In 1937, Rev. E. Eckhardt, the editor of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod Statistical Yearbook, looked back at the scattering forces that gripped the nation and the church in the early 1900s. Commenting on the statistics recorded for 1918, he said, “As a result of the flu marriages decreased to the extent of 4,169, and burials increased to 3,333.”
It was the Spanish Flu that cut marriages in the LCMS by more than 30 percent in one year and increased deaths by more than 25 percent. It took two years for the LCMS to recoup its losses from the ravages of the deadly pandemic.
In 1919 LCMS baptized membership decreased for the first time since the synod began nearly 75 years earlier. Pastor Eckhardt commented, “A decrease of 4,027 souls was caused by the drafting of thousands of our boys for the Army.”
The Great War, World War I, caused tragic loss of life and unspeakable heartbreak for families.
After enumerating additional cultural shifts that pressed against the church, Pastor Eckhardt concluded his comments in a surprising way. He said, “On the other hand, the number of adults baptized and confirmed is rising from year to year.”
On the other hand! By the 1940s, nearly 190,000 new adults confessed their faith in Jesus Christ for the very first time at Lutheran altars. Pastor Eckhardt took note of a very important truth: No matter what uncertainty, upheaval, or unexpected obstacles may appear, the Church of our risen Lord Jesus Christ is always able to declare, “On the other hand!”
Why? Because the Gospel will prevail forever! Jesus said to His disciples after he warned them about being scattered before His crucifixion, “In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In other words, Jesus said, “On the other hand!” Trials will rage. Troubles will bring an excruciating challenge. But Jesus has overcome those destructive, demoralizing and frustrating forces. The movement of the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen will not be thwarted.
You may feel fatigued and disoriented today. Our culture is anxious and divided. Churches are literally scattered into homes and neighborhoods because of COVID-19. ON THE OTHER HAND, the Gospel is making its way into more hearts than ever before. Neighbors are reaching neighbors. Online connections are multiplying. God is teaching us new ways to share and steward His saving Good News.
May we look back one day, just as Pastor Eckhardt did, and see how our faithful God multiplied His Kingdom even in the midst of uncertainty and change. As the woes of this broken world cascade, may we, by faith and through God’s grace, declare together, “ON THE OTHER HAND!”
By Rev. Michael Newman
President, LCMS Texas District
Questions for reflection:
What new pathways for Gospel sharing do you see personally and through your church?
How has Jesus overcome the challenges we are facing in the world today?
Prayer starter: Thank God for a specific Scripture passage that gives you hope and courage. Ask Him to open a door for you to share that verse with someone in your life.