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LCC twenty-five years later: Is the fire still going?

August 15, 2013 No Comment

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In the July 1988 issue of The Canadian Lutheran—the first issue to appear after Lutheran Church–Canada’s founding convention—Rev. Dr. Ed Lehman wrote an article entitled “Feed the Fire.” Now, twenty-five years later, we’ve asked Dr. Lehman to re-read his original article and provide a response to it. Is the fire still going? See his answer below.

by Ed Lehman

No, it wasn’t anything like that first Pentecost in Jerusalem, but it was still quite an event. There were no Parthians or Medes, nor did anyone from Phrygia or Pamphylia show up. There were, however, Port Albernians, Yorktonites, and Montrealers among the more than 1,000 pastors, deacons, and lay people who participated in the birth of Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC).

The timing of that birth was fortuitous. Lutheran Church–Canada was born at its May 18 -21 convention in 1988. The event came just before Pentecost on May 22, the celebration of New Testament Church’s birth. To borrow from the first Pentecost’s most unusual sign—that of the tongues of fire—we could say that the carefully and patiently gathered embers of Lutheran Church–Canada finally burst into flame as God’s blessings were poured out upon us.

That beginning, twenty-five years ago, is what we remember and celebrate this year. Or, to be more honest, that’s what many don’t even bother to remember. That’s understandable in a way. At the time of our synod’s founding, many of our currently active pastors were either still very young or at best in their teens. Most of our current seminarians were not even born. But memory is one of God’s created gifts, and God expects us to use it wisely. With good reason, God commanded His people to remember and celebrate certain events in their history, even though they had not originally been present themselves. God’s people have special reasons to remember the past, because, for good or ill, they are both products and heirs of that history.

God’s people have special reasons to remember the past, because, for good or ill, they are both products and heirs of that history.

So it is for us. Twenty-five may not seem like a significant milestone, but it offers the first—and best—opportunity to provide historical continuity from the first generation to the second, because many of those actively involved in the original event are still alive and can pass that history on to the next generation. By the time of the 50th, that will be much less the case.

What are some of the memories, events, experiences and discoveries that ought to be noted as we reach this milestone? Each of us might have our own list, but we cannot ignore these:

  1. Most of our LCC pastors are now graduates of our own seminaries.
  2. We have a degree-granting university that prepares our own Christian teachers.
  3. We have developed specialized educational programs for Directors of Parish Services and Pastors with Alternate Training.
  4. By God’s grace, we have remained true to the confession of faith entrusted to us, and we enjoy a strong sense of unity.
  5. Our mission outreach has developed in ways totally unexpected at our founding. Our most effective Gospel outreach has not come through sending wave after wave of expatriate missionaries, but by identifying indigenous Christians who can be equipped to assume pastoral and missionary work in their own countries. Strong, confessional, faithful, Lutheran churches have emerged in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Ukraine, Thailand, and Cambodia.
  6. Our outreach to ethnic minorities in Canada has increased almost tenfold in these twenty-five years.
  7. Strong auxiliaries and mission organizations have undergirded our mission work.
  8. The Lutheran Foundation facilitates on-going support for our synod’s work.
  9. Our Worker Benefit Plans provide excellent care for full-time church workers.

For every blessing, we have only God to thank. As to our failures, they are our own doing. And that’s why we don’t have to look far to find them. Here are some that call for sober reflection and rededication:

  1. We have fewer members and fewer congregations than we did 25 years ago.
  2. Church attendance, Sunday School and Bible Class participation, adult and junior confirmation continue to decline.
  3. We have an increasing number of small, struggling congregations that don’t even bother trying to call their own pastor. In many cases, their condition is terminal and it is only a matter of time before their doors will close for good.
  4. Our higher education institutions are struggling to stay alive. Seminary enrollment is as low as it has ever been.
  5. Even our excellent Worker Benefit Plans are under stress.

Newness brings a sense of adventure, coupled with hope, as it did for us twenty-five years ago. But history makes us wiser, and all too often, more cynical. That’s why it’s easier to complain about that which is wrong than to rejoice in that which is good. An anniversary should cause us to give all glory to God for the blessings we have enjoyed, and humbly repent for our shortfalls. Though we have often failed Him, He has never failed us.

Elsewhere, The Canadian Lutheran  has reprinted “Feed the Fire,” a column I wrote for the July 1988 issue of the magazine. The opening question is one that remains important for the daily life of each Christian and for the corporate well-being of our synod: “How do you keep a fire going? You feed it.”

Our hearts need to burn within us as we hear and study God’s Word. Our love needs to be on fire, toward both our fellow believers and those who are still lost. But keeping that fire going is ultimately not our doing. The same Holy Spirit whose holy flame rested upon the believers on that first Pentecost continues to empower and direct us today, and will do so in the days ahead.

Our hearts need to burn within us as we hear and study God’s Word. Our love needs to be on fire, toward both our fellow believers and those who are still lost. But keeping that fire going is ultimately not our doing.

We prayed it then, and there is even more reason to pray it now: “Lord God, You have called Your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand in leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

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Rev. Dr. Ed Lehman was Lutheran Church–Canada’s first national President following the 1988 founding convention. To read the 1988 article Dr. Lehman is responding to above, click here.

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