Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 26 - Missions in the LCMS (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-026 PROFESSOR LAWRENCE REST PROFESSOR WILL SCHUMACHER Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> NICK: in the LCMS, how is mission related to the church? Do we have missionary societies? I suppose I'm especially curious about the connection between missions at a synodical level and the work of individual congregations to support that. >> SPEAKER: Nick, I thought you'd ask a question about mission societies. That's actually a very insightful question about the relationship of mission in the church. Let me start by answering that in a structural way. That is, just with reference to our constitution and bylaws. From the time of its original organization, the Missouri Synod has seen mission work as the task of the church. And for that reason, when we set up a synod, we also set up an arm of that synod, a department of the synod that's responsible to carry out deliberate mission work. The exact way in which that is structured has gone through numerous changes. But today, we call that branch of the church the Board for Mission Services. And it's responsible for all of the collective corporate work we do as a synod together in North America and around the world. There have been times when we had a separate board for North American missions and another board for foreign missions, but for the last several years, this has been combined into a single board for mission services sometimes referred to as LCMS World Mission. That's sort of a structural answer to how the mission is related to church. You could say we see mission as the task of the church and, therefore, integrated into it as part of the church's organizational structure. At the same time, we have missionary societies, too. One of the first of these was established in the early 1900's by Edward Arndt, a pastor who was passionately interested in mission work in China and tried to persuade the synod to send missionaries to China. The synod refused because of lack of resources and lack of suitable people. So Arndt organized his own society of Missouri Synod Lutherans, and this society then sent its first missionary, Arndt himself, as a missionary to China. So he went outside the official structures of the synod and created this independently constituted missionary society to carry out the Chinese mission work that he was so interested in. Within a relatively few years, the synod had decided that maybe this wasn't such a bad idea after all and adopted Arndt�s Chinese work and committed to sending other missionaries. And that missionary society went out of existence as the work was taken over by the synod as a body. But that wasn't the end of missionary societies in the Missouri Synod. In fact, in the last several years, over the last, oh, I'd say 15 years or so, we've seen an explosion in the creation of new missionary societies, a great surge of new organizations that seem to keep cropping up. Each of these organizations decides to identify a particular part of the global mission of the church that they're passionate about, that they're interested in and committed to, and they'll organize in a way that seems best to them to support and foster that part of the mission. So you'll have a missionary society that's focused just on blind missions, or a missionary society that's focused just on missionary work in East Africa. Another missionary society might take as its primary goal the care of children in Latin America. Another missionary society takes as its goal the translation of the bible. All of these are constituted as separate societies, independence societies, but, of course, their members, their supporters, come from churches. The societies I'm talking about draw their support and members from churches in the Missouri Synod. So we do have a collective, corporate branch of the church that is responsible for global mission work, but we have, at the same time, a rather large and increasing number of independence societies that have constituted themselves and operate in a way that focuses on a particular aspect of mission work. It's probably too soon to tell what the long-range effect of that phenomenon is. As a historian, it's a difficult sometimes to evaluate what the significance of current events is, but I think it's safe to say that these missionary societies are probably with us for a long time. They allow individual Christians to take greater ownership and responsibility for mission work and also offer individual Christians the opportunity to become more directly involved in some aspect of mission. And that seems to be something that's supported very widely by people in our day and age. There are efforts to coordinate the work of these mission societies in the orbit of the Missouri Synod. There's an organization of organizations. It's called the Association of Lutheran Mission Agencies or ALMA, which currently has, I believe, more than 70 members, 70 member organizations are part of this umbrella group. And they meet on a regular basis to help coordinate the work and make sure there's not any unnecessary duplication of effort or overlap. No one is interested in having these different missionary societies compete with one another. But that kind of coordination becomes a more and more difficult task the more of these groups there are. I think we'll have to learn to live with these mission groups for quite a while. The last part of your question had to do with how the mission work of the synod relates to the work of an individual congregation, if I understood you correctly, Nick. And I think the best way to answer that is that for most of the synod's history, the local congregation was understood as the primary agency for mission work of all kinds. In fact, when the synod was formed, there was a debate about whether this new thing that they�d established, this synod, really had any authority to call a missionary. It was argued that perhaps it was better if only local congregations called missionaries so a local congregation might call a man, but then given the assignment of working in some other location where there wasn't a church. His assignment would be to go there and start a church. The synod had to sort of carry on this debate for quite some time before they finally decided that it was okay if the synod collectively, acting through its mission board, would issue a call so that a missionary could work in a new area where there was no church without also being given responsibilities in an existing local congregation. But that was not a slam dunk. The reason it wasn't such an easy question is because the Missouri Synod understood the local congregation as the primary agency for the mission of the church. Obviously, some mission tasks are beyond the reach of a local congregation. It's hard to imagine an individual local congregation sending a missionary to India. I suppose it's theoretically possible, and the Missouri Synod -- it's certainly theologically possible -- but there are some mission tasks that are just better accomplished collectively. And that was one of the reasons the synod was formed was to help make those tasks possible as the congregations work together. But the local congregation was always seen as the primary agency of mission work in the synod. ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *****