Bishop and Christian*, March 2018

Dr. Carl Fickenscher, in an essay that was presented to the 2001 Convention of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, wrote,

A few years ago, in one of the more famous case studies in marketing research, an ad agency for Curtis Mathis Televisions made an interesting discovery. Curtis Mathis was at that time offering a full line of TVs, from small black-and-white portables to huge color consoles. Their researchers found that their market share and profitability were very strong with the big, jazzy models while all their other products were mediocre or worse. So even though it would cost them total sales, they recommended dropping everything else and pushing one kind of TV. Their advertising slogan became (maybe you remember) “Curtis Mathis: the most expensive name in television and darn well worth it.” Their profits soared.

Now, we in the Missouri Synod are not going for snob appeal, and we’re certainly not expensive. But we do have something on which we are very strong, and we should be aware of it and feature it. It’s our doctrine. In order to do evangelism with full commitment and enthusiasm, our own members need to know that they, we, have something very unique to share with the world, something that saves souls for eternity: pure doctrine. Not everything else we’ve got is so good—at least not uniquely so. Even if we did admit everybody to our altars, we might or might not be the friendliest church in town. Even if our pastor is visible at every community worship event, he might not out-hustle the nonedenominational minister down the street. But we have what we believe, teach, and confess only the true Evangelical Lutheran Church has: “all things Christ commanded.” If our folks think their job is to market “friendly,” “great programs,” “inspiring worship,” then their motivation is purely human. If they realize that they are sharing the pure Word of God, a Word which alone can save souls, a Word the friendly church around the corner doesn’t have purely, then their motivation is from God Himself. (“Church Fellowship and Telling the Good News,” Closed Communion? [St. Louis: Concordia, 2017], 254)

I pray that this Lent is for you a time of renewal and a reminder of the great treasure we have been given in order to share with the world, and that this might lead us to a renewed and energetic witness both to those who do not believe Christ, as well as to Christians of other traditions.

And I pray that that renewal will lead us to an ever more joyous celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection, as we look forward in renewed hope to the fulfillment of all His promises in our own resurrection and the restoration of all creation.

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.”

Bishop and Christian*, February 2018

For very many people in our current society, joining something—anything—is a foreign concept. People simply do not join groups, clubs, or organizations as often as they used to. If they are going to join, they want to know what sorts of benefits they will get in return. And they want to know if they will be forced to take on burdens and responsibilities, and whether those will be worth the cost of joining.

What is true for organizations in general is also true for churches, and perhaps even more so. Whereas the benefits of joining this or that club or group may be obvious, the benefits of joining churches are not as apparent. And when people do not see the point of actual membership, they are, of course, unlikely to become a member.

This lack of interest in joining churches is what makes Peter Speckhard’s little book called Connected to Christ: Why Membership Matters so important. In just over 100 (5×7) pages, Pr. Speckhard (a nephew of our own Mim Schwich!) makes the case for, as the title states, why membership matters. It is a very succinct book, but I was surprised at how in-depth it is for its length.

Pr. Speckhard lays out why membership in a local congregation is required because the Body of Christ is physical and located in time and space, as well as throughout history and eternity. But he also points out the benefits and responsibilities of members of the Christian Church, which are carried out in the local congregation.

Connected to Christ is not only the best explanation and defense of membership in a local congregation, it’s the only one I know of written by a Lutheran. If you’ve ever wondered why membership matters, or struggled with the question of why you are a member here (or anywhere else), I would encourage you to pick up and read this short book. You can find it at or

Pastor 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.”

Bishop and Christian*, October 2017

By now, things seem to have settled back into regular routines. Summer, broken up by vacation and other activities, is now over (and the weather has confirmed that!). Sunday school has begun, and adult Bible study continues. So this is my short note of encouragement not to neglect the corporate study of God’s Word.

Bad habits are easy to fall into. Good habits require work and cultivation. One good habit is to set aside time not only to hear the proclamation of God’s Law and Gospel during the Divine Service itself, but to set aside that additional hour for going deeper into parts of God’s Word that we might not hear within the lectionary (series of readings).

While in some Christian traditions, the sermon is essentially a verse-by-verse exposition, running straight through a book of the Bible, we most often use that time for the Holy Spirit’s work of killing our sinful nature and raising us up as new creatures in Christ (something that, as Luther points out in the fourth part of the catechism on Holy Baptism, also happens every day as we live in our baptism).

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Bishop and Christian*, September 2017

To paraphrase Jesus: conflict you will always have with you. Anyone who’s been married for even a few years knows that there is no such thing as a conflict-free marriage. No one who’s raised children has done it without conflict. No congregation has ever been conflict-free, going back to Acts 5-6.

The question for Christians isn’t how to avoid conflict. Conflict doesn’t go away because we ignore it. Instead, the conflict gets shoved underground or swept under our numerous rugs, and (to paraphrase the Lord again) the state of that house is worse than at first.

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Bishop and Christian*, July 2017

Why Does the Pastor Read the Readings?

Notice: the title of this is not “Why Must the Pastor Read the Readings.” Which means that this is not about why no one else can or may read the Scriptures in the Divine Service. It is about why I, as the pastor in this place, read them.

It starts with Paul’s instructions to the pastor in Ephesus, with whom I share my name: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). This refers explicitly to the reading of the Scriptures in the assembly of the congregation, as Nehemiah 8:7-8, Acts 13:15, and 2 Corinthians 3:14 make clear. Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy are certainly enough for me. But, it’s true, Paul does not command that it must be so everywhere and always.

The second half of why I read the readings publicly is—as you probably get tired of hearing from me—vocation, vocation, vocation. Must a nurse be the one to check your blood pressure when you go to the doctor? Must a mechanic be the one to check your oil or fluid levels when you take your car in? Must the plumber be the one to undo the pipe that leads from your sink to the ground? Must the pastor be the one who reads the readings? To all of those “musts,” we must say no. There’s nothing that would prevent anyone from doing any of those things. There’s no command or law that rules any of those things off-limits to someone who hasn’t been trained as a nurse, mechanic, plumber, or pastor.

But that’s not really the point. The point is the realm of responsibility that’s been given to particular people for particular things. The pastor has a very limited sphere of responsibility: the Word and the Sacraments. That’s it. Only when it comes to what is spoken from the Word of God and what pertains directly to that does the pastor have an explicit responsibility. About everything else that happens in a congregation, the pastor may—probably does—have opinions. But the pastor’s opinion has no more weight than anyone else’s about a budget, or the church grounds, or schedules and times, or any number of other things that do not fall within the realm of the Word and the Sacraments.

But why does God call pastors to congregations? Precisely to give His people His Word and His Sacraments. This is why the very first two items on the “Supplement to the Diploma of Vocation[!]” that you sent me when you called me to be your pastor say “In the name of the Triune God and by His authority, in order that we may carry out His mission to the world, we hereby authorize and obligate you: To administer the Word of God in its full truth and purity as contained in the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and as set forth in the confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as found in the Book of Concord; To administer the holy sacraments in accordance with their divine institution.”

That’s my goal: to do what you called me to do the best that I can do it. The “administer[ing of] the Word of God” includes reading that Word publicly and regularly in the Divine Service. I do not read the Scriptures out of a misplaced sense of having to be in control, or having to be in front, or having to be seen. If you know me, you know that the last thing I like is drawing attention to myself. (Ask my wife: if we have the music up loud in the car, I have to have the windows closed so the people around won’t look at us.) I simply want to carry out my vocation among you: to give you the Word and Sacraments that are Christ’s life for you as you go out each week to do the responsibilities of your vocations.

God has given us each unique, though sometimes overlapping, vocations. Let’s rejoice together in the way that God distributes His gifts to all the members of Christ’s Body, and the ways that He serves all of us through each of us.

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.”

Bishop and Christian*, May 2017

How would you identify yourself—your confession, your belief “system,” your religion—to someone who is not a Christian? If asked, of course you would identify yourself as a Christian. Christian—even with all the assumed baggage that Christianity carries in the United States—means that you belong to Christ. You do not belong to Buddha, or Mohammed, or Krishna, or to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, or to any of their books. You belong to Christ and so you live by the Words (the Scriptures) that testify to Him. You do not belong to Luther any more than you belong to any other Christian teacher. No matter who the person is, ancient or modern, the Scriptures are the ruler by which you measure any human being’s teaching.

It is good to recognize in a world that barely knows Christianity—let alone its various stripes and differences—that our identity is always and only in Christ and not in any man, certainly not in Luther. But this can sometimes mislead us. Perhaps we will say, “I am a Lutheran-Christian,” where “Lutheran” modifies “Christian” to tell us what kind of Christian we are. Or perhaps we will say it another way: “I am a Christian first and a Lutheran second.” On the one hand, this is a good impulse: we want to be identified by what belongs to Christ, and not what belongs to human beings. But, on the other hand, it can mislead us. Such statements can very easily assume that Lutheran or Baptist or Presbyterian or Roman Catholic are additions to Christianity. In other words, we assume that there is a core of what we call “Christianity,” and then various people added various, other, more secondary teachings to the central Christian faith. It very well might be the case that human beings have built wood, hay, or straw onto the precious foundation of Christ. But it is not necessarily so.

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Bishop and Christian*, April 2017

It’s no secret that the Scriptures view the resurrection of Jesus—and the eternal life that flows from Him—as of first importance and all-encompassing (1 Corinthians 15). But what does it mean for our lives in this world where death, and not life, seems to reign and rule?

First, it means that if we are joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection (which He says happens in Holy Baptism), then if Jesus is alive, not even death can separate us from Him. He’s already on the far side of death so that, when we die, He will bring us into life.

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Bishop and Christian*, March 2017

What is the goal of what happens on Sunday morning? What is your goal when you come? What are you looking for? What is your expectation for what you will have when you leave?

Those are some of the questions we can ask to get at our real motivations and expectations for gathering on a Sunday morning. Our answers to those questions are probably formed by many things: our childhood experience in church, or our lack thereof; our adult experience in church(es); what our friends and family tell us they get; what we’ve observed at other congregations we’ve attended; and the (sometimes) subconscious desires and preferences and prejudices we bring with us. There is not a single person in a given congregation who is not formed and shaped by some combination of those things (and probably more).

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Bishop and Christian*, February 2017

What if someone asked you the question: “What makes Lutheran worship Lutheran?” If you were going to describe or define Lutheran worship, what would you say? What makes it unique or different from worship as you might experience it or participate in it in any given church across the country or around the world? Is it just that Lutherans do “Catholic-lite”? Is it that Lutherans have a particular order to services, or that we have prescribed readings and written prayers? Is it that we haven’t quite shaken the ghosts of our Germanic ancestors?

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Bishop and Christian*, January 2017

As we enter a new calendar year, we have already been in the Church calendar for a month or so, which helps us to think along the lines of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for us, rather than allowing this world’s concerns to form our thinking.  The first day of 2017 (as with the first day of every year) reminds us of another new beginning: Jesus’ entry into the covenant of circumcision that God had established with Abraham.  But, because Jesus is both God and Man, He does not only enter the covenant as just one more Israelite, but as the Israelite, the fulfiller of the covenant promises to Abraham.  Because Jesus was circumcised, because He full-filled the covenant, and because in our baptism we are clothed with Christ, we no longer need to be circumcised to enter into God’s covenant with all people.  Just as He died once for all, so He was circumcised once for all.  With that circumcision, He already hinted at what was to come with the shedding of His infant blood.  Because He was “cut,” we who are in Him will never be “cut off” from God’s covenant.  (That was part of the meaning for the circumcised people of God in the Old Testament: if their males were not circumcised, they would be cut off from the people of God.)  But the Church celebrates January 1 for another reason: the eighth day after birth was also the day of naming for Jewish babies.  So Jesus was given the Name which the angel had told Mary, Yahshua: “Yah(weh) saves;” because He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21; cf. Luke 1:31).

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