools as well.

Could the administrative and other called positions at the synod level be filled with non-pastors? Laymen and teachers do serve in various roles whenever it is appropriate. But in other cases, when the main job involves working with other pastors and congregations in carrying out ministry, pastoral and congregational experience has proven to be indispensable for that work.

What about pastors serving on the faculties of area Lutheran high schools? Most area Lutheran high schools have at least one or two pastors on their faculties, but the overall number of pastors serving in area Lutheran high schools is not large. The high schools have found it important to have pastors serving on their faculties as teachers of religion and languages, as well as pastoral counselors and recruiters for the pastoral ministry.

The Conference of Presidents (COP) is looking for ways to ease the shortage of pastors in the short term. District presidents provide counsel to congregations on how best to provide pastoral staff during a time of shortage. In addition, the COP continues to look for a long-term solution by encouraging efforts to recruit young men to consider the pastoral ministry.

To ask whether pastorally trained men need to fill various roles that take them out of the parish ministry is a good and necessary question. But sanctified human judgment concludes that filling a role with someone pastorally-trained is important and is beneficial to the kingdom.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 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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Some polls should be believed

Mark G. Schroeder

A recent survey of religious beliefs should be more than a little shocking to us. Here are some of the results when members of a large Protestant church body were questioned about their views:

● Only 31 percent of those surveyed said that religion or biblical teaching is the source of guidance for what is right and wrong. The rest identified common sense, philosophy, or science, or stated that they simply didn’t know.

● When asked if there is an absolute standard for right and wrong, 69 percent said that there is no such absolute standard; right and wrong depends on the situation or your own beliefs.

● Fifteen percent of those responding said that they do not believe in heaven; 41 percent stated that they do not believe in hell.

● Sixty-five percent answered that they believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

● Nearly three-fourths (73 percent) of the members of that Christian denomination believe that homosexuality should be accepted; 65 percent approve of same-sex marriage.

● When asked about the origin of the universe and life, 78 percent expressed a belief in evolution.

● Fully 80 percent stated that the Bible is not necessarily the Word of God.

What is shocking about this poll is that those who answered belong to a church body with “Lutheran” in its name. (Hint: It’s not the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, or the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.)

It is my firm conviction that WELS members’ answers to these questions would be vastly different than the answers in this poll. But the point here is not for us to say with sinful pride that we thank God that we are not like others who have departed from the truth. The point is this: The Lutheran church body to which these members belong was formed at a time when members held and proclaimed the truths taught in the Scriptures. It’s a stark reminder that even faithful Lutheran church bodies and Lutheran Christians can—and do—stray sometimes very far from biblical truth.

The reason for poll results like this can be traced to the very last question listed above. If 80 percent of the members of a church (and probably a similar percentage of their pastors) no longer believe that the Bible is the Word of God, it’s not at all surprising that they adopt beliefs that are based not on Scripture but on their own ideas and opinions.

Not every church that believes that the Bible is the Word of God remains a correct-teaching church. Even Bible-believing churches can—and do—distort the truth of God’s Word even as they claim to hold on to it. But one thing is certain. A church that rejects the truth that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God cannot remain a church that teaches the truth.

So what are the lessons to be learned from these poll results? First, this is a stark reminder to listen to God’s loving warning that those who think that they are standing firm should be careful that they do not fall. Second, these poll results can lead us to be incredibly grateful that God has preserved his truth among us. Finally, this poll should lead us to encourage one another, pastors and members alike, to stand firmly on the Word of God as the unchanging truth that it is; to insist that our pastors preach and proclaim that truth boldly and without compromise; and to be filled with thanks and confidence that when our pastors say, “This is the Word of the Lord,” that’s exactly what we will hear.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
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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Finding the real cure

Mark G. Schroeder

In February, our nation endured the trauma of yet another mass shooting. By the time you are reading this, it would not be surprising if another similar terrible incident has taken place in a different school or public place.

When these terrible tragedies occur, the questions immediately come. What could have been done to prevent this? What can be done to prevent similar atrocities in the future?

The public debate invariably centers on two solutions. One suggests tighter regulations and laws on the sale and possession of guns. The other argues that the solution to the problem is increased efforts to provide security in schools and other public venues, to better enforce the laws already on the books, and to give more attention to mental health diagnosis and treatment.

But none of these solutions provide an answer. That’s because they don’t address the real problem. These solutions attempt to treat the symptoms of a deeper problem rather than providing the cure for the disease.

We know what the root cause is. From the time of the world’s first murder, when Cain took the life of his brother Abel, the cause of such behavior is the sinful and wicked human heart that neither knows God nor desires to serve him. It’s sin in the human heart that separates a person from God and is the fountain from which flow the evil and wicked deeds that plague our fallen world. It is sin that moves a person to devalue and disregard the life of everyone—from the child in the womb to the elderly in a nursing home. It is the sin-darkened heart that contemplates and causes harm to others—from hurtful words to deadly shootings. It is sin that has shown itself throughout history in man’s inhumanity to man.

So, the solution to the problem of gun violence and mass shootings is not really to be found in political arguments or governmental actions. If the root cause of this problem is sin—and it is—then the only solution is to be found in the cure and remedy for sin: the saving and transforming gospel of Christ.

Sad to say, the pure gospel of forgiveness and salvation in Christ is all too often not seen as the solution we so desperately need. Even Christian churches today have set aside the one true remedy and have focused their attention on the symptoms. Like Martha, they have forgotten the one thing that is needed (cf. Luke 10:38-42) and instead replaced it with misguided efforts to fight for social justice and to root out poverty and oppression. When the church abandons its mission to preach the gospel, sin-darkened hearts are not changed, life continues to be devalued, and love for others is replaced by self-interest, self-promotion, and every kind of evil

I am thankful to belong to a Christian church that, by the grace of God, is committed to a mission that says, “We preach Christ crucified!” God has graciously preserved his saving truth among us, and in doing that he has given us the only effective remedy against the corruption within each of us. It’s the gospel that motivates us to do God’s will, not our own. It’s the good news that alone changes the heart of the young adult who feels marginalized and alone. It’s the message of Christ that leads people to turn from sinful desires and to follow him.

The gospel alone is the cure. By grace, we have that gospel. With God’s help, we proclaim it and teach it as faithfully as we can—not to change society, but to watch its power change hearts and lives.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 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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Grass roots in action

Mark G. Schroeder

Our synod is organized into 12 geographical districts. In June of even-numbered years, each district holds a convention to consider important matters facing the synod and to conduct other business. Plans are already underway for this year’s district conventions.

Delegates to the district conventions include every pastor, every male teacher, and a representative from each congregation in the district. That makes the district conventions an opportunity for truly grassroots participation in the decisions and direction of the synod.

One of the most important responsibilities of the district conventions is to elect people to serve in various important positions. Perhaps the most important of these is the position of district president, who is elected for a two-year term at each district convention.

The district president serves as the pastor of the entire district. In that role he is responsible for overseeing all doctrine and practice in the district. He is tasked with providing spiritual leadership to the called workers and congregations of the district, encouraging faithfulness to the Word of God and the teachings of the Lutheran Confessions. He is also responsible, along with the other officers (the two district vice presidents and the district secretary, who are also elected at each district convention), for carrying out discipline when called workers or congregations stray from the truth.

Another important role of the district president is to assist congregations in the calling process. When a vacancy at a church or school occurs, the district president consults with the congregation about the congregation’s ministry needs and then, when the congregation is ready to issue a divine call, provides a list of candidates along with pertinent information about those candidates.

The district president also serves as a member of the Conference of Presidents (COP). This group has the responsibility for overseeing the doctrine and practice of the entire synod, working together to provide support and guidance to congregations and to look out for the needs of called workers.

Each district has a lay representative serving on the Synodical Council (SC). Elected by the district convention, this representative gives each district both a voice and a set of ears in the important work carried out by the SC—another opportunity for ongoing grassroots participation in the decisions affecting the entire synod. Elections for people to serve on various district committees also take place at the district conventions.

The district conventions provide called workers and lay delegates with the opportunity to hear reports from all synodical ministries and offices. Those reports typically look back and review what has been done in the past year, and they also look forward and present plans, opportunities, and challenges for the future. These reports are published in the Report to the Twelve Districts, which is sent to every delegate and congregation before the convention and also posted on the synod’s website.

District conventions also give delegates the opportunity to express opinions and grassroots input regarding matters that will come before the synod convention in the following year. They can express support or opposition to proposals through the resolutions they pass. They can also provide input of their own choosing by asking the synod convention to address specific topics or needs.

As summer approaches, please keep these gatherings and their delegates in your prayers. Talk to your representatives about what they will be considering and give them your encouragement. They represent you and your congregation—a true exercise in grassroots participation in the work of your synod.

Find dates and locations of this year’s district conventions at wels.net/events.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 4
Issue: April 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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Are you religiously incorrect?

Mark G. Schroeder

Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the US Constitution, but that guarantee is actively being set aside for the sake of “political correctness.”  

On college campuses, speakers who promote politically conservative views are threatened with violent protests if they dare to speak. When people hold views deemed by the culture to be “politically incorrect,” they are often labeled as ignorant, closed-minded, haters, and bigots. It’s not surprising that in the face of such condemnation their voices fall silent. They conclude that it’s better to avoid the confrontation and the angry response of those who militantly claim to hold a more “enlightened” view. 

Regardless of what side of those issues you may be on, a person with an appreciation for freedom of speech must recognize that silencing debate and discussion on controversial political issues cannot be healthy for a nation that is built on freedom. 

The same kind of dynamic presents a challenge to Christians who strive to be faithful to the teachings of Scripture. In our interaction with other Christians and even with non-Christians, we face a “religious correctness” that others often try to impose on people who hold to and practice the truths of God’s Word. 

Years ago, one my seminary professors was talking to his nephew about creation. The professor stated that the Bible is clear that the world and the universe were created in six days by the power of God’s Word. His nephew said, “Uncle, nobody really believes that anymore.” The professor said, “But I believe that!” The response from his nephew was, “Nobody intelligent believes that anymore.” 

Maybe you have had a similar experience. If we say that we believe that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, we will be mocked for believing in fairy tales. When we state that we commune and worship only with those who share our beliefs, we are accused of being unloving, closed-minded, and judgmental. When we insist that marriage is a God-given lifelong union between one man and one woman, we are labeled as foolishly clinging to outmoded traditions and encouraged to get with the times. When we insist that taking the life of an unborn child is murder, we are said to be people who want to trample on a woman’s right to choose. When we confess that we know that heaven is ours only because of what Christ did for us, we are dismissed as misguided and naïve. 

In the view of many other Christians, and certainly in the eyes of non-Christians, we are hopelessly “religiously incorrect.” But that’s exactly where we need to be—incorrect in the judgment of many, but standing firmly on the truth of God’s Word. 

So, our biblical beliefs may mean that we are “religiously incorrect” in the eyes of those who don’t share our beliefs. What do we do in response to that? First, we continue to look to God’s Word to strengthen our faith, to increase our knowledge of his Word, and to reinforce our belief in the doctrine that we have learned. We need to be ready to hold those beliefs without doubting or wavering even when we are challenged or face hostility. Then, instead of remaining silent when people condemn and criticize, instead of having a twinge of embarrassment that our beliefs may not be popular in today’s world, we need to be ready to speak what we believe—with respect and love and gentleness. God will use the words of those who are “religiously incorrect” to bring others to know that truth that he has given to us. 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
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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When brothers and sisters really care

Mark G. Schroeder

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain said after the Lord asked him where his brother Abel was (Genesis 4:9). Cain’s question was not an honest one. It was a question that was meant to hide from the truth that he had killed his brother. It was also a question that was really a statement of his complete lack of regard for his brother—a selfishness and self-centeredness that had led him to do the unthinkable.

By God’s grace, each of us would answer Cain’s question by saying, “Yes, I am!” As people of God, we recognize that one of our main purposes and responsibilities in life is to act with love, concern, and compassion for those around us. That love goes beyond our immediate family. It extends to the spiritual family of faith of our congregation. It goes even farther, as our love for God is reflected in a desire to help and serve all with whom we interact in our daily lives.

Being our brother’s keeper is not always easy. Sometimes those around us don’t seem to deserve love and support. Sometimes they respond to our efforts with cold indifference or even resentment. Sometimes we become more intent on seeing to our own needs, with little time or desire to see to the needs of others. But as difficult as it might be at times, God calls on us to be our brother’s keeper.

When it comes to helping others, there can be no greater way to help them than by sharing the good news of Jesus. It’s no wonder that the tasks of mission work and evangelism are stressed so often as an important privilege and responsibility that God has given us. We want to reach those who do not know Jesus and are not a part of the church.

But there are other brothers and sisters—inside the church and members of our congregations—who also need our love and encouragement. Every year, roughly 8,000 members of our WELS congregations leave for various reasons. Some of them drift away and simply stop coming to church. Some find themselves away at college and begin to question and reject the biblical truths they learned from childhood. Some fall prey to the attraction of false teaching and join other churches. Still others, caught up in a sinful lifestyle, separate themselves from our congregations and from God’s call to repentance. Should we not be just as concerned about retaining those members as we are about finding new ones?

Parents can do much to keep their teenage children in the church by setting a consistent example of the importance of weekly worship. Congregations can put in place ways to keep in contact with their young people who are away at college. If members of a congregation notice that someone they know has not been in church for some time or is becoming only a sporadic visitor to worship, they can be their brother’s keeper with words of encouragement and invitation. If you know of someone who has been caught up in a sinful lifestyle, God has equipped you with the words to call that person to repentance and to assure him or her that a forgiving God, like the father of the prodigal son, is eager to welcome him or her back.

Being our brother’s keeper is something for all of us to do. If we are faithful in doing that, and as we are filled with genuine care and concern for our brothers and sisters who are straying, God will use us to bring blessings to others that will last not just for this life but also for an eternity.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 2
Issue: February 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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Souls, not statistics

Mark G. Schroeder

It’s January, and that means WELS congregations have tabulated and submitted their statistics for 2017. Those statistics track membership, worship attendance, baptisms, confirmations, members joining and leaving, as well as congregational finances.

It is no secret that total membership in our synod, both baptized and confirmed, has been on a slow but steady decline for more than a decade. A good part of that decline can be attributed to simple demographics, particularly in terms of the number of infant baptisms. WELS mirrors the trend in our society in which young people are marrying at a later age and having fewer children than in previous generations.

Even though WELS membership has declined, our synod has not experienced the large percentage losses of other Christian denominations. We are thankful for that. But the fact that our losses are not as great as others does not remove the concern about the downward trend.

Pastor Jon Hein, director of our WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling, has prepared a detailed study of WELS membership trends. In addition to the demographic information mentioned above, the study addressed the “graying” of our synod, the number of adult confirmations, and the reasons why some leave our synod. Last summer he presented the study to the synod convention and outlined plans to help our congregations address these challenges.

Congregations will be given guidance and resources in many areas as they carry out their work of proclaiming the saving gospel. The various commissions of WELS Congregational Services will be working with those congregations to help them plan for the future in a way that will best serve God’s kingdom.

Three areas to be addressed seem to stand out:

● First, demographic changes have brought challenges to many of our rural congregations in the upper Midwest. Added to the fact that there are few young people to begin with, a growing number of young adults in rural congregations are leaving for education and work elsewhere. With decreasing membership, those congregations are finding it increasingly challenging to maintain their ministry.

● Second, the matter of members leaving congregations for various reasons will be addressed. WELS has always experienced this to some degree. Our examination of membership trends leads us to recommit ourselves to addressing this problem. It has always been the case that the greatest number of membership losses occurs with young adults in the years after confirmation. We are convinced that there are many things that congregations and parents can do to keep their young adults connected to and involved with congregational life.

Other “backdoor losses” occur when church members simply stray from regular worship and reception of the Lord’s Supper or when they are attracted to other churches outside of our fellowship. Congregations will be encouraged to take steps to address these losses.

● Finally, congregations will be encouraged to mobilize their members to become even more active in bringing the unchurched to their congregations to hear the saving gospel. Only with the blessing of God can we reverse our membership decline. Currently, it takes about 80 WELS members to produce one adult confirmand. If that could be improved to having one confirmand produced by 40, the downward trend in our synod membership would be reversed.

In the end, it’s not demographics and statistics that should be our focus and interest. Our interest should be in the souls that have been bought by the blood of Christ and in remaining faithful to holding onto and proclaiming the message of the gospel. As we address the challenges together, we look to God for the blessings that only he can give.


Learn more about Pastor Jon Hein’s study at wels.net/ccc.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
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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No uncertain future

Mark G. Schroeder

Sometimes you know exactly what’s coming.

In October, the morning frost on the grass, the leaves turning from green to gold and red and then beginning to fall, the squirrels gathering and hiding acorns, geese in V-shaped formations flying south—all of these combine to let you know exactly what’s coming. Winter will soon arrive. It’s inevitable.

The latest smartphone is announced. The speculation grows about what amazing improvements and features the new version will include. When it’s released, you know that millions of people will stand in line to replace their smartphones simply because they want to have the latest and the best.

Before Thanksgiving, the decorations appear in the stores and on the streets. Toy shelves are overflowing with this year’s popular new items. A different kind of music plays on the radio. All of the signs and signals are there. The Christmas holiday is approaching. It’s inevitable.

Advent (which means “coming” or “arrival”) is the season of the church year when we look ahead to the celebration of our Savior’s first coming in Bethlehem. The Christian church has set aside the four weeks before Christmas as a time to look ahead to that day when we remember and thank God for the gift of his Son. It’s a time of reflection and repentance and a time to remember what that first Christmas means for us and for a world of sinners. We light the candles on the Advent wreath. We open the little doors on the Advent calendar. Our children practice for the special Christmas children’s service.

Sometimes lost in the Advent preparation for Christmas is another event to which Advent points us ahead. Yes, Advent reminds us of Jesus’ first coming and prepares us to celebrate it. But it also reminds us of Jesus’ promise to come again—to that unknown day and hour when we will see our Savior return, coming not in humility as a lowly child but coming in the clouds in all of his victorious glory.

Our Savior has given us signs to let us know that his coming is not in doubt. When hurricanes strike with all their fury, when tornadoes devastate a community, when earthquakes demolish entire cities, when unspeakable evil snuffs out innocent lives, when disease ravages entire populations, when children starve—in each case we are moved to remember Jesus’ words, “I am coming soon” (Revelation 3:11). When false teachers lead people from the truth by telling them what their itching ears want to hear, when love grows cold and violence stalks our streets, when the church suffers persecution, when fears of war grip our attention, Jesus reminds us, “These things must happen before I return.”

Think about these things this Advent season. When we see those signs, let them remind you to live a life of repentance and faith. Let these things lead you to turn in complete trust to God’s promises that his love and protection are always with his people. Remember that he has assured us that nothing—not even the worst attacks of Satan or the power of hell itself—can overcome the church, which he holds in his gracious hands.

And even as the disturbing signs of the end surround us, let them move us to be filled with joyful anticipation for our Savior’s return. He has promised us that he will return. He has given us reminders that he will come again. And in the darkest times in this sinful world, he enables us in faith and trust and joy to pray, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 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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Thanks . . . for nothing

Mark G. Schroeder

It’s one of those expressions dripping with sarcasm.  

You’ve been on hold for 30 minutes, trying to get an answer from your cable provider for the reason your cable signal keeps cutting out. Finally, a human voice on the other end of the line asks you the reason for your call. You explain, patiently at first, that every day for the past week, the picture on your television has disintegrated into an unwatchable blur of pixelated colors for hours on end. And today, not only has the picture departed, but so has the sound. The person at the other end of the line checks the signal to your house, and it checks out. He asks you to make sure that all your cables are still attached. You report that they are all in place. He then gives you instructions to reboot your system. You do that, and the problem remains. Finally, the person says, “I’m sorry, there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do. If you still have the problem tomorrow, please call back.” 

And you think, and maybe actually say, “Thanks . . . for nothing.” 

During this season of Thanksgiving, there is no shortage of things for which we can be truly thankful—blessings spiritual and material that God has showered on us. Sometimes those blessings come as a response to fervent and specific prayers. More often, they come to us as Luther would say, “even without our asking.” God’s blessings are often evident because of what he gives us. It’s easy and natural for God’s people to thank God for the blessings that he gives.  

But aren’t there also times when we can say to God, with no sarcasm but with complete sincerity, “Thanks, God, for nothing”? 

There are times when we pray earnestly that God will do something or give us something, but in his love and wisdom, he answers our prayer with a fatherly and loving no. We pray that God will improve our family’s financial situation, but it only gets worse. We pray that God will keep our loved ones safe on the highway, only to learn that there has been a terrible accident. We pray that God will bless our nation with wise and honest leaders, only to read that another politician has been found guilty of bribery. When God’s answer to sincere and fervent prayers is no, might we be tempted to mutter under our breath, “Thanks, God, for nothing”? 

When God seems to be withholding the blessings or help we expect and desire, we should indeed say, “Thanks, God, for nothing,” but not in a sarcastic and bitter way. We can and should say those words with all sincerity and gratitude. “Lord, I asked you for something, but you have lovingly answered no and given me nothing of what I asked. Thank you, Lord, for nothing. Thank you for knowing what is best for me and for giving me not what I want but what I need. Thank you, Lord, that by giving me nothing you are blessing me in many ways. You are keeping something from me that would not be good for me, even though I have asked for it. You are teaching me to be patient, to trust in you at all times, to demonstrate my faith in you by being thankful—even when my sinful human eyes look for blessings only in prayers answered by your yes to my requests.” 

It’s the season of thanksgiving. A time to thank God for everything . . . and for nothing. 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
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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One lesson from Reformation history

Mark G. Schroeder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 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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Building on the foundation

Mark G. Schroeder

Parenting is full of responsibilities. God entrusts parents to provide their children with food and clothing, a safe and loving home, medical attention when sick. God expects parents to provide their children with guidance for their adult life.

But there is no more important responsibility for Christian parents than to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord. From the time parents bring their children to Holy Baptism to the time when children finally leave their home and head out into the world as adults, God entrusts parents with teaching their children about their own sinfulness and God’s gracious solution to their sin in their Savior.

Ever since its founding, our synod has recognized that the vital work that parents do can be helped and supplemented by the church. From the beginning, our congregations have established Sunday schools and Lutheran elementary schools. Somewhat later, groups of congregations created Lutheran high schools. The commitment to Christian education, both in the home and the church, has been and remains one of our synod’s highest priorities.

There is good reason for that. It is not that public education is in itself a bad thing. Most of our public schools are blessed with many dedicated teachers and with state-of-the-art facilities. But as good as a public school might be, there are some things it simply cannot do. The public school is not a place where the instruction will build on a child’s Christian faith, since it cannot provide instruction from God’s Word.

Christian parents whose children attend public schools face the reality that the Christian foundation that is laid in the home and church will need to withstand cultural forces that by their very nature tend to undermine it. On the other hand, in Lutheran schools that foundation will be supplemented and strengthened because of the Word of God taught there.

I have heard people say, with all good intentions, that it is actually preferable for Christian parents to send their children to a public school. Why? The reason given is that in the public school their children will have more opportunities to witness and share Jesus with unbelievers. But parents who want their children to drive would not send them onto the road without driving instructions. Sending children into public schools for the purpose of witnessing may well be putting their faith in real danger before they are ready to handle the challenge. And let’s not forget that children will have many opportunities to witness for their Savior in activities outside of the school day.

I thank God that all of my children were blessed to attend Lutheran elementary schools and high schools. In those places Christian teachers reinforced the biblical truths that they heard from their parents and in church on Sunday morning. There the Word of God was at the heart of all instruction in every class. Far from depriving them of the opportunity to witness for their Savior, I believe that the Christian education they received is what equipped them and motivated them to be the witnesses that God wants them to be as adults and as Christian parents themselves.

Not all WELS parents have the opportunity to enroll their children in a Lutheran school. We pray that those parents will do all they can to lay a firm foundation of faith that will not be overwhelmed or undermined. For those who do have the opportunity, we rejoice that Christian education has been—and will continue to be—a blessing beyond value to them and to their children.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 104, Number 9
Issue: September 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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Big plans, bigger promises

Mark G. Schroeder

The synod convention is taking place this summer (or took place, depending on when you are reading this) July 31–Aug. 3. Much time is spent at the convention looking back at the work that we have done as a synod during the past two years and at the blessings that God has granted to those efforts.

But a synod convention does not just look back. It also looks forward to the opportunities and challenges that we will meet in the coming years. Even though the details of the future are graciously hidden from our view, faithful stewardship demands that we look ahead as best we can to evaluate where we believe those challenges and opportunities are and to plan how best to meet them.

To accomplish that, the synod adopts a long-range plan. The new long-range plan has the same name as this year’s convention: “Our Great Heritage.” It looks out to the year 2025 (when, God-willing, our synod will celebrate its 175th anniversary) and describes how the synod will, under God, build for the future on the foundation of the heritage that God has preserved for us from the past.

The introduction to the “Our Great Heritage” long-range plan beautifully outlines the basis for the plan itself: “We exist to proclaim the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ. We affirm that only the gospel can create and sustain faith. Thus, spiritual results related to the growth of the Holy Christian Church in every nation, tribe, language, and people are completely in the hands of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit uses the means of grace to accomplish the results that only he can work, and he has entrusted the means of grace to human beings as his messengers. We fear God, preaching and teaching the law. We give him glory, preaching and teaching the gospel. We do that as individuals and as congregations working together in a confessional Lutheran church body, that is, we carry out our gospel ministry together while standing squarely on all the truths of Scripture as expressed by the Lutheran Confessions. At all times and in all we do our focus is on the cross of Jesus.”

With that foundation, we make plans. In World Missions, we look to increase efforts to train national pastors and church leaders to serve their own people and to create mission networks that transcend national boundaries. In Home Missions, we will continue to strive to open at least ten new missions each year, to serve self-supporting immigrant groups in urban areas with pastors and leaders drawn from those groups themselves, and to work more closely with synodical subsidiaries and parasynodical organizations to support mission opportunities. Our ministerial education schools will work to reduce educational debt for future called workers, to increase the number of teachers specifically trained for urban settings, and to find ways to identify and train future principals and early childhood directors. The Congregation and Ministry Support Group will make use of an extensive study to help congregations as they are affected by declining birth rates, demographic changes, and an increasingly post-Christian culture. Around the world, we will actively seek to develop relationships with Lutheran church bodies that are ready to embrace and confess biblical truths.

This long-range plan represents a renewed commitment to remain faithful to the Word of God and to the mission our Savior has given us. With God’s promises in hand, we look forward to a future in which God continues to build his church and to bless the spread of his saving gospel.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 104, Number 8
Issue: August 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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The word of the Lord continues to spread

Mark G. Schroeder

It’s a phrase that occurs many times in the book of Acts. In fact, it occurs so often that it could perhaps be the theme of the entire book. “The word of God spread” (Acts 6:7). Beginning in Jerusalem after Pentecost, the religious leaders of the Jews did everything they could—including threats and arrests—to keep the apostles and other Christians from preaching and teaching about the crucified and risen Savior. But they didn’t stop. “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 5:42). As the church grew, the apostles appointed seven men to assist them in providing for the physical and spiritual needs of Christians. “The word of God spread.”

The same word of God that grew in spite of opposition and persecution in the time of the apostles is continuing to grow today. Even though we live in a country that seems to be turning away from Christianity, and even though the influence of Christian faith and values seems to be diminishing in our own culture, the very opposite is true in many places around the world. The word of the Lord is growing. The saving gospel is on the march. God’s church is being built by the same powerful preaching of the good news of Jesus.

While our synod may not be increasing in numbers here in the United States, our fellowship around the world continues to grow. It’s happening in some very unexpected places and in ways that we could not have foreseen. Thousands of people are hearing the gospel and being brought to faith in places like Nepal and Pakistan, where modern-day Herods continue to threaten and oppose Christians. Yet people in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand, like modern-day Macedonians, are asking us to come and help them with theological training. Literally millions of people are hearing the gospel online in Latin America through the efforts of our synod’s Multi-Language Publications. And hardly a month goes by when our synod is not contacted by a Lutheran group somewhere in the world seeking to establish a relationship.

Later this summer at our synod’s convention, we will see tangible evidence that the word of the Lord continues to grow. A high point at that convention will be the establishment of fellowship between our synod and three Lutheran church bodies. The Lutheran Church of Ethiopia broke away from a large liberal Lutheran church body because it wanted to be faithful to the Lutheran Confessions. South Asia Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM) in Hong Kong originally began as a WELS mission. But when faithful Lutheran pastors were no longer available, its doctrine and practice strayed. Now, with the help and encouragement of our WELS missionaries in Hong Kong and with pastors trained by Asia Lutheran Seminary, SALEM has confessed its full commitment to Lutheran doctrine and practice. Finally, the East Asia Lutheran Synod is a brand new Lutheran church body established on the mainland north of Hong Kong by six pastors trained at Asia Lutheran Seminary.

Because we share the same commitment to the truth of God’s Word, WELS will declare fellowship with these Lutheran churches at our convention in July. It will be a joyful day for them and for us. And, with God’s power and blessing, the word of the Lord will continue to grow and spread.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 104, Number 7
Issue: July 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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The right kind of help

Mark G. Schroeder

Ever since the 1930s when Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People sold millions of copies, self-proclaimed experts have offered answers and solutions to just about any personal challenge or shortcoming. In the United States alone, the self-help industry that offers books, videos, seminars, and personal life coaching has grown into a $12 billion per year industry.

These “experts” promise that lives will be changed for the better if you only follow a few simple guidelines. Struggling with finances? The book Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom promises to make money problems a thing of the past. Unlucky in love? The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts promises to help you. Having trouble keeping your house neat and clean? The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing is sure to solve the problem. And don’t forget about all of the experts who, for a small sum, will be glad to tell you how your congregation can thrive and grow and how your church can reach those hard-to-figure-out millennials.

I have no doubt that these experts have at times offered common sense advice that people have found helpful. But I think it’s safe to say that just as many people who came looking for help ultimately went away disheartened, frustrated, and struggling.

If there’s one thing that we Christians know from personal experience it’s that we too are desperately in need of help. But our need is much more serious and dire than needing advice on how to improve our personalities or leadership skills or financial condition. Our need is for someone to help us in our dilemma of being absolutely lost in our own sinful condition, with no hope of self-improvement or self-saving. Martin Luther described us all when he said, “We are all beggars.” On our own, we have no inborn goodness, nothing that we can claim as deserving love or reward from a holy and righteous God. We, ultimately, have no hope.

We need help—and we know where to find it. How blessed we are to be able to say with the writer of Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (vv. 1,2).

In those words we confess and proclaim that we sinners know that our help comes from only one place: from a gracious God who saw us in our great need. That help came from a God who had every right to turn his back on rebellious sons and daughters, but instead turned his face toward us in mercy and love. That help came not in the form of an army of reinforcements coming down from the mountains, but in a suffering servant who ascended another hill to offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins. That is the help we need, and that is the help that we have.

We still have challenges with life here and now. But we have his promise to help and sustain us: “The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Psalm 121:7,8).

Need help? You know where to find it.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 104, Number 6
Issue: June 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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A tale of two kingdoms

Mark G. Schroeder

Throughout 2017 we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. As Lutheran Christians, we recognize that the single greatest blessing God gave to his church through Martin Luther was the rediscovery of the central truth of the Bible: that sinners are justified by God’s grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, which we know by Scripture alone. If that was the only truth that God gave back to his church through Luther, it would give us every reason to celebrate.

But God didn’t stop there. Through Luther, God restored other biblical truths and teachings to his church that have been cherished not only by Lutherans but by many other Christians as well. Luther led the way to translating the Bible into the language of the people. He recognized the importance of congregational worship that focused on Christ and wrote Christ-centered hymns for worshipers to sing. He wrote catechisms to instruct the young and championed education for boys and girls. On the basis of the Scriptures, Luther reminded Christians of the priesthood of all believers and emphasized how they can serve God faithfully in all vocations of life.

One other biblical doctrine that Martin Luther rediscovered was the doctrine of the “two kingdoms” or “two realms.” It’s a teaching that is particularly timely for us to know and to practice today.

In Luther’s day, the church had become hopelessly politicized, with religious leaders inserting themselves into the role of government. From the other direction, government leaders sought to exert their influence over religious and spiritual affairs. Church and state had become so entwined with each other’s roles that confusion and abuse became common.

Luther returned to the Scriptures and emphasized that these two kingdoms, both established by God, have separate and distinct roles to play. The church’s role is to be spiritual, limited to proclaiming the message of the Scriptures and leading people to Christ. The government’s role is to be God’s agent to keep order in society, to protect its citizens from physical harm, and to punish wrongdoers. For either kingdom to assume the role of the other is a violation of God’s divine arrangement. Since both are established by God, Christians have a responsibility to recognize and to support both kingdoms.

This teaching is particularly important for Christians to remember as the church finds itself surrounded by an increasingly godless culture. If secular government reflects the culture, it’s not surprising that it will seek to defend and even promote behavior that runs completely counter to God’s will and to natural law—and counter to the truths that the church proclaims.

In response, the church and its members need to do two things. First, the church and its members need to continue to proclaim God’s truth boldly, even to the point of disobeying the government when ordered to violate God’s will. Second, the church and its members need to avoid the temptation to insert the church into the secular realm of legislation and politics. Without doubt, the church will stand for the truth and proclaim it. But it will leave the law making, lobbying, and policy setting to others.

As citizens of the secular kingdom as well as the spiritual, we should be salt and light in our world. We should be ready to use our political freedom to say what we believe and to promote good, wise, and just laws, but we will avoid confusing church and state.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 104, Number 5
Issue: May 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 makes it grow

Mark G. Schroeder

I may be rushing the season for those of us who live in the northern part of the country, but April is the month I begin to think about planting my garden. Those thoughts are not always filled with eager anticipation, however.

I always start out with the best intentions. Last year was probably the best example of my lack of gardening expertise. Like most years, it started out well. I rototilled the soil zealously. I planned where the beans, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes would be planted. And on one of the first really warm days in May, I planted the seeds in straight rows and tidy mounds and carefully transplanted the pepper and tomato plants in just the right spots.

I decided that I wouldn’t really need a fence to keep the rabbits away that year. Bad decision. A few weeks later, after the beans had pushed their way out of the soil to a height of about three inches, the neighborhood rabbits noticed that there was no fence. They chewed the beans to the ground in one night.

As the weeks wore on, my garden was victimized again. My garden vigilance, so robust in May with faithful weeding and watering, gave way to distraction by the middle of June. The weeds invaded and took over. The unwatered ground, so nicely soft and tilled in May, soon turned concrete hard and cracked in the summer heat. Later, in spite of my neglect, some of the vegetables actually matured and began to ripen. But there were days when some remained unpicked, only to fall to the ground as a reminder of my own lack of attention.

Once again, my garden was a failure. And it was my own fault.

As I think of my garden, I’m reminded of how my lack of zeal and my tendency to become distracted isn’t limited to my gardening. It happens in my spiritual life too, and what’s at stake there is far more important than vegetables. I think I would be safe in saying the same is true of you.

Faith, planted in Baptism by the power of the gospel, springs up in our hearts. Nurtured by the Word of God, many times from infancy, it pushes up like a young plant from the dead and lifeless ground of our natural sinful hearts. Motivated by the love that God has shown us, we respond with joy and thanks and a desire to serve our Savior.

But how easy it is to neglect our faith. We let down the fences and fall prey to temptation. We become distracted by the weeds of worry and materialism, and we become attracted to the false promises we hear so often. We allow our hearts to become hardened to God’s call to daily repentance, and we all too easily let the sweet news of the gospel fall on deaf and unappreciative ears.

Thank God that we have a spiritual Gardener who does not neglect us and become distracted in his care for us. In spite of our failures and unfaithfulness, our gracious God continues to fence us in and protect us with the power of his Word and the certainty of his promises. He even seeks to remove the attractions that would choke our faith and keep us from serving him. He continues to nourish our faith with the rain of his gospel, reminding us of what his Son did for us.

I thankful he’s a better gardener than I am.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 104, Number 4
Issue: April 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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The other 2017 anniversary

Mark G. Schroeder

By now most people in our synod are aware that 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. A special committee has been planning to mark this milestone event with special publications, Bible study materials, and even a full-length film on the life and work of Martin Luther. And we Lutherans are not the only ones marking this event. The seismic upheaval that began in 1517 shook and reshaped the world in many ways: religiously, politically, and culturally. Even secular historians characterize the Lutheran Reformation as one of the most significant events in world history.

As important as the anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation is, there is another anniversary that should not pass without notice and celebration this year. The year 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the merger of four Midwestern Lutheran synods into what is now the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

In 1850, five Lutheran pastors in the Milwaukee area adopted the constitution of a new church body called the First German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Wisconsin. Ten years later, Lutherans established synods in Minnesota and Michigan. For practical reasons, and because they were united in doctrine and practice, these three synods joined together in a loose federation in 1892, with each synod retaining its own identity and its own schools for training church workers.

By 1917, however, it became clear that the three synods, now joined by the recently established Nebraska Synod, could carry out important work more efficiently if they merged into a single united synod. After 14 years of proposals and discussion, the merger took place in 1917. The Michigan, Minnesota, and Nebraska synods became districts, and the original Wisconsin Synod was divided into three districts. Within a few years, as the new synod grew rapidly, the Dakota-Montana and Pacific Northwest Districts were added.

The name chosen in 1917 was a little unwieldy (“The Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Other States”), so it was later shortened. But many of the organizational structures and institutions put into place in that merger one hundred years ago are still evident in our synod today. Among those are:

● The new synod was formed to address common priorities—missions, worker training, and publications—still among the primary purposes of WELS.

● The new synod located worker training schools in Mequon, Wis.; Watertown, Wis.; New Ulm, Minn.; and Saginaw, Mich., all of which still serve to prepare called workers for the synod today.

● The structure of districts remains, although the districts now number 12.

● The merged synod stressed the importance of Christian education and encouraged congregations to establish elementary and high schools. WELS continues to operate one of the largest parochial education systems in the nation.

● Called worker and lay delegates met every two years in a synod convention to review and plan the work of the synod; this form of governance continues.

● The new synod expressed a strong commitment to open congregations here in the United States and to take the gospel to other cultures and countries—a commitment that remain with us today.

● Congregations and individuals voluntarily provided financial support for the work of the synod just as they do today.

The observance of anniversaries can sometimes degenerate into self-congratulation or foster a sense of ungodly pride. It’s my prayer that we use this anniversary as another occasion to thank God in all humility for his grace, for his guidance, and for the faithful forefathers he used to establish our beloved Wisconsin Synod on the foundation of his Word and for the sake of proclaiming the gospel.

Watch a video of a presentation on the merger at livestream.com/welslive.


Mark Schroeder is president of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Waukesha, Wisconsin.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 104, Number 3
Issue: March 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Beware the headlines

Mark G. Schroeder

Last fall, you may have seen a headline that caught your attention. Even though it was a story about religion, it appeared in many secular news publications. The headline blared, “U.S. Lutherans Approve Historic Agreement With Catholic Church” (Huffington Post, 8/17/2016). Only by reading the article would you have noticed this very important piece of information: “Nearly 500 years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church door, the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S. [emphasis added] has approved a declaration recognizing ‘there are no longer church-dividing issues’ on many points with the Roman Catholic Church.”

The Lutherans who approved the “historic agreement” with the Roman Catholic Church were in fact Lutherans belonging to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). While the ELCA is for the moment the largest Lutheran church body in America, it has gone from a membership of 5.2 million in 1988 to 3.6 million today and has lost more than 1,500 congre-gations. It now represents less than half of the Lutherans in America. A more accurate headline would have been “One Lutheran Group Approves Historic Agreement With Catholic Church.” In other words, a majority of the Lutheran churches in the United States—WELS, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod included—has not reached any such agreement with the Catholic Church. Headlines can be deceiving, and this one is a perfect example of that.

The ELCA has worked very hard to reach this kind of agreement. From its formation in 1988, the ELCA has made it clear that holding to biblical teachings is not exactly one of its priorities. That’s not surprising for a church body that does not believe in the verbal inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures. When a church body no longer believes that the Bible is the Word of God in its entirety, the teachings of God are soon replaced

by the teachings of humans. With no scriptural foundation or moorings, a church like the ELCA will inevitably drift into false teaching and unbiblical practice, as the ELCA has done. It will ignore what God says about the sanctity of human life. It will ignore what God says about the roles of men and women in the church. It will align its views on marriage and sexuality with a corrupt culture. It will reduce the gospel to nothing more than a means to achieve social justice. And, as has happened with the agreement with the Roman Catholic Church, it will view scriptural doctrines and Lutheran teachings not as treasures to be held on to but as obstacles to unity among Christian churches. When biblical teaching no longer matters, agreements such as the one reached between the ELCA and the Catholic Church become possible.

There are still Lutheran church bodies that strive to hold on faithfully to the truths that God has revealed in his Word. By God’s grace alone, ours is one of those. Certainly, we would all agree that unity in the Christian church is a noble goal for which to strive. But that goal should never be sought by setting aside or moving away from the teachings of the Scriptures. True unity among churches is achieved when there is unity of teaching based on the Word of God.

It is sad that as the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation approaches, a church that has Lutheran in its name appears to have thoroughly rejected its Lutheran heritage—a heritage that should lead us to stand with Luther on Scripture alone. We pray that God will continue to move us to stand on that Word and to confess boldly, even when others no longer do.


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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 104, Number 02
Issue: February 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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New opportunities, new strategies

Mark G. Schroeder

On his second missionary journey, the apostle Paul, together with Silas, Timothy, and Luke, was in the city of Troas. It was there, during the night, that God gave Paul a vision that would usher in a whole new chapter in the spread of the gospel. A man from Macedonia (just across the Aegean Sea in Greece) pleaded with Paul, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). Paul recognized this as a call from God himself. Immediately, he and his companions sailed to Macedonia. It was the first time that the gospel would be preached in Europe.

Our synod has been blessed with opportunities to spread the gospel around the world. We are working to spread the gospel and plant confessional Lutheran churches in 23 countries, and our Board for World Missions continually is planning to expand the work to other countries.

Traditionally, WELS has worked to develop new mission fields by sending WELS missionaries to places where they proclaimed the gospel and established Lutheran congregations and, eventually, sister Lutheran church bodies. But more and more, new opportunities are coming to us, not as a result of careful planning and analysis, but because God himself is placing them before us.

With increasing frequency, we are hearing the requests of people and groups who, like the man from Macedonia, are asking us to “come over and help!” These groups are not looking for financial support nor are they asking WELS to send missionaries. They are looking to us to help them train faithful Lutheran pastors to serve their people with the pure message of the gospel.

In some cases, these are Lutheran groups that have recognized that they need to separate from the liberal Lutheran churches with whom they have been associated. That is the case with Rev. Dr. Kebede Yigezu, the founder and president of the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia. To meet the needs of his growing church body, he has established a theological school where WELS can assist in the training of future pastors.

In Kenya, a group of 20 pastors and 50 congregations have left their previous church body and are looking to establish fellowship with WELS. In Ethiopia and other countries that border South Sudan, South Sudanese refugees are requesting our help in training pastors to serve people in the refugee camps. One of the most amazing opportunities is taking place in, of all locations, Vietnam. There, surviving for years without trained pastors, a Hmong church body of 70,000 members has asked our synod to teach them Lutheran doctrine.

These are just a few examples. Our synod has received requests from spiritual leaders around the world to provide more than 300 men with the theological training that will enable them to proclaim God’s truth to the people they serve.

To meet this growing opportunity, the Joint Mission Council and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary have partnered to establish the Pastoral Studies Institute Team. The team will coordinate and oversee the training of pastors where they live through a flexible program of theological instruction. We can be thankful for the rapid way in which our mission boards have responded to the increasing opportunities God is giving us to share the gospel with more and more people. He has promised us that his Word will not return to him empty but will accomplish the purpose for which he sent it (Isaiah 55:11). We are seeing that promise being kept in ways and in locations that we could not have imagined only a few years ago.

Keep these efforts and the people we are serving in your prayers.

Learn more about these mission opportunities at wels.net/missions.

 


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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 104, Number 1
Issue: January 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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Free to proclaim Christ

Mark G. Schroeder

It’s a happy day when a couple who has been making mortgage payments for years are able to make that final payment and “burn the mortgage.” Young people who accumulated thousands of dollars in student loans look forward to the day when those loans are completely paid off, freeing precious dollars for other important expenses.

By January, the synod will be making its last payment on its capital debt. You may recall that it was in 2008 when the synod combined all of its capital debts into one debt of $22.4 million. The decision was made to undertake an effort to retire the debt completely by 2018. The effort was begun with a special offering in 2008-09 called the “Year of Jubilee Debt Retirement Offering.” The people of the synod gave approximately $5 million in that initial effort. After that first offering was gathered, the plan was put in place to make annual payments of $1.6 million to retire the debt by 2018. In 2015-16, with the end of the debt in sight, a second special offering called “One in Christ” was gathered from individuals and congregations. By last summer, over $2.6 million was given toward debt retirement. Additional gifts were received and regular payments were made through the end of 2016, enabling us to completely retire the debt more than one year ahead of schedule.

Debt in itself is not a bad thing. It can enable people to buy homes and cars when they may not be able to make such large purchases with cash. It can provide funds for larger building projects that may not be possible to do without borrowing. As long as careful plans are made to repay a debt, it may even be an example of good and faithful stewardship of God’s blessings.

But in the case of the synod, the debt we faced was causing us to divert precious resources away from gospel ministry. Especially in difficult economic times such as these, with Congregation Mission Offerings not keeping pace with inflation, it was clear that we would much rather use our resources in maintaining and expanding the mission and ministry we do together as a synod. Thanks to God’s blessings, beginning in January 2017, funds used to repay the debt will now become available to support missions, train called workers, and assist congregations in carrying out their mission.

What a blessing this is! How thankful we can be that God has moved the hearts of his people to respond to this challenge in such a generous and faithful way!

So we are “burning the synod’s mortgage.” We will not be celebrating our own accomplishment, but we will be celebrating the grace of God for giving us his gospel message and for giving us this opportunity to show our thanks for that message through our gifts of faith and love.

This happy news comes at an important time, a time when God continues to place before our synod opportunities to share the gospel with people and in places that may have been unthinkable only a few years ago. With that perspective, I hope that the news of the retirement of the synod debt is not simply news about money and finances, but a reminder of the privilege and resources that God continues to give us in carrying out his mission. In this case, we do not shout, “We’re debt-free!” Rather, we proclaim, “We’re free to preach Christ crucified—to as many people and in as many places as he gives the opportunity!”


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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 103, Number 12
Issue: December 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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A certain future in an uncertain world

Mark G. Schroeder

In November, Americans will cast their votes for president and other elected officials. After two years of a presidential campaign that has been anything but normal, people on all ends of the political spectrum look to the election results as an indication of where our country will head. Regardless of which candidate you support, and regardless of which candidate wins, I think we can safely say that no one can predict what awaits our country once the ballots are counted. One thing is certain: We can’t be certain about the future no matter what the election results are.

Or can we? For Christians, there is no uncertainty whatsoever in the future. It’s not that Christians can predict coming events or know the details of what will happen in the months and years to come. Those things are all hidden from us in the unsearchable wisdom and knowledge of God. Our certainty about the future rests in something else. Our certainty about the future is rooted in the promises that God has given to us as his people.

The Bible speaks of how we view the future as having hope. This is not the kind of hope that wishes things will go well, like hoping for good weather for our family picnic. Nor is it a simply a desire that things will get better and that our wishes will come true if we wait long enough. Rather our hope for the future is solid, unshakable confidence in the Word and the promises of God himself.

Our God is a God who has promised us that in all things he “works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Our God is a God who has assured us that the gates of hell itself will not overcome his church (Matthew 16:18). Our Savior is the One who promised us that he would never leave us or forsake us, that he will be with us to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20), and that he knows the very number of the hairs on our heads (Matthew 10:30). These promises come to us from a God who has kept all his promises throughout history. So our hope for the future is anchored to the promises God has made and built on the promises he has kept.

It’s not that our confident hope in God’s promises is not challenged or threatened. We need only to look at what is happening in our own country today to see evidence of that. Cultural rot and decay seem to be taking place at an ever-increasing pace. Biblical truths and values are being cast aside and rejected—even by some who claim to be Christians. Racial tensions and divides are on the increase. Violence is becoming a way of life in some communities, and human life itself is no longer valued and protected. In addition to all of that, the government itself seems to be actively contributing to a wide variety of problems.

As the election approaches, I will cast my votes for the candidates who I believe will be best for our nation. I hope that every WELS member does the same. As we do that, regardless of the results of the election, we will look to the future with confidence and trust—not in candidates or political parties or policy positions, but with a full trust that our times and the times of our nation and the world rest in God’s very capable and trustworthy hands.


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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016

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