“Still our Great Commission: ‘Make Disciples of All the Nations’”
These words (drawn from the Great Commission of Jesus recorded in Matthew 28:18-20) served as the theme of the Thirty-Sixth Convention of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. The convention was held—after a year’s delay due to COVID—on the campus of Immanuel Lutheran College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, June 24-27, 2021. Professor David Schaller served as chaplain, opening and closing each session with encouragement from the Word of God and leading the assembly in prayer.
On Thursday morning President Michael Eichstadt addressed the convention with his biennial report. It was titled “A Blessed Partnership in the Gospel!” He referenced the greatest partnership in the world, that spoken of by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3-5). He noted how, as we travel to convention from CLC churches across the country, we too may rejoice in the partnership the Lord has created among us. Living in a world that opposes Christians, how uplifting it is to join together in unity. Our Gospel partnership has both durable and fragile elements, however. God’s promises are firm but we are weak. We often fail to love each other as we should.
President Eichstadt touched upon a number of other items in his report. He expressed thanks to all who worked tirelessly during the pandemic to carry on the work of the Savior. He acknowledged concern over the shortage of called workers in our church body, at the same time pointing out opportunities the Lord has given for laymen to step up and fill the void. He expressed joy in the confessional unity that has been reached between the Bangladesh Lutheran Church and the CLC, and encouraged us to continue offering prayers and support on behalf of our overseas brethren still dealing with the ravages of the pandemic.
The President continued by sharing a brief history of how and why “A Joint Statement on the Termination of Church Fellowship” came about, noting that representatives of the CLC, the WELS, and the ELS met several times and submitted this document in 2015 to be examined by each synod. It was adopted by the WELS in 2016 and the ELS in 2017. The CLC considered it at its 2018 convention but determined that more time was needed to study and respond to the document. The goal was for final disposition at the 2020 Convention. President Eichstadt stated, “A restoration of fellowship with the ELS and WELS based on full agreement on all the doctrines of Scripture is longed for by many and would without question be an amazing gift of the Holy Spirit.” He also shared a reminder that “acceptance of the Joint Statement would not be a declaration of fellowship, but only a necessary first step toward that goal. There are other matters of doctrine and practice which would require careful discussion, including whether current confessions and practices of the ELS and WELS are consistent with the Joint Statement.”
President Eichstadt noted a thankful recognition of the 60th anniversary of the CLC, which occurred in 2020. It is by God’s grace alone that we have been able to continue to proclaim the Gospel of Christ in its truth and purity and to weather storms of controversy that have arisen during our history. The President’s Report concluded with a reminder that the same Lord Who has blessed us so incredibly in the past promises to be with us always to the end of the age, and with a prayer that God would prosper our partnership and our speaking here in Jesus’ name.
On Thursday evening Pastor Luke Bernthal (St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Mountain View, California) presented his essay, “Jesus Provides the Means.” The words of the Great Commission are meant for all Christians. We may be inclined to think they apply to others, perhaps only to the disciples of Jesus’ day. But our Savior did not stamp His Great Commission with an expiration date. He commissioned His original disciples—and His disciples of all times—to preach the Gospel. Pastor Bernthal went on to speak about the “power tools” Jesus has supplied by which He enables us to fulfill our commission, namely, the Gospel in the Word and Sacraments. The Savior chooses to use weak people like us to accomplish His powerful purposes. Moreover, He calls on us to make disciples by teaching them to observe “all things that He has commanded us.” All of God’s Word is important to proclaim and uphold because this is what He uses to convert sinners and save souls. He is aware of our frailties and our tendency to doubt His words and to forget His promises. Therefore, in addition to His spoken Word, He has given us the “power tools’’ of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In these He comes to us and assures us personally, “The forgiveness I obtained for the world, I obtained for you. See it. Feel it. Taste it!” Pastor Bernthal concluded with a discussion of the word go. As we go about our daily walk of life as redeemed children of God, we will want to seek opportunities to share His life-giving Word and do it confidently, buoyed by Jesus’ promise, “I am with you always.”
The second convention essay was presented on Friday evening by Michael Schierenbeck, a member of Luther Memorial Church, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. His essay was titled, “Jesus Promises His Presence.” Whereas human promises are limited, Jesus’ promises come with certainty and power. In the Great Commission He says, “I am with you always.” This presence of Jesus with His people is nothing new, however. He has been with His people throughout history. In fact, His presence is even inside His believers, where He rules in our hearts. His presence is vital for the task He has given us of “making disciples.” As sheep, we are surrounded by dangerous and powerful enemies (described in the Bible as wolves, lions, dragons, and beasts) united in their goal of leading us to hell. In addition, we have our sinful flesh to deal with. Fear, doubt, prejudice, and a worldly focus can hinder our effectiveness in fighting this war. The essayist went on to describe how Jesus’ many roles (as our Shepherd, Brother, Husband, King, and Vine) provide us with the protection, strength, courage, and means to fulfill our calling as His Gospel ambassadors.
On Saturday morning a memorial service was held to remember the many called servants and spouses (fourteen in number) who have gone on to their eternal rest since the 2018 Convention. Pastor Theodore Barthels of Austin, Minnesota, officiated. His message of comfort was based on Romans 5:1-5. His theme was “Rejoicing in the Hope of the Glory of God.”
A convention communion service was held Saturday evening at Messiah Lutheran Church. The worship leaders were Pastor Andrew Schaller, liturgist; Pastor Matthew Hanel, speaker; Professor Paul Schaller, choir director; and Dr. Daniel Sullivan, organist.
Regents/Immanuel Lutheran College
The convention resolved that the Candidate for the Reverend Ministry (CRM) requirements remain as they are at Immanuel Lutheran College and Seminary for those pursuing the goal of serving in the full-time pastoral ministry in the CLC. It further resolved that the Regents and the seminary faculty be encouraged to promote the revised Limited Public Ministry (LPM) program to help meet the needs of our synod by training men to be assistant pastors. To that end, the position of a recruiter for the public ministry was established. In addition, $20,000 was allocated from the ILC Building Fund to the ILC Planning Committee (ILC-PC ) to complete the fieldhouse renovation plan. It was resolved that the ILC-PC present its plan for the gymnasium and chapel/theater arts/musical arts facility to the 2022 Convention.
The convention gave thanks to God for His goodness in His continuing gift of the saving Gospel throughout our sixty-year history. It was noted that the CLC currently has five stateside mission-subsidized congregations, one of which (Gift of God Lutheran in Mapleton, North Dakota) is planning to become self-supporting at the end of the year. The Convention resolved that the Board of Missions encourage domestic subsidized congregations to open Christian day schools, and that it provide counsel and financial assistance toward that goal as appropriate. The Board was directed to develop and implement a model for a Christian day school program as an outreach tool in domestic subsidized congregations. In a separate resolution, the Board was encouraged to resume the calling of a third foreign missionary.
The majority of floor time on Saturday was devoted to the report from the floor committee on doctrine, specifically dealing with the “Joint Statement on the Termination of Church Fellowship.” The convention resolved (the “Whereas” portions are omitted here) “that we decline to adopt the Joint Statement as a settlement of the doctrinal difference between the CLC and the WELS and ELS concerning the termination of fellowship, and prayerfully seek the Lord’s guidance in His Word for a different approach, . . . that we continue to use the doctrinal principles of the Joint Statement as a basis for discussion with WELS and ELS on the doctrine of termination of fellowship, . . . that the four-man CLC committee, in conjunction with the CLC Board of Doctrine, clearly define what is necessary for a settlement of the doctrinal difference between the CLC and the WELS and ELS concerning the termination of fellowship, . . . that the four-man CLC committee work with the Board of Doctrine to address additional questions in our midst (e.g., role of admonition, prerequisites for settlement, practice of the fellowship principle, the dangers expressed by Romans 16:18), . . . that these findings be brought before the 2022 Convention, . . .” and “that the four-man CLC committee, in conjunction with the Board of Doctrine, continue to work with the WELS and ELS to settle these doctrinal differences on the basis of Scripture.”
Resolutions were passed that the Board of Doctrine create and maintain an official “CLC Statements and Publications Registry, . . . that all CLC doctrinal statements in the Convention Proceedings be arranged into suitable individual documents focused on specific doctrinal positions, . . . that the official registry and all documents be made available by being posted on the CLC website, . . . and that the Board of Doctrine report to the 2022 Convention as to the status and general framework of this registry.”
The following Fiscal Year 2022 budget was adopted:
Board of Education & Publications $18,000
Board of Trustees $75,000
Board of Missions $425,210
Board of Regents $740,000
ILC Student Revenue $740,120
Total FY22 Spending Plan $1,998,330
It was resolved to increase retirement contributions for CLC called workers from $200/month to $210/month beginning 1/1/2022 and $220/month beginning 1/1/2023 . . . that Code Compensation for FY22 be increased by $75/month plus cost-of-living adjustments (COLA).
Our Shepherd Lutheran Church of Conroe, Texas and Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church of Melrose, Wisconsin were received, with joy, into congregational membership in the CLC. Cory Drehle, Drew Naumann, Samuel Naumann, Johnathan Schnose, Daniel Schierenbeck, and Nathan Buck were accepted as voting members. The action of President Eichstadt of declaring fellowship with Bangladesh Lutheran Church Mission was ratified. The dissolutions of Bethel Lutheran Church, Humble, Texas; Living Word Lutheran Church, Blue Springs, Missouri; Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota; and Rock of Ages Lutheran Church, Jenison, Michigan were acknowledged with regret.
President: Pastor Michael Eichstadt
Vice-President: Pastor Michael Wilke
Secretary: Pastor Wayne Eichstadt
Moderator: Pastor Paul Nolting
Board of Trustees:
Pastor Michael Roehl, Mr. Neal Wietgrefe
Board of Regents:
Mr. Matthew Thurow, Mr. Steve Ludvigson
Board of Missions:
Pastor Robert Sauers, Mr. Jeff Radichel
Board of Education & Publications:
Teacher Seth Schaller, Mr. Rick Nelson
It was resolved that the convention continue to use electronic voting for its elections. The following appointments were ratified. Periodical editors: Professor Paul Naumann (Lutheran Spokesman), Pastor Wayne Eichstadt (Journal of Theology), Pastor David Pfeiffer (Daily Rest Devotions), Pastor Nathan Pfeiffer (Ministry by Mail), and Pastor Glenn Oster (CLC Webmaster). Conference Visitors: Pastor Andrew Schaller (Great Lakes), Pastor James Albrecht (Minnesota), Pastor David Naumann (Pacific Coast), Pastor Matthew Hanel (South Eastern), and Pastor Michael Roehl (West Central). A full list of appointments will be published in the Convention Proceedings.
The communion service offering was designated for the CLC General Fund and totaled $3,640.15. The next CLC Convention will be held on the Immanuel Lutheran College campus, June 23-26, 2022. Attending the 2021 convention were fifty-four pastors/missionaries, sixteen teachers, twelve professors, and seventy-six lay delegates representing forty-six congregations.
Thomas Schuetze is pastor of of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lakewood, Colorado.
(Portions of this article were drawn from the daily convention newspaper Convention Chronicles, Professor Joseph Lau, editor.)