Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:4 (NRSV)
When St Paul wrote these words, his topic was sin and grace. Sin had power over us through death. Now grace has the power through justification. The obedience of Jesus Christ turned the tables on sin, and he has enough grace for everyone.
So we are people of grace, and our life has meaning. God is teaching us how to live the new life, to be his grace in the world.
We don’t produce this gracious, holy life ourselves. It’s all because of Christ. That’s why in baptism God must bury us with Christ, along with all our sin and death itself. That’s how God destroys their power over us. Then, in the glory of the Father, we are raised with Christ to a new life. Sin and death stay in the grave where they belong. We leave them behind.
So now sin has no power over us. It’s dead. It doesn’t belong in our new life. We can reject it, because Christ rejected it for us when he died. Sin and evil can’t beat Christ. So they can’t beat us. That curse has been lifted.
This basic Christian belief has profound implications for us, and for the church. We always struggle to get it into our hearts and minds that sin is not in charge. Evil has no claim over us. We are totally Christ’s, and he is totally ours. This changes everything.
As I visit the Districts of the LCA I carry this consciousness with me. Our new life in Christ has the final word. At the same time I certainly don’t need convincing that sin remains a problem. Death is putting up a pretty fair fight before it finally gives up on us. Church leaders are often told about sin in the church and the world, and sometimes they get the blame for it. But God washes all that blaming away when we join each other in prayer, confession, praise and worship. As we listen to the Word and share the sacrament, our new reality in Christ breaks through. The impossible happens. Once again death is robbed of its power, and sin loses its grip. God equips us for a new life.
Is this just Pollyanna optimism? Do we deny the reality of our situation and the troubles we find ourselves in? I don’t think so. I think it is simply faith, the now and the not yet. Grounded in Christ, deeply rooted in his grace, confirmed in our baptism by the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can choose life. As we are buried with Christ by baptism and raised with him by the glory of the Father, we can walk in newness of life.
That’s my belief, hope, and prayer for the people of the LCA this year and always.
It’s hardly news to most Lutherans that 2017 marks what is commonly known as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In our corner of the world we don’t hear so much about it, but if we lived in Germany or European countries such as Sweden, it would be in your face.
It’s a historical convention, of course, to mark the beginning of the Reformation as October 31 1517. That’s the day Luther purportedly nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. Over the last few years the German nation has painstakingly restored Wittenberg to prepare for this anniversary. Over there Luther is a type of Shakespeare figure because of his work in the German language through translating the Bible. He has become a hero who made a major contribution to German national identity. There is endless academic research going on into Luther’s contribution to the making of modern Europe. Very little of it, however, gives comfort to Australian Lutherans, because the Luther they study is frequently not the Luther we think we know.
But before we leap to his defence, we should know that Luther can well and truly defend himself. We don’t own him. He was a man of the late medieval era, an in-between time as the Renaissance and the age of reason was getting underway. He appropriated views from both sides of history. We, in the 21st century, aren’t the first to encounter a wave of new ideas, social upheaval, political change, globalisation, radicalisation and newfangled gadgets. In Luther’s time they had all those things by the bucket load. Reading a bound, printed book with pages then was much like using an iPhone app is today. Parents probably despaired of their newly literate offspring taking their heads out of their books so they could go outside and learn about the real world.
The Reformation both exploited and was confounded by these developments. Without the currents of political change and the protection afforded to him by rulers who benefitted politically, Luther would likely have ended up a martyr, possibly like the Bohemian John Huss 100 years before. We should realise that in 1517 Luther was not the only person making a case for the reform of the church. Cardinal Walter Kasper makes this point well in his 2016 book, “Martin Luther, an ecumenical perspective”.
500 years on many people claim a slice of Luther, secular and religious. Historians, linguists, social commentators, Anglicans, Reformed and Catholics all have their own views on his contribution to his time and to Christianity. We know that Luther wanted no church named after him. He didn’t want a new church at all. He and his fellow reformers did not choose to leave the Roman church. The Pope excommunicated them because of the gospel they preached, and probably other reasons besides. But for that decision and the invective that Lutherans and Catholics alike hurled at each other, things might have turned out differently.
So on this 500th anniversary we who call ourselves ‘Lutheran’ need to think carefully about what we are celebrating, or commemorating. There is both joy and grief in this event. The joy is the clarion call of the gospel. To me that’s what makes the Reformation worthwhile. The grief is in the schism of the church, the fear and even hatred that developed between Christians, and the violence that caused thousands of deaths. Lutheran hands are not clean, since there were times when they persecuted and killed others, such as the Mennonites.
So Martin Luther was a great man and he preached the gospel. But he was not faultless, just as we are not faultless. His views against the Jews, for example, continue to cause deep controversy, and even pain. Some want to discard him because of that alone. We know, however, what an extraordinary sinner/saint he was, and how God worked through him despite his faults.
Luther had a big role in the Reformation, but we shouldn’t think he was alone. Many others, including his long suffering wife Katherine and the patient lay scholar Philip Melanchthon were right there with him, sometimes tempering him, sometimes moving ahead of him. Today we go by the name ‘Lutheran’ but our real name is ‘Evangelical’. Our distinctive ecumenical contribution to the church catholic is found in Luther’s clarity on justification by faith. That clarity did not just drop from heaven. It needed a church that had preserved the Scriptures for millennia. Despite human sin, it was still a church, the called and baptised people of God. And God, as we know, never gives up on his children. It also took people like Luther’s reformist Augustinian father confessor Johann von Staupitz, and believing local princes like Frederick III of Saxony, who saved Luther from certain death.
So whether we celebrate this Reformation anniversary or commemorate it, it is certainly something we need to mark and remember across the congregations of the LCA/LCNZ. It’s also a moment in world history from which we have a great deal to learn.
Some time ago the General Church Council decided that in 2017 it wouldn’t plan a ‘mega’ event in a single location for the 500th anniversary. In 2013 the LCA hosted a large event at the Adelaide Convention Centre in the form of ‘Alive 175’. Given that recent event the leadership felt that this time it should encourage and provide resources for a range of activities across Australia and New Zealand in local congregations and ministries.
That’s why we established 50.500 Faith. Freedom. Future, and launched it at the 2013 Convention. The 50 is for the 50th anniversary of the Lutheran Church of Australia in 2016. The 500 is for the anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. The future is for the next LCA synod in 2018 as we continue to work on our Strategic Directions. Faith, freedom, future extends the title of the book on the LCA written by Everard Leske in 1996, “For Faith and Freedom”.
If you haven’t been there yet, and you are still planning to hold a local Reformation event, have a look at the website http://50500.lca.org.au/. We would love to know about it, and tell others.
The Ordained Ministry
The pastors of the LCA are one of my special responsibilities. District Bishops relate to the pastors in their Districts on most things, but some issues are the special concern of the LCA Bishop and the College of Bishops. This section provides a brief run-down on a few of the things we are currently doing in respect to the ordained ministry.
In 2015 the College of Bishops commissioned an extensive review of the Pastoral Ministry. They received a lengthy report in 2016. During 2017 the bishops are working their way through the 20 recommendations in that report, as they decide what actions they could/should take.
A popular version of the report is ready for distribution across the church.
God gave us the office of the public ministry (i.e. pastors) so that we may hear his word, be baptised, and receive holy communion. The Holy Spirit uses these tools to create faith in our hearts. Pastors also have a teaching role, to help us study the holy scriptures.
The LCA has always called only men to be pastors. At three General Conventions of Synod (2000, 2006 and 2015) congregations have put proposals to include women in the pastorate. Each time the vote has failed to reach the two-thirds majority our Constitution requires for a change of doctrine.
In 2015 Synod asked the Commission on Theology and Inter-Church Relations [CTICR] to build on its earlier work regarding the ordination of women and men to develop a draft doctrinal statement for GPC and the 19th Convention of Synod that presents: A theological basis for the ordination of women and men; a theological basis for why the ordination of women and men need not be church divisive; and that General Church Council [GCC] resource it. [General Synod resolution 2015:0216]
Since then the GCC and the CTICR have been working to fulfil the terms of this resolution. The first version of the draft doctrinal statement, with an accompanying commentary, will be ready for church-wide consideration in March 2017. You will be able to download the material from the Ordination. We’re Listening (OWL) website (owl.lca.org.au), along with other documents which include explanations of the present position of the church. These will help you understand why the LCA currently calls only men.
We are preparing an extensive series of local church-wide consultations from March to October 2017. We’ve done our best to cover the widespread geography across Australia and New Zealand, and there should be a consultation not too far from you. You will find the locations and dates in The Lutheran and on the OWL website as they become available.
I invite and encourage every one of you to join the conversation in person by attending one of these consultations. I particularly encourage Synod delegates to attend. Your bishops and members of the CTICR will be there to facilitate, unpack the draft statement, and listen carefully to your feedback.
We are supplying a printed version of the documents at the consultations. You can also order the book by contacting the LCA National Office (email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 08 8267 7300).
Please pray for those leading the consultations, and for the church during this challenging period. To God be the glory.
Calling a pastor
When we were carrying out our church-wide governance review in 2013-15, it became apparent that in the LCA we regard the relationship between a congregation and its pastor as particularly sacred. Although that relationship was outside the scope of the review, the reviewer observed that after 50 years of operation, the pastoral call system needs attention.
The 2015 Synod agreed on this, and asked the GCC to undertake a review. While directed by our constitution and by-laws, the current call ‘system’ is actually an amalgam of church-wide, district, and local specific rules and expectations. Variances in this ‘system’ result inequities for some and an abundance of choices for others.
The review, which I referred to in my 2016 Reflections, is now getting underway in 2017. The reviewer will be gathering information from around the church and its organisations at various levels, individually and collectively.
What kind of pastor?
The LCA is theologically committed to one order of the ordained ministry, whether General Ministry Pastor (whom we traditionally think of when we say pastor’), a Specific Ministry Pastor (a format which is growing), an ordained chaplain in education, aged care, or community care, a pastor seconded to other service, such as a Defence Forces chaplain, or a bishop/church leader. We might deploy and train our pastors in a variety of ways, but each of them carries the same ministry of word and sacrament.
That means our pastors are not regular employees (which has its own complications), but they serve under oath and the discipline of the church. We don’t remunerate them because they have done so many hours or so much work (no overtime!). We house and pay them so that they can carry out their calling unencumbered by anxiety about their daily needs and those of their families. I know how much this can be a struggle for some congregations, and I encourage pastors to be appreciative of that, and do their bit to care for and improve the manses where provided, even better than if it were their own property. I also acknowledge those pastors who work voluntarily, particularly SMPs, although congregations should provide adequate allowances for their expenses. The incidence of part-time pastors, including pastors who serve more than one call simultaneously also seems to be increasing. In those situations we must temper any unreasonable expectations that demand full-time outcomes out of a part-time position. Pastors with such calls need particular understanding and support from the lay leaders of the congregation or ministry which has called them.
Our pastors are not primarily managers or team leaders, although on occasion they will be those things. Some will do them well, and others less well. They will sometimes be evangelists, but not necessarily so. Some will be gifted soul-carers, and others will feel more comfortable with administration. God provides the talents, gifts and skills needed for the mission of the church from its entire membership, and not solely the pastor. One of the tasks of the church is to discern where the gifts lie, and structure ourselves in ways that put those gifts to work for the kingdom. While pastors must be constantly working with Scripture and have a basic tool-kit of skills and abilities with which they can do many things, there is no ‘one size fits all’ model for the many and varied ministries of the church.
Continuing Education for Pastors
Finally, one thing that is increasingly important for all pastors is life-long learning. In recent years the College of Bishops has been giving expression to that need through Continuing Education for Pastors, under the leadership of Pastor Bob Kempe, formerly at Australian Lutheran College. Currently he is handing that workload over to others, and I thank him for these extra years of service.
Over 4 years now the program has gone well and over 30% of our pastors are working with it. The ultimate plan, of course, is for all LCA pastors to be involved with recognised forms of ongoing learning. This is normal in the life of any community professional. It can include specific courses of study (some for instance, are doing Masters and PhD degrees), specialist training (for example, hospital chaplaincy or Clinical Pastoral Education) as well as attending sessions at Pastors Conferences and elsewhere (for instance, school pastors can attend the Lutheran Education Ministry Conferences in 2017 for credit).
The website, https://lcacep.com/ provides a basic outline:
In essence, the LCA’s CEP program consists of each pastor engaging in a minimum of 40 hours of professional development study per year.
Each pastor’s study program is decided upon by the pastor, in consultation with his calling body and others whom he may choose, and is intended to address the immediate learning needs in the life and ministry of the pastor.
Some years ago now, the LCA embarked on the new/old initiative of Reconciliation Ministry. New, because we hadn’t done things quite this way before, and old, because the source document is the Bible. As we are reconciled to God for the sake of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16-21) we live out that reconciliation in our relationships with each other.
Pastor Paul Kerber is the Assistant to the Bishop—Reconciliation Ministry, and Pastor Michael Fulwood is the Interim Ministry pastor specialising in Reconciliation Ministry. Their work is steadily making headway as the healing power of the gospel touches our congregations and individual members.
I encourage you to learn more about Reconciliation Ministry and the principles under which it operates. You can make contact by calling the Adelaide office on +61 (0)8 8267 7300.
The decision of the 2015 Convention to trial a restructure of the LCA’s mission and ministry arms (Boards and Committees) has led to some heavy lifting within the national structures of the LCA. We have planned these changes so they do not obstruct the many mission activities of the LCA at the coal face. This section provides a brief run-down on a few of the things we are currently doing in that regard at a church-wide level. The General Church Council acknowledges that this is all on a trial basis, yet it involves a considerable amount of work. It will be reporting to the 2018 Convention on the progress of the trial.
LCA International Mission
For many years the LCA had a Board for Mission, with a part-time Director. That changed in 2013 with the separation of local mission from international mission. As a result, until late last year we had both a Board for Mission and an Interim Board for Local Mission. It was confusing.
With the restructure International Mission has become part of the Office of Bishop (something else that has come out of the restructure). The rationale for this change was the shift in the role responsibilities of the LCA Bishop and International Mission. Originally the two roles were quite distinct, but that changed as the LCA developed partnerships with newly autonomous local churches. The LCA began to have two entities handling relationships with overseas partner churches – the LCA Bishop (who is given that responsibility in the constitution), and the Mission Director, who reported to a Board, which then reported to the General Church Council. There was certainly cooperation, but no direct link.
In the new format the position of Director has been replaced by the Assistant to the Bishop—International Mission. The Bishop and the AB International Mission work closely together, with ultimate responsibility resting with the Bishop. Mrs Glenice Hartwich, who has long been involved with our mission partners, is the AB International Mission. She now reports through the Bishop to the General Church Council. According to the logic of the governance restructure, the Board for Mission has become the Committee for International Mission, a pattern that we are repeating across a number of former LCA Boards. This will allow the Committee to actively engage with and promote issues relating to our mission without the overburden of governance, fiduciary, and compliance responsibilities.
The LCA has ongoing mission partnerships in Papua New Guinea and a range of South East Asian countries. The partnerships come in a variety of forms, including the theological training of local leaders and supporting evangelism and mission programs emanating from the local autonomous churches. To find out more I recommend you have a look at the LCA International Mission website.
I should also note here, with thanks, the work of Lutheran Bible Translators Australia in supporting Lutheran translators. Those translators remain in the field with Wycliffe Bible Translators, and members of the LCA should continue to support translators Margaret Mickan and Hanna Schulz as you always have done.
The Interim Board for Local Mission served us well for four years and set a template for new ways the LCA can engage in mission in Australia and New Zealand. One of the most notable of these is New and Renewing Churches. LCA Church Planting Mentor and Mission Facilitator Dean Eaton has provided invaluable leadership in this work, and continues to do so.
This year, after many long conversations, we have disbanded the Interim Board for Local Mission. The various areas of its work over the last 4 years continue as planned. The LCA has called Mrs Tania Nelson to the position of Executive Officer—Local Mission, and shortly there will be a new Board for Local Mission (not to be confused with the Interim Board). Mission activities that are included with this new Board are:
- Grow Ministries
- Lutheran Media
- Committee for Ministry with the Ageing (formerly the Board for Lutheran Aged Care)
- New and Renewing Churches
- Cross cultural ministry (currently Asian and African ministries)
The logic of this is to bring together all the mission activities that are part of the LCA’s direct responsibilities. Obviously schools, early childhood centres and community care are also part of our mission, but they have their own, separate, governance and leadership structures.
The funding streams that belong to each of these ministries continue to fund the respective ministry. The major difference, for the bishop at least, is that all of these ministry arms of the church, which once operated independently of each other, are now all ‘in the room’ when mission approaches, strategies, and personnel are being discussed. This is already bearing fruit in a number synergies and a fresh energy among the leaders. The bishop also gets a much better view of what is going on, and what the ministries are planning.
The Christian Church is one of the oldest enduring multicultural communities in the world. Acts 2 records the presence of Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes. All of these people heard the gospel at Pentecost. Some believed, and others sneered.
For a few generations the bulk of us seemed to overlook the polyglot nature of the church, beyond the struggle between German and English. Nevertheless some missionaries treasured and worked to preserve Aboriginal languages, with considerable success. Now, after the colonial era, the many ethnicities and languages that compose the Christian church are revealed once again. We recall that Jesus was no westerner like many of us. He was what we now call Middle Eastern, as were his disciples. Eventually the Christian seat of influence moved to Rome and then on to Western Europe, but it didn’t begin that way. The church was born in the east.
Most of us are migrants or the descendants of migrants. A significant number, however, maybe some 8,000 or more, claim roots on the Australian continent long before Europeans and others arrived. This could potentially be around 10% of the LCA’s current known membership.
In last year’s reflections I asked “how (can) the LCA … do more to include the voices of Aboriginal Lutherans in its life and mission”? While it will take decades to work through the implications of that question, we have started to take some tentative steps. We find inspiration in the early missionaries who were able to differentiate the gospel from the prevailing culture of the day. They worked to preserve culture and improve mutual understanding as they shared the gospel. Even more, we find inspiration in the many Aboriginal men and women who heard the word from those missionaries and believed, giving their lives in service to Jesus and the church.
So what shall we do about it now, in the time God has given us? The gospel is still preached by and among Lutheran Aboriginal people in Central Australia, the west coast of South Australia, Cape York, and one or two of our city parishes. But now we are asking how the whole church can hear and value this Indigenous voice. What can it mean for our congregations, schools, aged care facilities, chaplaincies and community care? How can it help us in our decision making, compassion, and willingness to share each other’s joys and sorrows?
We have searched around for a way of answering these questions. With support from Lutheran Community Care Queensland, we have begun to explore what a Reconciliation Action Plan might look like for the LCA (https://www.reconciliation.org.au/). We have no details just yet, but it gives us something to work with. Experienced people have offered to help. At this early stage we could be looking at reflecting on our common identity as Christians, and gaining a better understanding of who we are as indigenous and non-indigenous believers. Understanding begins with recognition, knowing who is in the room. Knowing who is in the room begins with seeing one another, greeting one another, and gladly sharing the peace of Christ with one another.
The words I wrote about renewal last year pleased some people and upset others, It is not my intent to do either of those things, so this year I write again with some trepidation.
Letters and emails continue to come in about renewal. Some are in praise and others are critical. That’s the way it is with human beings. This another opportunity for us to practice grace with one another and discernment in the things of God.
In Galatians 5 St Paul writes, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” So I guess we should all be looking for, and practising these gifts among ourselves as we listen to the voice of God.
Among those gifts I particularly highlight the spirit of generosity, since we can easily overlook it. Of all people, we can be generous since there is more than enough gospel grace to go around. God is not stingy or mean with us, so neither should we be with one another.
I have always maintained that the church benefits from sound, biblical, grace filled renewal. For those who are part of the current Lutheran Renewal movement, I thank you for your generous faith, your acknowledgement of the many gifts of God, your desire to live as spirit-filled believers, and your grace and patience with a church that sometimes you might feel fails to keep up. For those who are not part of Lutheran Renewal, I thank you also for your generous faith, your acceptance of and love for believers whose experience of faith is different to your own, and your grace and patience with a church that sometimes fails to live up to the high standards you expect.
To all of us, myself included, let’s encourage one another in the faith. Let’s study the word together, be faithful in worship and the use of Sacraments, and constantly remind each other to trust only in God for our salvation while we learn what it is to do his will in the world.
The Church does not exist for itself. It exists for God, and for service to the world. We do that when we share the gospel of Jesus Christ. We also do it when we engage with the world around us in meaningful, hope filled ways.
We have a long tradition of doing that through education and community care. We also have the great privilege in our two democracies of Australia and New Zealand of being able to contribute to public discourse on important ethical, moral, and social issues. We already do this in our local communities, and we are now trying to do this more effectively at a leadership level.
So far, with the help of the Assistant to the Bishop—Public Theology, Mr Nick Schwarz, the Commission on Social and Bioethical Questions, and other LCA bodies working in specific areas, we have been able to make public contributions on several topics. We have given attention to marriage, the beheading of Coptic Christians, sanctuary for asylum seekers (Australia), terror attacks, climate change, earthquakes (New Zealand), White Ribbon Day, and attacks on Christians in Indonesia. We have also worked on submissions on modern day slavery, religious freedom (Australia) and elder abuse (Australia). We have also declined to comment on several issues. We have a long list of prospective topics for the future.
I acknowledge that some are critical of parts of this work, and I welcome your constructive comments.
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48)
We might well wonder how we can possibly live with this command of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount.
In the English translation we can easily misunderstand this verse. The Greek of the New Testament doesn’t say to be perfect in the sense of being sinless and without error. The word it uses for ‘perfect’ also translates as ‘mature’, ‘adult’, or ‘complete’. Jesus is teaching us about grown-up love which engages in grown-up behaviour. The theme of the section is the command to love. Perfection here means mature love, like God’s love, which goes beyond me, to embrace others, particularly the enemy and the persecutor.
Jesus continues this theme a little further on in his sermon, when he teaches his disciples to pray using these words, “… forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”. That’s an example of what he means by perfection: we ask God’s help to be mature Christians with mature love, who love those who do not love us.
Jesus is our prime example of this perfect love. He did not give his life for his friends, but for his enemies. It’s sobering for us to remember that those enemies included us. St Paul writes in Romans 5: “8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” “10For … while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son…”
That’s what God’s perfect love looks like. Jesus is talking about that kind of perfection.
Personally, economically, politically and socially, we can find plenty of objections. An eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth is perfectly sensible, and it’s in the bible. You must defend yourself against aggressors or they will destroy you. Of course you love your neighbour because you get something in return. You need to hate your enemy because you must defeat them. And as for favouring your friends, that’s just natural.
Jesus bypasses all those objections. Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. We know the rest: turn the other cheek; go the extra mile; don’t refuse anyone. Really, what sort of talk is this?
This is God talk which refuses to be defeated by sin. Jesus was in dead earnest about it, and it’s why the authorities eventually had to get rid of him. They could not cope with his perfect love driving straight through the centre of their hypocrisy. People like Jesus, who ignore all the common sense objections to a life of perfect love, are a threat to the injustice and partiality of the world. They undermine the very system humanity has created in its image.
Take, for example, today’s world. We are as war torn and bereft of solutions as any generation in history. So much is uncertain. We look for protection from the growing chaos. Countries focus their resources on border protection: the US, much of Europe, and, of course, Australia. Keeping people out is becoming the hallmark of a successful government. In the national anthem Australians boast, “For those who’ve come across the seas we’ve boundless plains to share”, but that sharing stops with certain refugees whom we will never allow to come on shore. Successive governments have quoted many reasons for this attitude. It has anesthetised Australians to the desperate need of people ripped from their homes by war, violence and bloodshed—little children, women, and men. Thank God for all who give generously to the work of agencies like Australian Lutheran World Service, but collectively, as a wealthy nation, Australians know it’s just not enough.
Or think about protecting the vulnerable, particularly in the church. Perfect love demands it of us. We have heard so many painful testimonies out of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Many of us know that pain personally. Immense harm has been done to God’s little ones because churches lacked love, and found it too easy to ignore abuse. The LCA is just about to release new training resources to help us better prevent such abuse. It can be unpleasant work. Some of us push back because the price seems too high. But it is the price of love. We can, and must, find the will to do the best we possibly can.
Let’s also be clear about some things Jesus is not saying. Is he really telling us to let bullies get away with it? Is he really saying that we need to stay in abusive relationships? Is he really telling us to become destitute while being fleeced? No, I don’t believe so. If you are in an abusive marriage, where you are emotionally, physically, or spiritually at risk, the church will not tell you to stay at all costs. That’s not love. If an authority figure is bullying you, the church does not tell you to let him or her continually get away with it. That’s not love. If someone’s life is at risk, or someone is taking advantage of you, the church believes it should offer help when it is able.
Martin Luther reflects this teaching in the Small Catechism when he explains the fifth commandment, “You shall not kill”. “We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbour’s life, nor cause him or her any harm, but help and befriend him or her in every necessity of life”.
That’s why Jesus tells us, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.
Yes, we make mistakes, muck it up, and get it wrong. We have no excuses for that. As a church, and as individuals, we must repent, confess and ask forgiveness from God and the others we have wronged. That can be a lifetime’s work in itself. We start our worship services with just such an action of confession and repentance. Sunday after Sunday, and on the days in between, God goes on forgiving, as his act of perfect love. But we must know that we receive absolution in the full expectation that now, forgiven and justified, we will spend our lives doing the same thing, showing the same love, for others.
That’s why the LCA’s tag-line is ‘Where love comes to life’. It’s the challenge, and the promise, of God to the church, those who believe in him and trust him for salvation.
Pastor John Henderson
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia
 Kasper, W. (2016). Martin Luther, an ecumenical perspective. New Jersey: Paulist Press.
 With apologies to New Zealand readers, to whom this section will not apply.
 The April 2017 the release of the 2016 Australian Census Data on Religious Affiliation could be revealing for our church.
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