The Church Is God’s Mission
2004 Daystar Mission Conference
Is it a well-known fact that the Division of Missions in February of 1963 produced a study document titled “Proposal for a Mission Self-Study and Survey with a Full-Time Study Director”?
This proposal was subsequently adopted by the mission agencies and the Board of Directors of the Missouri Synod, and so Dr. Mickey Kretzmann began his work. Some of us here are seasoned and old enough to have been included on the mailing list in those days and were thus privileged to be a part of that self-study and survey, which came in the guise of sheets of questions and inquiries. Before Dr. Kretzmann wrote the Affirmations, he received much input, including over 1,000 pages of material from overseas missionaries. I, myself, sent him two and a half pages of invaluable data garnered from my already vast experience of six months in Japanese language school. But, and this is no surprise, our erudite and not lacking for words Professor Bob Schmidt, destined to become Dean of Theological Studies (Emeritus), Portland, Oregon, sent fifty-nine pages. I am sure that most of his comments made it into the final draft. Of mine, I am sure Dr. K said something like, “Also blessings to Tom Zehnder as he attempts to learn the Japanese language.”
Dr. Kretzmann did his work. The result, the Mission Affirmations, were adopted by the 1965 convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod held in Detroit. I do not have a copy of the proceedings of that convention, but I would imagine that they were adopted by a large majority of the delegates at that time. That’s usually what happens at conventions, you know.
Dr. Waldo Werning, a man involved in the life of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod for decades, and who I believe has attended every synodical convention since he was “of age,” heard that I would have the opportunity to present some thoughts on the first Affirmation at this gathering. Dr. Werning was in touch. He reminded me of the subsequent fate of these great statements of faith and mission theology. I am grateful for his synopsis of the history of the Affirmations, and I would share it in thumb nail version with you.
At the synodical convention in New York in 1967 (yes, only two years after Detroit. Isn’t it a shame that we don’t have biennial conventions these days?) there were those who felt the affirmations opened the door to unionism, confused terms so as to imply a social gospel and opened the possibility for a universalistic understanding of the Gospel. But despite the criticisms, the convention upheld the affirmations, and they were commended to the congregations of synod for study and proper implementation.
Six years later, in New Orleans in 1973, the Mission Board reported that “We believe the Affirmations lack clarity and are ambiguous at certain points and have allowed for some confusion in mission doctrine and practice.” It was said:
They seem to lack a proper emphasis in the Word of God as Source and Norm of mission. They lack somewhat an emphasis on the necessity of faith through which salvation is obtained. They don’t clearly distinguish between the visible and invisible church or the importance of the differences between denominations. They lack clarity regarding the political involvement of the church as an institution, the use of Law and Gospel in missions. They do not give a clear understanding of the hostility of the sinful world against the faithful church or the proper balance between Gospel proclamation and social involvement or the eschatological aspect of missions or on the ultimate goal of eternal life. The Mission Affirmations are somewhat outdated because they do not address themselves to some of the major issues of mission concerns of the 1970s, that is, problems of humanism, universalism, synergism, ecumenism, the so-called “anonymous” Christian and revolutionary theology.
You could sense the direction of these discussions regarding the Affirmations. In 1974 the Commission on Theology and Church Relations published an opinion which more or less held to these criticisms of the document, and so the Affirmations began to fade into the background.
I would venture to say that there are those who would agree with some of the adverse comments regarding the Affirmations. And that’s alright, for there is always room for good debate about such important issues, and we know, do we not, that for the most part the church does not produce perfect documents, save the Ecumenical Creeds, the Lutheran Confessions and especially Luther’s explanation to the Second Article of the Apostles Creed!
But regardless, these Affirmations have been energizing to many people over the decades. They are bold and refreshingly pushy. They challenge usual ways of thinking about the Church, about the Mission of God! They were meant to set us thinking about the Church as God’s Mission back then when we had yet to articulate a clear mission theology! Dear and beloved Dr. Walter Bartling, as he read through the Gospel of Matthew with us in a New Testament Greek elective in 1961 in Loeber Hall, bemoaned: “We have no clear theology of mission.” The Affirmations helped us do this then, and they still speak to us today.
I personally wish to say a word of thanks to Rev. President Gerald Kieschnick and Mission Executive Rev. Bob Roegner for their vigorous approach to the mission of the church in these days. Ablaze!, with its goal of reaching 100,000,000 people with the message of the Gospel within a few years is not an empty slogan. It is not an impossible goal. I know that some take a rather critical view based on their “less than out-reaching evangelistic church” experience in the LCMS. But, friends, if the two million people of our church body would talk the Gospel to one person a month for a year, 24,000,000 would be reached with that Gospel in just one year. In less than five years that Gospel message would be heard by over 100,000,000, much earlier than the 2017 stated in the proposal. So simple. I believe that the Mission Affirmations can help to stimulate such zeal in our LCMS in these days.
Dr. Mickey Kretzmann in his report to the convention in 1965 writes:
The mission of the church must be understood in its relation to the love of the Triune God for the world, that love which God expressed on His own mission to the world when He sent His Son that the world might be saved. In love the Son came into the world and gave His life a ransom for it. When the work of salvation had been completed and death itself has been conquered, the triumphant, risen Christ sent His followers, those who had received the adoption of sons through faith in Him, into the world to carry out His mission.
It is my privilege this evening to comment on the first affirmation, “The Church Is God’s Mission.” It seems to me that this affirmation serves as the foundation for all of them. For once we have this in mind, that we are about God’s mission as we “do church” then the other affirmations serve to delineate the far-reaching implications of the truth that The Church is God’s Mission.
It seems so simple, doesn’t it? The Church Is God’s Mission. We all know that—don’t we? But perhaps it is not as simple as it seems.
Poke around on the word “church” with me for a few moments. According to my astute observations, the word “church” is used in the New Testament 118 times. The Greek word used is, of course, εκκλησια. Interesting to note is that the translators assign the word “church” as the proper translation of this word in 115 of the 118 occurrences, but in three instances the word “assembly” is used to translate into English.
In the Old Testament there are 123 instances of the Hebrew word qahal, which as my limited Hebrew knowledge informs me is the Old Covenant’s closet equivalent to the New Testament Greek’s εκκλησια. The vocable qahal is translated as “congregation” 86 times, as “assembly” 17 times, as “company” 17 times and as “multitude” 3 times. Now when I take a look at the Septuagint to see how many times qahal is translated by the Greek word εκκλησια, then I run into trouble, because I don’t have a concordance for the Septuagint, and they sell for $124.00 at Amazon.com. So I ask myself, “Is it really THAT important?”
Nonetheless, I ask myself, why do Greek translators of the Hebrew OT sometimes use the word εκκλησια when they are putting qahal into Greek and other times συναγωγη? Or why do the English translators choose “assembly” one time and “congregation” another time for the Hebrew qahal?And further, why do the English translators of the New Testament choose to translate εκκλησια as “church” 115 times out of 118 and “assembly” 3 times out of the 118. Context for sure.
The imp of the perverse lurking close to my skin surface must have its day at this point. Look at Acts 19:29 where the word εκκλησια is found. Here’s what it says. “Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing, some another; for the εκκλησια was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.” Continuing, we read in Acts 19:40-41, “‘ For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.’” When he had said this, he dismissed the εκκλησια. I suppose the application for us is simple enough, and that is that our behavior in the εκκλησια will determine if we deserve the title church or maybe just another assembly where some are shouting one thing, others another, and most of the time it seems that no one knows for sure why they are there. Perhaps such “assemblies” could well give each delegate a t-shirt like this which says, “Definitely Not Listening!” or one like this “Blah, Blah, Blah.”
εκκλησια comes from εκκαλεω, which, as we know, means “called out from.” The scholars remind us that it signifies a group of people who are called out to be together to perform a given task, which may be political, legal or for another purpose. Again the LXX uses the word to designate the “gathering together” of Israel for any definite purpose. And finally, and obviously, we load the term with a deep religious significance. For to us the Church is the people who have been called out of darkness into the light, people who have called from death to life, from sin to holiness, from rank behavior to behavior which is a delight to God. How are we doing these days? How have we ever done?
But before we get into that, let’s go back to the word of the Affirmation, “The Church Is God’s Mission.” Subjective genitive? Objective genitive? No doubt both, for the Church derives from God; it belongs to God. Also, in another sense it is what God caused; it derives from his action in history and even, can we say this, before history.
Some years ago, Dr. John Johnson took on a vacancy pastor situation as his sabbatical. The church was in Houston, Texas, and I believe many where delighted that such an example was put up front for other academics to follow, lest they become detached from the life of a congregation. Take heed, ye who hear! At any rate when the sabbatical year was over and Dr. Johnson retreated from the parish back to the relative safety of the office of president of a seminary, he regaled us with anecdotes from his year in Texas. We, of course, told him that the Statistical Yearbook showed a drastic downturn in the health of that congregation during his residency et al. He maintained, however, that it was a good year, and when asked what for him was the most difficult in parish ministry, he quipped that he was challenged as he attempted to teach the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ to the seventh grade confirmation class.
I could have used President John Johnson’s help in this theological realm some time ago. I was privileged to lead a group of bright laity in a discussion of the two natures of Christ and the relation of his state of humility with his state of exaltation. In that course of study the mystery of the eternal Logos coming from the Father to save the world was a topic for discussion and awesome wonder.
Consider with me: Jesus cries out in his majestic prayer directly before his passion, “So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed” (John 17:5).
And consider this from the book of Hebrews: “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.’ Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God.’” In commenting on this, the writer says, “And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:5 ff).
Consider this: “This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (2 Tim 1:9-10).
I raise this mystery because it is directly connected to the meaning of the first Affirmation, that is “The Church Is God’s Mission.” It is God the Holy Trinity who in eternity, before the creation of the universe, puts on the books the intention to save the universe by means of his mission to the world! The crown of that created universe, the joy and pleasure of the Creator, blessed Adam and Eve and all their yet-to-be-formed descendants, they will become rebels, they will challenge Him, they will become evil enemies. But despite it all, God deigns to save them.
This is God’s mission! It is a mission to be played out in a history which will draw a sword into the very heart of God as he will mourn the death of the One and Only Son.
Nevertheless, knowing all this, the Creator stands before the tohu wa vohu and cries, “Let there be!”—and in that word the necessity of God’s mission to save the world becomes inevitable.
Then through the centuries, the Lord of history places things into order! Although the mission of God to save us begins immediately in the dark scene of Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden, not so much as punishment (although that is certainly a part of it) but more so that they will not eat of the Tree of Life and live forever as enemies of God. This action on the part of God can be said to be the beginning of the implementation of the mission of God, for while it sends humanity to certain death from the result of their sin, it sends them into the possibility that they will finally be saved from that sin and its handmaiden death through the carrying out by God of his mission to save them.
God’s mission then takes on more defined and historical character as God brings Abram onto the history of salvation’s stage. For the coming of the Seed of the woman into this world to defeat the ancient foe will be enabled through the family of Abram. With each successive generation, from Abram to Isaac to Jacob to Judah, through the family of David, through good people, through people of questionable heritage alike, the Seed comes. He is planted into the soil of the universe which God will redeem through his mission. Jesus is born, Son of God and Mary’s son! The words from Hebrews which are placed in the mouth of Jesus come to us again:
‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.’ Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God.’
In the New Testament it is in Matthew 16 where the word εκκλησια first is used and by none other than the Seed of the woman who is the One who is at the heart and center of God’s mission to save the world. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” says Peter. Jesus replies, Well, dear Peter, you are correct. But remember that neither flesh nor blood has revealed this to you. This comes from the Father! And Peter on this rock, I will build my εκκλησια. The word which jumps out here is “my” church. When we say “The Church Is God’s Mission,” let’s make sure we are talking about the church which belongs to Jesus, the church over which Jesus is its Head, a Church which is responsible to Jesus!
For a moment it is good to recall that in the Old Testament the word qahal is sometimes translated by the Greeks into συναγωγη and other times εκκλησια. The English translators translate εκκλησια sometimes “assembly,” or “meeting,” etc. In the NT the translators use “church” most of the time except for three where the word “assembly” is used, as we have seen. My point is only this: while translators may have the privilege of deciding how to describe “church,” we do not have that privilege, for it belongs to Jesus, the One who has come to do the Mission of God!
Having stated in even an inadequate way what the church is in theological terms, yet it is true, is it not, that we understand the church and define it according to our personal experiences in her. I say this in order to give myself permission to tell you of some of my experiences within the Church, God’s mission. Having done that, then I will tell you what I think of it! You are waiting with bated breathe, are you not?
I only know what I know, and what I know has been told me by others through spoken and written word. I also know what I have experienced in my own insignificant life—and those experiences have filled out my understanding of what “church” means.
Last summer Jackie and I visited the place where I encountered “church” for the first time. It stands yet today at the corner of 6th Street and Something in a not too prosperous town in western Kansas called Hoisington. The cornerstone, which is bruised yet today as a result of my impious brothers Robert and Ronald and their infernal saw—they got their butts beat in a German Lutheran way for that—says “Evangelisch Lutherische Emmaus Gemeinde.” Then comes the year 1920 and the initials U.A.C., which we understand.
My dad was assigned there as pastor in 1925. He actually was to graduate in 1924, but old Dean Fritz and others of that day saw to it that he would be banished from graduation for one year as punishment and for spiritual rehabilitation because he and some others were caught shooting “craps” in the seminary dorm. So for a year he pumped gasoline, and indeed it cured him from his pernicious ways, and he was at last ready to serve the church of God. At Emmaus he preached in German, even though at first he could not do it with the fluency that had been his as a child in that language. So until his German language ability was restored, he read Walther’s sermons to the people of that German Prussian congregation. They seemed to like them OK and didn’t even seem to notice that now and then Dad would leave out a page or two because they were so long. They didn’t seem to notice if there were a lack of continuity between one part of the sermon and another. Not much has changed really, has it? He got married in January 1926, and nine months later to the day my eldest brother, Robert, was born.
Then the next three sibs came along. We were born in the parsonage, which also still stands there. I saw it last summer, and I would swear it almost grinned at me and said, “Herzlich Willkommen, Thomas. Wie geht’s?” The family doctor, Dr. Atkins, pulled me out of my mother’s womb there. I am sure I cried the newborn cry of one who had been pulled from darkness into a strange new light and world.
A couple of weeks later my folks took me to the baptismal font there at Emmaus. My godparents, Uncle Phil and Aunt Louise, stood with my mom and others at the baptismal font there at Emmaus. Uncle Phil still lives and remembers that day too! While the angels would have preferred it in German, the aftermath of the First World War and the political situation which was leading to the Second demanded that God put aside his penchant for the German language (for expediency has always been a part of the Church, e.g. Article VII of the Constitution of the LCMS!), and the words were intoned “Thomas Richard, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen!” I like the translation, I baptize you into the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. For that implies movement, sent-ness, mission.
And it was not audible, I know, but there was the sound of the great door of God’s Church opening on its holy hinges, and room was made for me in that Church. And that’s how I got involved in it to start with. Infants may or may not know it, but they are too, in their baptism, caught up into the eternal love and will of God. The universe is changed forever by one infant’s baptism, for this is God working in our universe, and when God steps in and works, everything is changed forever. God’s mission grabbed me there, and I have never been the same since—and you who have been also so blessed have been changed forever too—for you are in the Church—and this is God’s mission. You are caught up in the heart of God, who will now give you a heart for his mission as you carry out your duty in your church.
The Church is God’s mission. It certainly was in Muncie, Indiana, at Grace Lutheran Church. God’s mission people met in the YMCA building, and the first order of the day was not the Invocation on page 5 or 15 but was rather the Ceremony of the Picking Up of the Beer Bottles, and the Emptying of the Ash Trays—and the Holy Leiturgia of the Sweeping of the Floor. Yes, indeed, liturgy is the work of the people, as Professor George Hoyer of my seminary days was wont to say.
(By the way, Professor George Hoyer is doing well in his 80s. Some 52 years ago he performed a marriage ceremony for our friends, Paul and Vi Allen. They were recently in touch with him and told us of that encounter.)
Anyway, back to the YMCA, where Lois and I vied for the seats way up back. They were high and lifted up like the ones in the vision of Isaiah, but they were not heavenly in origin but were rather the shoeshine chairs used back then—and even now come to think of it.
Then came the church of God in Winfield, Kansas—Trinity! Over the years God’s mission was at work there as the Good News was shared in timely fashion to the thousands of students who attended St. John’s Academy and College. God was certainly “in mission” to them as they were nurtured and loved by the church in those days.
So many interesting people in this Church which is God’s mission! I remember Pauline Wente, the wife of the giant Walter Wente, who formed the entire curriculum for the Senior College in his head—and didn’t bother to write it down because he knew it all—but then did write it down so that the others could also know what they were to teach and when. Pauline Wente was a player of the pipes and keyboard. She forever formed my version of “Silent Night, Holy Night.” Not “Radiant be-ams from Thy holy face,“ but rather “radiant beams from Thy ho-ly face” because holy is more important than beams … know what I mean?
God’s mission, the Church, decided to send one person here, another there when that church deemed us ready for service as adults. We were sent to Japan as missionaries, much to the preliminary angst of my dear mother, who in her tears said, “Tom, why are they sending you overseas, they only send misfits overseas!” Dear Mom, she later repented of that and was proud to have a son and daughter-in-law over seas. What helped her to come to grips with the “way of the church” was to remember that one of her favorite students back in Winfield days was Ralph Phipps, and they sent him overseas. “Hmm-m,” she said, “maybe it’s OK.” Our parents gave us great support during our overseas years, and we were grateful for that!
God’s mission, which we experienced in Yokohama, Japan, was called Izumi Lutheran Church, and oh, how painful it must have been for God for a while as the Herr Pastor struggled at first to say anything in Japanese that could be understood by people who spoke that strange language as their first choice. Matsukawa San came up to me after a service early on, and began to talk really fast in Japanese, asking me something very important, I was sure—but not sure what it was that was important. I thought she was asking me if I would have a funeral for her brother. I said “Hai, Yes,” simply because I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t even know she had a brother. A kindly person, Masubuchi San, was listening on the side, and she spoke a little English. She came to me and said, “You unnerstan what she say?” “Well, not everything, not perfectly.” “Well,” Masubuchi San said, “she want you marry sister.” “Oh, that’s what I thought she said,” I lied. So I married her sister and did not bury her brother, thanks to Masubuchi San.
Is anybody getting the point here? In grand language we say, “The Church is God’s Mission!” and we believe that with all our hearts—and then when we look at the Church as we know and experience it, we can not but become red in the face and want to hide in embarrassment at the way we become involved in God’s cosmic plan to bring salvation to the world—and how we mess it all up—and yet how God sustains us in this—and yet how God is patient with us—and how God covers for us!
You preachers know what I mean? You are in a very important place in this mission of God, the Church, and on a particular Sunday you really mess up your sermon and uncork things from the pulpit that make the angels blush, and God, if God listens to our sermons, opines, “Ach Himmel!” But in some wondrous way, the man in the second to the last row is watching and listening very carefully because you just happened to have said something that caught him, perhaps convicted him, perhaps gave him God’s forgiveness, and he was renewed by your lousy sermon. We have a great One on our side as we get involved in the mission of God, the Church, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself—as he said, and you know this, “I will be with you forever, to the close of the age.” The gates of hell shall not prevail against it, dear Preacher—and less than perfect sermons will not destroy it.
I would almost prefer to reword the First Affirmation to this: “God’s Mission Is the Church,” rather than the other. For God’s love for the world, his love which compels him to send salvation into this world by becoming to us in the Person of Jesus, is the reason for the Church’s existence. God’s Mission brings the church into existence, not of course the other way around.
This then forces me and you to remember who we are and what we represent when we become involved by God’s grace in his enterprise, the Church. We do not own it—it owns us. We do not demand from it—it demands from us. We do not set patterns of conduct for it—it rather sets patterns for conduct for us. We need to be beating our collective chests at this point with a chorus of mournful mea culpas, for we storm into the holy place of the Church and act like we are the owners, the big bosses, the numero uno judges of everything that falls in our opinion in with and under the aegis of the Church. We have sly and clever ways of manipulating ourselves into the ecclesiastical catbird seats and bully pulpits, usurping to ourselves final arbitration and judgment regarding the entire life of “our” church. And therein lies the problem—for it is not “ours” at all. We are grafted into it by baptism. We are strangers to it. We are guests invited in. We must remember the first principle of being a good guest of a gracious host—humility and respect for the Host!
It amazes me to hear people speak with such authority these days in the church. We speak with authority through our conventions so often, only to take it back later. We are quick to judge another for praying here or there, fully buying into the philosophy which says, “You have heard it said, ‘Never criticize another until you have walked a mile in his shoes.’ That’s good advice, because then when you criticize them you are a mile away and you have his shoes!”
“He who sits in the heavens laughs,” the psalmist reminds. There God is pictured laughing at those who think they can rule and manipulate and demand things over which only God has the right. I pray that we never fall under that condemnation as church women and church men. I pray rather that God would perhaps smile, and yes, even laugh with us in a sense of understanding at our foibles and missteps and mistakes. But that’s a laughter that comes from his love, that covers our stupid actions with grace.
I for one don’t think the Affirmations are perfect. I really don’t think we build a future for a renewed missiology for our church based on these because we are living in a new day now. There are new minds upon which God is working, new hearts that beat with the energy of the Gospel, new thoughts that are just now being formed in the minds and hearts of God’s people by God’s Spirit, for the sake of the now and future church.
But the Affirmations are an old friend. They are dog-eared because many have chewed on them and even spit them out. But they are resilient and strong and call us to look again at the reality that God’s Mission is the Church, or if you prefer, The Church Is God’s Mission.
I am sure that we are gathered here as people of good will who want the best for our beloved church, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. I have heard that there are also those who are watching what we say, looking for places to criticize, seeking ways to undermine, if possible, much of what might come from such a gathering as this, attached as it is to a new-age name like DayStar—wait, that’s a mistake. I see it in Scripture … the Day Star rising in your hearts—and all that. Nevertheless, fault will be found, for that is the nature of the beast, is it not? For we are nothing but vessels of clay, leaky pots, as one wag paraphrased it—and fault will be found.
Even dusty old Affirmations can speak wonderfully, dated language and all. Savor the First with me:
+ The Father sent forth His Word to create and preserve the world.
+ Upon man’s revolt the Father sent His Son into the world to redeem the world.
+ The Son in obedience to His Father’s commission laid aside His glory, became a man to serve men, and died on the cross to reconcile all things unto God.
+ The risen and victorious Lord sent forth His church on His mission when He appeared to His disciples on the day of resurrection declaring: “Peace be unto you; as my Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.”
+ The Father and the Son together (thus avoiding a 20th century filioque controversy!) sent the Holy Spirit into the world as the great Missionary until our Lord’s return.
+ Therefore let us affirm in faith, humility and joy that the mission is the Lord’s. He is the great Doer and Sender.
+ Let us affirm that the mission is not an optional activity in the church, but the church is caught up in the manifold and dynamic mission of God.
+ Let us thank the Lord of the church for all the ways in which He has graciously used us and our church body in his mission, blessing us and making us a blessing unto man.
+ Let us repent of our individual and corporate self-centeredness and disobedience, whenever it has caused us to regard our local congregations or our Synod as ends in themselves and moved us to give self-preservation priority over God’s mission.
+ Let us affirm that the church is God’s mission. The church’s ministries of worship, service, fellowship, and nurture all have a missionary dimension.
+ We rejoice that for Christ’s sake God forgives us our sins of self-centered disobedience, and we place ourselves, our congregations, and our Synod into His loving hand as willing instruments of His great mission to the world.
It is fitting that we pray the prayer offered as this report was given to the 1965 convention of the synod:
O God the Father, who didst send Thy Son into the world to redeem the world, which Thou didst create for Thy glory;
O God the Son, who hast redeemed the whole world to God by Thy blood, who art Lord over all things and Head of Thy body, the church;
O God the Holy Spirit, who art the Comforter sent by the Father and the Son to lead us into all truth and to send and guide us on Thy saving mission to a lost world;
We beseech Thee, O holy triune God, to pardon us for our sins of disobedience against Thy Law and for our littleness of faith in Thy Gospel. Do not cast us aside because of our unfaithfulness, but for Thy mercy’s sake be faithful to Thy promise of full pardon to all who fully confess their sins to Thee.
Lord, we have nothing to bring to Thee but our sins and our emptiness. Forgive us for Jesus’ sake, and fill us with Thy grace. We praise Thee and Thee only for the fruits of the Holy Spirit manifest in the life and work of Thy church. We are not worthy of the least of all Thy mercies, but Thou art worthy to receive blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and might.
Help us to see ourselves as Thy mission to men in their every need, to society in all its tensions, to the church in all its tribulation and to the whole world in all its futile struggles to find its peace without Thee. Give us, who are Thy sent ones, Thy compassion for Thy lost ones.
Teach us to remember that we are but the dust into which Thy Spirit breathes the breath of life, the earthen vessels Thou has selected to be the treasures of Thy grace, and ambassadors of Thy kingdom, which Thou alone canst establish in the hearts of men.
Keep us as a synod from becoming so preoccupied with ourselves that we lose our sense and purpose of being Thy mission. Preserve us from that pride which thanks Thee that we are not as other men are, lest we leave this place proud of our heritage but unmindful of that heritage to which we have been begotten by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Help us to glory in nothing save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus, by whom the world is crucified unto us and we unto the world. Let Thy Word be a map unto our feet and a light unto our path. Preserve us from the paralysis of fear. Grant instead Thy promised gifts of power and love and a sound mind. Cause us all to walk together as saints of God who know they are yet sinners; who deal with one another not as the good or the bad but as the forgiven, who love much because they are forgiven much by Thee.
Hear our prayer for the sake of Him who ever liveth to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.