August 22, 2009
ELCA Churchwide Assembly, Minneapolis
From the Rev. Dr. Gerald Kieschnick, President of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod:
Presiding Bishop Hanson, Members of the Assembly, Special Guests, Friends in Christ,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Over the years of my life and ministry, these words from St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 have become especially meaningful:
God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting mankind’s sins against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:19-21, ESV)
What a blessing it is to know that our sin is forgiven, removed from us as far as the east is from the west, because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ on Calvary’s cross. And what a humbling privilege and huge responsibility it is to know that God is making his appeal, through people like you and like me, people with feet of clay, that the world might be reconciled to God through faith in Christ.
I bring you these greetings on behalf of the 2.4 million members of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod at a difficult time in the world and in the church. Economic pressures bring great burdens. Strife finds its way into the LCMS, the ELCA, worldwide Lutheranism, and the Christian Church as a whole. Mankind’s inhumanity to mankind manifests itself in global unrest and worldwide terrorism. Peace is often elusive, both in the world and in the church, as sin and Satan continue to rear their ugly heads in both venues.
Lutherans are no strangers to discord and divisiveness. The Lutheran church was born under such conditions. Yet we also know the path to concord, expressed in these rather straight forward words in The Formula of Concord, written during a notable time of doctrinal controversy and discord in the church. Hear these words from the Kolb-Wengert translation:
"For these controversies are not merely misunderstandings or semantic arguments, where someone might think that one group had not sufficiently grasped what the other group was trying to say or that the tensions were based upon only a few specific words of relatively little consequence. Rather, these controversies deal with important and significant matters, and they are of such a nature that the positions of the erring party neither could nor should be tolerated in the church of God, much less be excused or defended.
"Therefore, necessity demands explanation of these disputed articles on the basis of God’s Word and reliable writings, so that those with a proper Christian understanding could recognize which position regarding the points under dispute is in accord with God’s Word and the Christian Augsburg Confession and which is not, and so that Christians of good will, who are concerned about the truth, might protect and guard themselves from the errors and corruptions that have appeared among us."
The writers of this Formula pledged themselves, and I quote, "to the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments, as to the pure, clear fountain of Israel, which alone is the one true guiding principle, according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated." Discord can become concord when Christian individuals and Christian church bodies are faithful to the Holy Scriptures, which reveal the Gospel of God’s grace, forgiveness, and salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
The very fact that I represent a denomination known as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod at an assembly of a denomination known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America bears witness to the fact that, sadly and regrettably, in spite of the holy Word and mercy of our God, the Confessions affirmed by the constitutions of both our church bodies, and the faithful example of those who have gone before us, schisms remain, not only in the Christian church, but also in the Lutheran church. We have doctrinal differences that separate us. That is no secret.
I speak these next words in deep humility, with a heavy heart and no desire whatsoever to offend. The decisions by this assembly to grant non-celibate homosexual ministers the privilege of serving as rostered leaders in the ELCA and the affirmation of same gender unions as pleasing to God will undoubtedly cause additional stress and disharmony within the ELCA. It will also negatively affect the relationships between our two church bodies. The current division between our churches threatens to become a chasm. This grieves my heart and the hearts of all in the ELCA, the LCMS, and other Christian church bodies throughout the world who do not see these decisions as compatible with the Word of God, or in agreement with the consensus of 2000 years of Christian theological affirmation regarding what Scripture teaches about human sexuality. Simply stated, this matter is fundamentally related to significant differences in how we understand the authority of Holy Scripture and the interpretation of God’s revealed and infallible Word.
Only by the mercy of our Almighty God does hope remain for us poor, miserable sinners. By His grace, through Word and Sacraments, the evangelical witness and authentic message of sin and grace, Law and Gospel, must resound to a troubled world so desperately in need of His love in Christ.
May God grant each of us sensitivity, humility, boldness, courage, faithfulness, and forgiveness as we continue to strive toward God-pleasing harmony and concord in what we believe, teach, and confess. We have much to accomplish in the mission our Lord Jesus has entrusted to us.
May God have mercy upon us all, and grant us His peace in Christ.