The shrink-wrap never used to come off the book.

Like many, perhaps most, pastors, busy with the demands of congregational ministry, early in my ministry I felt no particular need to take a look at the new triennial edition of the Handbook of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. On to the next piece of mail; place the handbook on the shelf next to the previous editions, perfectly preserved in their own shrink-wrap.

Then a turn in God’s calling on my life caused me to learn more about the handbook than I ever imagined. Now I can quote passages of it to you! And I’m glad I can.

It is true that there are some very necessary, but less-than-completely-interesting sections that serve as a good cure for insomnia. But there are also some brilliantly composed portions, particularly in the Constitution, that point those of us who are a part of the LCMS to Christ’s mission.

The “Preamble” of the Constitution reminds us why we have a church body. The first reason is “the example of the apostolic church. Acts 15:1-31.” As the fulcrum of the book of Acts, these verses recount the events of what has come to be known as the “Jerusalem Council.” The early church came together at its first convention to deal with a problem—a mission problem: should the Gentiles who are becoming believers be required to follow all the Jewish laws? After some debate, the decided answer was no—they must simply observe a couple of laws regarding items that were particularly offensive to Jewish people. The church was better when it came together and worked together on its problems.

The second reason for the formation of our church body is “our Lord’s will that the diversities of gifts should be for the common profit. 1 Cor. 12:4-31.” This is a well-known text regarding each person being an important part of the body of Christ. So, our church body is founded upon texts of Scripture that extol the virtues of diverse gifts, used, among other things, to meet that mission challenges that are best engaged when we work together.

Article III of the Constitution builds upon this when it enumerates the “Objectives” of the Synod. The second objective is unambiguously missional: to “strengthen congregations and their members is giving bold witness by word and deed to the love and work of God…and extend that Gospel witness into all the world” (emphasis mine).

The second objective follows upon on the first: to “conserve and promote the unity of the true faith (Eph. 4:3-6; 1 Cor. 1:10), work through its official structure toward fellowship with other Christian church bodies, and provide a united defense against schism, sectarianism (Rom. 16:17), and heresy.” Witness must have content and that content is “true faith” found in “the Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament as the written Word of God and the only rule and norm of faith and practice” and the Lutheran confessions as “a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God” (Constitution Article II).

We are most certainly a biblical and confessional church. The constitution reminds us that to be biblical and confessional we must also be a confessing church, marked by witness and outreach.

There is much more, of course, including the other eight objectives of the Synod that support the first two and an article (Article VII), devoted to the self-governing nature of congregations. Could the founders have understood that local congregations are best equipped to make decisions about how mission and ministry are carried out?

Take the shrink-wrap off and have a look!

By Rev. Jon Braunersreuther
Mission and Ministry Facilitator, Area D