By Jeni Miller
MILWAUKEE (July 10, 2016) — In the first of four essays delivered to delegates and participants at the 66th Regular Convention of the LCMS, the Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr., president of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind., sought to bring both a dose of reality and a double dose of comfort to those gathered by reminding them that “we can’t always imagine what God will do to sustain His Church, but we know He will.”
His essay, “Repent, Confess, Rejoice: Setting the Stage,” began by inviting the audience to recall the more challenging times in Lutheran history, such as “how Lutheranism nearly came apart in the period immediately following Luther’s death in 1546” and “in 1840 [when] the majority of Lutherans in America had lost their distinctive confession.”
Rast explained how, in both instances, God preserved His Church so that His people would once more seek to confess Christ fully and faithfully.
And he posed a challenge: “Today the church has lost its privileged position in North American culture. What will God do now?”
“He will be faithful,” declared Rast. “He will be faithful to His mission; He will be faithful to us, His people, because he has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light that we might declare His excellencies” (1 Peter 2:9).
Unsurprisingly, according to Rast, our current trying times are presenting Lutheran Christians in America with new anxieties and challenges.
Despite the sorry state of our culture and society, he said, we as Lutherans have reason to be encouraged because God is working full-force through the LCMS to bring about spiritual good in our world. Pointing convention-goers to the numerous Recognized Service Organizations represented in the convention’s exhibit hall, Rast noted the “remarkable testimonies to God’s faithfulness and the robust ways that our Synod … [is] doing God’s work with eternal impact both throughout the United States and into all the world.”
A call to repent
Citing everything from current demographics in both U.S. and world Lutheranism to the state of American Christianity today in general, Rast reminded convention attendees that our aging, declining, increasingly relativistic churches have “led some to predict the imminent collapse of evangelical Christianity.”
“This breakdown, it is claimed, will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West,” he added. “We may be experiencing the first manifestations of that even now.”
And so we confess
Speaking candidly, Rast described several instances and topics that, for him, are likely to make one anxious.
“We are surrounded by the cares and trials of this world,” he noted, “and the temptation is to become so entwined with that we miss the gracious provision and care that God so richly pours out upon us each and every day, feeding us with His Word, giving us His body and blood to eat and drink and clothing us in the righteousness of the Crucified and Risen One.”
Quoting the mission statement of the LCMS, Rast continued by explaining that “Our mission is ‘vigorously to make known the love of Christ by word and deed within our churches, communities and the world.’ Now, as much as has always been the case, we need to confess faithfully.”
With that, Rast exhorted the attendees to confess, not just because our anxieties are born of sin, but because “this … is our vocation. It is time for us to confess — and to do so with clarity and with vigor and boldness.”
Reason to rejoice
The third and final portion of Rast’s essay addressed that which naturally comes after confession and forgiveness: rejoicing. Tying his thoughts up neatly and harkening back to the issues and challenges he presented earlier in the essay, Rast encouraged his hearers with the Gospel promises that give today’s Lutheran Christians reason to rejoice.
“The opportunities to rejoice by sharing the good confession have never been greater,” he said. “For, even though the Church may have lost its privileged position in North American culture, orthodox Lutheranism continues to be a force for spiritual good as faithful pastors study the Scriptures, preach the Word by properly distinguishing between Law and Gospel, and administer the Sacraments according to Christ’s establishment.”
Reminding the convention that “church history confirms that God keeps His promises,” Rast shared other Lutheran historical facts with the delegates and participants and encouraged them with the mention of faithful Christians in Europe and elsewhere.
“So, like our predecessors, we are entering a new day,” Rast stated boldly. “What that future will look like is uncertain. We are all aware of the speed with which the church is presently changing. What will God do? As we’ve seen above, Christianity in Europe has largely collapsed. But it is not gone. There are pockets — sometimes very small pockets — of faithful, confessional Lutherans who are doing their best in almost impossible circumstances to maintain a faithful, biblical confession.”
Rast also mentioned how Resolution 5-01, “To Endorse Altar and Pulpit Fellowship with Lutheran Church in Norway,” among other resolutions, is proof of the existence of churches who have “been striving to be faithful and to reach out with the unchanging Gospel in an increasingly secularized context.”
Built upon this Rock
Rast put forth a relevant quote by C.F.W. Walther on the importance of holding fast to pure doctrine, and the power of God’s Word alone to preserve and sustain the Church. He also made mention of Revelation 14 and the comfort it brings today. “Here, among us, in our humble circumstances, the Lamb is on Mount Zion,” he said. “And in repentance, confession, and rejoicing, we seek over the course of this convention to do His will and marvel at the way He continues to achieve His purposes.”
In closing, Rast challenged convention-goers to consider that “it is a miracle that confessional Lutheranism exists in any form today. Humanly speaking, it should not. But because it does, we are moved to repent, confess and rejoice, purely by God’s grace.”
The 66th Regular Convention of the LCMS is meeting July 9-14 at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee under the theme “Upon this Rock.” Among the 1,500 convention participants are some 1,100 clergy and lay voting delegates.
Deaconess Jeni Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and member of Lutheran Church of the Ascension in Atlanta.
Posted July 10, 2016
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