Editorial Note: David T. Stein, a past-president of DayStar, is emeritus and living in Leander, Texas. He continues to teach at Concordia University, Austin.
Recent membership statistics produced by Missouri Synod headquarters indicate that we are in a significant downward spiral with losses numbering in the thousands. In round figures our branch of the church catholic totals approximately 2,400,000. I recall when I signed the Constitution of the synod, it was at the time of my ordination. We were pushing 3,000,000 baptized souls. If these figures can be audited (and they are very close) during my entire public ministry of more than forty years, this church body has lost over a half million members for many and different reasons.
Five years into the 21st century, the leadership of the church body has set a goal to reach out to 100,000,000 persons. Ablaze! is the descriptor, the metaphor, the designator, a vision focused on millions of people who are living in spiritual darkness and do not know or profess their faith in Jesus, the Christ, the Savior of the world.
In a recent communication from a former member of the synod, I was asked a well-intentioned question: “Is the purpose of Ablaze! and outreach to 100,000,000 strangers another way to divert attention from the significant membership losses Missouri has experienced in the last forty years?” My answer was no; yet there is a huge chasm between 2,400,000 and 100,000,000.
I remember, though through a glass dimly, the synod’s “Each One Reach One” effort. I was in my adolescence. The numbers game didn’t work. I remember the Ebenezer Thankoffering. I was a young adult and director of communications for this synod-wide effort to raise a thankoffering of $40,000,000 for programs of higher education. I assisted Dr. Martin Koehneke, on a sabbatical leave from the presidency of Concordia, River Forest, in this effort. The church then spoke with its pocket-book … negatively. There was such hate in the synod, Dr. Koehneke remarked in one of his evaluations sessions as he talked about the dramatic changes taking place as J.A.O. Preus took over the office of synodical president from Oliver Harms. That all took place nearly 40 years ago.
Some have commented, how in the world will we energize the membership of the synod to reach out to 100,000,000 people? Is this just a numbers game? What are we counting now, and what will we add up at the end of the campaign? Millions of new converts? Thousands of new believers? Hundreds of new members?
Where do we start? With whom do we begin? Who will be open to our profession of faith? I was thinking about that as I had some quiet moments in my university classroom before students arrived for class the other day.
Forty-eight years ago I taught my first (post-graduate degree) class on the campus of Concordia University, River Forest, Illinois. One hundred per cent of this undergraduate class were members of the LCMS, all nicely baptized and sanitized in the doctrines of the church. I didn’t have to talk about Jesus in the classroom. I could save that for daily chapel where every student attended the twenty minutes of devotional hymn singing, prayer and homilies given by male and female faculty alike.
1200 miles south of my academic birthplace, River Forest, Illinois, and 44 years later, my classroom is different. Oh yes, the name of the university is the same, Concordia, but its campus is set in urban Austin, Texas. Would you like to read the profile of my current class list?
She’s absolutely beautiful – gifted, intelligent, respectful and gives her life (while pursuing her B.A.) 100% to Jesus. She’s non-denominational — congregational – Pentecostal – a little bit Lutheran – an A+ student if there could be a plus behind the grade. A second, another woman, is 37, a second career mother (divorced) with three children, completing undergraduate studies prior to studying at the seminary – she’s Baptist and will become an ordained pastor – she’s brilliant! He has no faith tradition and no commitment to anything religious – he’s a jock – having fun and often missing classes. Another, he’s studying Greek participles, a very bright and articulate student – his goal and direction: to graduate from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, my alma mater. And the rest of my students, are mostly not Lutheran either, most studying business, marketing, communication, modeling/acting.… Guess what? I have found a place to begin my “Ablaze! Phase.”
100,000,000? Help! One on one – maybe! Oh, yes, I do believe in miracles but I have a hunch that I am being called to learn that only God can work a miracle.
Finally, what do you do when stranded for 34 hours in a major market international airport? Run from counter to counter, stand-by for every flight three times, morning, noon and night … well, it happens and it did to me. Denver, spring break weekend, two feet of snow, canceled flights, thousands sleeping on the floor, the lucky ones got chairs, and I thought of my favorite hymn (prayer): “Abide With Me, Fast Falls the Eventide.”
Knowing I had a deadline for this Journal article, I put pen to yellow pad and tried to add stanzas 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 to this evening prayer-song. The result is a doxology of my feeble thoughts for this Easter issue of The DayStar Journal. It must be sung to the tune of “Abide with Me.” Easter is God’s victory!
An Ode to Ablaze!
Ablazing Grace, Oh how I feel the heat,
Which flows from God to every path and street;
Where people live in hopelessness so cold
Speak we our testimony true and bold!
O Holy Spirit, gift of warmth and wise
Give me the heart of love so undisguised;
That words I speak may change the wounded mind,
Words of God’s peace for all of humankind.
Flame up, O FIRE, cast now your Light on me.
Bless humble words that beg the world to see,
Hope and forgiveness come from God above
Wrapped up in gifts of mercy, faith and love.
Ablazing Grace consumed the cross of death
It purifies the soul and gives new breath.
Like golden sunsets doom and gloom depart,
This Grace divine gives hope a sacred start.
Come then to me, O God of Light Divine
Erase my doubts, enlighten all that’s mine.
So I may tell the one who looks for peace,
You give us blessings that will never cease.