Shared Vision

January 2020

From the Pastor's Desk: 

For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. (Augsburg Confession, Article VII)[1]

One of the most difficult and important tasks of pastors and leaders in any congregation is to maintain unity. It is no easy thing to keep a group of several hundred people united around a common vision of mission and ministry. Many of you have experienced how painful and destructive conflict within a congregation can be. Friendships are broken, people become disillusioned with the Church and therefore with the Gospel itself. Some just drift away and stop going to church altogether. Even when things seem to be resolved, distrust can continue to simmer below the surface.

One of the things that seems almost certain to cause division and distrust in 2020 is politics. The division between Red State and Blue State, conservative and progressive, Democrat and Republican is as wide and deep as it has been in a long time. Just begin to discuss immigration, LGBT rights, war, abortion, gun control, religious freedom, Israel/Palestine, global warming, and a host of other issues, and the conversation will quickly become heated. Express the wrong opinion and you might be shunned, or unfriended on Facebook. In some cases, you may even lose your job or be sued. This is as true in the family and the church as it is in the workplace or social media.

As a pastor, I have always worked carefully and diligently to make sure that people of all political stripes feel welcome in my congregation. I encourage each person to live out his/her vocation as citizen by voting, volunteering and advocating for those causes that he/she believes are in accord with God's will. However, I have made it clear that the congregation and its ministries cannot be used as a platform to advance partisan causes. For instance, the congregation does not pass out voting guides or endorse amendments to the state constitution.

You can understand my dismay then, when I have seen the annual assembly of my synod used as such a political platform. Several years ago, members of St. Paul were shocked when they listened to a report given by our synodical VP. They expected to hear about how the synod planned to proclaim the Gospel. Instead, they heard a laundry list of political tasks the VP insisted the Church must undertake. To add insult to injury, the VP suggested that those who were skeptical of or opposed to her agenda were in the same moral category as Nazis and White Supremacists. This same pattern of behavior has continued for at least four years, if not longer. I can imagine the delegates to the synod assembly thinking to themselves, "But pastor said that the Church is not to be used as a political platform for one's favorite political causes. Was he being untruthful when he said that?"

The bottom line on all of this is that it is no longer clear whether the leadership of the ELCA agrees with what the Augsburg Confession, Article VII, says about the true unity of the Church. It seems that many believe that the true unity of the Church is found in a common socio/political agenda. Those who do not share or will not support this agenda are anathematized.

A further problem arises when we consider what the Augsburg Confession, Article V, says about the Ministry:

To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.[2]

The primary calling of the pastor and the primary mission of the congregation is to preach the Word of God, in Law and Gospel, and to administer the Sacraments. The Lutheran Church confesses that it is through these means that God gives the Holy Spirit. It is this Holy Spirit that gives the gift of justifying faith in Jesus Christ. In turn, it is faith that becomes active in good works for the neighbor. (See Article VI on the New Obedience.) You might say that through the faithful ministry of the pastor and congregation, God brings about true change in persons, communities and the world.

One of my primary concerns with the current emphasis on political advocacy and engagement in the ELCA is that is suggests we have lost confidence in the power of the Gospel to change the world. It is often suggested that the mission of the Church is to be transformative. It is our calling to change the world. And it is through engagement in the issues of the day and in the promotion of certain political causes that the Church truly makes a difference. This turns the Augsburg Confession on its head.

Of more concern is the notion that, within the ELCA, it is the duty of pastors to promote the political causes and agendas endorsed by the larger denomination. Wording in the standard letter of call in ELCA synods says that a pastor shall "impart knowledge of this church and its wider ministry though distribution of its communications and publications." When the focus of the ELCA was primarily on Word and Sacrament ministry, this was not problematic. When the majority of the communications and publications of the ELCA focus on political advocacy, however, it turns the pastor into a political operative or press agent.

The current direction of the ELCA in regard to political engagement and advocacy presents a serious challenge to the ministry of pastors and congregations as outlined in the Augsburg Confession. It encourages and sometimes insists that we welcome a major cause of division into our congregations at a time when the political divide is at its worst. It would prevent us from finding the only unity that is necessary, namely unity through the Gospel and the Sacraments.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. David A. Charlton

[1] Theodore G. Tappert. Augsburg Confession (Kindle Locations 88-89). Kindle Edition.

[2] Theodore G. Tappert. Augsburg Confession (Kindle Locations 79-81). Kindle Edition.

MISSIONARY NEWS

St Paul's foreign missionary, Rev. Kristin Engstrom, is in the West African nation of Senegal. She is the country director and coordinator for the ELCA's Young Adults in Global Missions program. This program was developed by the church's mission board to show men and women in their 20's the opportunities and the needs for Christian foreign missionaries. One hundred years ago, men and women became missionaries to bring Jesus to people who had never heard of Him. It was also an opportunity to see a foreign country and to live with the natives of that country. When they went on home leave they would tell those who stayed in the United states about their mission work and about a foreign country. People at home would learn about foreign places and the natives. The world has changed much in the past hundred years. Today TV, books, films, foreign travel all give people ways to learn about foreign countries and their peoples. Today people listen to foreign missionaries to hear how the Gospel is being spread. However, they no longer listen to the foreign missionaries to hear about foreign countries and their people. Fewer individuals are now interested in missions. Fewer individuals feel called to be foreign missionaries. The YAGM program is designed to attract people to become and to serve as foreign missionaries. Let us pray for Pastor Kristin and her young adults learning to be missionaries. Let us support Pastor Kristin with our gifts to Missionary Support.

International Health Partners

Infant mortality is high in African countries like Tanzania. Parents have many children because they expect to lose some when they are small. The causes of childhood deaths are nonsterile child birth at home, lack of sanitation, malaria, and childhood diseases. Although the Tanzanian government has made some improvements, it is a country with limited resources. They do not have the funds necessary to greatly help the little children. For these reasons, International Health Partners decided to design and build the first special hospital for children. They purchased land at Zinga , north of the capital of Dar es Salaam. With their own construction crew, they started building hospital units. First to be constructed was the outpatient clinic. Patients are seen there every day by the medical staff. Next they built houses for the staff and the volunteer helpers. They have dug a well and built a water purification building and an X-ray building. They have completed a birthing center where mothers can go for safe delivers. Construction is in progress for the operating wing and the natal intensive care unit. Now more Tanzanian children can be saved by the medical staff and their new facilities. Let us continue to support the hospital construction with our gifts to Mission Outreach. Let us pray for the staff and the construct crew. Pictures are posted on the mission bulletin board.

LUTHERAN MEN In MISSION

January 2020 Bible Study Breakfast

The LMM monthly Bible Study and Breakfast will be Saturday, January 18, at 7:30 A. M. in the Parish Hall. We are continuing the Course on "Spirituality." This is the fourth session where we will be discussing the subject "Spiritual Basics: Becoming a Christian." The Bible study topic is "How Can I Be Sure? 'Confident faith'" (1 John 5:1-21). This Bible Study will follow Option 2: Advanced: Teaching with Margin Questions.

In this First Letter of John, he is writing to the Church at Ephesus, a church in trouble. By extension, he is writing in a way that is also helpful for us in our troubles. And this is what he says: We can know what is true, and what is true can give us the assurance we need to live for God even when it's difficult.

As we come to the end of John's letter, it is important to review what he has written. According to John, real faith involves three things: believing, obeying, and loving. If we have genuine faith, three things will be true in our life:

1. We will believe that Jesus is the Messiah - the promised deliverer - and the Son of God come as a man to save us from our sins. 

2. We will obey him - not perfectly, because none of us will achieve perfection before our deaths. But our life will be characterized by a growing love for and obedience to God's commands. 

3. We will love others as God has loved us.

In the fifth chapter as John concludes this letter, he gives us five things we can know for sure. Not guess, but really know. Doubt comes from many sources, but we can know these things, and it will make all the difference in the world. We can know what is true, and what is true can give us the assurance we need to live for God even when it's difficult. Here are five things we can know: 1) that we have eternal life, 2) that God hears and answers our prayers, 3) that our future is secure, 4) that there is victory even in the middle of the battle, and 5) that the Son of God has come and that he gives us understanding.

Discussion will focus on the truth that as God's people we have the ability to "overcome the world" because we believe in Jesus and obey God's commands (verses 1 - 5). God gives us all the assurance we need for this life and for the next one too. So how do we respond to this? We don't have to guess. John tells us in the final verse of this book: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (verse 21). As Christian men we should understand what an idol is. An idol is a God-substitute. An idol can be religious. An idol can also be a false teaching about God, like some had embraced in Ephesus. But an idol can be many other things. What are the idols we "worship" in the place of the true God? In light of what we know, how can we allow anything to take the place of God in our life?

All men of the congregation are invited to attend.

WORN/TATTERED AMERICAN FLAGS

If you have a worn out, tattered, or faded US flag you need to properly dispose of, you can bring it to the church and Don Cleveland will deliver it to his Veterans of Foreign Wars Post for a proper and respectful disposal.

AUTOMATED EXTERNAL DEFIBRILLATORS (AEDS) -

St Paul Lutheran Church has 2 AEDs for use in an emergency. One is located in the Gathering Room hanging on the east wall (near the classroom door) and the other is in the Family Life Center/School in the Lobby.

Annual Reports

In an effort to get the annual report out sooner than the day before the congregation meeting on January 26, I would appreciate your input by January 16th. If you are the head of a board or committee, please start composing your insert in the report. Fair warning...I will begin nagging on the 13th. Thanks!

St. Paul Lutheran School

St. Paul Christian School was awarded $2000 from the NDIA (National Defense Industrial Association) of the Gulf Coast Chapter. This is an ACCEL Grant. The monies will be used in the classroom promoting STEM activities using robotics and programming together.

Pastor's Class

My next Pastor's Class begins on January 8. The title of the class is "We Still Believe", which addresses issues facing the Lutheran Church in the 21st Century from a traditional perspective. We will meet on Wednesday nights at 6:30 p.m. from January 8 through February 19.

Visitor

Pastor Rob Carson will be with us on Sunday, January 12. He will participate in worship and also be available for a question and answer time between services.

Vitality Workshop Luncheon

At the Vitality Workshop Gathering, scheduled for January 11, there will be a luncheon served consisting of sandwiches, snacks, salads, and drinks. If you are planning on attending the workshop, please be advised that there will be a donation of $5.00 to cover the expense of the luncheon. The workshop will be from 9:00 am - 2:00 pm. If you would like to attend, please contact the church office by January 8th.

Community Pastoral Counseling

A ministry of St. Paul Lutheran Church and School

Rev. Robert R. Lutz, PhD Diplomate

American Association of Pastoral Counselors

Call 850-843-3083 for Information or to make an appointment