Dear esteemed Pastors, Delegates and Friends of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod:
Our convention this year centers on the subject of God as our Creator and Preserver. Psalm 121:2, depicted majestically on our banner, serves as our theme verse: “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” We think of the words Luther gave us in his explanation of the First Article: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that he has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them…”
The teaching of creation as set forth in Genesis is constantly under attack. We expect this from atheists and agnostics. We may expect it from those who describe themselves as Christian but who do not view the miraculous accounts in Scripture as factual events of world history. What especially grieves us—somewhat unexpectedly—is to find that many who profess the Bible to be true in recording the life of Christ nevertheless see the creation account through mythical lenses, that is apart from any real and literal sense. I say this is somewhat unexpected—but not entirely so. A concerted push has been exerted for a number of decades in mainline denominations, and even among the Evangelicals, to harmonize what is expounded in Genesis with the prevailing “wisdom” purveyed by renowned scholars and philosophers. After all, goes the argument, if Christianity is to remain relevant in a post-modern society, it can only do this by yielding up the days of creation to the eons of time proposed by the conventional scientific community.
How devastating this is to the faith! If God’s Word truly is our great heritage and it alone provides the sure hope of life eternal by faith in Jesus, then how can its veracity not be undermined and consequently eroded as Christians succumb to the evolutionary theory? Using a biblical analogy of a pot daring to raise its voice against the Potter (Isaiah 29:16), should we count on the world to satisfy us with a more plausible explanation of our existence than simply accepting the plain words of our Creator? Divine sarcasm streams from the mouth of the Almighty: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4–7).
We should not be surprised to find how influential the daily barrage of evolutionary thought affects the minds of our youth. Almost subconsciously they are led in directions detrimental to the ways of God’s holy Word. If the devil masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), his sly tactics will employ respectable teachers to question and counter what God has laid down as divine truth. Prominently we observe how rapidly social conditions and attitudes have changed in regard to sex and gender identity. In many cases this is due to a public education system which not only allows a philosophy of sexual diversity but aggressively advocates experimentation among students in areas of gender identity, homosexuality, and sexual relations outside of the traditional marriage institution between one man and one woman. It saddens us to realize that such immoral social trends are finding acceptance among a number of impressionable young souls in our own congregations.
A 2017 survey conducted by the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) among millennials (ages 22–37)1 revealed how a considerable number of today’s young adults feel their church is “out of touch” or “too closed minded” in respect to social issues. In the survey’s open-ended responses, “Object to the LCMS over a social issue” was listed as the top reason for leaving the LCMS among those who either quit going to church entirely or joined another denomination. In summarizing the portion of the study which dealt with the reason young people were defecting, the study’s authors M. Kiessling and J. Shults, stated: “Millennials who left the LCMS often listed disagreement over specific issues for which the LCMS should not and will not change.” One wonders if a poll were taken among young people in the ELS whether the results would be much different.
On messing with creation in terms of our Creator’s own description, purpose and design, can we learn something from a section in the Augsburg Confession (AC)? Tomorrow marks the day back in 1530 when the AC was publicly read as a presentation of the Lutheran faith before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Among many topics listed as teaching differences between the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics was that of marriage and the priesthood (Article XXIII). Philip Melanchthon, who prepared the document in consultation with Luther, makes an interesting comment while defending the scriptural institution of marriage as a right also for the clergy. He states:
God created man as male and female according to Genesis 1:27. Experience has made it all too manifest whether or not it lies in human power and ability to improve or change the creation of God, the supreme Majesty, by means of human resolutions or vows without a special gift or grace of God. What good has resulted? … It is well known what terrible torment and frightful disturbance of conscience men have experienced on their deathbeds on this account, and many themselves have acknowledged this.2
These same words can apply to any attempt at adapting or moderating God’s Word to satisfy expanding social norms which now regard what was once deemed immoral as acceptable—maybe even preferable. Putting Melanchthon’s words into our present context of dealing with all of the LGBTQ (etc.) issues, we respectfully must ask: How can anyone think “it lies in human power and ability to improve or change the creation of God?” Even reason and nature itself testify to the wisdom of following what God has said in respect to marriage between a man and a woman; or as to gender identity which the Creator has assigned; or as to forbidding homosexuality and lesbianism; or as to forbidding also heterosexual relations outside the marital union God instituted; or as to protecting life in the womb at every stage in its development. When sinful humanity decides to play God and establish its own rules of right and wrong, it forfeits the order of design that our Maker put into his creation for our own good. Far worse, souls are damaged and kept away from the saving grace of Christ necessary for eternity.
But thank God that where there is repentance of sin—any and every kind of sin—there is full remission in the wounds of the Savior! The promise of life in heaven remains solid for every contrite soul embracing the work of atonement by the Son of God. This is our hope. This is the hope we hold out for any person who is caught up in a lifestyle of shame before the Almighty but who sees his/her sin for what it is, renounces it, and is absolved by Christ’s forgiveness. “He who conceals his sins, does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
So, our study and discussion of creation at this year’s annual convention is important not only to protect us and our youth from influences leading away from God’s Word; it is important to the accuracy of the crucial account of sin and grace for you and me and for every single individual on this earth. If the events in the first Eden are not true in every aspect, then the First Promise of Salvation must also be suspect. “When we understand Adam and Eve, we have a picture of Christ and the church, and to undermine the one is to destroy the other… All belong together, and when one string is pulled, the entire enterprise becomes unraveled.”3 If the first Adam was not a real man, the Second Adam also falls. But it is all true. And the truth of the fall into sin, followed by God’s loving promise to crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15) is rooted in the amazing account of our first parents in the book of Genesis. This is why the apostle Paul said in the New Testament: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
An old Scottish preacher once reflected on the remarkable fact that the Creator himself would become part of his own creation, in order to bring about for the creation-then-fallen its full salvation. He didn’t just come quickly and depart. He dwelt here. He took it in. He did this in love for what he had made. The preacher said it like this:
It is the glory of the world that He who formed it dwelt on it; of the air, that he breathed it; of the sun, that it shone on him; of the ground, that it bore him; of the sea, that he walked on it; of the elements, that they nourished him; of the waters, that they refreshed him; of us men, that he lived and died among us, yea, that he lived and died for us; that he assumed our flesh and blood, and carried it to the highest heavens, where it shines as the eternal ornament and wonder of the creation of God.4
Martin Luther, on the incarnation of the Son of God, is recorded as saying one joyful Christmas evening: “[T]his great benefaction is far, far superior to all other works of creation! And yet how hard it is for us to believe, though the good news was preached and sung for us by angels, who are heavenly theologians and have rejoiced on our behalf!”5
Our essay this year is presented by Dr. Doyle Holbird of our Bethany Lutheran College. The presentation not only is intended to focus our thoughts on the profound wonders of God’s creation but to sharpen us apologetically in our efforts to speak clearly on the biblical teaching of the origin of our universe. The ultimate goal of Christian apologetics, of course, is that of bringing lost sinners to saving faith in Jesus the Christ. “Apologetics is an integral part of evangelism and missionary outreach.”6 The apostle Peter urges us to contend for the faith in a respectable way in order to reflect favorably on our Savior’s love for every soul with whom we engage in conversation. “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). In a recently published book, Standing Firm: A Christian Response to Hostility and Persecution, the author Jesse Yow surmises: “We are often good at speaking truth without adequate sympathetic support, and we are often good at sympathetic support while minimizing the truth. To provide complete, holistic support we need truth and love, mind and heart, to minister to the whole person. And as we minister to one another, we need to point the other person to Jesus Christ, who alone can sustain us with strength and real, lasting peace.”7
Our synod’s ad hoc Committee on Apologetics once again is providing a post-convention seminar. These seminars are set up in a “free conference” format (i.e., outside the framework of fellowship) to give opportunity for any and all attendees to engage in academic dialogue. This year’s seminar centers on “Making the Case for the Truth of the Bible.” We are pleased to announce that a gracious donor has provided an upfront generous gift to encourage the annual seminars being hosted at our Bethany Lutheran College, and for the next two years there is a pledge challenge to assist with costs associated with these conferences. (For details, please see the report from the committee.)
God is providing many ways for us as a synod to promote his truth so that others may be led by the power of the Holy Spirit to see their salvation as found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We continue to assist in various ways with world mission work in seven different countries: Peru, where new work is being investigated in Cajamarca, about twelve hours north of Lima; Chile, where the La Cisterna congregation in Santiago has completed the purchase and renovation of a chapel; India, where the training of seminary students progresses, and where orphanages recently have been able to increase the protein provided for the boys and girls as funding has come from our ELS mission societies; South Korea, where the new mission in Song Do (near the airport at Incheon) is being carried on by the Rev. Young Ha Kim; Latvia, as the bi-vocational faithful pastors of the Confessional Lutheran Church of Latvia are now working on a hymnal and music project to be used for outreach; Czech Republic, where two ordained pastors continue to use the Martin Luther School in Plzen for outreach opportunities; and Ukraine, where the vital work of pro-life counseling in the Gift of Life centers occurs and the humanitarian work of providing dental care goes on in the medical vans which operate in the Ternopil region. Truly, we are thankful to the members of the Board for World Outreach (BWO) and to our full-time administrator, the Rev. Thomas Heyn, for their diligent work in helping to guide the mission plans for each of these fields.
We might also mention that, within the past year or two, several of our ELS pastors have been involved in teaching online classes to seventeen seminary students in Kenya. While the BWO is not so directly involved at this time (nor is it a synod-adopted new field), the board has decided to offer marginal financial support for enabling the training to continue. There is the hope that soon pastors and leaders (twenty-some) of this group will be able to gather for official doctrinal discussions with our ELS representatives. Prayers especially are needed for the physical nourishment of the people of Kenya, since at present a famine plagues much of the country. Our Board for Christian Service has sent some assistance for the purchase of food boxes.
In the area of home missions, our Board for Home Outreach (BHO) is pleased to announce that the Rev. Peter Heyn has accepted the call and now, as of June 2, 2019, has been installed to serve as a home missionary in the city of San Angelo, Texas. The efforts in San Angelo are being carried out with the members of Our Redeemer Lutheran, which is planning to transition from our sister synod WELS to the ELS, in order to assist in facilitating the gospel outreach in that metro area. Please ask the Lord for his special blessings to rest upon Pastor Heyn, his wife Andrea and family, as they serve the Lord in their new location.
The importance of establishing more home missions is great, first of all because of the opportunities to reach unchurched individual souls with the saving message of God’s forgiveness of sins in Christ, but also—to a secondary and lesser extent—to plant more churches (God-willing) in the synod’s overall plan of expansion to do the work of God’s kingdom. To do this, of course, takes the necessary financial resources. We encourage our synod’s membership to consider leaving legacies and/or to set up endowments for the purpose of home mission development. Our Giving Counselor, the Rev. Dan Basel (507-344-7311; email@example.com) will be happy to assist and also to explain options available for future tax advantages.
Then, too, as we consider our collective role in touching more lives as part of the Lord’s Great Commission, let us remember prayerfully to support our two beloved institutions of higher learning: Bethany Lutheran College and Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary. The college presents us with a new mission field every time the enrollment season comes around, and we are grateful for a dedicated administration, faculty and staff mindful of focusing on the One Thing Needful. The seminary has a healthy enrollment, but we always need more men to give serious thought to training for pastoral ministry. Teachers for our Lutheran Schools also are needed, and we appreciate our BLC’s education program for providing qualified and faithful women and men as classroom leaders.
So many blessings we have from God for which to give thanks and praise! In fact, thinking of how our Almighty Maker used his power to create all things and to create our own beings in body and soul, and then being mindful of his daily act of providence and preservation—let alone, our eternal redemption!—we must exclaim: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness!” (Lamentations 3:22, 23)
May the Lord be with us and guide and bless us in our thoughts and conversations and decisions during this week of our 102nd annual convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
John A. Moldstad, president
1 Concordia Journal, Fall 2018, p. 19–32.
2 Augsburg Confession, Article XXIII, Tappert, p. 52.
3 Concordia Theological Quarterly, Volume 81, Number 3–4, “Luther Lessons for the Present Crisis” by Peter J. Scaer, p. 317.
4 Rev. John Maclaurin, served the Kilmodan parish (minister of Glendaruel) in the late 1600’s.
5 LW 54: 327 (Table Talk).
7 Jesse Yow, Standing Firm (St. louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2015), p. 142.