Witness, mercy, life together

What do you make of the new LCMS President Matthew Harrison’s themes for the church body, taken from the very rich Greek New Testament words   Martyría, Diakonía, and Koinonía?  What do they suggest about the direction he wants to take the church?

via The ABC3s of Miscellany: LCMS Board and Commission Orientation — Day 1.

LCMS President Harrison's banner

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    I don´t like slogans and mission statements. But it would be hard to avoid these today because of types like me who push this sorta thing to grow business organizations.

    That being said, Harrisson picked a good one.

    One might think that my recent theme has been Mortification. Really it has been the distinction of Law and Gospel. The doctrine of the Two Kingdoms is not some Luther-an theory on the christian´s proper relation to the state. It is only and all simply another way to express Law and Gospel. Not Law vs Gospel. Not Law against Gospel.

    Harrison´s theme does this nicely. The only thing that makes something christian as opposed to “christian” is invisible faith in the dead and then resurrected Jesus Christ. Therefore what we do for neighbor both individually and as The Church is to witness.

    But here is where Luther says a doctoral degree should be granted to those who can distinguish Law and Gospel rightly: witnessing is not something we can do as in practice, improve and make at effort at. This alone the Holy Spirit can do, embedded in the holy Word, water, bread, wine, and palm on pate we “do”.

    We “do” this as our own humble flesh and body selves (cf romans 8 “flesh vs spirit to see Law Gospel right at this point) being that visible thing, in, with, and under which, Our Lord does His saving work. We call this Holy Vocation. Holy gets applied here, not because of our part in this, which will perish with the earth and is anything but holy. We call this vocation holy for the same reason Mary was holy and full of grace, water , wine , bread and ordination are holy. It is holy for what it contains and conveys. It conveys Christ. And only the Holy Spirit alone can bring him, but He always choses to do this hidden in the plain sight of things that will perish. Earthly Kingdom things that says. This is exactly the same as why a worthless tin can full of water is priceless and lifegiving for those who are dying of thirst.

    So what is included in that word “witness” is faith. And that faith is alone, even if it is intimately connected and served in , with and under earthly things that will all perish with the earth, along with those who think to find life in those earthly things, even imagining that those earthly things are somehow “christian” or “church” because of what they are used to deliver. This error would be that of roman scholasticism and reformed neo-scholasticism.

    Dr Veith has chosen as his life´s work to untangle this deadly error.

    The next two words: “Life Together” and “Mercy” then are both Earthly Kingdom words. These describe things that will perish with the earth. They do not include anything that requires faith in Christ and is therefore christian. How could they? Faith is alone already included fully in that word “Witness”!

    “Life Together” now can mean our life as believers, who are both saint and sinner, that is, sanctified new men completely holy, and completely pagan Old Adams who can only love if driven by mortification, ie the work of the Holy Spirit using the Law to animate that Love. This would be our lives together in our churchly vocations. Still there is nothing in this that is christian. There are pagans among us who appear to be christian because there is again nothing here that can be done that only a true christian could do. That part is invisible. What makes one a christian again , is alone, invisible faith in christ. So there is no certain and infalible outward mark of who is sheep vs goat, or wheat vs tare. Besides, each christian is both. The line between church/christian and pagan passes down the middle of each of us doesn´t it?

    Then finally there is “Mercy”. This is as in: “I would have you go and seek to understand what it means when God says “I would rather have Mercy than Sacrifice”. Here is where we christians are salt and yeast (invisible faith) , rather than measuring scales that are about justice, taking everyone´s moral measure, and “witnessing” to the fact that no one measure´s up like self-appointed jeremiahs imagine it is their God-given “christian duty” to do. This is about Man-on-roadside-helped-by-immoral-social-outcast activities. This is about doing love rather than sacrifice. It is about giving “daily bread” (cf Luther´s Small Catechism to see what is included in “daily bread” here). And this part again,since it is all alone, Earthly Kingdom stuff, requires mortification or the application of the law by the Holy Spirit to be done here on earth. This is again equally true for christian and pagan. It is all about earthly kingdom stuff that will perish. again romans 8 flesh/body stuff. Nothing at all with eternal consequences.

    That other eternal, Heavenly Kingdom stuff is all included in the word “Witness” alone, which alone is faith in Christ and alone in Christ alone and his Word , where he uses us as mere vessels to spread. We as sowers, defined as sowers alone because of the seed we cast. Apart from that seed we are what? And even there, a pagan can sow! But then we have had that invisible seed of faith planted in us by the Sower.

    So. This theme, unlike “ablaze” will give us all alot to talk about.

    God bless President Harrison with both the faith and mortification necessary to do love and encourage us to do the same for one another and for the dying world that needs us in each of our Vocations.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    I don´t like slogans and mission statements. But it would be hard to avoid these today because of types like me who push this sorta thing to grow business organizations.

    That being said, Harrisson picked a good one.

    One might think that my recent theme has been Mortification. Really it has been the distinction of Law and Gospel. The doctrine of the Two Kingdoms is not some Luther-an theory on the christian´s proper relation to the state. It is only and all simply another way to express Law and Gospel. Not Law vs Gospel. Not Law against Gospel.

    Harrison´s theme does this nicely. The only thing that makes something christian as opposed to “christian” is invisible faith in the dead and then resurrected Jesus Christ. Therefore what we do for neighbor both individually and as The Church is to witness.

    But here is where Luther says a doctoral degree should be granted to those who can distinguish Law and Gospel rightly: witnessing is not something we can do as in practice, improve and make at effort at. This alone the Holy Spirit can do, embedded in the holy Word, water, bread, wine, and palm on pate we “do”.

    We “do” this as our own humble flesh and body selves (cf romans 8 “flesh vs spirit to see Law Gospel right at this point) being that visible thing, in, with, and under which, Our Lord does His saving work. We call this Holy Vocation. Holy gets applied here, not because of our part in this, which will perish with the earth and is anything but holy. We call this vocation holy for the same reason Mary was holy and full of grace, water , wine , bread and ordination are holy. It is holy for what it contains and conveys. It conveys Christ. And only the Holy Spirit alone can bring him, but He always choses to do this hidden in the plain sight of things that will perish. Earthly Kingdom things that says. This is exactly the same as why a worthless tin can full of water is priceless and lifegiving for those who are dying of thirst.

    So what is included in that word “witness” is faith. And that faith is alone, even if it is intimately connected and served in , with and under earthly things that will all perish with the earth, along with those who think to find life in those earthly things, even imagining that those earthly things are somehow “christian” or “church” because of what they are used to deliver. This error would be that of roman scholasticism and reformed neo-scholasticism.

    Dr Veith has chosen as his life´s work to untangle this deadly error.

    The next two words: “Life Together” and “Mercy” then are both Earthly Kingdom words. These describe things that will perish with the earth. They do not include anything that requires faith in Christ and is therefore christian. How could they? Faith is alone already included fully in that word “Witness”!

    “Life Together” now can mean our life as believers, who are both saint and sinner, that is, sanctified new men completely holy, and completely pagan Old Adams who can only love if driven by mortification, ie the work of the Holy Spirit using the Law to animate that Love. This would be our lives together in our churchly vocations. Still there is nothing in this that is christian. There are pagans among us who appear to be christian because there is again nothing here that can be done that only a true christian could do. That part is invisible. What makes one a christian again , is alone, invisible faith in christ. So there is no certain and infalible outward mark of who is sheep vs goat, or wheat vs tare. Besides, each christian is both. The line between church/christian and pagan passes down the middle of each of us doesn´t it?

    Then finally there is “Mercy”. This is as in: “I would have you go and seek to understand what it means when God says “I would rather have Mercy than Sacrifice”. Here is where we christians are salt and yeast (invisible faith) , rather than measuring scales that are about justice, taking everyone´s moral measure, and “witnessing” to the fact that no one measure´s up like self-appointed jeremiahs imagine it is their God-given “christian duty” to do. This is about Man-on-roadside-helped-by-immoral-social-outcast activities. This is about doing love rather than sacrifice. It is about giving “daily bread” (cf Luther´s Small Catechism to see what is included in “daily bread” here). And this part again,since it is all alone, Earthly Kingdom stuff, requires mortification or the application of the law by the Holy Spirit to be done here on earth. This is again equally true for christian and pagan. It is all about earthly kingdom stuff that will perish. again romans 8 flesh/body stuff. Nothing at all with eternal consequences.

    That other eternal, Heavenly Kingdom stuff is all included in the word “Witness” alone, which alone is faith in Christ and alone in Christ alone and his Word , where he uses us as mere vessels to spread. We as sowers, defined as sowers alone because of the seed we cast. Apart from that seed we are what? And even there, a pagan can sow! But then we have had that invisible seed of faith planted in us by the Sower.

    So. This theme, unlike “ablaze” will give us all alot to talk about.

    God bless President Harrison with both the faith and mortification necessary to do love and encourage us to do the same for one another and for the dying world that needs us in each of our Vocations.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I suspect that Harrison probably agrees with Fw a bit on this slogan thing. Which is probably why he picked such a non slogany slogan.
    That said, I’m looking forward to this new chapter in the history of the LCMS.
    Back when I was at seminary, most of us would slip off to go to Zion and listen to Harrison when we didn’t have to attend a field work congregation. That is until he got the call to LCMS World Relief and Human Care.
    He has marked himself as a capable theologian, and able administrator. ( I keep praying for the gift of administration, last week Shepherd’s Staff showed up in the mail, not quite the answer I was hoping for.)
    Harrison is known for being confessional. He has many international contacts and friendships. This is something I think is phenomenal for our generation. As he says this is “Missouri’s Moment” and I think he is right. So many from Sweden to South Africa and Brazil to Bombay are looking at the LCMS and wondering “what?” We have such a great confessional heritage, a treasure trove of theologians and capable educators, and for quite sometime we have been just sitting on it, if not disparaging these treasures. We haven’t been doing much to help our sister churches, or brothers struggling in heterodox communions.
    Perhaps a lot of this is due to infighting, which I think many in the LCMS actually mistake for a mark of the church. It will be interesting to see Harrison handle that.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I suspect that Harrison probably agrees with Fw a bit on this slogan thing. Which is probably why he picked such a non slogany slogan.
    That said, I’m looking forward to this new chapter in the history of the LCMS.
    Back when I was at seminary, most of us would slip off to go to Zion and listen to Harrison when we didn’t have to attend a field work congregation. That is until he got the call to LCMS World Relief and Human Care.
    He has marked himself as a capable theologian, and able administrator. ( I keep praying for the gift of administration, last week Shepherd’s Staff showed up in the mail, not quite the answer I was hoping for.)
    Harrison is known for being confessional. He has many international contacts and friendships. This is something I think is phenomenal for our generation. As he says this is “Missouri’s Moment” and I think he is right. So many from Sweden to South Africa and Brazil to Bombay are looking at the LCMS and wondering “what?” We have such a great confessional heritage, a treasure trove of theologians and capable educators, and for quite sometime we have been just sitting on it, if not disparaging these treasures. We haven’t been doing much to help our sister churches, or brothers struggling in heterodox communions.
    Perhaps a lot of this is due to infighting, which I think many in the LCMS actually mistake for a mark of the church. It will be interesting to see Harrison handle that.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Mercy. Harrison has trumpeted this through the Work of LCMS Human Care and World Relief. I was just pondering the economics of mercy and how that works from a human point of view (and I don’t have that figured out yet :)

    In my opinion, a lot of us in the LCMS need to go to the school of Mercy (myself included). It may be too tough an education for many of us – but it may still be for the best.

    Christ have mercy.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Mercy. Harrison has trumpeted this through the Work of LCMS Human Care and World Relief. I was just pondering the economics of mercy and how that works from a human point of view (and I don’t have that figured out yet :)

    In my opinion, a lot of us in the LCMS need to go to the school of Mercy (myself included). It may be too tough an education for many of us – but it may still be for the best.

    Christ have mercy.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    What are you talking about, fws, ABLAZE gave us plenty to talk about.

    When I see this I think I see Harrison putting into practice what he expounds in his book Christ, Have Mercy. It is a slogan I think everybody in the LCMS can get behind. I really like it, the symbolism is spectacular encompassing what the church is. I see this being worked into our upcoming Congregation Board retreat.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    What are you talking about, fws, ABLAZE gave us plenty to talk about.

    When I see this I think I see Harrison putting into practice what he expounds in his book Christ, Have Mercy. It is a slogan I think everybody in the LCMS can get behind. I really like it, the symbolism is spectacular encompassing what the church is. I see this being worked into our upcoming Congregation Board retreat.

  • http://enterthevein.blogspot.com J. Dean

    I’m not Lutheran, so I can’t speak definitively for this stance. But past experience has shown me that trying to condense Christianity into catchy slogans (The Nazarene church is using “worship. learn. serve.”) does little, if anything. If there’s any real problem, it’s usually that an impression is given that whatever is NOT included in the slogan is considered unimportant. I guess my word would be “Be careful” when it comes to trying to boil down what the church is supposed to be like in a slogan.

  • http://enterthevein.blogspot.com J. Dean

    I’m not Lutheran, so I can’t speak definitively for this stance. But past experience has shown me that trying to condense Christianity into catchy slogans (The Nazarene church is using “worship. learn. serve.”) does little, if anything. If there’s any real problem, it’s usually that an impression is given that whatever is NOT included in the slogan is considered unimportant. I guess my word would be “Be careful” when it comes to trying to boil down what the church is supposed to be like in a slogan.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    J. Dean,
    I really wish just handing out pocket editions of the Book of Concord was more effective.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    J. Dean,
    I really wish just handing out pocket editions of the Book of Concord was more effective.

  • Tony Houlbrooke

    J Dean
    I think it depends on how much substance there is behind a slogan. If it has significant biblical, theological and important Lutheran distinctives embedded in it then it can be very powerful in focussing people. A real help in knowing what you are and do as a Church.
    –Tony

  • Tony Houlbrooke

    J Dean
    I think it depends on how much substance there is behind a slogan. If it has significant biblical, theological and important Lutheran distinctives embedded in it then it can be very powerful in focussing people. A real help in knowing what you are and do as a Church.
    –Tony

  • C. Hoff

    I have to agree with J. Dean, and I happen to be a confessional Lutheran. An improvement to the slogan would be to make “life together” more central. It is only through the life-giving Word and sacraments received together, that we are able to witness and serve (cf. Acts 2:42 – the early Christians devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, the breaking of bread, and prayer).

  • C. Hoff

    I have to agree with J. Dean, and I happen to be a confessional Lutheran. An improvement to the slogan would be to make “life together” more central. It is only through the life-giving Word and sacraments received together, that we are able to witness and serve (cf. Acts 2:42 – the early Christians devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, the breaking of bread, and prayer).

  • Joanne

    Themes for the church today. Nice. Has he selected any for tomorrow yet?

  • Joanne

    Themes for the church today. Nice. Has he selected any for tomorrow yet?

  • Joanne

    Are we looking for “The Great Administrator?” Do we remember CFW Walther as a great administrator? Are we going to fry our new president if he doesn’t hit the ground running just like the manual of public administration says he ought? Is there a check-list somewhere that says so many themes, mission statements, goals, programs, etc. must issue forth from the new president’s office by October 15th? We can all hear adminspeak and smell adminrot. Say, is that some kind of a management gimmick meant to manipulate us? We’ve been sensitized by past, flaming abuse.

    I remember a theme the LC-MS used to have, “We preach Christ crucified.” That’s a witness.

    I can imagine being happy to say, “The synod president is a great theologian and a great communicator. He makes clear and concise decisions. He is an approachable, humble sinner.”

  • Joanne

    Are we looking for “The Great Administrator?” Do we remember CFW Walther as a great administrator? Are we going to fry our new president if he doesn’t hit the ground running just like the manual of public administration says he ought? Is there a check-list somewhere that says so many themes, mission statements, goals, programs, etc. must issue forth from the new president’s office by October 15th? We can all hear adminspeak and smell adminrot. Say, is that some kind of a management gimmick meant to manipulate us? We’ve been sensitized by past, flaming abuse.

    I remember a theme the LC-MS used to have, “We preach Christ crucified.” That’s a witness.

    I can imagine being happy to say, “The synod president is a great theologian and a great communicator. He makes clear and concise decisions. He is an approachable, humble sinner.”

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ carol-Christian Soldier

    Right On–numbers 2 and 10!!!
    C-CS

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ carol-Christian Soldier

    Right On–numbers 2 and 10!!!
    C-CS

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Joanne @10
    No I don’t think we are looking for “Teh great Administrator” but if he is going to be president of the synod it will help if he is a capable one.
    Few are remembered for being good Administrators, it just isn’t that glamorous a gift. Yet few are remembered for anything else if they aren’t good administrators, and that is the rub.
    Walther isn’t remembered for his administrative capabilities, though his administrative capabilities are remembered. He is remembered for his theological astuteness, his confessional witness. But I dare say just a cursory look at what that man managed to do and you see and administrative genius at work.
    That said I hope, and I suspect that Harrison will be remembered for much more than administrative capabilities, because really being a good administrator is nothing if you aren’t also a good theologian.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Joanne @10
    No I don’t think we are looking for “Teh great Administrator” but if he is going to be president of the synod it will help if he is a capable one.
    Few are remembered for being good Administrators, it just isn’t that glamorous a gift. Yet few are remembered for anything else if they aren’t good administrators, and that is the rub.
    Walther isn’t remembered for his administrative capabilities, though his administrative capabilities are remembered. He is remembered for his theological astuteness, his confessional witness. But I dare say just a cursory look at what that man managed to do and you see and administrative genius at work.
    That said I hope, and I suspect that Harrison will be remembered for much more than administrative capabilities, because really being a good administrator is nothing if you aren’t also a good theologian.

  • Joanne

    Just so and well said Bror. I’m so pleased with our new president that I scarse can credit our good fortune. Jesu juva, indeed.

    p.s. I read through your whole battle with Grace on infant baptism. Well done. Last Sunday our pastor asked us from the pulpit why we believe in God. In my mind I answered, “because God believes in me, he chose me before the foundation of the earth and saved me through baptism by giving me faith in his Son.” Other than that, I have no idea why I believe in God.

  • Joanne

    Just so and well said Bror. I’m so pleased with our new president that I scarse can credit our good fortune. Jesu juva, indeed.

    p.s. I read through your whole battle with Grace on infant baptism. Well done. Last Sunday our pastor asked us from the pulpit why we believe in God. In my mind I answered, “because God believes in me, he chose me before the foundation of the earth and saved me through baptism by giving me faith in his Son.” Other than that, I have no idea why I believe in God.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Yes Joanne we are blessed.
    I am hesitant to put to much faith in any man, but it is a good start when he admits to being a fallible sinner. I’m looking forward to a new page in the history of the LCMS.
    Thanks also for your kind note on my Baptism Debate.
    I know it looks silly sometimes. I’ve been through the debate a million times it seems with so many. Very rarely does the person I argue with change their mind. Don S at least budged at one point and admitted faith of infants. Yet, I am constantly aware of so many others “lurking” and I run into them at conferences sometimes, and they tell me stories of how they changed their mind, or were able to change another persons mind with the arguments I made. So I keep doing it. The Bible is on our side, a thoroughly Lutheran document. ..

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Yes Joanne we are blessed.
    I am hesitant to put to much faith in any man, but it is a good start when he admits to being a fallible sinner. I’m looking forward to a new page in the history of the LCMS.
    Thanks also for your kind note on my Baptism Debate.
    I know it looks silly sometimes. I’ve been through the debate a million times it seems with so many. Very rarely does the person I argue with change their mind. Don S at least budged at one point and admitted faith of infants. Yet, I am constantly aware of so many others “lurking” and I run into them at conferences sometimes, and they tell me stories of how they changed their mind, or were able to change another persons mind with the arguments I made. So I keep doing it. The Bible is on our side, a thoroughly Lutheran document. ..


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