Bishop and Christian*, October 2015

In 1897, the pastor H.C. Schwan (who would become the third president of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) wrote about his experiences as preacher at an old preaching station, which would eventually be incorporated as a congregation. When the other pastors asked him to show them that congregation’s constitution, he said that he didn’t have a copy with him, but that he could recite it to them. He said: “Here is its heading: ‘Constitution and organization of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church at X.’ No. 1: In our congregation, God’s Word and Luther’s teaching shall rule as regards all spiritual matters. No. 2: In all other matters, we shall be ruled by love. Period” (At Home in the House of My Fathers. Edited by Matthew C. Harrison. [Lutheran Legacy, 2009], 565).

While I might amend No. 1 from “Luther’s teaching” to “the Book of Concord,” this briefest of congregational constitutions gets at the heart of what it means to be a Lutheran congregation, both in 1850 when Schwan was pastor, as well as today. Our confessions, found in the Book of Concord, bind us to the Scriptures as the source of all our faith and life; and the love of our neighbor binds us to the other members of the Body of Christ, as well as to all people, for whom Christ died. In all the teaching in our congregation, we are committed not to teach contrary to what we have received in the Scriptures and the Confessions. In all the relationships between members, we ought to know nothing contrary to St. Paul’s words in Philippians: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:1-4). Period.

At Faith Lutheran Church, and throughout the Church, may God grant it by the Spirit for the sake of Christ.

For October, the Hymn of the Month is Lutheran Service Book 756, “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me.” Like the last two hymns of the month, this one is new to us in this hymnal, although the tune is not new. This is a hymn first published in 1653, written by Paul Gerhardt, one of the greatest Lutheran hymn-writers. Gerhardt knew cross and trial in his own life: one of his children died in infancy; he was removed from his parish in 1666 because he refused to abide by elector Frederick William’s edict that Lutherans had to reject the Formula of Concord and join with Reformed (Calvinists) in their churches; and while he was without a pastoral position, his wife also died. Gerhardt, whom the Encyclopaedia Brittanica (1911) called “the greatest hymn-writer of Germany, if not indeed of Europe,” died June 7, 1676. The Lutheran Church remembers him, along with his fellow-hymnwriters Johann Heermann and Philipp Nicolai, on October 26.

Pr. Winterstein

*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”

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