By Kim Plummer Krull
ST. LOUIS (July 21, 2013) – Wielding the historic gavel he used to open the 65th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, newly re-elected LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison urged LCMS members gathered from throughout the world to “listen to the blessings of the past” as “we face severe challenges as a church.”
“Facing these challenges is enough to make us lose our courage and our confidence in God’s Word,” Harrison said in the morning address. “Take heart! You’re baptized. That tiny bit of water will stand down all the oceans of tribulation on Earth.”
Delivered at the convention, held here July 20-25, at the America’s Center Convention Complex, Harrison’s president’s report reflected the conference theme “Baptized for This Moment.” He used the speech “to encourage you,” he said, referring to the convention’s registered participants which, as reported July 21, number 1,191 clergy and lay voting delegates.
“If you are under the impression that there was a golden age in the Church – without struggle and controversy, anguish and politics, without fallible leaders who suffer weakness and breakdown – then you don’t know anything about the history of the Missouri Synod, the Lutheran Church, the Reformation or the New Testament, for that matter!” said the Synod’s 13th president, his booming baritone filling the hall. “There ain’t no golden age to go back to!”
Holding the gavel that has been used to open LCMS conventions for more than a century, Harrison emphasized the significance of the faces carved into its oak wood: the visages of Martin Luther and C. F.W. Walther, the Protestant Reformation leader and the first LCMS president, respectively.
Both Lutheran fathers were “fallible” men, Harrison said, who drew strength from a “fundamental truth of Holy Scripture.” In German and then in English, Harrison read the gavel’s inscribed verse: “For we hold that one is justified by faith, apart from the works of the law” (Rom. 3:28).
Remember leaders, imitate their faith
“The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘Remember your leaders’ (Look back!) and ‘Imitate their faith’ (Look forward!),” Harrison said.
Striking the gavel on the podium, Harrison likened the blow’s echoes throughout the hall to the past that “comes to a head in this moment – to teach us, to console us, to motivate us.” The reverberations continued as he pounded the mallet after recounting 19 individual blessings, including:
- The Gospel of Jesus Christ,
- The sacred Scriptures,
- “Fantastic seminaries in good shape and friends all over the world seeking our partnership,”
- “Thousands of faithful pastors” and “thousands more teachers and church workers,”
- A university system “to die for with 30,000 students,”
- International mission work in some 85 countries, and
- Nearly 6,200 congregations “on the front lines of mission.”
In a more somber tone, Harrison then acknowledged “severe challenges” that, “as we all know,” the Church faces, including:
- That one in three people under age 30 in the U.S. are religiously unaffiliated. He is shocked, Harrison said, by the number of people he meets who say, “I used to be LCMS;”
- Declines in the birth rate, in marriage as an institution and in the number of LCMS youth.
- The culture that, Harrison said, “is on the attack;”
- The slow, 40-year mission decline that, Harrison noted, even “our best efforts” have been unable to stem.
“Jesus has placed this good ship Missouri out on the high seas,” he said, calling today’s culture “wretched” and the world’s hatred “palpable.”
“But the Lord doesn’t want us safely secluded away from the world in a tranquil haven. He wants us out among sinners, just like us, who need Him,” Harrison said.
“Take heart! Jesus wants us out in the waves, out in the storm, and out in the world, but not of the world,” the president continued, referencing John 17:11, 16. “And He is here with us in that storm.”
In closing, Harrison called this “a remarkable moment” for the LCMS.
“I believe that as America goes the way of Europe, the Church will actually be attacked more violently on this continent because we do not have the tradition of state churches,” he said.
At the same time, the president said, as we “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) and as our constitutional guarantees of religious freedom face constant infringement, “the Lord will work good among us, perhaps even bringing about greater unity among us which has often eluded us.”
Calling attention to “a tectonic shift in world Lutheranism,” Harrison cited the growth of Lutheran churches in Africa, including multi-million member churches in Ethiopia and Madagascar.
African Lutherans “are coming to us not asking for money,” Harrison said. “They want our teaching; they want our biblical and Lutheran fidelity, which has become so eroded in the European and American Lutheran world because of historical criticism and its effects.”
At a time when “the vast migration” of people compares with that of the Roman Empire, Harrison said, the Church “cannot completely separate” mission” to Spanish-speaking peoples and Africans in the U.S. and mission to their countries of origin.
Closing on a personal note, the president said he is “deeply honored” to serve the people of the LCMS.
“I have been humbled over the past three years in many ways – many private, some public,” he said, calling himself “a poor, miserable, fallible sinner, trusting in the sole merit of my Savior Jesus.”
Harrison said he prays that “our time together will help us grow in our Baptisms –
that we will grab hold of Baptism, the very Gospel of Christ poured on us, and that this Baptism will drive us.”
We are baptized for witness, for mercy and for life together, Harrison said, “and we’re baptized for this very moment.”