The Rev. Timothy Hartwig
2016 Synod Convention Essay
“… tell of all His wondrous works.” — Psalm 105:2
Belief drives action. We would like to think that all of our decisions are purely logical, but the reality is that what we believe is influencing us more than we realize. For example, I was recently looking at purchasing a gas leaf blower. I was quite deep into my “research” when I realized that I was only considering Stihl leaf blowers. So biased was I by my beliefs that my first “objective” Internet search was for “Stihl leaf blowers.” Why? I believe that Stihl makes very reliable equipment that performs well. It is the good German engineering. My Dad had a Stihl chainsaw on the farm. I have a Stihl chainsaw. You can’t go wrong with a Stihl. At least, that is what I believe.
To what brands are you loyal? How much of your loyalty is based on belief? Maybe we could start a discussion in the synod over which company makes the best pickups—Ford, Chevrolet, or Dodge. Another discussion could determine which is better, Mac or PC. In his book Start with Why, Simon Sinek successfully argues that brand loyalty is driven primarily by belief. People base their purchasing decisions on faith. Belief drives actions.
Maybe you are already wondering why I am talking about belief, actions and brand loyalty. What do they have to do with our theme, “Give Thanks to His Name!”? This essay was assigned with the twofold purpose of building a case for support for our anniversary offering and calling the members of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod to action. Belief drives action. Therefore, the case for support must address our beliefs. Our faith will cause us to respond to the call to action and shape how we fulfill it.
This is scriptural. The holy writer said, “I believed; therefore I have spoken” (Psalm 116:10). Paul cited that verse in his second letter to the Corinthians:
It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.1
Paul believed and therefore he spoke. He proclaimed God’s grace in Christ Jesus. Those who heard and received the same faith that Paul possessed overflowed with thanksgiving to God’s glory. They gave thanks to His name.
A thank-offering will be collected in honor of our two upcoming anniversaries: The 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation and the 100th anniversary of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The money gathered will be used to support our home mission activity, our efforts to have God’s grace “reach more and more people” here in the United States of America. That grace will cause more of our neighbors to give thanks to His name.
The thread of brand loyalty is also important to our discussion. Why should you be loyal to the ELS and support her efforts? Why should you give thanks to His name through her? You are loyal to the ELS because she hallows God’s name. How?
God’s name is kept holy when His Word is taught in its truth and purity and we as children of God live holy lives according to it.2
As members of the ELS, we are convinced that in our midst God’s Word is taught in its truth and purity. What a treasure this is! What a reason to give thanks! The offering we are about to begin is in honor of 100 years of truth-filled heritage in our midst. For a century, the men and women of our synod have been bound together by the truth of God’s Word to support and defend each other, and to carry out the work of Christ’s church on earth. If that isn’t enough to celebrate, we have also been blessed with 500 years of truth in Confessional Lutheranism. This dual heritage is a great gift from God and reason to give thanks to His name.
Let us take some time, then, to revisit the Truth that unites us so that our faith may be strengthened and our actions conformed to the Word of God.
Part 1: The Case for Support for the Anniversary Offering
The case for support for the anniversary offering consists of two threads. The thank-offering is in support of home mission activity. Therefore, we will discuss the reasons for us wanting to carry out this work. This is the first thread. The second is Christian giving. An offering is a collection of gifts. Our possessions and wealth must be understood correctly if we are to give in thankfulness to God with the proper motivation.
A. What do we believe about our countrymen?
Home mission work is everything we do to connect residents of the United State of America with the means of grace. What we believe about countrymen will directly impact out zeal and determination to see this work carried out.
i. Do we believe our countrymen are Christian?
There is quite a bit of debate over whether the United States of America was founded as a Christian country. The faith of the founding fathers has been scrutinized and dissected with differing conclusions drawn. We probably won’t settle that debate here today. But one thing that we will all be able to agree upon is that the influence of Christianity is waning in this country. Church attendance is in decline. The moral compass of the country has been distorted by the iron rocks of many “isms.” Fewer Americans are associating with any religion at all. This demographic change has been referred to as “the Rise of the Nones.”3
Nones are people that identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” when polled concerning their religion.4 According to Pew Research, the portion of the U.S. adult population that identifies as “none” has grown from 16% in 2007 to 23% in 2014.5 But that is not the most troubling part. It is bound to continue to increase. In the younger generations, the percentage is much higher. 36% of Younger Millennials (born 1991–1996) and 34% of Older Millennials (born 1981–1990) are nones. The departure from organized religion is most prevalent in, but not limited to, the young. Between 2007 and 2014, nones gained in every age group. 18% of adult Americans say that they were raised as Christians or members of another faith, but are now unaffiliated with any religion. In the same time frame, the portion of U.S. adults who identified as Christian fell from 78% to 71%. These are troubling trends indeed.6 Should we assume that our countrymen are Christian?
How should we view these statistics? It would be very easy to have a doom and gloom perspective. We might as well pack up and go home. Our country is lost. We could take the defeatist attitude of Elijah, “Lord, just kill us now.”7 However, do not our current circumstances present us with a new opportunity? The decline of Christianity means that there are more and more unbelievers that need to hear the Gospel. If you meet a Millennial, there is a 1 in 3 chance that they are a none. There is a growing need for home mission activity, and more opportunity for us to proclaim the wonders God has done.
There is one further assumption about residents of the United States that we need to address. It is a stealth universalism. Universalism is the teaching that all people, regardless of their faith, go to heaven. Only the really bad people like Hilter, Stalin and Jeffrey Dahmer go to hell, according to this idea. If you have ever been to a non-Christian’s funeral and someone has expressed, “He is in a better place now,” they, whether they know it or not, are a Universalist. Does everyone go to heaven? Do we assume that our neighbors are on the path to heaven? Sometimes I think this is done to “put the best construction” on the situation. We don’t want to speak ill of the dead or of our neighbor in general. However, we must be willing to face the brutal truth. What we believe about our countrymen will drive our actions. We should not assume that Americans are Christian when their nature and the statistics say otherwise.
Let’s review then what the Bible teaches about all people and therefore citizens of the United States of America also.
ii. What do we believe about the nature of our countrymen?
The Bible clearly teaches that God created a perfect world in six regular 24-hour days.8 He placed Adam and Eve in the garden and gave them the fruit of every tree to eat—except one. He commanded them not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning9 and ate of the forbidden fruit. She gave some to Adam and he also ate. They sinned against God, and God’s word held true. He had told them that if they ate it, they would surely die.10 They ate. They died, and all mankind with them. By their disobedience, they corrupted all men because from then on their children would be born in their image rather than God’s.11 The Bible is clear on what the consequence of their sin means for the citizens of the United States. Hear these verses:
Psalm 51:5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Ephesians 2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.
Romans 7:18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death.
Ezekiel 18:20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.
Revelation 21:8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.
John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Mark 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Let those verses sink in. What are we to believe about our countrymen? Does everyone go to heaven, as Universalism proclaims? No! All people by nature are sinful from conception and destined to eternal death and suffering. What do we believe about Americans? We believe that the citizens of this country are in grave danger! If the statistics are true, then God’s grace is reaching less and less of them each and every day. The residents of the US need our home mission activity.
iii. What do we believe about our countrymen and God’s grace?
God’s Word is just as clear concerning for whom His grace is intended as it is about the natural condition of man. God declares:
Ezekiel 18:32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!
Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
John 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Romans 5:19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
2 Corinthians 5:19 God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.
This is good news! We are to believe that each and every American has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus the Christ, that their sins are paid for, and that the grace of God is for them. Whenever you see one of your neighbors, regardless of his race, ethnicity, sexuality, creed, or whether he has tattoos or piercings, you are beholding a blood-bought soul. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” This is the chief wonder that God has done.
We can look at creation in all of its intricate design and be filled with awe. Creation is nothing compared to the miracle of God’s grace. It is astonishing that God would come to save His disobedient creatures. God became man. God suffered and died in payment for sin. God rose triumphant from the grave and thereby declared all men forgiven! He did this not because man has merited it in anyway. He did it because He chose to love us. It is amazing grace. No wonder Luther penned:
Dear Christians, one and all rejoice,
With exultation springing,
And, with united heart and voice
And holy rapture singing,
Proclaim the wonders God hath done,
How His right arm the vict’ry won;
Right dearly it has cost Him.12
iv. What do we believe about our countrymen and saving faith?
There are two more teachings in God’s Word concerning our neighbors that we need to review. Both of them are concerning faith. Even though God has reconciled the whole world to himself in Christ, it is faith in Jesus that makes God’s grace the possession of the individual, as these Scriptures state:
Ephesians 2:8–9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Mark 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
This faith that clings to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus for salvation is worked by the Holy Spirit and through the Means of Grace, as the following Scriptures state:
1 Corinthians 12:3 Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 2:14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
John 6:63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.
John 3:5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”
Titus 3:4–7 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
We may think that these are just simple, basic doctrines that we have known from childhood, but their application to our lives is far reaching. First, we see our need to be in regular contact with the Word for the strengthening of our faith. Day after day, we need the Spirit to come to us and tell us that our sins are forgiven in Jesus. Second, what then are we to believe about our countrymen? We are to believe that without the Holy Spirit they cannot have faith in Christ and without the Word and Sacraments they cannot have the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is essential that they be connected to God’s Word and Sacraments if they are to believe and be saved. This is what our home mission work does. Therefore, Americans need our home mission activity!
v. What do we believe about our responsibility to our countrymen?
Who will carry out this work? How will our neighbors be connected to the Means of Grace? What is our individual responsibility for the sowing of the seed of God’s Word among the inhabitants of the US? These are extremely important questions and their answers are crucial to the case for support.
God could have sent angels to do this work. He could have chosen to use donkeys as He did with Balaam.13 The Lord has not chosen to do either of those things. In the Gospel of John, we read:
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”14
These verses are the sedes doctrinae15 for the Office of the Keys. This Office is explained by the Small Catechism:
What is the Office of the Keys?
The Office of the Keys is the special authority which Christ has given to His Church on earth: to forgive the sins of the penitent sinners, but to retain the sins of the impenitent as long as they do not repent.
Where is this written?
The evangelist writes, John 20:22-23: “Jesus breathed on His disciples and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; and if you retain the sins of any they are retained.’”16
The Keys are given to the church. Because the church is made up of individual believers, the Keys are given to every believer. Luther explains:
The keys belong to the whole church and to each of its members, both as regards their authority and their various uses. Otherwise we do violence to the words of Christ, in which he speaks to all without qualification or limitation: “Let him be to you,” and “You will have gained your brother,” and “Whatever you,” etc.… In all of these declarations we find established the fullest authority and the most immediate exercise of the right to bind and to absolve. Were this not true we would be denying to Christ himself the right and use of the keys as he dwells among even a couple of his disciples. But this indeed I have abundantly elaborated elsewhere. As we have declared already, the ministry of the Word belongs to all. To bind and to loose clearly is nothing else than to proclaim and to apply the gospel. For what is it to loose, if not to announce the forgiveness of sins before God? What is it to bind, except to withdraw the gospel and to declare the retention of sins? Whether they want to or not [they must concede]17 that the keys are an exercise of the ministry of the Word and belong to all Christians.18
Since Christ bestowed on all Christians the authority and the right of exercise of the Keys with the words cited from John 20:23, the words Jesus spoke in verse 21 must also apply to all Christians: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Who is Christ sending into the world to connect unbelievers to the Means of Grace? All Christians are sent by Christ on the mission of Christ to seek and to save the lost.19
This truth is expressed by the full context of our theme verse:
Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! 2Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!20
All of the verbs in these verses are imperatives, commands applying to all Christians: Give thanks, call, make known, sing and tell. God commands all believers to give thanks and call upon His name; to sing His praises; and to make known and tell of His wondrous works to the nations.
Therefore, all of the great commissions recorded by Mathew,21 Mark,22 Luke,23 and John24 are given to the disciples and the apostles as representatives of the church; that is, as representatives of all believers. Christ was not just commissioning the apostles, but all who would follow after them in the faith. Chemnitz expressed this in his Enchiridion:
10 Yet all Christians have a general call to proclaim the virtues of God, 1 Ptr 2:9… It is true that all Christians have a general call to proclaim the Gospel of God, Ro 10:9.25
This is why Paul could write to the Corinthians, “All things are yours.”26 The Keys, the Word and the Sacraments do not belong to any one Christian or group of Christians. They are the possessions of all believers. “All things are yours!”
This very thought caused the Missouri Synod to adopt the following as part of their Brief Statement in 1932:
St. Paul reminds all believers: “All things are yours,” 1 Cor. 3:21, 22, and Christ Himself commits to all believers the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Matt. 16:13–19, 18:17–20, John 20:22, 23, and commissions all believers to preach the Gospel and to administer the Sacraments Matt. 28:19, 20; 1 Cor. 11:23–25. 27
The earliest Christians demonstrated this understanding. After the stoning of Stephen, persecution broke out in Jerusalem and Luke tells us, “that all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”28 Luke went on to write, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”29 The Greek word Εὐαγγελισάμενοί translated preached in this verse is exactly the same word used to describe the activity of Paul and Barnabas in Derbe in Acts 14:21.30 The scattered Christians from Jerusalem understood what Peter wrote of all believers in his first epistle.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.31
They understood that they were here on earth to preach, to proclaim the wonders God has done and give thanks to His name. In his typical blunt fashion, Luther said it this way:
We have no other reason for living on earth than to be of help to others. If this were not the case, it would be best for God to kill us and let us die as soon as we are baptized and have begun to believe. But He permits us to live here in order that we may bring others to faith, just as He brought us… 32
You must, says Peter, exercise the chief function of a priest, that is, to proclaim the wonderful deed God has performed for you to bring you out of darkness into the light… Thus you should also teach other people how they, too, come into such light… Then let it be your chief work to proclaim this publicly and to call everyone into the light into which you have been called. Where you find people who do not know this, you should instruct and also teach them as you have learned, namely, how one must be saved through the power and strength of God and come out of darkness into the light.33
What should we believe concerning our countrymen? We should believe that we have the responsibility and privilege to call them out of darkness through the preaching of the Word. God the Holy Spirit will use that seed to create and preserve faith where and when He pleases. Home mission activity is our individual responsibility.
vi. What do we believe about our collective responsibility to our countrymen?
The Christian’s general call to proclaim the Gospel in no way contradicts or undermines the divinely instituted public ministry. Also, the institution of the public ministry does not rescind or negate the general call of Christians to preach the Gospel. Both stand side by side and work hand in hand. The very paragraph in which Chemnitz defends the general call to all Christians also states:
But the public ministry of the Word and of the Sacraments in the church is not entrusted to all Christians in general, as we have already shown, 1 Co 12:28; Eph 4:12. For a special call is required for this, Ro 10:15.34
Chemnitz cites Romans 10:15 in support. The broader context of this verse shows the church working together for the salvation of those who do not yet know the Word of Christ. Paul wrote:
As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12
For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”… 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.35
These verses establish the doctrine of the call into the public ministry. God uses the church to send and call workers into His harvest field.36 In fact, rather than negating the general call, the specific call into the public ministry becomes an avenue for Christians, at least partially, to fulfill their general call. They do this by calling and sending missionaries to bring the good news to others. So God has instituted the public ministry in part so that Christians can work together and proclaim the wonders God has done through others.
The New Testament church has throughout its history acted collectively in the sending of preachers. In Acts, we read that the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to the Christians in Antioch.37 38 Later, the church in Antioch, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, set apart Paul and Barnabas for missionary work.39 It is then also our responsibility to train, call and support preachers so that the Kingdom of God may come to people that we ourselves may never meet this side of eternity.
To wrap up this thread, what should we believe about our countrymen? We should not assume that our neighbors are Christians. Seeing the peril that they are in by nature and the trends in our country, we should make every effort individually and collectively to connect them with the Word and Sacraments so that they receive by faith God’s grace and every blessing in Christ. They need our home mission activity. It is our responsibility. It is our privilege to “tell of all His wondrous works!”
B. What do we believe about our possessions?
Training, calling and sending home missionaries is only part of our provision for home mission work. The anniversary offering recognizes that there is a requirement of financial support. You are being asked to give your hard-earned dollars to satisfy this need. Why would you do such a thing? What you believe about your possessions will determine your response to that question.
i. Do we believe that possessions are dangerous?
It is hard to perceive that money and wealth could be detrimental. They are often thought to be the solution to our problems. It is frequently said, “If only we had more money!” It is as if money is the eternal good that can work no wrong. The Bible paints a very different picture.
Just before the children of Israel entered the Promised Land Moses gave them this guidance:
When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.40
Obviously, the people of Israel were in real danger of forgetting the Lord because Moses returned to that very thought in chapter 8. He said:
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11
Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12
Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13
and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14
then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.41
Moses specifically said that the children of Israel would be tempted to say, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” Just think about that. How could the people of Israel be tempted to think this way? Moses clearly laid out in Deuteronomy 8 why this should never happen. He presented them with the facts. It was God who brought them out of the land of slavery, Egypt, through the powerful working of the plagues. It was God who led them through the wilderness for forty years. God provided manna from heaven for them to eat. God preserved their clothing so that it did not wear out. God did all this despite their grumbling and rebellion. He brought them into a “good land—a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.”42 God had done everything for the people of Israel by grace. What does history show that the Israelites did in response? With time, they forgot! In their prosperity, they forgot Who had provided all these things. In the end, the curse that Moses pronounced at the close of chapter 8 fell on their heads.
If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God.
They disobeyed. They forgot. They worshiped other gods. They even killed those sent to call them back to the truth. Finally, they were destroyed. The warning that Moses gave concerning prosperity and riches was needed to protect the Israelites. Is it needed for us today?
The Bible is replete with warnings about the dangers associated with earthly treasure and possessions. Here are just some of them:
1 Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Matthew 19:24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
Matthew 13:22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.
Philippians 3:18–19 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19
Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.
Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Do we really believe these verses? Are they true? We can be tempted to think that the fine line of holding on to Jesus and wealth at the same time can be successfully navigated. Jesus rebuts this thought:
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.43
What should we believe about our possessions? We should believe that they present a real spiritual danger because we are constantly tempted to use them in ways that are God-displeasing. They very easily become false gods and inhibit or destroy our faith in Jesus. Take to heart what Jesus said: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God!”44
ii. Do we believe that possessions can buy us heaven?
Wealth and possessions become false gods when they are trusted for security and loved more than God. It is thought that enough money cures all worries. Financial experts tell us that with the right fiscal planning we will be secure. In fact, worldly wisdom insists that if we are really disciplined and make wise choices, we can slice out our own piece of heaven here on earth. Of course, Christians aren’t looking for heaven on earth, right? But are we content with what the Lord has provided? The desire is often expressed, “I don’t want to be rich. I just want to be comfortable.” That is seeking heaven here on earth because it is trying to gain a “paradise” through riches where the suffering and pain of sin is not experienced.
More money is not the real solution to our problems because it cannot buy heaven. Jesus asked, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”45 We can’t purchase heaven with our possessions! The whole earth is insufficient for that transaction. Peter declared:
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19
but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
More money is not the answer to our problems. Jesus is. He purchased paradise for you by the shedding of His precious blood. He paid the price so that you are forgiven. God loves you because of Jesus and you are going to be in the luxury of heaven. Jesus has made you rich.
iii. Do we believe that we are rich?
Many parallels can be drawn between the children of Israel in the Promised Land and Christians in the United States of America. We live in a land flowing with milk and honey. Bread is not scarce. Our rocks are rich with minerals, metals and gems. We are enjoying a standard of living that few in the history of the world have known. Our poor are considered rich by most of the world. God has certainly blessed America. How is it responding?
Many Americans are forgetting all the benefits that they have received from God. They have begun to despise the Lord and turn from Him. Many of the citizens of the US no longer care about His laws and commands. What about you? If you would do an honest assessment, how are you measuring up? It is easy for us to look at the nation “going to hell in a hand basket” and just shake our heads. We should be looking in the mirror to make sure we are remembering all the benefits that we have received by grace. Psalm 103 is a useful aid for this purpose. David wrote:
Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits— 3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, 5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 6 The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
Often when we consider giving thanks, we focus on the physical blessings that we have: family, house, cars, food, clothing, etc. Notice that David started with the spiritual. What is the chief benefit that we have received from God? It is the forgiveness of sins! God sent Jesus to work and die for you so that you could have the riches of heaven. As Paul said, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”46 This is not only the chief benefit that we receive from God. It is also the one to be desired most. Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Dear brothers and sisters, you are redeemed. Christ has redeemed you. He has paid off the debt of your sins and made you rich in the righteousness of His perfect life. You have treasure stored up “in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves don’t break in and steal.”47 Remember it. Cherish it every day. Live in the richness of God’s grace. “Forget not all His benefits.” Give thanks to His name.
Having firmly grasped the spiritual riches that we have in Christ, we must also acknowledge the tremendous physical prosperity with which we have been blessed. We have been given “everything needed for this body and life”48 and much more. Luther’s list in explanation of daily bread is good for us to contemplate. He lists the following:
- God-fearing spouse and children;
- Faithful servants and rulers;
- Good government;
- Good weather;
- True friends;
- Good neighbors; and
- The like.49
Take some time to ponder this list. Do you believe that you are rich? You are! God has graciously given you everything you need and more in Christ.
iv. Do we believe that our possessions are instruments to serve the Lord?
Since money and goods cannot purchase heaven, what benefit are they? How are they to be used so that we do not fall into temptation? When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the matter of a collection, he drew their attention to the example of the Macedonian churches. Theirs is an example we can learn from too. Paul wrote:
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.50
God’s grace had changed the Macedonian Christians so that they overflowed with thanksgiving. Their meager possessions became for them an instrument of thanksgiving. They surprised the apostle with the generosity of their gift. Their poverty was not an excuse, but the dark backdrop that enabled the bright light of their faith to be seen more clearly. Their belief drove their actions. By faith, their wealth became an instrument to serve the Lord and give thanks to His name.
Our wealth is used to serve the Lord in many of the vocations to which He has called us. We serve Him when, because of our faith, we provide for our family, pay for Christian education, pay taxes, give to the poor, and financially support the work of the Gospel. Your treasure can be used for eternal good.
Jesus told a parable about a dishonest manager in Luke 16.51 This story can be difficult to understand because to some it appears as if Jesus is commending dishonesty. However, the manager is praised because he used his position to gain friends. Jesus explained the point of the parable when He said, “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Jesus wants us to be shrewd with the riches that he has given us. We are to use wealth to gain eternal “friends.” There is no better way to give thanks to His name than using God’s money to connect people with the Means of Grace and thereby gain friends in heaven.
v. Do we think that God needs our wealth?
There is a misunderstanding of Christian giving that we must discuss. It is addressed by this question: “Does God need our offerings?” Sometimes when stewardship and giving are taught, it is from the perspective of need. Incorrect statements and exhortations are used, like the following: “The church needs your money for a new building”; “God needs your wealth for missions and the proclamation of the Gospel”; and “The church needs your money to survive. So give!” Let’s be clear. God does not need you. God does not need your treasure. It is just as He proclaimed through the Psalmist:
Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God, your God. 8 I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. 9 I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, 10 for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. 12 If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. 13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? 14 Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, 15 and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.52
Through the prophet Haggai, He also said, “The silver is mine and the gold is mine.”53 God doesn’t need your money because it isn’t yours. He wants you to give of what He has given you and He will use it, but not because He needs it. You, by grace, are His chosen instrument. He has given you everything you have so that you are empowered to serve Him.
In connection with this, it is good for us to remember the advice that Mordecai gave to Esther:
Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?54
Mordecai was asking Esther potentially to sacrifice her life for the sake of God’s people. Brothers and sisters, God will save His people; His Gospel will be proclaimed with or without you. Who knows but that you have been raised up to your position for such a time as this?
We believe, then, that God does not need our possessions. They are His from the start. He has empowered us with these gracious gifts so that we are able to support the proclamation of the Gospel. Our anniversary offering is an opportunity to give thanks to His name through our monetary gifts.
Conclusion to the Case for Support for the Anniversary Offering
It is clear that the United States of America needs our home mission activity because we by nature are sinful, and the trends in our culture are moving away from Christianity. We, in love for our neighbors, desire to connect them with the Means of Grace so that the Holy Spirit may create faith in their hearts. This work is ours both individually and collectively.
To support home mission work, God has given us physical wealth. These possessions can be a source of temptation, but it is God-pleasing for us to use them shrewdly to assist in connecting others to Christ.
This is what we believe. Belief drives action. Brothers, what should we do?
Part 2: The Call to Action
When Peter and the apostles proclaimed the truth that Jesus is the Messiah at Pentecost, those who heard were cut to the heart.55 They were convinced that they had crucified the very one for whom they were waiting. They believed and their faith caused them to ask, “Brothers, what should we do?” It is a good question for us to ask. What should we do? We have considered two threads: Home missions and Christian giving. What action is our belief calling us to take? We will begin by looking at how our brothers and sisters of the ELS have responded in the past.
A. What have we done in the past?
In 1967, Julian Anderson produced a booklet for the Jubilee Anniversary Committee with the title Let’s Look at Our Synod. Concerning the founding fathers of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, he wrote:
[They] were well aware of the vital importance of such “home” mission work. Back in 1918, when they were forced to reorganize, they gave immediate attention to this work of preaching the gospel beyond the limits of their own congregation and towns. Despite the fact that there were only 11 congregations left in the “synod,” this handful of Christians immediately took two important steps. In 1918 they resolved to take over the support of a new mission in the western suburbs of Chicago; and they called two pastors to serve as “missionaries-at-large” over the whole upper Midwest area. These men gathered little groups of Christian people into many small congregations throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and North Dakota, and continued to serve these little mission congregations until more men could be found to take over the work in each place.56
In its first year of existence, the ELS adopted a home mission in Chicago. Despite all the turmoil that they had gone through and were continuing to experience, home mission work was so important that they seized the opportunity. What our founding fathers began has continued. The ELS has almost carried out 100 years of home mission work. Appendix A lists all the missions that the ELS has supported.57 Including the new cross-cultural mission in Bell Gardens, California, 111 locations have been the focus of home mission work for our synod. That is over 1 location per year of existence. There is a good possibility that you are being served at one of the locations on that list. This work has been carried out at considerable expense. Appendix B58 lists the congregations that have received support from the Synod through the Board for Home Missions and the Board for Home Outreach (BHO). In the last 45 years, over $13,000,000 have been expended in these efforts. It is easy to draw attention to the money because we can measure it. Think also of the great expenditure of time and energy. Members of the ELS, both missionaries and laity, have sacrificed years of their lives to these efforts. God has called families to tear up their roots and move all over the country so that other Americans would have the opportunity to hear of Christ. It is abundantly clear that home mission work has been important to the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. It always has been and we should pray that it always will be.
B. What opportunities lie before us now?
Our founding fathers seized the opportunities that were before them for home mission work even though the cost was great. What opportunities are lying in front of us today? The anniversary offering material is making us aware of three: new mission sites, the vicar in mission program, and cross-cultural ministry.
i. New Mission Sites
Our anniversary committee states:
Population movement to suburban areas has been unprecedented. Many people in fast-growing areas are often unchurched or struggling to find a church. Some of them are our family members and friends.59
The movement of people from rural to urban settings has been a concern for a long time. It was on the minds of the synod 50 years ago. Anderson wrote:
In recent years it has been the policy of our synod’s Mission Board to concentrate our efforts in the larger towns and cities of our country, in keeping with the increasing urban movement of our population. It is simply a matter of arithmetic that we can reach the largest number of people in the metropolitan areas. This urban movement, however, has created problems for us, which every synod member should be aware of. Land purchase and building cost have increased tremendously in the larger towns and cities in recent years. The fact is that we must now be prepared to spend a minimum of about $100,000 at every new mission station; and this has necessarily reduced the number of new missions we can open. Over the last ten years we have been able to open one new mission about every 2–3 years. With our Golden Jubilee funds, however we hope to be able to accelerate this to a new mission every 1–2 years.60
The migration from rural to urban has continued and so has the rise of costs for home mission work. It is now estimated that $1,500,000 is needed to establish a mission. That figure includes supporting the missionary and mission and purchasing adequate land and buildings to serve for 10–20 years. Manpower costs have risen, but land and building have contributed much more to the increased costs. Prominent and visible land and structures of sufficient size in growing communities are expensive; expensive, but necessary.
These inflated prices mean that unless the financial resources available for home mission work are increased, fewer home missions will be established. You can make a difference. Support the thank-offering so that more missions can be started.
ii. Vicar in Mission Program
Our missions not only need money, they need men. The Vicar in Mission Program is primarily focused on “giving home mission experience” to future pastors of the synod. Why is this necessary? There are some people who are just natural missionaries. They are not intimidated to knock on someone’s door. Speaking to strangers is easy for them. Then there are the rest of us. The good news is that these skills can be learned. That does not mean that we will suddenly become “comfortable” with the work. We can, however, learn to do it very well. The Vicar in Mission Program helps provide this vital training for future pastors of the synod.
Apart from the regular training a man receives from his vicarage, this program offers a vicar the following benefits: his evangelism skills are honed; he gains experience in teaching adult converts; he learns how to promote the congregation through means of various media; he learns how to become connected with the community; he learns to think like a missionary; and he learns how the BHO supports and oversees the missionary and the mission. It is also expected that the men exposed to working in a home mission setting will be more willing to serve in this capacity later. Hopefully, the fear of the unknown is eliminated.
Though not a primary objective, a boost is given to the mission through this program. More manpower means that more work gets done. Yes, it does take more of the missionary’s time to oversee the vicarage, but the total amount of work done increases. It is also a morale boost to the missionary. He has someone with which to work and plan.
This program is not only important for the home missions of the synod. It is important for the established congregations as well. Our adopted vision statement encourages all congregations of the synod to view themselves as mission congregations. Let’s face it, if the pastor doesn’t view himself as a missionary, it is not likely that the congregation will view itself as a mission. Training our pastors to think and work like missionaries is a must if we are to realize this part of our vision. The Vicar in Mission Program is step in the right direction.
Supporting a vicar costs the BHO about $30,000 per year. The thank-offering will help train future pastors of the synod to have a mission mindset.
iii. Cross-Cultural Ministry
The third opportunity promoted for the offering is Cross-cultural Ministry. Bell Gardens, California, presents us with a unique situation. We already have a congregation there with land and building, but the community has changed. It is now 96% Hispanic. The primary language of 83% of the population is Spanish. It was proposed to the BHO that it support a Hispanic outreach effort in Bell Gardens. The board accepted the proposal and requested the assignment of a candidate to the mission. Mr. Matthew Behmer was assigned and is now at a language institute in Mexico for four months. When his time there is complete, he and his wife will be “near native” in their ability to speak Spanish. We have the place and the man: what about the money? It will cost about $100,000 per year to support this initiative. As with all of our missions, it is hoped that it will grow and become more and more self-sufficient. Until then, it needs our financial support so that it has time to grow.
The immigration debate has been raging in our political circles. Even if the United States were to close its borders tomorrow, the reality is that we are going to have to come to terms with all of the different ethnicities living around us. They are now part of the country and therefore our countrymen. Cross-cultural ministry may become the norm. In some ways, this is a blessing. No longer do we have to go somewhere to reach all nations. The nations are coming to us.
Your participation in the thank-offering will enable the BHO to develop and support the Cross-Cultural Ministry in Bell Gardens, California, and elsewhere.
There are exciting opportunities before us. How can we make sure that we seize them and don’t let them slip by? The answer is planning. Planning in our homes, our congregations, and our synod.
C. How can we plan for the future?
A number of years ago, the Planning and Coordinating Committee went on a fact-finding mission to assess the health of the synod and determine if changes and new direction were needed. They did this to develop a strategic plan. Their findings caused grave concern to arise over the future prosperity of the ELS. The Planning and Coordinating Committee reported to the 2010 Synod Convention:
The Evangelical Lutheran Synod is in decline, in terms of:
- total number of congregations;
- total congregational membership;
- youthfulness (having an aging membership);
- financial support from within the membership;
- the number of congregations at or below “critical mass”;
- the shrinking demographic of which they (congregations) are a part;
- recognizing that we are surrounded by the lost, and we are not interacting with them;
- Individually through vocations
- Through synodical organization and function
- Through media
- fostering individual use of the means of graces in personal devotion, Bible classes, and the Divine Service;
- an apparent lagging dedication toward evangelism and stewardship;
- placement of seminary and teaching graduates;
- its “little” synod mentality;
- in recognizing that we are “not of this world.”
In response to these challenges, the synod adopted a vision statement in June 2011: “In the next 5 years we will learn to engage others with Jesus.” Five years have passed since the vision statement and goals were adopted at convention. Progress has been made, but the work is not finished. We still need planning, and the question must continue to be asked, “Brothers, what should we do?”
We have decided to do something. We have determined that a special offering is fitting for the occasion and the opportunities that God has made evident. Planning is needed for this offering to be a true reflection of our thankfulness to God and the great importance of the tasks before us. Our contributions to this collection should deliberate and planned.
Our Giving Counselor, Rev. Dan Basel, has often expressed that the synod can’t be strong without strong congregations. He has deliberately encouraged giving to the local congregation first. Financially strong congregations can give generously to the synod. We should take it one step further. Strong congregations do make a strong synod. Strong families make strong congregations. The planning necessary for our anniversary offering to be successful begins at home.
i. Planned giving in the home.
What should we be expecting and asking the ELS families to do in this regard? God guides us concerning giving through Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. He wrote:
Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made; 63
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.64
God desires to be first in all things, including our money. Paul draws this to our attention by saying, “On the first day of every week.” This can be easier said than done. Even well meaning Christians, who are trying to budget and plan for their offerings, can carelessly put God last. This happens when, in the process of budgeting, expenses are subtracted from income and the amount of given to the Lord is determined by the size of the surplus. When this is the mode of operation, God is last and receives the “leftovers.” God deserves to be first. When budgeting, a Christian should look at his blessings, decide what part of them he will use to give thanks to the Lord, and then tailor his life to live on the “leftovers.”
The NIV rendering is not as good as what it could be. Income is too narrow a word for what Paul was addressing. Paul speaks with a more general term by saying, “whatever he may have prospered.” We also can be too narrow in our perspective when we look at how we have prospered. For example, some people only look at their take-home pay. They pay their taxes and social security and give to God according to what they bring home. That is not first-fruit thanksgiving.
On top of this, there are some subtle ways that our “income” is made to appear smaller than it is in reality. This happens when our employer pays for benefits for us, such as health insurance, retirement, social security and Medicare. If your employer was simply paying you and you had to purchase all these things, you would be forced to recognize them as part of your income. They are, even if your employer is paying for them directly. What amount are you giving to reflect your thankfulness to God for health insurance and health services? Have you conscientiously considered all the ways that the Lord has prospered you, so that you can give thanks to His name?
The phrase “whatever he may have prospered” also points to proportionate giving. Proportionate giving speaks in terms of percentages rather than dollars and cents. This type of giving allows the offering amount to change as the Lord increases or decreases prosperity. So what percentage should you give?
In the Old Testament, God commanded that a tenth be given. This is called tithing. However, God also commanded that many other sacrifices be made yearly. So the people of the Old Covenant were giving much more than 10%. In fact, some have estimated that they were required to give 18–21% of their income.
God has not commanded a percentage for New Testament Christians to give in thanksgiving. Christ has set us free from the demands of the law by satisfying every one of them with His perfect life. Consequently, we are free to give. However, this freedom has caused us to have some misconceptions about giving to the Lord in the New Testament era.
The first misconception is about the tithe. For some reason, giving 10% is seen as the end goal of Christian giving rather than the starting point. It is believed that if you are giving 10% you are satisfying God requirements, and you have made it as a Christian. The tithe was not the ultimate giving goal of the Old Testament believers, and it ought not be for New Testament Christians. In our very blessed era, should it not be viewed as the starting point? From there, as the Lord blesses, a Christian should grow to “excel in this grace of giving.”65
The second misconception is in regard to our freedom. The thought is that we can give whatever WE want to give. God has set us free. He has not set the percentage. How will you use your freedom? Heed the advice of St. Paul to the Galatians: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”66 Use your freedom to give generously because God has set you free by grace.
Paul tells us that the Lord loves a cheerful giver. How can we be cheerful as we give generously? I have sometimes heard Christians say that you should give until it hurts. The thought is that you aren’t giving enough if it doesn’t hurt. Can Christian giving cause pain? Giving generously may require that we go without things that we would like, but that doesn’t mean that it has to hurt. It is hard to be cheerful when you are in pain. Giving done in thanks is always joyful because it is in response to what was received. If you aren’t happy about giving, then you haven’t truly taken stock of how the Lord has graciously prospered you. Unhappy giving is a sign that something isn’t right in the heart. The prayer of David in Psalm 51 is very fitting:
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
God grant us His Spirit so that our hearts would be set right, and that we would be empowered joyfully to give generously from our first-fruits.
What would be the result if every family of the synod started to give near 10% of their total blessings to the Lord? It would be like Moses collecting gifts for the building of the tabernacle.67 More would be gathered than our local congregations and our synod need. We truly would be overflowing with thanksgiving!
This type of giving would require every member of the ELS to have a financial plan. From my experience, few families have and maintain a budget. We can talk about giving proportionately and generously, but it will only be words unless the time and energy are given to develop and follow the plan. Do we need to help our members be better managers of God’s gifts by providing financial training in the area of budgeting? This could be critical in helping our members give thanks to His name through the anniversary offering.
ii. Planned giving for the congregation.
The first responsibility for our thanksgiving is to support Word and Sacrament ministry. Strong congregations make a strong synod. The local congregation is obligated to support the pastor and the entire ministry of the congregation, and it is our first giving obligation. This understanding of Christian giving is essential to the healthy functioning of a congregation and must be taught to all members of the synod.
There can be reluctance on the part of pastors to preach and teach on the topic of money and giving. There can also be pushback from members. We need to remember that Jesus taught a great deal about money. We should not be afraid to do likewise. This is part of the whole counsel of God and is not to be neglected. Great harm is done to the church when stewardship and Christian giving are not taught. As uncomfortable as we may be when talking out money, the consequences of ignoring it are far more painful. Allow me to use an analogy. A number of you have told me that you delivered newspapers as a child, as my two oldest do now. I have been surprised with the number of times that people have asked, “Do you still have to collect the money?” Apparently, in the past, the newspaper deliverer did not just drop off the papers. He had to gather all the money as well. It seems that collecting was not a part that they enjoyed. But consider the consequences of a paperboy not trying to get his money. He had bought the papers. If he didn’t get a payment, he would have to use some of the money from other subscribers to cover the cost. It wouldn’t take very many people refusing to pay and he would not be able to afford to get the news to his subscribers. He may not like it, but he has to confront the delinquent about the bill or the news stops being delivered to everyone. In the same way, we have to confront our membership on the issue of money and giving; otherwise, the Good News may no longer be delivered in our neighborhood. This is the negative. Now let’s look at the positive.
There is a powerfully positive compounding effect to proportionate Christian giving. The following table illustrates this with regard to the number of families needed to support a pastor with their average compensation.
|Percentage Given68||Number of Families69|
When members are giving 3%70 of their compensation, it takes 34 families just to support the pastor. You can see the effect of raising it just 1% to 4%. Then only 25 families are needed. If our members were giving 10% of their “prosperity”, it would only take 10 families to support their pastor at their average compensation. There is much benefit to instructing God’s people in the grace of giving. The potential for extra pastoral manpower would be of great service elsewhere, or even assisting in doubling efforts at the home church level.
The members of the ELS should be taught what God says about money and giving. It is part of the “all things” that Jesus commanded us to teach.71 If that isn’t enough, our survival instinct should be kicking in. We can’t have a local congregation if we can’t support a preacher. Planning for and educating about Christian giving will help ensure that the opportunity to hear God’s Word will continue. Guided by His counsel, God’s people will learn how to give thanks to His name with their gifts to the church.
Our congregations need to be planning. Adopting a congregational budget allows the membership to discuss, prioritize and plan the work that they intend to do for the year. Budgeting and proper financial reporting are essential for the confidence of the members. Our people need to be able to see how their gifts are being put to work. This assures them that the money is not being wasted and that beneficial ministry is being carried out. Congregations with a plan will encourage members to have a plan, and vice versa. Part of the congregation’s plan should include gifts to the synod.
iii. Planned giving for your synod
Just as individual Christians are prayerfully and conscientiously to determine what they can give to support Kingdom work, so too congregations are to prayerfully and conscientiously determine what they can give to support the broader work of Christ’s Kingdom. It should not be surprising that many believe that there is a direct correlation between the percentage of offerings that a congregation gives to its larger church body and the percentage that its members give to the congregation.72 The congregation is setting an example for its members, whether it is aware of it or not. If we want the members of our congregations to give proportionately, our congregations should give a percentage of their offerings to the synod.
It would be beneficial for all involved if our churches were to give proportionately to the synod from their first-fruits. Our congregations can fall just as easily into the poor practice of giving from their leftovers, as do their individual members, because the same process for budgeting is used. Expenses are subtracted from offerings, and gifts to the synod are determined by the size of the surplus. As stated before, this is “leftover” giving.
When we look at the data for gifts from congregations to the synod, there are only two explanations. Either our congregations are not using proportionate giving or they are consciously decreasing the percentage of their gifts to the synod, as the following graphs show.73
Home & Synod Offering Comparison
% of Home to Synod
The offerings to local congregations steadily increased until 2006, but the percentage given to the synod steadily declined. God obviously has blessed our members so that they can give more to their congregations, but the congregations have given proportionately less to the synod. If our churches would set the example of giving 10%, we would almost double our budgeted congregational contributions. For over 30 years, we have planned for the same amount of congregational contributions. In that time frame, our synod contributions have lost over half of their purchasing power because of inflation, as the following graph illustrates.
Actual Congregational Offerings vs. Inflation
We are hamstringing our synod by giving less and less to her in real terms every year. Brothers and sisters, this should not be! It is time to reassess. It is time to take stock of the blessings that God has bestowed on us through our beloved Evangelical Lutheran Synod. It is time to give thanks to His name through her! The Anniversary Offering is a great opportunity to do so.
iv. Planned giving for the Anniversary Offering
Here is something radical to consider. What if we passed a resolution at this convention that any amount over the budgeted $760,000 of congregational contributions went to the Anniversary Offering? What if our churches also passed their own resolutions that they will give 10% of their offerings to the synod? What if the members of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod resolved to give at least 10% of their compensation to their local churches? What would happen? We would have well-funded congregations and synod. On top of that, we would collect well over $2,000,000 for the offering in its duration. This type of radical change would cause the thanksgiving to continue well beyond the offering. Our home mission work could be funded for the next 100 years. More opportunities would be realized to give thanks to His name and to tell of all His wondrous works.
Brothers, what should we do?
Belief drives action.
We believe that our countrymen desperately need our home mission activity.
We believe that Jesus is the Savior and that He has lived, died and risen again to earn God’s forgiveness for all people.
We believe that God works through His Means of Grace to create and preserve faith in Jesus Christ.
We believe that God has called and sent us to connect our countrymen to the Word and Sacraments.
We believe that God wants us to call and send others to reach our neighbors in places that we ourselves cannot go.
We believe that God has made us rich in Christ and blessed us with everything we need to support our home mission activity.
We believe that God has given us unique opportunities to sow the seed of the Word among our countrymen.
We believe. Now is the time for action.
Brothers and sisters, when we spend so much time looking at how we are to live as God’s redeemed children, it is easy for us to become burdened with sin. We see how we have failed to live up to what God expects. We have been lax in our mission zeal, and we have misused God’s gracious gift of wealth. It is true that we have failed. It is also true that we are forgiven. Jesus died on the cross for all of our sins. The payment has been made. Our debt is settled. Jesus declared this with His words, “It is finished.” Here again the words of St. Paul, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” You are rich. Your sins are forgiven. You have treasure in heaven. God loves you. Give thanks to His name!
Therefore, go home to your churches and houses. Remind your people of what we, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, believe. Proclaim the wonders that God has done! Remind them that their sins are forgiven through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Teach them what we believe. Show them the opportunities that are before us, and the need for home mission work in the United States of America. Encourage every congregation and every member of the ELS to participate in the Anniversary Offering.
For 100 years, the truth that we have received from God’s Word and the Lutheran Reformation has united us to carry each other’s burdens and to work together so that God’s name is hallowed, His Kingdom comes, and His will is done. To God be the glory, now and forever. Give thanks to His name! Tell of all His wondrous works!
The words of Hymn #191, “Hark! The Voice of Jesus Crying”, are a fitting close to this essay.
Hark! The voice of Jesus crying,
“Who will go and work today?
Fields are ripe and harvests waiting;
Who will bear the sheaves away?”
Loud and long the master calleth;
Rich reward he offers thee.
Who will answer gladly saying,
“Here am I, send me, send me?”
If you cannot speak like angels,
If you cannot preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus;
You can say He died for all.
If you can-not rouse the wicked
With the Judgment’s dread alarms,
You can lead the little children
To the Savior’s waiting arms.
If you can-not be a watch-man,
Standing high on Zion’s wall,
Pointing out the path to heaven,
Offering life and peace to all,
With your prayers and with your offerings
You can do what God demands;
You can be like faithful Aaron,
Holding up the prophet’s hands.
Let none hear you idly saying,
“There is nothing I can do,”
While the multitudes are dying,
And the Master calls for you.
Take the task He gives you gladly;
Let His work your pleasure be.
Answer quickly when He calleth,
“Here am I, send me, send me!”74
Soli Deo Gloria.
Appendix A—Home Missions of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod
|1918||Western Chicago suburb|
|1922||Forest – Forest City, IA|
|First – Suttons Bay, MI|
|1924||Vulcan, Alberta, Canada|
|1925||First American – Mayville, ND|
|Holton – Holton, MI|
|Emmaus – Minneapolis, MN|
|Holy Cross – Madison, WI|
|1927||Bethany – Mankato, MN|
|Concordia – Eau Claire, WI|
|1928||Central – Duluth, MN|
|Watford City, ND|
|1937||Zion – Tracy, MN|
|1939||Pinehurst – Eau Claire, WI|
|1940||Redeemer – New Hampton, IA|
|1941||Bethel – Sioux Falls, SD|
|1945||Calvary – Eau Claire, WI|
|1946||Lakewood – Tacoma, WA (Lakewood, WA)|
|1949||Hiawatha – Minneapolis, MN|
|1952||Bethany – Luverne, MN|
|1953||Our Savior’s First – Granada Hills, CA|
|Bethany – Princeton, MN|
|Edgecumbe Hills – St. Paul, MN|
|Indian Landing – Rochester, NY|
|1954||Bethlehem – Ellsworth, MN|
|1955||Our Redeemer – Canoga Park, CA|
|1956||St. Timothy – Lombard, IL|
|Central Heights – Mason City, IA|
|1957||River Heights – East Grand Forks, MN|
|1960||Grace – Madison, WI|
|1963||Pilgrim – Waterloo, IA|
|Concordia – Traverse City, MI|
|1965||Faith – Petoskey, MI|
|Our Savior’s – Amherst Junction, WI|
|Ascension – Eau Claire, WI|
|1966||Harvard Street – Cambridge, MA|
|1969||St. Paul’s – Chicago, IL|
|Bethany – Ames, IA|
|Faith – Muskegon, MI|
|Faith – Austin, MN|
|1970||Heritage – Apple Valley, MN|
|1971||Cape Cod, MA|
|Chittenango – Chittenango, NY|
|1972||Trinity – Brewster, MA|
|1973||Faith – Alpena, MI|
|Faith – St. Edward, NE|
|1974||Christ – Savannah, GA|
|1975||Our Savior – Naples, FL|
|St. Andrew – Colorado Springs, CO|
|1976||Indian Landing – Scottsville, NY|
|Manlius – Syracuse, NY|
|Christ – Sutherlin, OR|
|1977||Good Shepherd – Richardson, TX|
|1978||Faith – Carmel, CA|
|1979||Messiah – Minot, ND|
|1980||Our Saviour’s – Lake Havasu City, AZ|
|(Our) Redeemer – Yelm, WA|
|Faith – Oregon, WI|
|1984||Trinity – Sebastian, FL|
|1985||Our Savior – Lakeland, FL|
|1986||Christ the Cornerstone – Phoenix, AZ|
|Bethel – Yuba City, CA|
|Christ – Port Saint Lucie, FL|
|Resurrection – Marietta, GA|
|Immanuel – Detroit Lakes, MN|
|Bethany – The Dalles, OR|
|1988||Family of God – Fort Mohave, AZ|
|Faith – Irvine, CA|
|Peace – Colorado Springs, CO|
|Jensen Beach – Jensen Beach, FL|
|Grace – Crookston, MN|
|Bethlehem – Warroad, MN|
|Our Savior – Grants Pass, OR|
|Christ – Klamath Falls, OR|
|1989||Good Shepherd – Brownsburg, IN|
|1990||Peace – Kissimmee, FL|
|New Life – Sebring, FL|
|Saved By Grace – Gresham, OR|
|1992||Peace – Lakeland, FL|
|Reformation – Hillsboro, OR|
|1993||Lord of Life – Holland, MI|
|Good Shepherd – Pierce Co., WA|
|1994||Resurrection – Winter Haven, FL|
|Messiah – Puyallup, WA|
|1995||Abiding Word – Bowling Green, OH|
|Zion – North Huntington, PA (Irwin, PA)|
|1996||Lamb of God – Cartersville, GA|
|Emmaus – Chicago, IL|
|1997||Redeemer – Scottsdale, AZ|
|Harbor Trinity – Gig Harbor, WA|
|1998||Christ – Windsor, CA|
|Peace – North Mankato, MN|
|Abiding Shepherd – Cottage Grove, WI|
|1999||Asian Mission – Irvine, CA|
|Our Redeemer – Naples, FL|
|Hope – Port Hadlock, WA|
|Christ the King – Green Bay, WI|
|2000||Grace – Hobart, IN|
|Good Shepherd – Indianola, IA|
|Faith – San Antonio, TX|
|2001||Korean Lutheran – Des Moines, WA|
|Parkland Lutheran Daughter Mission – Tacoma, WA|
|2002||South Lake Lutheran – Clermont, FL|
|Apostles’ – Ukiah, CA|
|Light of Life – Plainfield, IL|
|2003||Beautiful Saviour – Springboro, OH|
|Faith – Medford, OR|
|2005||Redeeming Grace – Rogers, MN|
|Beautiful Savior – Osage Beach, MO|
|2007||Hope – Farmington, MN|
|2011||Hope – Leander, TX|
|2013||Divine Mercy – Hudson Oaks, TX|
|2016||Christ the King – Bell Gardens, CA (Cross-Cultural Ministry)|
|Congregation||City||State||Total per Congregation|
|Family of God||Fort Mojave||AZ||$316,123|
|Our Saviour’s||Lake Havasu City||AZ||$60,250|
|Christ the Cornerstone||Phoenix||AZ||$65,246|
|St. Andrew||Colorado Springs||CO||$81,450|
|Jensen Beach||Jensen Beach||FL||$91,955|
|Christ||Port St. Lucie||FL||$165,435|
|Lamb of God||Cartersville||GA||$39,426|
|Korean Lutheran||Des Moines||IA||$55,900|
|Central Heights||Mason City||IA||$27,474|
|King of Grace||Wauken||IA||$52,167|
|Light of Life||Plainfield||IL||$225,006|
|Lord of Life||Holland||MI||$380,895|
|River Heights||East Grand Forks||MN||$15,400|
|Beautiful Savior||Osage Beach||MO||$5,417|
|Abiding Word||Bowling Green||OH||$495,800|
|Our Savior||Grants Pass||OR||$126,806|
|Saved by Grace||Gresham||OR||$284,420|
|Divine Mercy||Hudson Oaks||TX||$323,604|
|Harbor Trinity||Gig Harbor||WA||$188,288|
|Good Shepherd||Pierce Co.||WA||$39,558|
|Our Savior’s||Amherst Jct.||WI||$5,465|
|Abiding Shepherd||Cottage Grove||WI||$617,024|
|Christ the King||Green Bay||WI||$61,955|
|Total amount reported over 45 years||$13,076,638|
1 2 Corinthians 4:13–15
2 An Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. (p.18). Evangelical Lutheran Synod. 2001
3 James Emery White has written a book by this title and Pew Research has written much on the demographic change.
4 The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, Baker Books, 2014.
James White gives a 10-point snapshot of the typical none:
4. Not necessarily an atheist
5. Not very religious
6. A Democrat
7. In favor of abortion and same-gender marriage being legal
8. Liberal or moderate
9. Not necessarily hostile toward religious institutions
10. Most likely a westerner
6 All of the preceding statistics in this paragraph are from the previously cited webpage.
7 1 Kings 19
8 Genesis 1–2
9 2 Corinthians 11:3
10 Genesis 2:17
11 Genesis 5:3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image.
12 ELH #378, Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice
13 Numbers 22:30
14 John 20:19–23
15 Seat of Doctrine
16 An Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. (p. 23). Evangelical Lutheran Synod. 2001
17 Luke 19:10
18 Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 40: Church and Ministry II. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 40, pp. 27–28). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
19 Luke 19:10
20 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ps 105:1–2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
21 Matthew 28:19–20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
22 Mark 16:15–16 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
23 Luke 24:46–49 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
24 John 20:21-23 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
25 Chemnitz, Martin. Edited, translated, and briefly annotated by Poellot, Luther. (1981). Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. (p. 29). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
26 1 Corinthians 3:21–22
27 Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod. (Adopted 1932). (p. 8). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
28 Acts 8:1
29 Acts 8:4
30 Acts 14:21 They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples.
31 1 Peter 2:9
32 Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 30: The Catholic Epistles. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 30, p. 11). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
33 Ibid., 64–65.
34 Chemnitz, Martin. Edited, translated, and briefly annotated by Poellot, Luther. (1981). Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. (p. 29). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
35 Romans 10:11-15, 17
36 Luke 10:2
37 Acts 11:19–21 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
38 Acts 11:22
39 Acts 13:1–3
40 Deuteronomy 6:10–12
41 Deuteronomy 8:10–14
42 Deuteronomy 8:7–9
43 Matthew 6:24
44 Matthew 19:24
45 Mark 8:36
46 2 Corinthians 8:9
47 Matthew 6:20
48 An Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. (p.16). Evangelical Lutheran Synod. 2001
49 Ibid., 19.
50 2 Corinthians 8:1–5
51 Luke 16:1–9 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ 8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
52 Psalm 50:7–15
53 Haggai 2:8
54 Esther 4:13–14
55 Acts 2:37
56 Anderson, Julian G. (1967). (pp. 7-8) Let’s Look at Our Synod. Board of Publications, Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Mankato Minnesota.
57 It is difficult to determine which missions were started as home missions. Our early records aren’t clear
58 Many thanks to Treasurer Keith Wiederhoeft for compiling this data.
59 Proclaim the Wonders God Has Done! Anniversary Committee Material.
60 Anderson, p. 10
61 The underlined points are directly connected to our discussion. You could argue that more of the points should be underlined
62 Synod Report 2010 (pp. 140–141).
63 1 Corinthians 16:1–2
64 2 Corinthians 9:6–8
65 2 Corinthians 8:7
66 Galatians 5:13
67 Exodus 36:4–7 So all the skilled craftsmen who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left their work 5 and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.” 6 Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more, 7 because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.
68 Percentage given of total compensation, including all benefits, not just the salary.
69 The number of families needed to provide for a pastor with the average compensation of the givers.
70 This is often cited as what the average Christian gives.
71 Matthew 28:20
72 Dr. LaGrow and Mr. Mantey, both now sainted, were the first to introduce this to me. It held true in Lake Havasu, Arizona. I am not sure about at Peace in North Mankato, MInnesota. I do not have any research to support this correlation and I was unable to determine LaGrow’s and Mantey’s source.
73 Thanks to Mr. Keith Wiederhoeft for creating these graphs.
74 March, D. Hark! The Voice of Jesus Crying. ELH #191.