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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 © 2017
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

 

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 © 2017
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

 

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 © 2017
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

 

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 © 2017
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

 

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 © 2017
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

 

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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Removing obstacles for outreach

I think it’s safe to say that all congregations want to grow. Faithful and Bible-believing Christians are well aware of the Great Commission—Jesus’ command and encouragement to his church and to believers to proclaim the gospel to all nations. They simply want more people to come to know their Savior,

And so congregations ask the question, “What is the best way to reach the lost? Why don’t people come?”

Some would point to liturgical worship as an obstacle. But is it really? Liturgical worship need not be an obstacle. The beauty and benefit of liturgical worship lies not in the fact that it is historical, but in the fact that it provides a clear path in which sins are confessed, prayers are offered, and God’s Word and sacraments are proclaimed and celebrated.

Some would point to the music used in our worship and conclude that the unchurched will not feel at home unless the music and the instruments sound more like the culture in which they live. But numerous surveys have shown that the style of music in a church is one of the least important things that the unchurched consider.

Some would point to the fact that the congregation does not have a well-organized and active evangelism program. But some of the fastest growing congregations in our synod are growing without a formal and defined effort.

Some would even point to the fact that some of the teachings we hold should be softened or tailored or even abandoned because they are out of step with today’s culture. Yet many people today are looking for a church that has not surrendered to the whims and currents of an increasingly skeptical world but boldly stands on its beliefs and principles.

I would suggest that if these are the only things we are pointing to, we are missing the two main obstacles that stand in the way of reaching the lost.

The first obstacle is one that hits very close to home. We find it in our own sinful human nature, that part of us that wants to close our ears to God’s Word, to forget his promises, and to ignore his call to us to be his witnesses. Removing this obstacle happens only when we return daily to the cross in humble repentance. This obstacle of a sinful and stubborn heart can only be thrown aside by the joy that we have in Christ. And in that joy of learning to know our Savior, we are moved to go to family and friends and neighbors and coworkers and say, as Philip said to Nathaniel, “Come and see!” (cf. John 1:43-51).

The second obstacle resides in those we want to reach with the gospel. It is the same one that’s found in us—a human heart hardened and darkened by sin and unbelief. That obstacle can’t be removed by trying to make the church seem more attractive or less offensive. It only can be removed by the same message of law and gospel that has touched our hearts.

Therein lies the mission of the church: proclaiming and sharing law and gospel to sinful people. Therein lies the power of our message: sharing the Word of God with others and watching as the Holy Spirit does the rest. Therein lies the joy of sharing the gospel: knowing that God will bring sinners into his family not by our strength or zeal or creativity or planning, but by his grace, by his power, and in his time.

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 103, Number 10
Issue: October 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

It all depends on the definition

Mark G. Schroeder

The last time I had the privilege of presiding over a wedding service, I began the sermon with a question that caught the young couple by surprise. I said, “I have a question for you. Do you love each other?”

The bride and groom were too polite to say it out loud, but their raised eyebrows showed what they probably were thinking: Well, we are here to get married. We are promising ourselves to each other for the rest of our lives. Of course we love each other!

Then I asked a question that was a little more difficult, whose answer was a little less obvious: “What do you mean when you say you love each other?”

Across this country today, thousands of other newlyweds will answer that question in different ways. “I know I love him because he makes me feel happy when I’m with him.” “I love her because she makes me laugh and smile.” “I know I love him because I feel attracted to him, emotionally, romantically, even physically.” “I know I love her because she is my soul mate; we think alike and enjoy common interests.”

All those definitions describe love in terms of feelings and emotions. But we know what happens to feelings and emotions—they always change. One day you’re happy; the next day you’re sad. One day you feel energetic; the next day you feel like you don’t want to get up in the morning. If love is just an emotion, then we shouldn’t be surprised that so many people wake up one day and realize that their love for their spouse has changed or disappeared. Like all emotions, that kind of love can go away, and there’s not much you can do to stop it.

A Christian husband and wife know that love is much more than a feeling or an emotion. They know that God created marriage as a special gift and blessing to bring joy and happiness to a man and women. And as the one who created marriage, he’s also the one who defines what married love really should be. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” (5:25). Jesus’ love for us was a commitment to give himself completely to us and for us. His love for us meant that he made our happiness and welfare the most important thing to him; he was willing to go all the way to the cross for us.

In other words, when a Christian husband says he loves his wife, he means, “For the rest of my life everything I do will be done for your happiness, your welfare, and your good.” A Christian wife who has Christlike love for her husband will see her marriage as a daily opportunity to give happiness, joy, and fulfillment to her husband. Their love for each other will be much more than feelings and emotions; it will be a readiness to do and to act for each other.

The understanding of the love God has designed for marriage is not just for newlyweds. It’s the kind of love that needs to be the foundation for every marriage. That kind of love, modeled after Christ’s love for his church, makes for strong and happy marriages, homes, and families that look to be guided and strengthened by the Word of the Savior who established them.

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Obeying God rather than man

Mark G. Schroeder

As Americans, we have enjoyed the blessing of freedom to practice our religion according to our beliefs and conscience. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The double intent of those words was to prevent the government from establishing an official state religion and to prevent the government from restricting the right of Americans to worship and believe according to their conscience.

The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is deeply thankful for this constitutional protection of our religious liberty. The freedom to believe and to proclaim what the Scriptures teach without fear of restriction or retribution has been a precious blessing to us.

When that liberty is threatened by government laws and policies or curtailed by a hostile culture, our synod will continue to insist on our constitutional freedom to practice our religion in keeping with our beliefs. If anyone attempts to restrict or limit that freedom in any way, to silence our message through threat or accusation, or to impose penalties, we will continue to hold to the truths of God’s Word without compromise. Like the apostle Paul who appealed to Caesar, we will seek to have our freedom protected through legal means. But if we are ultimately placed in the position of making a choice, we will echo the words of the apostles who said in the face of pressure to be silent, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29 ESV).

We will hold to our beliefs because we are convinced that they are rooted in the Word of God himself. The principles and values that God has established do not change with society or culture, nor are they shaped by human law. God’s truths remain unchanging and constant, and we will not depart from those truths. We also will hold to our beliefs because that Word of God reveals the only solution to what human beings need most: the saving good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. To fail to hold to all the truths of God’s Word would be a shameful and unloving abandonment of fellow sinners who need to know God’s love and forgiveness in Christ. Far from being hateful or bigoted (those accusations have already been made), holding to the truths of God’s Word and sharing those truths is the ultimate expression of love and concern.

The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod believes that every person is a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness in Christ. We believe that every person needs to hear God’s call to repentance for every sin, regardless of the type or nature of that sin. We also believe that sinners, once they have realized their sin and come to know God’s forgiveness in Christ, will strive to turn from those sins and live their lives in keeping with the values and principles that God has established in his Word. We will teach God’s values in our churches and schools and will welcome all who desire to be instructed in those values and to adopt those values as their own.

We are confident that one of the founding principles of our country is the right of all religions to practice their beliefs without constraint imposed by a hostile culture or by governmental authority. But even if those freedoms are taken away, the gospel of Jesus Christ will continue to be proclaimed and confessed boldly and faithfully as he has promised.

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 103, Number 8
Issue: August 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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A word about district presidents

Last month, four new men were elected to serve as presidents of their respective districts. Three chose to retire from their office. One accepted a call to serve as professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis.

A turnover of one-third of the district presidents is rare. It seems good to step back and review exactly what the role of the district president is and what weighty responsibilities are entrusted to these men.

The district president is, in many ways, the pastor of his entire district. He is elected to his position at a district convention by delegates who represent every congregation in the district. His election is not just a selection by called worker and lay delegates. It is, in fact, a divine call from God himself.

First and foremost, the district president is charged with the responsibility of overseeing the doctrine and practice in the congregations of his district. Doctrine is what is taught; practice is how doctrine is applied and carried out. For a synod to remain faithful to the Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions, its doctrine must faithfully reflect scriptural truth, and its practice must carefully apply the teachings of Scripture in the life and ministry of the congregation. The district president carries out his responsibility of overseeing doctrine and practice in two ways: proactively, as he sets the tone by his words and example, and reactively, as he addresses situations in which false teaching may occur or in which the practice of a called worker or congregation departs from faithfulness to the teachings of the Bible.

If a called worker or even an entire congregation begins to stray from the truth, it is ultimately the responsibility of the district president to provide evangelical admonition and correction. Circuit pastors and district officers assist and advise him in this, but ultimately, faithful teaching in his district is a responsibility that rests on his shoulders.

The district president has an important role in the call process. When congregations experience a vacancy—of pastors, teachers, or staff ministers—it is the district president to whom they turn. He consults with the congregation to determine its specific needs, and then he provides the congregation with a call list. The district president places candidates on that list because he is convinced each candidate can meet the needs of the congregation.

The synod’s constitution has charged the Conference of Presidents with encouraging congregations and individuals to provide the financial support necessary to carry out the work we do together as a synod. In that role, the district president is the primary voice in the district making congregations aware of the financial needs of the synod and then encouraging congregations to support that work through their Congregation Mission Offerings.

The 12 men who serve as district presidents receive no additional compensation for their important work. They have been asked by God and his people to fill a very important role. They do so with a deep sense of awe at the trust that people have placed in them, and they carry out their duties faithfully, spending many hours in meetings and many days on the road. And we would not want to neglect the faithful support of their wives, who provide encouragement and support to their husbands as they carry the weight of their office and who willingly sacrifice time with their husbands for the good of God’s church.

Take a moment in prayer to thank God for these faithful servants and to ask God to give them wisdom, strength, and joy in their service.

Look for news from the 2016 district conventions and information about the new district presidents in upcoming issues of Forward in Christ.

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 103, Number 7
Issue: July 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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God’s outlaw

Mark G. Schroeder

Every time we open an English Bible—regardless of what translation we may choose—we do so owing a debt of gratitude to a man who was known as “God’s outlaw.” As Luther did for German-speaking people, this man translated the Bible from the original Greek and Hebrew into English. And what is amazing is that most of us do not even know his name.

The man who would later become known as “God’s outlaw” was William Tyndale (1494–1536). Tyndale was a scholar and theologian who became one of the leading figures in the Reformation in England. At a time when the only English translations of the Bible were incomplete and based on the Latin Vulgate, Tyndale, like Luther, saw the need for the Bible to be available in the language of the people. He traveled from his home to London in 1523, hoping to secure permission to undertake his translation, but permission was denied.

The next year, Tyndale left England and headed for Germany. Arriving in Wittenberg, he enrolled at the University of Wittenberg and studied under Lutheran teachers and theologians. Only two years earlier, Luther had begun to translate the New Testament into German while at the Wartburg Castle, completing it in 1522. Inspired by Luther and following his example, Tyndale completed his translation of the New Testament in 1526.

Tyndale’s accomplishment, while easily overlooked, should never be forgotten. His translation became the basis for several other English translations that followed. Most notably, the 54 scholars who produced the King James Version in 1611 depended heavily on the work that Tyndale had done. Fully 80 percent of the King James New Testament books and 75 percent of the Old Testament books translated by Tyndale reproduced Tyndale’s words exactly.

Rather than being recognized as a hero or saint, Tyndale’s efforts earned him a very different reaction at the time. His translation was viewed as a challenge to the authority and power of the church. Copies of the translation were smuggled from Germany and Belgium into England. There the Bishop Turnstall threatened booksellers with severe punishment for selling the Bibles, and piles of the Tyndale translation were publicly burned. Cardinal Wolsey declared Tyndale to be a heretic. In 1530, when Tyndale declared that King Henry VIII’s planned divorce was unscriptural, the king asked the Holy Roman Emperor to have Tyndale arrested and extradited to England.

Tyndale never made it back to England. He was arrested and imprisoned in Belgium in 1535. After a year in a dark dungeon, he was condemned as a heretic. He was tied to a stake and strangled; his lifeless body was then burned. “God’s outlaw” gave his life for the sake of the gospel and because of his desire to put the Word of God into the hands of ordinary people.

Before he died, Tyndale’s last words were a prayer: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!” God granted that prayer. Within four years, the King of England commissioned four new English translations, all of them based on Tyndale’s translation. And in 1611, the version authorized by King James would use Tyndale’s work as the basis of a translation that would be used for the next five centuries.

William Tyndale will probably never be a name that most English-speaking Christians will remember. But we should remember what he did. And we should thank God for this man who made the ultimate sacrifice to bring the Word of God to generations of people.

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 103, Number 6
Issue: June 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Unique in every sense of the word

Mark G. Schroeder

Unique is a word that is often overused and misused. Unique does not mean very unusual. For something to be unique, it’s not enough for it to be very rare. No, something that is unique is literally one of a kind.

As Assignment Day at Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), Mequon, Wis., approaches, I wonder how often we stop to think about and give thanks for a truly unique blessing that we in the Wisconsin Synod enjoy. And when I say unique, I mean unique in the true sense of the word: not just something special or unusual or rare, but something that is truly one of a kind.

There is simply no other church body in the world that is blessed with a system for training pastors and teachers exactly like ours. In that system, nearly every person who will serve in the public ministry in our synod is trained at the same college. Most of the students at that college come from a system of two prep schools and nearly two dozen area Lutheran high schools. In this unique system nearly every pastor who will serve as a spiritual shepherd in our congregations is trained at the same seminary. In the eight years of high school and college that it takes to be trained as a teacher or staff minister, nearly every student has been taught by teachers and professors who all share the same faith and the same commitment to the Scriptures. The same can be said for those who spend 12 years preparing to be a pastor. In those years of education, students live in dormitories with fellow students who not only share the same faith but who also are thinking and praying about whether God might use them some day in the public ministry. Shared faith, shared goals, and a shared purpose make for something truly unique.

Then think of what happens on Assignment Day. At MLC, young men and women who have the talents and skills to succeed in every kind of career instead have dedicated their lives to serving as Lutheran teachers or staff ministers. At Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, young men who could have trained in nearly any field say with a sense of their own unworthiness, “Here am I, Lord, send me!” God has used this unique system not only to train young men and women in the skills they will need in their ministry but also to shape hearts, to strengthen faith, and to cause these students to marvel at the message they will proclaim.

And they are led to trust the Lord who is calling them. There they stand on Assignment Day, not having applied for a job, not having submitted a résumé to a prospective employer, not having interviewed for a position. Imagine this: They stand there on that day not knowing where they will serve, but they are ready to go anywhere they are sent. Think of the trust that takes in the heart of a young graduate. They trust their Lord because they know that the call that they will receive will be from him. They know that no matter where they will go or whom they will serve, the same Savior who is calling them will be with them and will bless their work in his name.

Sometimes we take blessings for granted. Our system for training called workers and the called workers produced by that system are blessings that should never be taken for granted. These blessings are from God, and they are truly unique.

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 103, Number 5
Issue: May 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Our hands, God’s harvest

Recently I saw a statistic that is both surprising and disturbing. In a presentation on how to reach out to the community with the saving gospel message, the presenter noted that in one recent year 51 percent of the 1,270 WELS congregations had one adult confirmation or less. More than 500 had zero. Those are some sobering and significant numbers.

We know that the mission or health or success of the church is not measured in statistics. Only the Holy Spirit, working through the gospel, converts sinners and brings them into God’s family. We know from Jesus’ parable of the sower that faithful proclamation of the Word does not always bring people to faith. Three of the four places where the seed fell did not produce what we might think of as the “right” results. In fact, sometimes faithful proclamation of the Word repels and hardens people rather than attracting and winning them. A church that is faithful to the Scriptures needs to recognize that such faithfulness sometimes leads people to leave rather than to join.

But statistics, while never an accurate measure of the impact or “success” of the gospel (the gospel always succeeds in doing what God wants it to do), can be a measure or an indication of our own stewardship of the means of grace. In other words, statistics, while never calling into question the power of the Word, can and should lead us to ask, “Am I faithfully using those means that God uses to build his church?”

When we see a church or a synod in apparent decline, we are tempted to conclude that we need to come up with some way to turn that around. With all good intentions, people sometimes look to innovative methods and programs to attract people to the church. Maybe if we offered a less-threatening worship experience, maybe if we find ways to make the church seem more relevant to the everyday lives of people, maybe if we did more research to find what people are really looking for in a church, maybe if we laid it on the consciences of people to become involved in organized evangelism and outreach programs—maybe then the church will grow and the numbers will increase. An entire industry focuses on providing ideas and methods to “make the church grow.” Sad to say, many are attracted to well-packaged programs that appeal to the eye but have little impact on the heart. All too often the programs offer people what they want rather than what they really need.

Faithful stewardship of the means of grace does not focus on statistics and will not look for easy “fixes.” But it should lead us to ask whether or not we are doing all we can to bring the gospel to as many as possible. That can certainly happen through organized programs such as an early childhood education center or a Lutheran elementary school. It can happen as congregations do all they can to interact with visitors and to help guests feel welcome in their worship practices. It can happen when congregations find ways to connect with their communities. Most important, though, it happens when congregations and members find ways to develop relationships with people. Such relationships enable us to communicate, to show genuine personal concern, and to gain the trust of those whom we will invite to learn more about the Savior.

If we are faithful in planting and watering, we know that God will make it grow—as he graciously determines and as he wills.

 

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 103, Number 4
Issue: April 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Words—and actions—that drive out fear

Mark G. Schroeder

What are you afraid of?

I’m not talking about the kind of fear that comes suddenly with an approaching severe thunderstorm. Not the kind of fear that grips you in an instant when it feels like you are skidding on an icy winter highway. Not the kind of panicked fear you experience when you realize your little child has wandered away from you in a busy crowd.

The fear I am asking about is the ongoing, relentless fear that takes hold of you over time and doesn’t seem to let go. It’s the kind of fear that lurks in your consciousness when your company is downsizing and you wonder whether you will still have a job next week. It’s the kind of fear that settles into your thinking when you hear about increasing terror attacks—not somewhere across the world but right where you live. It’s the kind of fear that comes when you look at the direction in which society is heading and you wonder what kind of world your children will inherit. It’s the kind of fear that gnaws at you when you know that you have a family history of cancer or heart disease or Alzheimer’s and you are convinced that you will be an inevitable victim of that disease. It’s the kind of fear that creeps up on you in the quiet night, the fear that comes from knowing that you are a sinner and that someday, sooner or later, you will face the deadly wages of that sin.

You could, no doubt, add your own fears to that list. But just as those fears threaten to overwhelm us and drive us to despair and hopelessness, we hear some of the sweetest words ever spoken. They were words spoken more than once on the first Easter Sunday. When the women arrived at the tomb of Jesus, an angel appeared to them and said, “Do not be afraid!” A little later, the risen Jesus himself met the women, and he delivered the very same message: “Do not be afraid!”

These were not just empty words. These were not just words intended to offer cosmetic and momentary comfort in a hopeless situation. These were not words that were intended merely to distract people from some very frightening realities.

No, these were effective and powerful words—words that could be spoken and proclaimed with full authority and promise because of what had happened earlier that morning. The lifeless body of a crucified Savior came alive by his own power. In rising from the dead, he defeated death itself and showed himself to be the One who makes and always keeps his amazing promises.

So when we find ourselves fearing the future and all of the uncertainties in our lives, the One who secured our eternal future by his resurrection tells us we have no reason to

fear, and he proved it by his exit from the tomb. When we find ourselves concerned about the church and its mission, the living Savior promises us that the gates of hell itself will not prevail against his church. And when we fear the results of our own sin and failings, the same resurrected Savior assures us, “As far as the east is from the west, that’s how far I’ve taken your sins from you” (cf. Psalm 103:12). Then he adds, “Because I live, you also shall live” (John 14:19).

What are you afraid of? Whatever it is, Christ’s Easter victory assures us that we do not need to fear anymore.

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 103, Number 3
Issue: March 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Pastoral Vacancies bring challenges and blessings

Mark G. Schroeder

In my travels around the synod, some of the questions I often hear are, “What is the situation with pastoral vacancies? Do we have more vacancies than normal? With smaller class sizes at the seminary, will we be facing a pastoral shortage in the near future?”

As of the last meeting of the Conference of Presidents, there were 77 vacancies in positions requiring pastoral training. Since there are about 1,570 such positions, this represents a vacancy rate of about 5 percent. While somewhat higher than it has been in the last few years, the vacancy rate has not risen dramatically. The Conference of Presidents feels that any vacancy rate under 8 percent is manageable.

It’s true that classes at the seminary now and in recent years have been smaller than in the past. While class sizes had been averaging near 40 for some time, some classes lately have been in the low 30s. So we can expect the vacancy rate to increase in the short term. It should be noted, however, that several classes now at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., are larger and much closer to the previous levels.

Several years ago, there were concerns that we would see a significant pastoral shortage when pastors born in the “baby boom” era began to retire. This shortage has not materialized for several reasons. More pastors are choosing to serve in a semi-retirement capacity in small congregations that may not need a full-time pastor. In addition to that, we are seeing an increase in the number of small congregations, especially in rural areas, joining together with a neighboring congregation as a dual parish that can be served by one pastor. Both of these developments have served to keep the vacancy rate from rising more than it has.

In general, our current vacancy rate is not a bad thing. Having a certain number of vacancies results in more pastors receiving and accepting calls, and periodic changes in ministry are often beneficial both for the congregation and called worker. It is always a good thing for a pastor to have the opportunity to receive a call and prayerfully to consider his current ministry and the needs of the other congregation. It’s also beneficial and healthy for a congregation when its pastor receives a call. The members not only have an opportunity to reevaluate the work that the congregation is doing, but they also have the privilege of giving encouragement to their spiritual shepherd. It’s also an opportunity for everyone to offer prayers of thanks for the way God has provided leadership; direction; and, most important, the regular proclamation of the gospel, God’s power among us. And even though a vacancy provides some significant challenges for a congregation, it can be a good time to reassess thoroughly the needs of the congregation.

The fact that the synod’s vacancy rate now and in the near future does not indicate a looming pastoral shortage is a real blessing from God. But that is not a reason for us to relax in our efforts to encourage young men to prepare for the pastoral ministry. The ninth grader who is beginning his pastoral education next fall will not be ordained as a pastor until the year 2028. We can’t know what the needs of the church will be that many years into the future. What is certain, though, is that when we have a young man saying, “Here am I, send me!” we should be ready and committed to having a place for him to serve.

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 103, Number 2
Issue: February 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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What’s really new?

What’s really new?

Mark G. Schroeder

There is something about the “new car smell” that appeals to just about everyone. Climb into a brand new vehicle, and you are greeted with the unique odor that unmistakably announces that this car has just come from the factory, in perfect condition, not yet spoiled by the Big Mac wrappers on the floor, the coffee stain, or the tennis shoes tucked behind the back seat.

There is something especially uplifting about moving into a newly built house. The appliances have never been used and work perfectly. There are no stains on the carpet from children’s spills and no sign of a previous canine or feline occupants. The walls are freshly painted, and the roof is perfectly waterproof.

Who doesn’t appreciate a new set of clothes? Whether you have gained a little weight or just completed a successful diet, the new clothes fit perfectly. There are no wrinkles to remove, no holes to mend, no buttons missing. New clothes have no hint of the wear and tear of a previous owner and no fading from repeated laundering.

And what touches us more than a new baby? Helpless and seemingly innocent, the little new life brings smiles to strangers’ faces and an indescribable sense of love and connection to the new parents. The very newness of that life points to the future, to a lifetime of experiences and potential and promise.

We like new things. We like new things because they have not yet been spoiled or ruined or broken. New things represent a fresh start, a new beginning, a break from the past.

Maybe that’s why the start of a new year is such a big thing in the minds of many people. Certainly it is nothing more than the turning of a calendar page and one more sunrise than the day before. Yet the very thought of the year being new leads many to believe that Jan. 1 is a fresh start, a new beginning, an opportunity to reset life and start over without the baggage of the past. The new year comes, and people think that this year things will be better. Their lives will be better. Their behavior will be better. At least, that’s what they resolve.

For God’s people, the new start in life doesn’t come once a year. It comes every day.

Jeremiah reminds us, “[The LORD’s] compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22,23). In each day of our lives filled with sin and failure and open rebellion against God, his mercy comes to us without fail. His mercy pours down on us in Christ, and his grace lifts us up into his loving arms. So each day we begin as another new day, another day to know that God has brought us from death to a new life as his child.

And each new day is also another opportunity to live a new kind of life for him. Each day we return to the new life he first gave us in our baptism—the new life we have—and look forward to a new kind of life he enables us to live. Paul wrote to the Romans, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the death through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).

With that in mind, every day of this new year can begin anew. Given new life by his mercy and grace, we are set free to live a new life of joyful, thankful obedience in him.

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 103, Number 1
Issue: January 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Speaking the truth . . . in love

Mark G. Schroeder

Some would say that being “politically correct” is simply taking care that your words do not needlessly offend people whose political, social, or religious views differ from yours. Others, however, would say that insistence on political correctness threatens free speech and silences those who disagree with the “correct” views promoted by those who want to shape the culture.

The apostle James certainly knew that words can hurt and do damage. “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. . . . It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6,8). Words can destroy trust. Words can be used to belittle a spouse. Words can destroy friendships. Words can dishonor parents. Words can distort the truth and lead people to believe a lie. Words can give life and energy to vile and wicked ideas. Words can entice and tempt others to sin.

You might think that since words have so much potential to do harm, the less said the better. But words can also accomplish amazing good. With words we express our love to one another. With words we teach our children values and morals. With words we comfort those who are sad and share in the joy of those who are celebrating. With words we pray and sing praises to God. With words we admonish brothers and sisters who are caught up in sinful behavior. Most of all, it is with words that we can share with others the beautiful truths that God has revealed to us in the Scriptures.

Yes, God wants us to speak. But he is also very clear how he wants us to speak. Paul encouraged the Ephesians to speak the truth. And he went further, saying that we are to speak the truth in love.

There are times when speaking the truth in love is not easy—when frightened silence seems to be the path of least resistance. What do you say when your coworker makes it clear that living with his girlfriend outside of marriage is perfectly normal? How will you warn your friend when you know that he regularly views pornography on his computer? What words do you use when your college roommate argues that every woman should have the right to have an abortion? Should you speak up when your neighbor accuses people who are not in favor of same-sex marriage of being closed-minded, bigoted, and homophobic?

When God gives us the opportunity to express our beliefs—and he will—we need to be ready. We need to be ready to speak the truth. But we also need to be ready to speak the truth not with words that mock or belittle or boast. Rather we need to speak the truth in love—out of love for the truth and with a loving attitude toward the person who hears us.

Even when we speak the truth in love people will not always respond well. Sometimes the truth—even when spoken in love—is not what people want to hear. We will often be condemned for our efforts. We will be accused of being judgmental. We may lose friends and suffer ridicule in return. When we speak as a synod, other church bodies will accuse us of being legalistic, clinging to old-fashioned and outmoded beliefs, or just plain wrong.

But that should not deter us. When the truth needs to be spoken, we need to speak it. And we need to speak it without fear, without apology, and always in love.

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 102, Number 12
Issue: December 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Difficult decisions, abundant blessings

Mark G. Schroeder

This fall marks the 20th anniversary of one of the more controversial events in our synod’s recent history. After several years of spirited—even heated—debate, the 1993 synod convention voted by a narrow margin to approve something called “the amalgamation.” In 1995 Northwestern College and Dr. Martin Luther College became Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minnesota. And Martin Luther Preparatory School and Northwestern Preparatory School became Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wisconsin.

The decision to amalgamate was not an easy one. Passionate views were held on both sides of the issue. Those in favor of the amalgamation cited what they believed would be the benefits of combining the schools. There would be cost savings achieved by reducing the number of campuses in our synod’s ministerial education system. Others in favor of the amalgamation felt that having our future pastors on the same campus with future teachers would benefit the relationship between future pastors and teachers.

But many were opposed to the proposal to combine the schools. Opponents of amalgamation were convinced that the system in place at the time was not broken and, therefore, should not be fixed. Others feared that the pastor track would lose its identity and focus in the combined school and that the unique course of study that would had served so well could be lost. Still others also were concerned about the loss of one more prep school and with it a reliable source of pastor and teacher candidates for more than a century. Many also doubted that the cost savings would be significant enough to justify the risk of such a move.

We now have the perspective 20 years later to see the results of that difficult decision. While we can never know what would have happened if the system had remained as it was, we can certainly see what that system looks like today. What we see are clear and undeserved blessings from God.

We have a college of ministry in New Ulm that continues its purpose to prepare young men and women for service in the church. Martin Luther College has demonstrated that it is faithfully continuing the work of training teachers and staff ministers. In many ways, that preparation has improved, with new programs of study for specific needs in the church (such as early childhood ministry and urban ministry). The school continues to supply teachers in the numbers that we need to staff our various educational programs. Martin Luther College also trains young men to enter the seminary. The biblical languages are still taught, and a balanced view is instilled in future pastors by a liberal arts education that includes history, religion, math, and science just as before. Martin Luther College is doing exactly what we prayed it would do.

The same can be said of Luther Preparatory School. The oldest Lutheran high school in the country continues to provide more candidates for ministry than any other school, with a large percentage of its graduates enrolling at Martin Luther College. For those who choose not to prepare for the ministry, Luther Prep gives a strong biblical foundation for lay leaders of the future. Our two prep schools, along with the area Lutheran high schools, provide the number and quality of students to help meet the needs of our synod. November brings with it our celebration of Thanksgiving. Let’s be sure to thank our gracious God for his blessings on the schools that provide our congregations with faithful and well-trained workers.

 

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 102, Number 11
Issue: November 2015

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Holding on to our heritage

Mark G. Schroeder

In my report to the synod convention in July, I outlined some of the values and principles that will, God-willing, guide our synod as it carries out its mission. The convention expressed its agreement. What your representatives at the convention affirmed should be of interest to all WELS members.

As the congregations of our synod face the challenges of an increasingly hostile culture, it is vital that we hold on to the heritage that has been passed down to us. This does not imply that we will remain focused on the past or consumed by nostalgia for a bygone era. Nor is it simply a matter of preserving the history of our synod. Rather, it means that for us to carry out our mission faithfully in the future, we need to rededicate ourselves to holding on to what is valuable and never letting it go, celebrating and cherishing our heritage as confessional Lutherans. Rather than diluting that heritage and reshaping our identity into something more generic and less distinct from other types of Christianity—or worse, abandoning it—we need to sharpen and clarify for ourselves and for others what makes our synod distinct and different. How will we do this?

Sola gratia (by grace alone), sola fide (by faith alone), sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), and solo Christo (by Christ alone) will not be an empty slogan but will remain the focus and foundation of all we believe, teach, confess, and practice.

• We will train men not just as theologians, but as pastors—caring shepherds who will use their knowledge of God’s Word to lead and guide God’s people more deeply into the Scriptures, which teach the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. We will train teachers as servants who recognize that their main role is to feed Jesus’ lambs with his precious Word.

• Our preaching and teaching will continue to be Christ-centered and grace-proclaiming rather than an attempt to entertain, to pander to emotions, or primarily to provide guidance on how to live a happy and fulfilled life.

• We will commit ourselves to thorough instruction of the young. We will do all we can in our families and schools to provide them with a foundation that cannot and will not be shaken.

• We will emphasize the centrality of the means of grace in our lives as we worship regularly and share in the Lord’s Supper often. We will bring our children joyfully to the font where the Spirit grants forgiveness, salvation, and new birth.

• We will treasure and teach our heritage of Lutheran worship. We dare not abandon something that has been a blessing for centuries for the generic, shallow, and emotionally-based worship of Christian churches around us.

• We will hold on to the teachings of Scripture no matter how the culture may change and no matter how strongly our beliefs may be challenged. We will never grow complacent in our knowledge of the Scriptures, but we will look continually to grow in our knowledge and depth of understanding.

• We will be zealous in sharing the treasure of our gospel heritage with as many people as possible, recognizing that the mission God has given us is not an obligation but a privilege.

• We will look together with eager anticipation to the return of our Savior, because we know that his final victory will be our victory.

All of this we can do if, and only if, we place ourselves, our families, our congregations, and our synod into God’s gracious care and depend on his blessing on our work together.

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 102, Number 10
Issue: October 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Standing firm, speaking the truth

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in June requiring all states to recognize same-sex marriage really was not a surprise. And it’s a decision that is not likely to be reversed.

What are the ramifications for Christians who believe that marriage is a God-instituted union between one man and woman? What challenges will congregations face as this newly court-legislated reality sets in? We certainly don’t know all that may happen, nor do we know the timeline.

Evidence for that can be found north of our border in Canada, where same-sex marriage was legalized ten years ago. While the vast majority of same-sex couples in Canada were happy to be able to marry legally, activists were anything but content. In British Columbia, a conservative Christian college that wanted to start a law program was not able to do so because legal organizations claimed that any college that affirmed discrimination against homosexuals could not adequately train people to serve in the Canadian court system. Again in British Columbia, a local chapter of the Knights of Columbus (a Roman Catholic charitable organization) refused to allow its facilities to be used for a lesbian wedding celebration because such a relationship was against church teaching. The group lost its court case and was fined for discriminating against the couple. One can assume that similar challenges to Christian churches, schools, and organizations will take place in the United States.

It is unlikely that we will experience some kind of government action to forbid us to teach what the Bible says about marriage. But activists have already begun to talk about whether organizations (including churches and schools) that hold a biblical view of marriage should retain their tax-exempt status. Congregations that make their facilities available to community groups may find that by doing so, depending on the state, they fall under “public accommodation” rules, which forbid discrimination of any kind. Churches and individual Christians will likely be characterized as being against equal protection under the law. Statements affirming a biblical view of marriage are already being described as bigoted, unloving, and homophobic.

What are we to do? We begin with repentance—for the times that we have failed to be clear and loving witnesses to God’s truth and for the times that we have neglected to appreciate God’s gift of marriage and the spouses he has provided. We place those sins and failings at the cross, and there we receive the continuing assurance that our sins have been forgiven.

Then, we regard marriage as what God intended it to be. We continue to testify to the truth of God’s Word. We speak, not like the Pharisees, but as the Savior spoke, with genuine love and concern for sinners of all kinds. We faithfully proclaim both law and gospel, not seeking to change society, but to change hearts. We honor and serve our God-given spouses in love that flows from faith in Jesus, setting an example of how marriage can be. We teach our children what God says, preparing them for the time when they will go out into an adult world that neither knows God nor listens to his Word.

Then we pray. We pray that God would give us the faith of Paul, the courage of Stephen, and the zeal of Peter. We pray that God would use us to speak his truth and give reason for the hope we have. And we pray that Jesus, in these last days, will enable us to be faithful and loving witnesses of his truth, no matter what the challenge and no matter what the cost.

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 102, Number 09
Issue: September 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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About our Father’s business

About our Father’s business

Mark G. Schroeder

It happens every two years. Four hundred people from all over the country, and some from overseas, travel to one of our synodical schools. They are farmers and factory workers, accountants and architects, pastors and teachers. The group includes millennials and retirees, and every age in between. It’s a diverse crowd to be sure, but one whose members have several important things in common. They have faith in their Savior. They are committed to carrying out his mission. And they have the trust of those who have asked them to represent them.

I’m referring, of course, to the biennial convention of our synod. It will take place at the end of July at Michigan Lutheran Seminary in Saginaw, Mich. There, convention delegates will gather to worship, to engage in brotherly debate, to hold elections, and to make prayerful decisions that will shape the nature and direction of the work that we do together as a synod.

Some have jokingly observed that the best conventions are boring conventions. That observation is not meant to imply that any convention is truly boring. There can be no boredom as the four hundred delegates gather for the opening service—a worship service so moving that no one who attends ever forgets it. There can be no real boredom when the reports of God’s abundant blessings on our ministries are shared with the delegates and certainly no boredom upon hearing the exciting opportunities that God continues to give to us.

Who could be bored when hearing personal accounts of missionaries serving in faraway places, as they share the stories of people from every tribe, language, and nation brought into God’s kingdom by the power of Word and sacrament? How could it ever be boring to hear how God uses weak and sinful people like us to be his workers and witnesses, united in a common faith and joined in a common mission? These things are evident at every convention, and they combine to make boredom impossible.

Sometimes no major issues threaten to fracture our unity; no huge problems face us that cause us to lose sleep at night and worry for the future of the synod. Some conventions feature no floor debates that cause delegates to lash out in anger, frustration, or bitterness. If that is what is meant by boring, then it’s true that the best convention is a boring convention. We can pray for that kind of boredom.

So in July we will gather again around God’s Word and in his name for another convention. But it’s not just a meeting. There we will elect those who will serve on our behalf. We will adopt a ministry financial plan (budget) that outlines how we will use the resources that God makes available to us. We will make decisions and pass resolutions. We will hear reports of the gospel being proclaimed and the Spirit

at work. There we will pray that God would keep us faithful to his Word and that he would bless the work we do in his name. And as the delegates are about their Father’s business, fellow believers will be praying that God would grant delegates wisdom and courage.

Anything but boring, this convention promises, like all previous conventions, to be an opportunity to marvel at God’s continuing grace and love for his church.

The synod convention takes place July 27–30. Follow convention coverage that week at www.wels.net.

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 102, Number 7
Issue: July 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Come out of your cave

Come out of your cave

Mark G. Schroeder

With his own eyes Elijah had seen the powerful hand of God at work (1 Kings 16:29–19:18). Elijah had delivered a message from God to Ahab, described as an Israelite king more wicked than all the kings before him. The prophet told Ahab that there would be no rain until Elijah gave the word. Then the rain stopped, just as God had said. While the drought and famine raged, God fed Elijah by ravens and sent him to the home of a widow in Zarephath where God miraculously took care of him. Then, in the most dramatic demonstration of God’s power, we find Elijah in his memorable confrontation with the 450 prophets of Baal. He prayed for God to consume the sacrifice with fire, and he saw with his own eyes how the true God sent fire and ended a contest that was no contest at all. God’s power is real.

How quickly Elijah forgot what his own eyes had seen and his experience had proven. When wicked queen Jezebel heard that her prophets of Baal had been put to death, she swore that she would see to it that Elijah would meet the same fate. Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. Then he huddled in a cave. While he was worried and fearful, God sent a great wind, a powerful earthquake, and a consuming fire. But God’s power was not in those things. Next came a gentle whisper—a whisper spoken by a God whose power is best demonstrated in the Word he speaks and in the promises he keeps.

We live in an amazing world created and sustained by the power of his Word. We receive the blessings of food and clothing and shelter from the hands of a gracious God. We know from experience the power of a God who with simple water coupled with his Word has shattered our hard and unbelieving hearts and replaced them with hearts of faith and trust in his promises. We have witnessed how the same powerful Word in the mouths of a handful of disciples has changed the world, bringing people of every language, tribe, nation, and people to know the salvation won by a crucified and risen Savior.

Yet, even though we have seen the power of God with our own eyes, we may find ourselves with Elijah, huddling in fear. We see a world set on fire by unbelieving enemies of the gospel. We see the church under attack and not seeming to be succeeding in fending off those attacks; in fact we see large segments of the Christian church crossing over to the side of the enemy. Congregations struggle, Christians fall away, families disintegrate, and mission zeal seems to falter.

That often makes us afraid, but there is no reason to fear. God comes to us, as he did to Elijah, with the same gentle whisper of his gospel promises. “I will never leave you or forsake you.” “The gates of hell will not overcome my church.” “I am with you always.” “This gospel will be preached to the whole world.” “Behold, I am coming soon.”

Elijah listened to that gentle whisper. It was a whisper that may not have seemed dramatic and powerful, but it was a whisper that reminded Elijah that the power of God remains in his promises to his people. We can come out of the cave of our fears, just as Elijah did, with a steadfast trust and confidence, knowing that God’s power and God’s grace will come in his way and in his time.

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 102, Number 6
Issue: June 2015

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How’s your vision?

How’s your vision?

Mark G. Schroeder

Years ago while serving a congregation in Florida, my family and I would make the trip by car back to Wisconsin. Since our children were still young, we would often try to make that trip as painless as possible by driving straight through the night. I would keep myself awake with a thermos of strong coffee and a selection of snacks to munch on. On one of those trips I had an unnerving experience. Cruising on the interstate somewhere in Tennessee, my eyes spotted some movement to the right of the highway. I slowed down quickly in time to see a group of four elephants sauntering across the road in front of me.

But there were no elephants wandering through rural Tennessee that night. My tired eyes were playing tricks on me. What I saw was not real. It was only an illusion that my overly tired brain caused my eyes to see. My vision proved to be anything but reliable.

More and more we hear that congregations are being encouraged to “cast a vision” for the ministry they plan to carry out in the future. When it comes to the mission of the church, the word vision makes me more than a little uncomfortable.

Please don’t misunderstand my discomfort about the word vision. Carefully evaluating needs and prioritizing efforts echo the New Testament encouragements to us to “count the cost.” Identifying areas of ministry that we need to improve and to devote more time and attention to is sanctified common sense. If we use the term vision to describe what we prayerfully desire to do in response to the gospel message, then there is really no problem

All too often, however, those who speak of vision in the church use it to describe not what the congregation is to do, but what they hope that the church will be and will become. That kind of vision setting is both dangerous and unbiblical. That kind of vision setting, even with the best of intentions, can all too easily foster a sense of pharisaic pride that we somehow, through our efforts and skills, can make the church of tomorrow into something it is not today. Promoting that kind of vision can easily imply that we know the mind of God and what he plans to accomplish. It reflects a theology of glory, which promises that the church will be outwardly successful, growing in numbers, filled with active and eager members who generously support and fully participate in the life and the work of the church—as long as we do things right. Ministry built on such visions often leads either to a false sense of pride when things seem to go well or devastating disappointment when our vision-setting eyes have played tricks on us.

When we fix our eyes on Jesus, those eyes of faith will never play tricks on us. The church needs only to look to the cross and to the empty tomb to find joy and strength. We need only to look to his Word and sacraments, where his promises are clear and in sharp focus. We need only to perceive with eyes of faith that God has placed us in this world as witnesses of Christ and reflectors of his love. As we do that as individuals, as congregations, and as a synod, we pray. We worship. We witness. We show love. We follow him. We work for him as he gives us the opportunity.

And then we trust that our gracious God, who alone has the true vision for the future, will bless our efforts in the way that his love determines.

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Peace unlike any other

Peace unlike any other

Mark G. Schroeder

It was Sunday evening. They sat behind locked doors and shuttered windows, fearful that the same enemies who had killed their master and friend would come looking for those who had followed him.

Added to their fear was the lingering horror of what they had experienced in the days before. They recalled how they fled all too quickly when he was arrested in Gethsemane. They had watched as he was beaten and whipped. They cringed at the sound of the hammer blows that nailed him to a cross. They tried not to look as the cross was raised, bearing the one whose words had filled their ears with calls to repentance, with assurances of God’s grace, and with patient instruction about what he had come to do.

With their fear and with their troubled memories of those events also came confusion. Some of their friends had gone to his tomb that morning and found it empty. Others spoke of angels who announced that their friend and master was not dead but very much alive. Still others reported that Jesus had appeared to them, spoken with them, ate with them. What did it all mean? Could it really be true? What was in store for them?

That Sunday night, they were given answers to their questions. Jesus came to them. His greeting said it all: “Peace be with you.” In place of guilt and fear and confusion, the living Savior gave his disciples the kind of peace that only he could give. He gave them the peace of sins forgiven; the peace that came from knowing their Savior accomplished exactly what he had come to do; the peace of knowing that with the greatest enemy of all defeated and disgraced, no enemy could harm them or tear them from the protecting arms of their victorious Savior.

The words of Jesus to his first disciples are words that he still speaks to us. They are words that lift the guilt from the hearts of sinners who all too often run away from their Savior. They are words that remind us that the horrible things Jesus suffered were all for the purpose of saving and redeeming us from what we deserve. They are words that dispel any confusion we may have about who we are, what God has done for us, and what future awaits us. They are words that set the stage and lay the foundation for us, just as it did for his first disciples, to set out on the mission he has given us a mission to trust, a mission to worship, a mission to serve, and a mission to proclaim.

Many things still threaten to bring horror, fear, and confusion into our lives. Watch the evening news. Listen to the voices of popular culture. See the effects of sin as lives are destroyed and families are shattered. Look into your own heart and your own life to see the corrosive and destructive power of sin. We have every reason to sit huddled in fear, paralyzed with guilt, uncertain of the future.

But then we hear those same words. “Peace be with you!” With those words the same living and victorious Savior comforts our horrified hearts, drives away our fear, and replaces our confusion with faith-filled understanding. And, just as he did with those first believers, he sends us out into a world, holding on to his words and promises, rejoicing in his victory that has become our victory, and proclaiming the same peace to sinners that the Savior has proclaimed to us.

That is peace unlike any other.

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 102, Number 4
Issue: April 2015

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Wants or needs?

Wants or needs?

In the days after the first Pentecost, Peter and John were on their way to the temple for afternoon prayer (Acts chapter 3). As they were about to enter the temple grounds, they came across a man who had been crippled from birth. The man’s friends placed him there every day at the temple gate to beg for a coin or two from people coming to the temple.

Peter knew what the man wanted. More important, he knew what the man needed. As the man’s open hand stretched out to Peter, Peter looked him in the eye and said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you.” Then came the double gift that filled not the man’s wants but his greatest needs. Peter said to him, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

That first gift was amazing enough. The man miraculously not only got up and walked but also began jumping and leaping.

But the second gift was even greater. As he ran and leaped into the temple courts, he praised and thanked God for what he received in the name of Jesus. The man who had been lifted from his mat to his feet was also a man who had been lifted from his hopelessness and sin into the arms of a gracious Savior. Only minutes later, he heard Peter speak to the gathered crowd and point to the One who made this healing possible, Jesus.

People today are no different than the beggar at the temple. Their lives are often filled with sadness, frustration, and despair. They are searching for something, anything; that will make their lives happier and more fulfilling. They know that something is wrong, but they look for solutions in the wrong places.

In that search, some come to the church looking for answers. Like the beggar, they hold out their hands asking for something that they think will help them. Maybe they desire an emotional boost to help them feel better about themselves. Maybe they seek to be uplifted by compelling preachers and entertained by uplifting music in worship. Maybe they are looking for practical advice on how to cope, how to be better parents, how to be better mangers of their money.

What answer should we give them? Shouldn’t it be the same answer that Peter gave to the beggar? God’s church has not been placed on this earth to dispense practical advice to self-absorbed consumers. The mission of God’s church is not primarily to meet the physical and emotional needs of people who measure happiness on the basis of what they have and how they feel. The answer given by the church to such people should be, “We have none of these things for you. But what we have we will give you.”

We have the same message that God gave to Peter and the apostles. We have the message of God’s law that unmasks the real problem in people’s lives, the fact that they are poor miserable sinners standing before a holy God and deserving only his punishment. And we have the message of the gospel that speaks to crippled and helpless sinners a message of forgiveness, healing, love, and life. We point them to Jesus, the only place where sinners can find what they really need.

If that’s what people get when they come to us, their joy will be as genuine as the man who was healed at the temple, a joy that comes from sins forgiven, guilt removed, and sorrow banished by the blood of Christ. It’s maybe not what they thought they wanted, but it’s what they really need.

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Author: President Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 102, Number 3
Issue: March 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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