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Lutheran Missions Lutheran Congregations MCH Logia 07-3 1998

Lutheran Missions Lutheran Congregations MCH Logia 07-3 1998

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Lutheran Missions Must Lead to Lutheran Congregations, Harrison, Logia 07-3, 1998
Lutheran Missions Must Lead to Lutheran Congregations, Harrison, Logia 07-3, 1998

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
village working with Anglican or perhaps with United Church of Canada
Indians. Why no Lutherans? “The Indian people will notallow us to start Lutheran churches,” came the LAMP response. Itseemed plausible enough at the time. And I often repeated thesevery words to inquisitive supporters. I expressed my desire towork with the Anglicans if at all possible.After a couple of months in training with one of the pastor-pilots,we were placed in a remote Cree village named Deer Lake, some onehundred miles into the bush from Red Lake. This village of some
ve hundred residents (now nine hundred!) had three churches:United Church of Canada, Mennonite, and a Pentecostal housechurch. The great majority of the village remained unchurched. Wewould be working with the United Church. The
rst Sunday weattended church, I was standing about the stove before worshipwarming my hands, with several Indians next to me. “Who’spreaching?” I asked. “You are,” came the response. And so I did thebest I could at the time. I gave these Indian people sermons of lawand gospel for the remainder of the year. The “sacrament” was cele-brated once that I remember, when the neighboring clergyman vis-ited. I assisted with the grape juice and with a troubled conscience.What a wonderful year we had! Of all the volunteers that year,nine or ten total, ours was the most positive experience. We hadbeen welcomed by the Indian people with open arms. We wereparticipating in their religious and social life to a remarkabledegree. I was doing such things as trapping, helping with
sh nets,and making snow shoes. One of the oldest and most respected menin the village had taken me under his wing to make sure I didn’t getkilled falling through the ice or felling trees for
rewood. Thepower group in the village loved to sing Cree songs to the guitar.My banjo and guitar playing placed us smack at the center of DeerLake political and social power, while other volunteers were strug-gling or even being run out of their villages. Because of intensesocial upheaval, these villages can be very rough places!What was our task? To identify, train, and encourage nativeChristian leadership. It became obvious to me, however, that havingonly a year to do this without the close support of an ecclesiasticalstructure made this goal rather impossible, even ridiculous. Weshared the gospel with many Indian friends. So many of them are“sore oppressed” by horrible theology and the most wretched con-founding of law and gospel. Anything positive we were able toaccomplish with individual Indians I’m sure was quickly swept asideby the fanaticism found all over in the remote north. The Reformedsects and Pentecostals swarm over these remote areas with decision
AUTHOR’S NOTE
The following was written some
ve years ago in early 

. Sincethen I have not kept track of LAMP’s activities or programs. Ihave recently heard uno
cial reports that LAMP is making ane
ff 
ort at a more forthrightly Lutheran missiological approach,something I would applaud and support in every way. I bear noanimosity to any of the participants mentioned in this article andhave made every e
ff 
ort to keep their identity anonymous. Aboveall, I o
ff 
er what follows as a case study of Sasse’s essay on Lutheranmissiology found in this issue of 

.
     
: Is there accountability forindependent Lutheran mission organizations? The followingaccount of how Lutherans kept a Lutheran church out of oneremote area of northwestern Ontario is a plea for accountability.
BACKGROUND
It was the spring of 

, and I had nearly completed most of a very pleasurable undergraduate semester at Concordia Teacher’s Col-lege, Seward, Nebraska. During chapel I had listened to the experi-ences of a young coupleboth Seward graduateswho had justspent a rewarding year of volunteer service in a remote Cree Indianvillage of Northern Ontario. I had planned to begin study at Con-cordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, that fall, but this seemedlike the opportunity of a lifetime. Soon my wife and I were in con-tact with a representative of the Lutheran Association of Missionar-ies and Pilots (LAMP). By early fall we found ourselves at the thenVolunteer in Ministry training center on McKenzie Island, nearRed Lake, Ontario. In a manner similar to the American PeaceCorps, we had managed to raise the necessary funding for our yearby way of pledges from various Christian friends.My Lutheran convictions were not all that solidi
ed at thetime, but I was a bit concerned to learn that we would in fact notbe working with any “Lutheran” Indians. Despite LAMP’s twenty  years in Ontario, there simply are none. We would likely be in a
Lutheran Missions Must Lead to Lutheran Churches 
M

H

M

H

is Pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne,Indiana, and a contributing editor for

.The title is borrowed from a brilliant article by Friedrich WilhelmHopf, “Lutherische Kirche treibt Lutherische Mission,”
Lutherische Blätter 

, no.

(August

):
:
“Lutherische Mission muss zuLutherischer Kirche führen.”
 
was a Roman Catholic with a predilection toward reincarnation. Atthe conference there was, of course, communion. I did not partici-pate, and several of the volunteers followed my lead, much to theconsternation of the LAMP pastor-pilot present. This issue causedrather intense discussion back at the training center. Those whosupport LAMP should know that its pastor-pilots
 y here andthere across the north communing Christians without regard forconfession. Non-Lutherans are welcome as volunteers in LAMP’sprograms. This is the case with pastor-pilots of both the LutheranChurchCanada (LCC, a sister church of the LCMS) and theEvangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC, a sister church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).This should come as no surprise, given LAMP’s own o
cialdescription of its work: “The Lutheran Association of Missionar-ies and Pilots (LAMP) is an independent mission organizationassisting the Christian church with ministry in sparsely settled orphysically isolated areas of Canada and the United States.” Thisall-inclusive and decidedly ecumenical statement of purpose isdirectly at odds with the LCMS constitution, which places as acondition for membership the “renunciation of unionism andsyncretism of every description” and the renunciation of “takingpart in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congrega-tions or of congregations of mixed confession” and “participatingin heterodox tract and missionary activities” (Article

).
Minis-tering to dear Christian people of various confessions in very iso-lated areas with consolation, comfort, and encouragement wouldbe one thing. But LAMP is fully committed to full ecumenicalparticipation: in other words, to the practice of altar and pulpitfellowship with all Christians. I contend that when such is thecase, the gospel su
ff 
ers.Through intense study of the New Testament and the historicdoctrine of the Lutheran Church, as well as the history of hermissions, I became rather convinced that the problem of Indians“not allowing Lutheran churches” was rather an excuse forLutherans not allowing to Indians Lutheran churches. LAMP inits inception had been a brilliant idea, but it had devolved into abasically ecumenical organization that had surrendered any insistence on the purity of the marks of the churchthe gospelrightly preached and the sacraments rightly administeredforbroad ecumenical acceptance and opportunity in the north.LAMP’s approach, heavily in
uenced by the Pietist deemphasisof the gospel-and-sacraments marks of the church, simply wasand is incapable of building the church in any real sustainableway in the north.It is true that little childrenthousands of them!hear thegospel through the Vacation Bible School teams that LAMP
iesnorth every summer. I rejoice over this fact. But much of that life isnot sustained by regular life about the gospel. As I myself wit-nessed, the religious groups that expend the most e
ff 
ort amongIndians, that establish churches and with which LAMP readily cooperates, often preach a di
ff 
erent gospel. I’ll never forget oneMennonite missionary in the north who insisted on works playinga part in our salvation, since Paul had said, “Work out your salva-tion with fear and trembling.” I had conducted a LAMP VacationBible School with her and her husband. It’s hard to imagine theconfusion and law-oriented darkness that reigns unless one spendssigni
cant time among these people.
theology and perfectionism. But the average Indian is not a fool. Hehas better insight into the human condition than most white “mis-sionaries.” He knows law religion is a farce. Since this kind of reli-gion is, by and large, what is available to him in the churches presentin the north, he rejects the organized church. He can’t be a Christianbecause he knows he can’t be sinless. (The theology of perfection-ism is, of course, much more prevalent in the Mennonite, Amish,Pentecostal, and holiness strains of the United Church.)Shortly before we were to leave Deer Lake, the neighboringUnited Church pastor, who was an Indian, came and told us,“The people here want you to stay.” That was one of the mostgratifying sentences I had ever heard, especially since our LAMPpastor-pilot had earlier admitted that, of all the volunteers in theprogram, he was most concerned with me disrupting the villagebecause of “conservative views.” In spite of the invitation, we hadto leave. Seminary was waiting.
A NEW OUTLOOK
I don’t remember exactly when it began to dawn on me, but as Iseriously studied the New Testament and Lutheran theology at theseminary, I began to wonder about the truth of the statement “TheIndians won’t allow Lutheran churches.” Perhaps it was true some-where at one time, and may yet be so in many places, but was it anironclad rule? For a while I maintained some hope of workingwithin LAMP as a pastor-pilot. I even had at least one extendedphone conversation with its Executive Director. He spoke positively of my coming aboard LAMP, given our very excellent experience inDeer Lake. The di
cult question I had was, Could I in any way maintain the biblical and confessional Lutheranand historiccatholicprinciples of church fellowship and still
nd a place inLAMP? The question I posed was, “Is there room in LAMP for apastor-pilot who takes seriously the constitution and confession of the Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod (LCMS)?” The answerwas a clear though circuitous
no
. That was really the answer Ineeded to hear. It was really the same question that men likeJohann Gottfried Scheibel and Georg Philipp Huschke posed tothemselves

 years earlier. They couldn’t maintain Lutheran prin-ciples of fellowship
within
the Prussian Union either.
I knew full well LAMP’s position on the fellowship issues. Whenstill in training, the volunteers attended a conference on nativeministry in Manitoba. Those present ranged from an essentially Unitarian native theologian from the University of Minnesota, toPentecostals, to a native Roman Catholic priest for whom the peacepipe was the eighth sacrament. One of our own LAMP volunteers
LAMP in its inception had been a brilliant idea, but it had devolved into a basically ecumenical organization that had surren- dered any insistence on the purity of the marks of the church.
nb 
 
For anyone remotely familiar with the missiological and con-fessional demands of the New Testament, the Lutheran Confes-sions,and the history of Lutheran missions, such ideas werelunac y.
Ihad also lived with native people in the north for a sub-stantial period. I knew Indian people and the religious situationin the bush. I also knew we had a real chance to begin a genuineLutheran church among native Canadians, so sorely plagued by bad theology. Unfortunately, a unionistic beginning would only mean the quick end of any attempt to establish Lutheranism inthe northern bush.Unfortunately, what I had feared most happened. LAMP hadgotten into the act and had convinced the church o
cial that agenuinely Lutheran mission in the north, starting Lutheran con-gregations, was an impossibility. Pietism won the day. I knew onthe basis of the New Testament that there can be no other optionfor Lutheran missionaries than the establishment of the fullgospel of the word and sacraments (Acts
:

).
That is the
mis-sio apostolica! 
The plan for a Lutheran church among native Canadians wassidetracked as we argued about the necessity of the sacraments inaddition to the word, as though the former might in certain cir-cumstances be jettisoned for the greater good of the “gospel.”Luther, however, saw most clearly that the sacraments
are 
thegospel.
I knew from experience that any mission e
ff 
ort wasdoomed to failure that did not from the beginning both assert the“full gospel” of the Catechism, including the fourth,
fth, andsixth chief parts, and lovingly but clearly point out that thisLutheran Christianity is something di
ff 
erent from that whichalready obtains in the Indian villages. Such a mission e
ff 
ort wouldbe destined to become part of the mishmash of religious confu-sion that already reigns among native Canadians.On the saddest day of my life, I had to turn down my divinecall. I was convinced that those who ought to have been my strongest advocates, and who would have been my closest work-ing associates, were absolutely opposed to everything that wouldneed to be accomplished to establish a truly Lutheran mission. If I were to be faithful to my ordination vows, and to the Augus-tana, which calls for visible unity only where the marks of thechurch are whole and unde
led (AC

; FC Ep
,
), I would beat terrible odds with my brothers in the faith. I had carefully toldthe Indian friends who wanted me back that I was not Anglican,nor United, but Lutheran. I told them that was something di
ff 
er-ent and that my work in the village would be something di
ff 
erentthan our
rst year. They were aware of this and were willing toaccept it. With only a handful of seven hundred Deer Lake peo-ple attending regular worship, the time seemed right. But God’sways are not our ways.
In

, as I was completing a Master of Sacred Theology degree at the seminary, I had become absolutely convinced thatLAMP’s approach could never build the church in the north,because it attempts to do so without the establishment of altarswhere the gospel is purely preached and the sacraments rightly administered. I also realized most clearly that the only reason therewere no Lutheran churches in the Indian villages of the north wasthat the Lutherans did not have the will to start them. A surprisecame by way of the telephone. “The people want you to comeback. We need you,” the Cree voice spoke in an accent so very familiar to me. “Impossible,” I thought. But then I began to con-sider the possibilities. From the beginning I knew I could havenothing to do with LAMP. Establishing a Lutheran congregationamong native Canadians would be directly at odds with LAMP’sprogram of “assisting the Christian church.”I immediately contacted placement and mission o
cials at theFort Wayne seminary. I got the green light to pursue this possibility.Then came the contact with an o
cial of the Canadian church.The pastor-pilot, who would be working in the same area as I, wasan LCC pastor. He was also a missionary-at-large for the district.My refusing to work with LAMP would make things di
cult. Thechurch o
cial promised LAMP would play no determinative rolein my ministry in the north. The church would, however, hireLAMP for travel. The LAMP pilot also had a village where hewanted us to be placed. I was willing to let Deer Lake go, if we couldwork toward a genuinely Lutheran church in the northern bush.I began to consider a strategy. First, several years would beneeded to establish a Lutheran beachhead in the north. Relation-ships with the other denominations would prove delicate, butthat di
cult road could be traveled. I well knew that the gospelmessage we had to o
ff 
er would far outdistance the variousReformed denominations and that it would be welcomed by anumber of Indians su
ff 
ering under the confusion of law andgospel. I envisioned preaching stations reaching out from a cen-tral location. I obtained Baierlein’s translation of Luther’s Cate-chism into Ojibwa.
The call from the placement committeecame. It read: “Matthew Harrison, Missionary-at-Large to theIndians, Central District, Lutheran ChurchCanada.” I wassoon sorely disappointed.
DISAPPOINTMENT
I, my wife, the LAMP pastor-pilot, and the church o
cial spentseveral days back at the same LAMP training center where I hadbeen prepared some seven years earlier. Both the LAMP man andthe church o
cial were convinced that what I wished to do couldnot and ought not be done. We spent several days discussing theissues and visiting a couple of villages. The LAMP pilot feared that Iwould destroy his contacts in a village if I were to go in and begin aLutheran church. They were distraught that I intended to be faith-ful to my ordination vows and not practice altar and pulpit fellow-ship with the other churches in the north. Despite my stated will-ingness to attend Anglican and United Church conferences and toexpress joy where agreement was found, I could not ease their anx-iety. It was actually suggested that I go into one village and workunder the auspices of the United Church for a short duration, thenmove on to the next village for a short period of time, work underwhatever body was there, and then leave again.
The gospel message we had to o 
 ff  
er would far outdistance the various Reformed denominations.nb 

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