June 2004

Working as a team

Thank you for putting excerpts from the Mission 21st Century Task Force report on the front page of the May issue.  Also thank you for drawing our attention to the full report.  I read it and found it to be honest, not soft-peddling the negative issues, but also constructive, offering real direction for those of us who want to “walk together.”
Those who have played team sports know that even a highly talented team cannot win if the members are picking on each other.  We need a strong and unified focus on the goal — the mission of reaching out, using all the opportunities and tools available to us.  All the while, encouraging and supporting all others who are attempting, in faith, to do the same.  Thank you for holding up and encouraging us to risk, to step out in faith and creatively to try different ways to reach out.
This is no time to be cautious.  Paul writes, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).  I am wondering if he might encourage us today also not to worry so about looking side to side as well, thus becoming distracted, as we press on toward the goal.

Prof. Tim Rippstein
Seward, Neb.

I have been reading in Reporter and other sources about a 250,000-member loss in our Synod since 1972.  The attempt is made to make this number look like we have not been doing the work of spreading the Gospel faithfully in that time.  I, for one, would rejoice if this number is true, since it means we have been growing steadily in that time.
In order to say this you have to look at the history of the Synod since 1972.  In the controversy of the 1970s, many churches left and formed the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC).  The number of members must have approached at least 100,000.  Then the Brazil District was released to become an independent church body in 1979 with at least 200,000 members.  Then there was the release of the LCMS Canadian districts in 1989 to become Lutheran Church–Canada with at least 100,000 members.
That totals at least 400,000 members lost since 1972.  If we are down only 250,000 since that date, we must have grown by at least 150,000 members.  While we would like more, this is a healthy growth rate for any church, especially when the reports are of American churches being generally in decline.
Please don’t just report the raw numbers, report the history of those numbers so that they can be put in perspective and so the true growth of our Synod can be seen.

Rev. W. James Lowmaster
Mio, Mich.

According to Dr. John O’Hara, the Synod’s research analyst, the 250,000 members lost by the Synod since 1972 as cited by the Mission 21st Century Task Force are U.S. figures only — the number does not include those who are now members of the church bodies in Brazil and Canada.  O’Hara adds that there is no way to know the actual number of members that left the Missouri Synod for the AELC, but estimates range widely, from a low of 75,000 to a high of 125,000.  That means that Synod congregations have had a net loss of at least 125,000 members since 1972, not counting those who became members of AELC congregations. — Ed.

Praying for reconciliation
I have had the opportunity to attend four LCMS national conventions — three times as a lay delegate and once as an advisory delegate while I was serving as chairman of the Lutheran Church Extension Fund Board of Directors.  When asked recently if I would be attending this year’s convention, I replied that I would not, but that I am praying daily for those who will be in attendance.
“For what are you praying?” was the next question.  My one-word answer was “reconciliation.”  If our Synod is going to move forward with a clear and consistent message to a world that so badly needs to hear the Good News, we need to put our own house in order.
I have had opportunity to meet, talk with and read reports from individuals on both sides of issues that are currently stirring controversy in our midst.  I believe that all parties are sincere in their defense of their position on the issues.  If we are to walk together we must be able to communicate.  Some of the statements I have heard and read are not helpful if an understanding is to be reached.  Our standard must be Jesus’ love for us.
Perhaps the first Scripture reference in our synodical Handbook is the model to use. Acts 15 records a “sharp dispute” among the followers of Jesus.  There is no indication that agreement was reached on all issues, but they did decide what was “important” and went forward based on that agreement.  We have so much “truth” that we do agree upon.  Let us not make it more difficult for one another, but rather, put aside our disagreement concerning “lesser things” and go forward together.
I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide our convention delegates in truth and love.

Warren C. Puck
Manning, Iowa

The ‘mind of the Holy Spirit’
Thank you for your report on the Praesidium’s recommendation to this year’s Synod convention that current LCMS working relationships with the ELCA be continued.  Your account was just fine, “fair and balanced” as they say.
What was of interest to me, however, was the reaction that some wording of the Praesidium’s report received from ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson.  Referring to the Praesidium’s statement regarding “the necessary consequences for our cooperative work should the mind of the ELCA prove to be contrary to the mind of the Holy Spirit,” Bishop Hanson reportedly remarked that “that kind of language is difficult to absorb.”  The Praesidium was referring to present deliberations by the ELCA whether to recognize same-sex marriage and whether to ordain actively homosexual or lesbian persons.
The account in Reporter indicated that the Praesidium was “not of one mind on that wording.”  The Praesidium did discuss the above wording.  However, at the end, I do not remember any dissenting voice concerning the wording that Bishop Hanson finds so “difficult to absorb.”  I at least want to identify myself publicly with this language, for it is language that is precise and clear and, in the present circumstances, needed.
I hope that all members of the Synod read the Praesidium’s full report (Convention Workbook, pp. 79-81).  The complete statement in question reads: “We [the Praes

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