‘Trust in the Lord and do good; live in the land and be safe.
Seek your happiness in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desire.
Give yourself to the Lord; trust in him, and he will help you;
he will make your righteousness shine like the noonday sun.
Be patient and wait for the Lord to act…’ (Ps 37:3-7)
‘Synod acknowledges the deep hurt in the course of the debate on ordination and seeks reconciliation.’ (LCA Convention of Synod, resolution 2018:0205)
Dear fellow Christians and members of the LCA,
God bless you in this new year of 2019, which is already well underway in our homes, workplaces, schools and church. I pray that you continue to grow in faith and in Christian living in a world that is often confused and troubled. May Christ, who is your confidence, be your beacon and hope as he guides you, nurtures you and prunes you to produce good fruit for his kingdom. I am sending this eNews to you on the same day that a Victorian court has convicted a significant Australian church leader of sexual abuse. These are difficult times for the church in Australia and New Zealand, times to renew our faith and hope in Christ and realise how fragile the clay pots are to which God has entrusted his treasure (2 Corinthians 4:7). This was the timely theme for the February Synod of the Victorian District.
Last week both the College of Bishops and the General Church Board held their first major meetings for 2019. Many of you have been waiting to hear what the leadership will do to ‘fix’ the problem we identified following the vote on the question of ordaining both women and men. The vote did not pass, the church’s teaching remained the same, but something has shifted among us. We are still working out exactly what that might be. We had already felt it at Synod and so we passed the resolution I have put at the head of this eNews. It acknowledges hurt and seeks reconciliation. Since Convention I have seen many do exactly that, and it gives me heart.
There is, however, no quick fix. Any human technical solutions, applied hastily by the leadership, would be reckless and likely to be catastrophic for the well-being of the faithful. We face critical issues: determining the will of God in his Word on certain issues; impatience with Synod processes which do not seem to be solving differences; intemperance in some quarters towards others who don’t agree with them on certain points; and for some an understandable but for others a distressing testing of the limits or ‘boundaries’ by which we regulate the church’s faith and life.
Specific matters brought to the attention of the bishops in recent months include: faithful participation in the mission of God; better listening to one another; acknowledging what unifies us; how we use language and cultural filters; identifying what we hold dearest in our heart; the role and service of women in the 21st century church; the role and service of men in the 21st century church; the role of LCA pastors and pastors conferences; and avoiding actions that may go beyond current LCA teaching and practice.
The LCA, as a community of faith, is at a spiritual turning point. God is teaching us, yet again, to wait patiently for him, trust him and put all our burdens on him. It is a time of temptation, wanting to find our own way and forgetting to wait for God. It is a time when the human spirit, out of understandable frustration, wants to ‘fix’ things and put them back on track. It’s a time for us to cry out to God, not only for guidance, but also for enough faith to trust him with everything we have, up to and including the church.
I am certain that God has given us more than enough resources to meet these challenges head on.
Last Sunday was the end of Epiphany. Psalm 37 instructed us to wait for the Lord, trust him, do good things, and not to be angry or frustrated when others seem to be getting their way and we are not. This coming Sunday is Transfiguration. With eyes of faith we will see Jesus in his glory, only to be told that our ministry in this world isn’t over and we must come down off the mountain and get back to work. Then, the following Wednesday, we will begin our Lenten pilgrimage, a time of reflection, prayer and repentance. In March and April Jesus will walk alongside us through the days of his passion, carefully showing us why he must die for us. Repentance is symbolised outwardly by purple and the lack of ‘Hallelujahs’ in services, and inwardly through a heart that turns back to God, away from the sinful self and its desires. And finally, later in April, we will join the first disciples in their shock and uncertainty as we meet Jesus risen from the dead, to start a new life with him unshackled by everything that held us back in the past.
In the light of all this, ask yourself what anyone listening in to us from the outside would learn from us. Would they think that the ordination of both women and men is our major issue? You and I both know it isn’t. We have a far greater message of release and freedom to share. Through Transfiguration, Lent and Easter, God will refocus us on what matters: the resurrection of Christ, and the life he brings into the world. That is the only true certainty we have in life. Christ is our message. When others look in on us and listen to our conversations, let them meet Christ in our words and our actions.
I pray, that, whatever the solution, whether we find that our differences are irreconcilable or not (and in Christ I believe they are not), and however we ‘solve’ our issues, it must not prevent us from preaching the truth of the gospel, doing good for others, and being as Christ in the world. We have so much to get on with being and doing!
I thank the many of you who pray for the bishops and the other LCA leaders. Please join us in our prayer, that we may be one, as Jesus prayed for all believers, just as he and the Father are one (John 17:11). This is a most remarkable prayer, and only God can do it. And as Jesus prayed that prayer he went even further, ‘I pray not only for them, but also for those who believe in me because of their message’ (John 17:20).
This is our common calling, whether laity or pastor, male or female. All of us are God’s messengers, a calling we carry every day in our family, work, social life, recreation or whatever we do. And surely that alone is worth staying together for and celebrating.
God give you peace,
Pastor John Henderson
Lutheran Church of Australia
With the LCA College of Bishops:
Pastor David Altus – South Australia/Northern Territory
Pastor Robert Bartholomaeus – New South Wales
Pastor Michael Fulwood – Western Australia
Dr Andrew Pfeiffer – Assistant Bishop
Pastor Lester Priebbenow – Victoria/Tasmania
Pastor Paul Smith – Queensland
Pastor Mark Whitfield – New Zealand Aotearoa