A Pastoral Letter to the Members
of Immanuel Lutheran Church
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” (Psalm 122:1)
Dear fellow redeemed children of God,
The Church lives in the world, but, as Jesus says, is not of the world. The Church is called to proclaim God’s Word, to teach the Gospel, to administer the Sacraments, and to care for the needs of its members as well as those of our neighbors when they arise. God works in the Church by means of His Word and Spirit and cares for the souls of the baptized through the work of the holy Ministry.
In the civil realm, God works to bring peace, justice, and order to the world through earthly government. At one time, Church and State were essentially married to one another. This is one of the things that led to religious wars in Europe in the 17th century. A country’s religion was determined by the religion of its ruler. When England, for example, had a Catholic queen (Mary), it was Catholic. Protestant worship was banned. Before this, Henry VIII (Yes, the one with all the wives) became Protestant and made England Protestant.
The unique situation that was established in the Constitution of the United States was that there would be no state religion as there was in Europe. The First Amendment prohibits the federal government from infringing on the free exercise of religion. It did not create what many believe today to be a total “separation of church and state.” It allowed churches and other religious groups to assemble, to worship, and to live by their religious convictions, even those who served in public office, without intrusion or penalty.
One of the reasons that Lutherans fled to the New World in the 19th century was to escape religious persecution. The King of Prussia was seeking to force a religious union between Lutherans and Reformed Christians. Lutherans were expected to receive Reformed ministers (who denied Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament) and vice versa. So, many of them fled to North America to escape this tyranny and to practice their Christian faith without the intrusive hand of the government.
Since that time Lutheran pastors and congregations as well as Synod Presidents have freely taught the Word of God and publicly spoken about matters that concerned the general public, such as just war, communism, socialism, and all kinds of moral matters. Because the Church is called to teach the Word of God, the reality is that sometimes the things that are preached and spoken about are also political issues. So it may appear to some that the Church and her clergy are being political or that we are letting our private opinions about politics dictate our message to the Church.
As much as I would like to say that politics and faith should never mix, the fact is that it is not always possible for us to avoid that appearance. For example, to some, abortion is strictly a political issue. But abortion is also a moral issue and a Gospel issue. God’s Word is very clear about the sanctity of human life. We cannot escape the fact that Christ, the Son of God, filled the womb of his mother. If we avoided talking and preaching about abortion because it happens to be a hot-button political topic, we would not be preaching “the whole counsel of God.”
In recent years, there seems to have been an explosion of these kinds of issues. Most recently, we have had to deal with mitigation procedures for Covid-19. Thankfully, we were able to keep our doors open. And for a time, we took great pains to make sure that we were following our Governor’s mandates. Churches in other states were not so fortunate. They were forced to shut their doors. They were told that there could be no singing when they did gather. And they were told that they could not administer Holy Communion in the usual manner.
In these situations, politics and faith collided. God commands us to keep the third commandment, which is rather difficult to do when you cannot assemble for public worship. On top of that, the Constitution prohibits government infringement on the free exercise of religion. If forcing churches to close, forbidding singing, and intruding on the Church’s practice of Holy Communion isn’t “infringement,” then what is? So as much as we would like to keep politics and faith separate, it is not always that simple.
So, then, what can you, the members of a Lutheran congregation, expect from your Church and her ministers? First, you can expect that no matter who is elected president, prayers will be offered in the Church for that person. Second, you can expect that no matter what political affiliation you are, you will be treated with the same respect, kindness, and love that befits the Gospel. God shows no partiality, and neither must we. Third, you can expect your pastors to preach the whole counsel of God, even if it means that the world will hate them for it.
What you cannot expect is that matters of faith and theology will never overlap with political matters. There are presently wicked ideologies afoot that are seeking to undermine Christian teaching. They go by the name of “Wokeism,” “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” and “Critical Race Theory,” among others. I will explain more about these in a future Link. Recently, these ideologies came home to roost at one of our beloved Concordia Universities. The administration at Concordia University Wisconsin recently suspended one of its top theology professors for blowing the whistle on the “woke” agenda that has infiltrated the university.
Regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, it goes without saying that our faith should inform our political views and our political views ought to reflect our faith. If they do not, then maybe our salt has lost its saltiness. What we are experiencing today is not new. The Church has always had a voice in the public realm, except in those places where it was forcibly silenced. John the Baptist was imprisoned because he publicly criticized Herod for his immoral choice of taking his brother’s wife, Herodias, as his own. St. John Chrysostom, a preacher in the 4th century, was known for his sharp words towards the wealthy and even towards public officials.
As long as we live in this world and are called to preach the Word of God “in season and out of season,” faith and politics will come into tension. And all the more as the Day of our Lord draws closer. St. Paul reminds us that what we often perceive to be purely political or social issues may actually be spiritual. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” We do well to bear this in mind as we do the work God has given us to do!
Rev. Paul L. Beisel, STM., received his Bachelor’s degree from Concordia University, Nebraska, in 1997. He completed his Master of Divinity at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN., where he also received a Master of Sacred Theology in 2004 focusing on Exegetical Theology. Pastor Beisel served Concordia Lutheran Church in Warsaw, IL., and Messiah Lutheran Church in Keokuk, IA., from 2002 until receiving a Divine Call from Immanuel Lutheran Church in Iowa Falls, IA. He was installed as Immanuel’s pastor on November 15, 2009. In September of 2015, Pastor Beisel journeyed to South Sudan, Africa, where he taught the Book of Matthew to fourth year seminary students (sponsored by the Lutheran Heritage Foundation). Pastor Beisel was born in Oklahoma City, OK., on May 19, 1975. He spent the majority of his childhood in Pittsburg, KS. From 1986-1987, Pastor Beisel lived with his family in Taichung, Taiwan. Since then, he has traveled to Thailand and Germany. Pastor Beisel enjoys time with his family, music, tennis, reading, fine dining, and for good measure, some Lutheran Satire. Pastor Beisel welcomes your e-mails.