Fifty-first Annual Convention Digest
MOTTO: Man’s Sin Merits Death — God’s Grace Gives Life
Already on the weekend prior to the convention itself, delegates and visitors began to arrive in the beautiful Willamette Valley of Oregon for the Fifty-first Annual Convention of the Concordia Lutheran Conference, hosted by St. John’s Lutheran Church of Lebanon, the Rev. M. L. Natterer, Pastor. According to custom, the convention was preceded by the summer plenary Pastoral Conference on June 26 and the annual meeting of the Board of Directors on June 27, and the members of the host congregation were busy all week providing loving hospitality to many of the guests in their homes and to all of them in the church’s fellowship hall for sumptuous meals each and every day. What had been anticipated to be the usual two-day Pastoral Conference was shortened to just one in order that the pastors, lay delegates, and visitors might first travel north to Seattle, Washington, to attend the funeral service and Christian burial of Pastor Paul R. Bloedel, whom the Lord had graciously taken to Himself in heaven on June 15. [Please see the obituary elsewhere in this present issue.] One of the founding members of our beloved Conference, Pastor Bloedel was discovered to have what appeared to be terminal cancer about the middle of May and was mercifully spared protracted suffering when his Savior called him home within a month of his diagnosis.
The convention itself began on Friday, June 28th, with a service of convocation at 9:30 a.m. The local pastor, who was also the Conference President, both served as liturgist and preached an edifying keynote sermon on the basis of Matthew 9:1-8, taking as his theme the absolution of the Lord Jesus upon the man sick of the palsy: “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” He divided his message into two parts, namely, I. These are words of the greatest comfort, and II. These are words which we can trust.
Following the service, the first session was called to order with a brief devotion conducted by the President. During this first session, ad hoc convention committees were appointed; the delegates were officially seated; and the assembled convention heard the Annual Report of the President. In it President Natterer briefly capsulized the activities of the Conference throughout the year and his duties in particular. Following that report and the appointment of Pastor Edward J. Worley and Mr. Michael L. Mensing to review it, the convention first considered its Agenda. Inasmuch as the Committee on Theological Education was still grappling with the appointment of an interim instructor to fill the fifth-year chair in our Seminary program, the post suddenly left vacant at the death of Pastor Bloedel, and since the committee needed more time to meet and to deliberate upon its choice of a successor, it was unanimously decided to hear that report on Sunday afternoon. After a brief report of the Press Committee, the convention stood in recess for the noon meal.
The afternoon session opened with a brief devotion conducted by Pastor Dierking of Wilmot, South Dakota. This session was then highlighted by the presentation of the HISTORICAL ESSAY, delivered by Pastor David T. Mensing of Oak Forest, Illinois. This essay, the fourth in a series of historical retrospectives commemorating the Fiftieth Anniversary of our Conference, chronicled with documentation the first four years of its existence as the Orthodox Lutheran Conference and the circumstances leading up to a tragic split in its fellowship at the end of 1955. The first part of the essay treated the characteristics that made the Orthodox Lutheran Conference unique in its focused one-mindedness. Unlike so many other church bodies, all were perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (I Corinthians 1:10). Doctrinal discipline was maintained, and orthodoxy was more than a word. It was, by God’s grace, the “chemistry” that kept our Conference focused, functioning, and flourishing under the Lord’s gracious blessing. The second part of the essay took up the question of how the precious fellowship of our Conference was jeopardized by the appearance of a strange “soft spot”in the otherwise rock-solid doctrinal, confessional, and practical position of the Orthodox Lutheran Conference. This was not properly-speaking an “inconsistency” in doctrine and practice (for that would have been quickly spotted and corrected on the basis of Scripture). Instead, it was a kind of paradox or seeming contradiction in our expectations of how and when certain injunctions of Holy Scripture should be obeyed. And that “soft spot” cut some “slack” to those in other church bodies who regarded themselves as “conservatives” and even “orthodox” but who were sitting on the fence concerning their readiness to obey God’s Word in Romans 16:17 and other passages. It gave them, as it were, an “out” for their slowness to act, for their reticence to “avoid them” who by persistence in false doctrine and practice had made their church bodies heterodox. —The essay was interspersed with and followed by lively and edifying discussion on the floor, particularly on the part of those for whom this period in our history was completely new. Unfortunately the wealth of documentation included in this portion of the essay made it impossible to complete it in the allotted time. Therefore it was unanimously decided to adopt the portions presented thus far with thanks to the essayist for his painstaking research and presentation, and to have the balance of the essay presented, with its documentation, at the 52nd Annual Convention next June.
Following the historical essay, the Treasurer’s Report concerning the past fiscal year was given by Robert Bloedel as the designated reporter for his father, Victor K. Bloedel, who was unable to be present. This was adopted, as was also the Initial Report of the Finance Committee with its preliminary proposed budget for fiscal year 2002-2003.
Due to his illness, Pastor Bloedel had not been able to write up the report of the Committee on Lutheran Union in advance of the convention. A summary oral report was therefore given by Pastor Mensing, the second pastoral member of the committee. Included in this report was a brief summary of the controversy with Pastor Ivaldi of Argentina resulting from his insistence that we revise the Sketch of our Doctrinal Position to include the heretical idea that the soul of the believer sleeps with the body in temporal death and does not consciously enjoy the pleasures of heaven. Also included in the report was the overview provided by Pastor Schurganoff of his congregation’s activities in Russia and its humble request for an increase in its subsidy to cover rental of space for worship services and also to augment his salary. The committee referred this subsidy request to the Finance Committee for its consideration in the preparation of its final budget proposal. Finally, the report recognized with praise to God the declarations of fellowship made by the independent Mighty Fortress Orthodox Evangelical Lutheran Church of Anaheim, California, and by the constituent congregations of the Fellowship of Lutheran Congregations, namely, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Oak Park, Illinois, St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sauk Village, Illinois, and Faith Lutheran Church, Stover, Missouri.
On Friday evening, following the supper hour, the delegates and visitors, together with the members of St. John’s Lutheran Church, gathered in the church’s sanctuary for a special commemorative service recognizing both the congregation’s fiftieth anniversary and Pastor Natterer’s fiftieth consecutive year as the shepherd of that flock. It had been a carefully guarded secret as a surprise for their pastor. All the pastors of the fellowship participated in the service; and Pastor Mensing, at the request of the congregation, preached a homily based on Pastor Natterer’s confirmation text, Matthew 10:32. His theme: “Confession of Christ and His Word before men, as the fruit of saving faith, is the duty and privilege of every Christian; but it is particularly so for every faithful pastor.” The service was followed by a festive reception for Pastor and Mrs. Natterer in the church’s fellowship hall.
The Saturday morning session was opened with a devotion conducted by Pastor David G. Redlin of Tucson. Thereupon Pastor E. R. Stallings of San Antonio began his DOCTRINAL ESSAY entitled “The Doctrine of Sin and Its Significant Relation to Salvation by Grace in Christ” In a brief introduction, the essayist pointed out that the teaching of the Doctrine of Sin finds its ultimate purpose in preparing the hearts of the impenitent to see the need for salvation in Christ alone without any merit or worthiness on the part of the sinner and in reminding also us Christians why we continue to stand in need of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. —In the first part of the essay, the essayist briefly but thoroughly reviewed the many facets or components of the Doctrine of Sin, including the definition of sin, the origin and cause of sin, the consequences of sin, and the doctrines of original sin and actual sin. This part of the essay was enthusiastically received as very informative and edifying, and it was accompanied with lively discussion and wide participation on the part of the delegates and visitors. The first part was unanimously adopted with thanks to the essayist. The second part of the essay, which was scheduled to be delivered on Sunday afternoon, would then take up the application of this first section in how the doctrine of sin relates directly to salvation by grace in Christ.
Pastor Ross Mahan then summarized on behalf of the Committee on Missions its work during the past year, as well as the consistent witness to the truth of God’s Word by our members individually and collectively, as the evidence of His grace in their hearts. Pastor Mahan then specifically cited the testimony of the official “voices” of the Conference web site, of its official organ, the Concordia Lutheran, and of Scriptural Publications, as well as our efforts, by means of subsidy dollars, to support the ministry of Pastors Dierking and Schurganoff in their local congregations. The committee’s only specific recommendation was for the continuation of “home missions” subsidy for St. Stephen’s in Wilmot, South Dakota, at the same level as last year. (The subsidy for Russia is at present under the auspices of the Committee on Lutheran Union.)
The Seminary Instructor’s Interest Report was given by Pastor M. L. Natterer, the 4th year professor in our peripatetic rotation. The report briefly summarized the course work and activities carried out during the fourth full year of the program. Professor Natterer specially cited the practical church work to which the student was exposed and which he also carried out in his practicum in the local congregation. The convention then also heard the Seminary Student’s Interest Report by Seminarian Paul E. Bloedel, who gave an interesting and informative summary of his courses and activities during the past academic year in Lebanon, including the happy personal note that he had fallen in love with and had become engaged to one of the young ladies in the congregation there, Miss Laura Fitzwater. He also characterized as a “joyful event” the recent entrance of his father, Pastor Paul Bloedel, into the fullness of heavenly bliss, and of the longing that we all have, by God’s grace, to go where he has gone to be with our dear Savior. Seminarian Bloedel also expressed his eagerness to begin his final year of seminary training.
The convention then heard the Report of the Editorial Committee. The chairman, Pastor E. R. Stallings, began his report with a historical retrospective concerning the publishing work of the late Pastor Paul Bloedel as the printer and sometimes editor of the Concordia Lutheran and of its “predecessor,” the Orthodox Lutheran. He dedicated his report to the glory of God in grateful remembrance of Pastor Bloedel’s monumental contributions to our official organ. He also highlighted several issues of the past year’s Concordia Lutheran for their specially edifying content and thanked his “team” of assistants, John Steinke and Ray Kusumi, who functioned as the technical staff for the formatting and printing of the C. L. Finally, he briefly also cited the fine work of the Book and Tract Editor, Pastor Natterer, and he expressed his appreciation particularly for the latter’s “President’s Column” and “Around the World” feature.
The convention next heard the Report of the Publishing House Board of Control, which regulates Scriptural Publications, the publishing arm of our Conference. Pastor Mensing, the chairman, presented an overview of the successes achieved under God by our publishing house in providing orthodox and edifying material in print for the consumption of our people. Besides the regular printing of the Concordia Lutheran and of our Sunday School Bible Lessons, a special accomplishment this year was the second reprinting of Alfred Doerffler’s book of meditations for those suffering personal crosses, The Burden Made Light, and pre-publication work being done on several other major works including a book of family devotions and Graebner’s Outlines of Doctrinal Theology. Scriptural Publications continues to manage the Conference web site, the Conference archives, and, on behalf of the C.T.E., the Seminary bookstore. The chairman noted in particular the able and invaluable assistance of Pastor M. L. Natterer, the Book and Tract Editor, for his willingness to give editorial review of such projects a high priority on his busy schedule. Depending upon available funding, Scriptural Publications hopes to be able to acquire book binding and trimming equipment during the coming year to enable it to produce more books “in house” rather than outsourcing their production. The report concluded with special thanks for the selflessness of those whose help, both in terms of time and money, contributed under the Lord’s blessing to the success of our publishing efforts. Thereupon, the Business Manager of Scriptural Publications, Mr. Phillip R. Martin, presented his report on the financial aspects of the publishing house.
In the afternoon, following a devotion led by Pastor David T. Mensing of Oak Forest, Illinois, the convention first heard the Further Report of the Finance Committee Concerning the Budget and the Report of the Auditing Committee, before proceeding to the election of officers and standing committees for 2002-2003. The following were elected:
PRESIDENT: The Rev. E. R. Stallings
VICE PRESIDENT: The Rev. M. L. Natterer
SECRETARY: The Rev. David T. Mensing
TREASURER: Mr. Robert G. Bloedel
BOARD MEMBERS-AT-LARGE: Midwest—Mr. JC Perry
Far West— Mr. John Okamoto
EDITORIAL COMMITTEE: Pastor Mensing, Concordia Lutheran Editor; Pastor Natterer, Book and Tract Editor; and Mr. Paul Natterer, Lay Member.
COMMITTEE ON LUTHERAN UNION: Pastor Natterer, Chairman; Pastor Mensing; Pastor Dierking; and Mr. Phillip Martin.
COMMITTEE ON THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION: Pastor Dierking, Chairman; Pastor Mahan; Mr. Mark Natterer; and Mr. Daniel Bloedel.
COMMITTEE ON MISSIONS: Pastor Mahan, Chairman; Pastor Mensing; Mr. Ron Lake, Mr. Aaron Dierking, and Mr. Brett Swinney.
FINANCE COMMITTEE: Mr. Robert Bloedel, Chairman; Mr. John Steinke, Mr. Phil Martin, and Mr. Michael Schrader.
PUBLISHING HOUSE BOARD OF CONTROL: Pastor Mensing, Chairman; Mr. Phillip Martin, Business Manager; and Mr. Raymond Kusumi, Print Shop Manager.
At the Sunday morning service, the host pastor again served as liturgist, and Pastor David T. Mensing of Oak Forest, Illinois, preached the sermon on Romans 6:23. His theme was: The Knowledge of Sin and Its Wages Is Indispensable for the True Appreciation of the Gospel. He divided the sermon according to the text itself, which division incidentally also restated the motto of the convention, namely, I. Man’s Sin Merits Death, but II. God’s Grace Gives Life. In his message, Pastor Mensing focused upon that function of God’s Law which, as a mirror, shows man his sin, his total depravity, and his utter helplessness, and thus creates in the sinner’s heart the need for salvation by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith. Delegates and visitors from the congregations of our fellowship then partook of the Lord’s Supper together as guests of St. John’s Congregation —for the remission of their sins, for the strengthening of their faith and of their walk in sanctification, and in testimony of their blessed unity in the Word of their Savior.
After a sumptuous dinner, sessions reconvened with a devotion conducted by Pastor Mahan of Jackson, Michigan, after which Pastor Stallings presented the final portion of his essay entitled “The Doctrine of Sin and Its Significant Relation to Salvation by Grace in Christ.” In this portion, the essayist pointed out how the Doctrine of Sin relates directly to salvation by grace in Christ. Specifically noted were the following truths: –The Doctrine of Sin shows us man’s condition of being a lost and condemned creature and therefore the absolute necessity of salvation by grace. –The sin of man made absolutely necessary the substitutionary work of Christ. –The sin remaining in us as sinner-saints is why we must continue to trust only in the grace of God for our salvation. And finally, –God’s grace in Christ is magnified by how it ever abounds over sin in our lives. He concluded his essay with the prayer of the Psalmist: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me; and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24). —Following spirited and fruitful discussion of this section, this edifying essay was adopted with thanks to the essayist, subject to polish and the usual subsequent review by the praesidium.
Then followed the Report of the Committee to Review the President’s Report, read by Mr. Michael Mensing, in which the committee took special note of certain comments in the annual report of our outgoing President, called particular attention to the declarations of fellowship by Mighty Fortress (Anaheim) and of the constituent congregations of the Fellowship of Lutheran Congregations, and recognized God’s gracious will in the “transfer” of Pastor Paul Bloedel from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant. Finally, the committee thanked God for His grace in enabling our President to perform his many duties as a faithful steward on our behalf to the glory of our Redeemer. Also heard was a brief Report on the Conference Archives by Mr. Phillip Martin, in which the pastors in particular were urged to submit either original documents or at least clear copies of documents of significance to our Conference and its history for safe storage on behalf of the generations to come. These may one day be digitized and made readily available for general study.
The Report of the Committee on Theological Education was then presented and discussed. It centered chiefly upon the committee’s responsibility to select and call a successor to Pastor Bloedel, whose completely unexpected terminal illness and death suddenly left vacant the fifth year chair on our Seminary faculty. Under normal conditions, such a vacancy would be filled after a rather time-consuming nominating process. Since, however, only about two months remained until the start of the fall term, and the designated instructor(s) would need every bit of that time to ready themselves for the task at hand. Moreover, the lengthier process would have the undesirable effect of delaying the start of instruction, of shortening the academic term, and perhaps of compromising the student’s readiness to be colloquized by the summer Plenary Pastoral Conference in June, 2003. With two congregations presently vacant and urgently in need of pastors, it was deemed prudent by the Committee to make an interim appointment for the 2002-2003 academic year based upon the only nominations that had been suggested, either by congregations, by the Pastoral Conference, or by the Board of Directors, and to proceed with a permanent appointment after the conclusion of the 2002-2003 term. The committee met with the nominees, Pastors Worley, Lietz, and Mensing, and explored both their willingness to serve and their ability under their present circumstances reasonably to fulfill the fifth-year teaching assignment of five courses plus the practicum. Considering first of all the personal expressions of the pastors themselves but then also the circumstantial factors involved, it was the unanimous decision of the committee to call Pastors Mensing and Lietz to share the fifth-year professorship as an interim appointment for the 2002-2003 academic year, and that thereafter a regular fifth-year professor would be called through the normal procedures. All three pastors involved concurred in this decision wholeheartedly. After brief discussion, the report of the Committee on Theological Education was unanimously adopted by the convention.
Concluding the business of the convention followed the Final Report of the Finance Committee and adoption of the 2002-2003 Fiscal Budget, the Final Report of the Resolutions Committee, the Final Report of the Committee on Registration and Excuses and the Report of the Conference Statistician, Mr. Raymond Kusumi, who was reappointed to that post with the thanks of the convention.
The convention also unanimously accepted the gracious invitation of Peace Ev. Lutheran Church of Oak Forest, Illinois, to host the 52nd Annual Convention (June 27, 28 and 29, 2003), immediately preceded as usual by the Plenary Pastoral Conference on June 24 and 25, with the possibility of a third day already on Monday, June 23, and the Board of Directors Meeting on June 26. Our people are encouraged now already to mark these dates on their calendars so that they can plan ahead to attend.
Before adjournment, Pastor Robert J. Lietz was granted the floor to give a special interest report on the Fellowship of Lutheran Congregations and its current situation. He first briefly described the three constituent congregations of the F. L. C. as to their location, history and current membership, and expressed joy in the Lord at the fact that all three have, as of May, 2002, declared themselves in fellowship with our Conference. He also noted that two congregations in Minnesota had separatistically left the F. L. C. in December, 2000, rather than share the Scriptural position on Matthew 18:15-17 which the body had adopted in June of that same year. Eight months later, the same two congregations sued the F. L. C. in court, claiming that their unilateral action signaled the “dissolution” of the body, thus making them eligible to claim their “proportionate share” of the body’s financial assets. In point of fact, the F. L. C. did NOT dissolve. It continues to function as a religious corporation and church body to this day. The Minnesota congregations are not constituent members of it by their own action and therefore have no legitimate claim upon its assets (any more than a person who quits a church can claim a “refund” of all the contributions he had made while he was a member). God willing, the lawsuit will be disposed of within the next month or so, and the justice of our brethren’s cause will be vindicated.
The convention then adjourned with the customary closing devotion led by President Stallings. It had been a most brotherly and constructive meeting; and the delegates and visitors returned to their respective homes edified by the Spirit in His Word, strengthened by the Holy Sacrament of their Savior’s body and blood, encouraged by the good and pleasant fellowship that He had mercifully created and graciously preserved among them, and determined by His grace to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) in faithfulness to the precious “Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (I Peter 1:23).
Rev. David T. Mensing, Secretary