by David H. Petersen
As the Missouri Synod’s triennial convention approaches, I regularly find myself singing the fourth stanza of “Lord of Our Life and God of Our Salvation” from The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH).
It’s not that the version in Lutheran Service Book (LSB) isn’t good. LSB also does a marvelous job with the stanza, offering a faithful English rendering of the original German text, which prays for peace in Church and school, in society, and in our hearts and minds.
Even so, it’s the TLH text that’s been running through my head lately, and not only because I grew up with the 1941 hymnal and used it in my first congregation as a pastor. Rather, it’s because this earlier, freer translation better fits with the tensions surrounding synodical conventions. Here it is:
Peace in our hearts, our sinful thoughts assuaging;
Peace in Thy Church, where brothers are engaging;
Peace when the world its busy war is waging,
Calm Thy foes raging. (TLH 258:4)
Translated this way, the hymn asks, simply and straightforwardly, for peace in three particular realms. It asks for peace in our hearts instead of sinful thoughts. It asks for peace in the Church instead of fighting and bickering. And finally, it asks for peace in the world instead of war.
It is that second request for peace in a Church “where brothers are engaging” that I miss in the newer version. In some form or another, we still need that prayer. We need it because the Church Militant, not only at the Synod level, but also at the congregational and family levels, has always suffered not only from heresies and schisms, but also from party politics and fervently-held differences of opinion about all sorts of issues. The Church Militant is not only fighting with Satan and his demonic armies. It is also fighting with itself. Brothers are engaging, and not merely in the friendly way in which we use the word “engage” today, but also in the older, rowdier sense of the word: that of single combat.
On this side of glory, brothers fight. Perhaps sometimes relationships become so broken that brothers actually hate each other, but this outcome isn’t as common as you might think. Usually brothers in the Church fight because they love each other.
Imagine this very typical scenario: A 13-year-old boy is rude to his mother. He is rebuked by his older brother and their disagreement escalates until fisticuffs ensue. They fight. The older brother does this out of love for their mother, but he himself is no angel. He is partly driven by pride, thinking that he is the better son. He wants to demonstrate his superiority in front of the younger brother and his mother. He also may want to enact vengeance for past slights and crimes. But for all of that, the older brother, in fact, loves his younger brother. His rebuke isn’t driven purely by love or carried out in love, but love is involved. The older brother ultimately wants to restore family peace and harmony.
It is not much different in the Church. The Church Militant is made up of Christians. Every Christian still on this side of glory is at war in himself. We all love the Church and one another, but we also struggle with pride and other vices. We should not be shocked if there are some heated debates and unkind remarks or other inappropriate behaviors at the convention this summer or in our congregational meetings or around our dinner tables. We should be disappointed, and to some degree ashamed, but we should not be surprised. Brothers fight.
At the same time, in our disappointment, we want to do better. We want to speak and act in love. We pray for peace and for our brothers. We pray that God would give us the grace by His Gospel to submit to the Word of God (Heb. 4:12–13) and to one another in love (Eph. 5:21; Rom. 7:4), to strive for pure doctrine and practice (1 Tim. 4:3; 6:3), but not to wrangle over words (2 Tim 2:14).
We pray, in other words, for peace in the Church where brothers are engaging. We pray that the convention in July will be a blessing to those involved and to the mission of the Church. And insofar as it fails to live up to the high ideals of the Scriptures, we eagerly await the day when we shall outgrow this childishness as the good work begun in us is completed.
The Rev. David H. Petersen is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Ind.