May 12: I Follow Christ
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I Corinthians 1:10-13
No matter how quickly the world might be changing as a result of Covid-19, the old adage seems to remain true—the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Christian Church still fails, at least visibly, to live in the unity God intends for us. In worshipping via livestream, we all realize that we have thousands upon thousands of Christian and pseudo-Christian choices available to us at the click of a button. What makes them different? How are they united and how are they divided? You might have driven past some church a thousand times on your way to St. Paul’s and thought to yourself, “I wonder what goes on in there.” Well, thanks to Covid-19, it is pretty easy to find out anonymously. We have no idea who is watching our services, and nothing stops anyone from watching any other church’s online services.
Now is a good time, therefore, to really take a look at what makes various churches the same or different, and what makes any given difference important or unimportant. To that end, we’ve begun a Bible study via zoom in Wednesday evenings at 7:00 to examine the various teachings of different church bodies. Everyone is welcome to attend, so feel free to invite your friends, relatives, and neighbors. After all, amid all the cons of not being able to meet in person, we may as well take advantage of the huge pro of this situation, which is that people can join in from anywhere. The Zoom info is included in this update. Ask for help if you need it. We’d love to have you.
Last week we looked at the broad ways of understanding how various kinds of churches relate to each other. One way is to look at how different churches order our sources of knowledge about God—Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience, Church Councils—in terms of their authority for Christians. Another way is to trace a timeline and look at the history of how various factions broke off from each other or reconnected to each other.
Tomorrow we’re going to look at one of the most basic questions we all face. How is it that there can be more than one kind of Lutheran church in the United States? What makes them different? How did they get that way? Which differences really matter, and which are merely a matter of cultural preference or history?
In future weeks we’ll look at other church bodies and movements, comparing what they believe, teach, and confess, and how those beliefs show up in the way they worship and live, to what we believe, teach, and confess. So if nothing else, it will really help all of us delve into our own faith and refresh our sense of why we do what we do. That might be yet another good thing God brings out of this difficult situation. Hope to see you tomorrow night!
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
part of something bigger
This summer our national church body, the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod (LCMS) is holding its triennial convention in Milwaukee. Since St. Paul’s has a lot of members who are relatively new to Lutheran- ism generally and the LCMS in particular, this is a good time to explain a little bit about how our denomination is structured.
We aren’t the only or even the biggest Lutheran church in the United States. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is larger and much more theologically liberal. We’re the second largest and are considered more conservative because we insist that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God. There are also lots of much smaller synods, most notably the Wisconsin Synod, which is also very conservative, and North American Lutheran Church, which is fairly new and small and tries to occupy a moderate position between the ELCA and LCMS. But in general most Lutherans in the U.S. belong to either the ELCA or the LCMS.
The Missouri Synod* has about 6,000 congregations nationwide, with a little over two million total members. Our headquarters is in St. Louis and the current Synodical President is Rev. Matthew Harrison. The Synodical President gets elected every three years, so President Harrison is up for re-election this summer, though there are some other people on the ballot, too.
The synod is divided into 35 districts. Ours is the Indiana District (which includes part of Kentucky) and has 237 congregations and headquarters in Fort Wayne. Our District President is Rev. Daniel May.
Each District is then divided into Circuits of 6-14 congregations. Seeing as we are in the very corner of the state, ours is Circuit 1 and includes the western half of Lake County. So our circuit includes Trinity and Concordia in Hammond, Redeemer in Highland, Peace in Schererville, Grace in Dyer, and Trinity in Lowell. Each circuit has a Circuit Visitor who oversees pastoral vacancies and calls, handles any conflicts or concerns that might come up between members of different congregations, and organizes the election of delegates to the national convention. Our Circuit Visitor is our own Pastor Emeritus, Rev. Eric Stumpf.
The voters at the convention every three years are elected by each circuit. Every circuit sends one pas- tor and one layperson as voting delegates, but they can’t be from the same congregation. This year our own Bob Jensen will be our circuit’s lay delegate and Pastor Kleinschmidt from Redeemer Lutheran in Highland is our pastoral delegate.
Our synod operates a publishing company (Concordia Publishing House, or just CPH, which is where we get things like our hymnals and catechisms), two seminaries for the training of pastors, one in St. Louis and one in Ft. Wayne, ten colleges and universities scattered around the country (all called Concordia as well), and oversees many missionaries serving in other countries, sponsors chaplains in the U.S. military, and puts together social statements on various contemporary issues. So there is always plenty for the delegates to vote about.
This fall we’ll report in the newsletter about whatever the convention in Milwaukee decided. If you have any questions about our national church body, how we’re different from the ELCA, or would like to get more information about all the things we as a church body do and how you can be involved, please feel free to talk to either of the pastors.
*Yes, it is a goofy name. The denomination was officially incorporated by immigrants in 1847 as The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States, but since that is a mouthful in any language everyone just called it the Missouri Synod. So at the 100th anniversary convention in 1947 they officially changed the name to the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Every convention there is a proposal to change the name of the synod to something less confusing to outsiders, but every year it gets voted down because everyone is so used to it.
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana