Frequently Asked Questions — Worship & Congregational Life

 

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Usage: Congregational use of FAQs does not require permission of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. However, each reproduction should credit the LCMS as the source and include a link or URL to this page.


Church Year FAQs

 

QUESTION: Why does the church year begin at Advent, what is the history of Advent, and what is the history behind the Advent candles and wreath?

ANSWER: The word “advent" is from the Latin word for “coming,” and as such, describes the “coming” of our Lord Jesus Christ into the flesh.

Advent begins the church year because the church year begins where Jesus' earthly life began — in the Old Testament prophecies of his incarnation. After Advent comes Christmas, which is about his birth; then Epiphany, about his miracles and ministry; then Lent, about his Calvary-bound mission; then Easter, about his resurrection and the sending of the apostles; and then Ascension (40 days after Easter) and Pentecost, with the sending of the Holy Spirit.

The first half of the church year (approximately December through June) highlights the life of Christ. The second half (approximately June through November) highlights the teachings of Christ. The parables and miracles play a big part here. That's "the church year in a nutshell," and it should help reveal how Advent fits into "the big picture."

Advent specifically focuses on Christ's "coming," but Christ's coming manifests itself among us in three ways — past, present, and future.

The readings which highlight Christ's coming in the past focus on the Old Testament prophecies of his incarnation at Bethlehem. The readings, which highlight Christ's coming in the future, focus on his "second coming" on the Last Day at the end of time. And the readings that highlight Christ's coming in the present focus on his ministry among us through Word and Sacrament today.

The traditional use of Advent candles (sometimes held in a wreath) originated in eastern Germany even prior to the Reformation. As this tradition came down to us by the beginning of this century, it involved three purple candles and one pink candle.

The purple candles matched the purple paraments on the altar (purple for the royalty of the coming King). The pink candle was the third candle to be lit (not the fourth) on Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent. "Gaudete" means "Rejoice!" in Latin, which is taken from Phil. 4:4.

("Rejoice! ... the Lord is near"). Hence a "pink" candle was used to signify "rejoicing." Some also included a white "Christ candle" in the middle to be lit during the 12 days of Christmas (Dec. 25 to Jan. 5).

The concept of giving each candle a name, i.e., Prophecy, Bethlehem, Shepherd and Angel, etc., is a relatively novel phenomenon and probably originates with certain entrepreneurial publishers seeking to sell Advent candles and devotional booklets.

There are many beautiful customs and traditions surrounding Advent as well as a load of history concerning its development. These matters would be better found in books than here.

Here are a few:

 

QUESTION: Would you please explain the significance of Ash Wednesday? I've seen some people in the past with black ash crosses on their foreheads.

ANSWER: Lutheran Worship: History and Practice, a commentary on Lutheran Worship, one of our Synod's hymnals, says this about ashes on Ash Wednesday: "Other customs may be used, particularly the imposition of ashes on those who wish it. This ancient act is a gesture of repentance and a powerful reminder about the meaning of the day.

Ashes can symbolize dust-to-dustness and remind worshipers of the need for cleansing, scrubbing and purifying. If they are applied during an act of kneeling, the very posture of defeat and submission expresses humility before God."

The use of ashes on Ash Wednesday is a more recent custom among most LCMS congregations, although some have done it for decades. The ashes are usually derived from the burned palms from the previous Palm Sunday.

Experience will show, however, that in obtaining ashes this way, it doesn't take many ashes to "ash" a whole congregation. Like sin, they are very dirty and go a long way. One palm leaf will produce enough ashes for several years.

Usually the pastor takes the ashes on the end of his thumb and makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of each worshiper, saying these words: "Remember: you are dust, and to dust you shall return." This follows most effectively prior (or as part of) the Service Corporate Confession and Absolution on pages 290-291 of the Lutheran Service Book.

For more information, read about the significance of Lent.

 

QUESTION: During our Bible study this past Sunday, someone asked how Easter can be on a different Sunday every year. Pastor said it had to do with the aligning of the moon, but he didn't know the exact reason why. Can you please explain how Easter Sunday is selected every year and the theological reasoning behind it?

ANSWER: When it comes to figuring out the date for Easter, there is really no simpler way than just looking at the calendar for the upcoming year. But how do the calendar makers know when Easter will be? For instance, in 1999, it was April 4. In 2000, it was April 23. How exactly is the date for Easter determined?

The early church had the same problem, and the root of the problem is this: How exactly do you date the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus? We know that he was crucified on a Friday and rose again on a Sunday, but since Sundays do not always have the same date, another system of calculating a date had to be devised.

How They Used to Do It

By the middle of the second century, there were basically two ways Christians dated their celebrations of Easter. Some, the Quartodecimans (or “fourteenthers”), celebrated the death and resurrection of our Lord according to the “14th day of Nisan” — the day of the Jewish Passover (Lev. 23:5).

Since this date was not always on the same day of the week, the Quartodeciman celebration did not always fall on a Sunday. The rest of the church, however, celebrated the passion and resurrection of our Lord according to a different formula which always placed Easter on a Sunday.

Needless to say, there was no little controversy over this discrepancy, and it wasn't until the Ecumenical Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 that the churches of the world finally got together and agreed on this rule: Easter Day shall always fall on the Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox. That should have settled it, right?

Well, not exactly. You see, there was the little problem of determining when exactly the spring equinox would fall. Various astronomical and calendrical solutions have been used at different times down through the centuries, but even today there is still no unanimity among churches concerning the celebration of Easter.

Just Not the Same

For instance, the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Greek, Russian, Romanian, etc.) celebrate Easter according to the spring equinox on the older Julian Calendar. Lutherans in the Western Church (along with Roman Catholic and Protestant churches) celebrate Easter according to the newer Gregorian Calendar (in effect since 1582).

What all of this means is that the eastern celebration of Easter usually follows anywhere from a week to several weeks after the western celebration.

So what's the solution? One possibility would be to go on celebrating our respective Easters and just not worry about it.

A proposal as recent as 1997, however, has suggested that both east and west use a modern, scientific astronomical calculation for the spring equinox. After all, even our more accurate Gregorian calendar of the west was off this year, since the spring equinox actually occurred on March 20 and not the traditional March 21.

Most of the change suggested by this new proposal, however, would have to come from the Eastern Church, which isn't likely to happen.

The 'Easy Way' and the 'Hard Way'

So what's the easiest way to determine the date for Easter? In the two sections below, the Commission on Worship has provided the "easy way" and the "hard way."

The Commission provided a new chart through 2025 in our hymnal. That's the "easy way."

But if you want to do it the "hard way," the Commission has also provided an algorithm for you to calculate, compliments of Dr. Luther Poellot, St. Louis.

Algorithm for Determining the Date of Easter (1900-??)

Note: Unless your calculator gives remainders, you will need to do most of this calculation in longhand. Math teachers, this could make a good problem for your class to solve at the pre-algebra level. At higher levels of algebra, it could serve as a good discussion question concerning the "why" of its various components.

Part I:

v = the remainder when you divide the number of the year (e.g., 1985) by 19. For 2001, v = 3.

w = the remainder when you divide the number of the year by 4. For 2001, w = 1.

x = The remainder when you divide the number of the year by 7. For 2001, x = 6.

y = The remainder from (19v + 24) ÷ 30. For 2001, y = 21.

z = The remainder from (2w + 4x + 6y + 5) ÷ 7. For 2001, z = 3

Part II:

y + z + 22 = date in March for Easter. If this number is greater than 31, either:

a) subtract 31 = date of Easter in April;

b) or calculate y + z - 9 = date of Easter in April.

Dates of Easter

In the western church, Easter cannot be earlier than March 22 or later than April 25.

2018 — April 1

2019 — April 21

2020 — April 12

2021 — April 4

2022 — April 17

2023 — April 9

2024 — March 31

2025 — April 20

 

QUESTION: Could you explain Epiphany? Also, when was the Circumcision of the Lord?

ANSWER: Epiphany is from a Greek word meaning to "reveal" or "make manifest." The season of Epiphany is our time to focus on the revelation of "who" Jesus is: both true God and man.

On the Festival of Epiphany, Jan. 6, we hear the reading of the visit of the wise men (Matt. 2:1-12). In that event, these foreigners bowed down in acknowledgment that this infant was indeed the Christ, the Son of God.

The Sunday after Epiphany we hear the story of the Baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3:13-17). Here, God the Father confirms this man standing in the water is His beloved Son. The following Sunday we hear the story of the changing of water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-11). Through this event, Jesus revealed his glory and his disciples put their faith in him.

According to Jewish law, all males were circumcised on the eighth day — one week after their birth. We don't know the actual birth date of Jesus so we don't know the day of His circumcision either.

But since we have set aside a date for observing His birth, Dec. 25, we then set aside Jan. 1 (eight days later) as the date for the naming and circumcision of Jesus (Luke 2:21). The significance of this day is that our Savior began His long ministry of submitting Himself to the Law in our place.

Also, this was the first shedding of His blood, and points, in a small way, to the ultimate shedding of His blood on the cross.

 

QUESTION: Do Lutherans have to give up something for Lent as some other denominations require?

ANSWER: From the perspective of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, "giving something up for Lent" is entirely a matter of Christian freedom. It would be wrong, from our perspective, for the church to make some sort of "law" requiring its members to "give something up for Lent," since the Scriptures themselves do not require this.

If, on the other hand, a Christian wants to give something up for Lent as a way of remembering and personalizing the great sacrifice that Christ made on the cross for our sins, then that Christian is certainly free to do so — as long as he or she does not "judge" or "look down on" other Christians who do not choose to do this.

 

QUESTION: What is the significance of Lent?

ANSWER: Early in the Church's history, the major events in Christ's life were observed with special observances, such as His birth, baptism, death, resurrection and ascension.

As these observances developed, a period of time was set aside prior to the major events of Jesus' birth and resurrection as a time of preparation.

During Lent, the Church's worship assumes a more penitential character. The color for the season is purple, a color often associated with penitence. The "Hymn of Praise" is omitted from the liturgy. The word "Alleluia" is usually omitted as well.

By not using the alleluia — a joyful expression meaning "Praise the Lord" — until Easter, the Lenten season is clearly set apart as a distinct time from the rest of the year.

Additionally, it forms a powerful contrast with the festive celebration of Jesus' resurrection when our alleluias ring loud and clear.

Finally, the penitential character of Lent is not its sole purpose. In the ancient Church, the weeks leading up to Easter were a time of intensive preparation of the candidates who were to be baptized at the Easter vigil on Holy Saturday.

This time in the Church's calendar was seen as an especially appropriate time for Baptism because of the relationship between Christ's death and resurrection and our own in Holy Baptism (see Rom. 6:1-11).

This focus would suggest that the season of Lent serves not only as a time to meditate on the suffering that Christ endured on our behalf but also as an opportunity to reflect upon our own Baptism and what it means to live as a child of God.

 

QUESTION: At our last elder's meeting, we discussed switching from the three-year series for the lectionary to the one-year series. Could you give me some guidance on the advantages of using the one-year series versus using the three-year series? I would also like to know the advantages of staying with the three-year series, which I know gives a broader base for various lessons on which to preach.

ANSWER: There are benefits and drawbacks for both the one- and three-year lectionaries (appointed readings from Holy Scripture for every Sunday of the year). The chief benefit of the one-year series, which was used in the church with only minor variations for over 1,000 years, is its repetition of key Bible passages.

In this day of increasing biblical illiteracy, some are beginning to recognize the importance of repeating key Bible passages on a regular basis. Other benefits include the fact that there are many supporting resources for the one-year lectionary, such as hymns that specifically fit with the appointed readings and sermons written by Luther and others for the texts in the one-year lectionary.

Drawbacks to the one-year lectionary include the fact that there are significant portions of Holy Scripture that are not included for reading in public worship. For example, the story of the prodigal son has not been traditionally included (though for the Synod's upcoming hymnal there are plans to include it as an option).

Another drawback is the fact that a relatively small number of congregations in this country use the one-year lectionary.

The chief benefit of the three-year lectionary is that it does provide for a more comprehensive reading of Scripture. A significant number of additional stories from the Bible are included. The great majority of congregations in North America that use a lectionary use the three-year lectionary.

The chief drawback to this lectionary is the lack of repetition. Each reading is heard only once every three years (except for readings for the major festivals of the church year that are repeated each year).

The result may be a greater "breadth" in terms of how much Scripture is read, but this won't always translate into a satisfactory "depth" of reading. Add to this the fact that all it takes is being absent from church for one Sunday, and the result is that a person will not hear the readings for that Sunday for another three years; hence, a six-year hiatus before the text is repeated.

It is important to remember that neither lectionary is good or bad in and of itself. The unspoken element concerns how the pastor utilizes the lectionary in his preaching and teaching. To that end, God can and does use both lectionaries to deliver forgiveness and life to us.

Congregational Life FAQs

 

QUESTION: What is the LCMS' stance regarding clergy promoting political candidates in the pulpit?

ANSWER: Pastors are strongly advised not to use the pulpit or any resources of a congregation to advocate for a particular political candidate. They may make their congregations aware of issues and encourage the members to become informed regarding the candidates' stand on these issues. They may also as individual citizens speak favorably of a particular candidate away from the pulpit and public church functions.

It should also be kept in mind that the IRS has strict rules about separation of church and state, and there are organizations in our society that are very vigilant in looking for churches that are breaking these rules, that is, advocating for a particular political party or candidate.

 

QUESTION: For a pastor, what does the abbreviation CRM mean? What causes a pastor to be in CRM status? Is this a self-determined status, or is this imposed by Synod, Districts, etc? Or is it a mutual agreement? Is the reason for CRM status available to congregations? Individuals? How is a pastor removed from CRM status? Are there specific steps for the pastor or for a calling congregation? Are there any cautions that a congregation should exercise when considering a call to a pastor now on CRM? Generally speaking, I have always associated CRM status with a 'troubled' pastor. Is this a correct association?

ANSWER: As the LCMS uses and applies the term "CRM status," the following can be said:

For a pastor, what does the abbreviation CRM mean?

CRM is the abbreviation for "candidatus reverendi ministerii," that is, "candidate for the reverend ministry." It is generally referred to as "candidate status" and basically means that this pastor is a member of the Synod and is a candidate available and open to receive a call. Under this general classification, the Synod also provides a category called "non-candidate" for those pastors who wish to remain on the roster to do pulpit supply, etc., but are not open to receiving a call to full-time ministry.

What causes a pastor to be in CRM status?

A pastor may be placed on CRM status by his district president for any number of reasons. He may have decided to continue his education for a while, or the congregation he has been serving may have gone out of existence, or he may have had a health or family problem which has caused him to take some time off, etc.

In a limited number of cases, a pastor is on CRM status because he has resigned his previous call due to difficulties in his ministry or in the congregation he has been serving. District presidents place pastors on CRM status to keep them on the roster of the Synod while they are without a call. The pastors themselves decide whether they are available for a call ("candidate") or whether they wish to take some time away from the pastoral ministry ("non-candidate").

Is this a self-determined status, or is this imposed by Synod, Districts, etc.? Or is it a mutual agreement?

Pastors on CRM status have in the past served under a call of a congregation or other entity eligible to extend a call. They have resigned their calls for any of the above reasons and have requested and received from their district president CRM status. It is generally a matter of mutual agreement.

Is the reason for CRM status available to congregations? Individuals?

The reason for CRM status is available to District Presidents, who generally are free and willing to provide this information to congregations during the call process. The exception would be if there are requirements of confidentiality. Personal information regarding church workers is not ordinarily provided to individuals.

How is a pastor removed from CRM status? Are there specific steps for the pastor or for a calling congregation?

A pastor is removed from CRM status, generally speaking, when he receives and accepts a call. He is then no longer a candidate for the ministry. He is a called pastor. A candidate can remain on the candidate list for two years in order to provide opportunity to receive a call. Congregations do well to consider these pastors since they are obviously available. Such pastors will also want to be very open to consideration of any calls they receive. Non-candidate CRM pastors, who only wish to remain on the roster of the Synod but are not interested in a call at the present time, may remain on the roster as non-candidate CRM for eight years, renewable once.

The Bylaws of the Synod provide for a status called "restricted status." Sometimes CRM pastors are also on restricted status. This is imposed upon them by their district president to provide time to work through some things, such as personal problems. During the time a CRM pastor is on restricted status, he is not available for a call. The pastor may request removal of restricted status, for which the Synod has provided an appeal process in its Bylaws.

Are there any cautions that a congregation should exercise when considering a call to a pastor now on CRM?

When a congregation considers a call list that includes the names of pastors that are currently CRM, it should consider the names of CRM pastors with the same care and prayer with which it considers the other names on the list. Of course there will be interest in knowing why a pastor is currently without a call (CRM).

It may even be that he has resigned his call from his most recent parish. It is of course quite possible that the cause behind his resignation lays with circumstances in the congregation rather than any concerns or shortcomings on his part. In any case, his district president by granting to him CRM status is saying that this pastor is fit for the ministry and may be considered a candidate to receive consideration and a call.

Unfortunately, CRM status is at times associated with trouble. This is not a correct general association for reasons already given. As a matter of fact, a congregation that passes quickly over pastors on a call list that are on CRM status are doing an injustice to those pastors and to themselves. Many such pastors come from very positive past call situations.

 

QUESTION: What is "pastor emeritus," and how does a pastor receive this title?

ANSWER: A pastor emeritus is a pastor member of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod who is at least 55 years old and no longer serves under a call. They are inactive and therefore advisory members with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of advisory membership in the Synod.

They must be communicant members in good standing of a congregation of the Synod. An exception to the age limit is made for pastors who are totally and permanently disabled. Most often, pastors emeritus are merely retired pastors who have requested and have been granted emeritus status.

 

QUESTION: Could you please explain a "divine call" to me? Is there a biblical reference, or is it a man-made concept?

ANSWER: Article 14 of the Augsburg Confession (one of the formal Lutheran Confessional writings) says, "It is taught among us that no one should publicly teach or preach or administer the Sacraments in the church without a regular call." Traditionally in the Lutheran church this has been described as a "divine call" because:

  • It is God who has instituted the pastoral office in order that the Word might be preached and the sacraments instituted in an orderly way (Luke 10:16; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-2; 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1; Eph: 4:11, 14; Col. 4:17; 1 Cor. 4:1; 1 Cor. 14:40; 2 Cor. 2:17);

  • It is God who has given congregations the right to call a pastor to carry out this work in their midst and on their behalf (Matt. 28:18-20; Matt. 16:13-19, 18: 17-20; John 20:22, 23; 1 John 4:1; 1 Peter 2:5-6, 4:11; Acts 6:6; 1 Tim. 3:10, 4:14, 5:17; Titus 1:5; Acts 1:23; Heb. 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12).

The specific process by which a congregation extends a call to a pastor is not set forth in the Scriptures, and so this process may vary from time to time and place to place.

In the interest of doing things "decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40), however, the various districts of the Synod have established a set of procedures which is intended to help congregations: 1) identify potential candidates for a call, and 2) follow the steps by which the congregation may extend a call to the individual whom they believe would be best suited to ministry at that place.

 

QUESTION Why are women not allowed to become ministers in the Missouri Synod?

ANSWER: The LCMS believes those Scripture passages which say women should not "teach" or "have authority" in the church (see, for example, 1 Cor. 11 and 14; 1 Timothy 2) mean that women ought not hold the authoritative teaching office in the church — that is, the office of pastor.

Women are allowed to hold other offices in the church, as long as these offices do not involve the one holding them in carrying out the distinctive functions of the pastoral office. In 1994, the Synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations prepared a report on The Service of Women in Congregational and Synodical Offices, which is helpful in this regard.

At its 2004 convention, the Synod adopted Resolution 3-08A affirming the conclusions of this report. Nearly half — more than 9,000 — of the Synod's professional, full-time church workers are women (serving in such offices as teacher, deaconess, director of Christian education, etc.).

For more information, read the Commission on Theology and Church Relations report Women in the Church: Scriptural Principles and Ecclesial Practice (1985) and The Creator’s  Tapestry  (2009).

 

QUESTION: What is the LCMS position on the American flag and the Christian flag being displayed in the sanctuary? And where should the flags be placed?

ANSWER: The LCMS does not have an official stand on the inclusion of flags being displayed in the sanctuary. This is, ultimately, an adiaphoron — i.e., something neither commanded nor forbidden by Holy Scripture.

We do have, however, a history and background to be considered in whether or not to display flags in the sanctuary, as well as the message that displaying such flags might convey.

Rev. Prof. William Schmelder — a seasoned parish pastor, historian and professor emeritus of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis — responded to a query from the LCMS Worship regarding this matter:

“To the best of my knowledge, the U.S. flag began appearing in our churches in response to two things: the desire to express an unquestioned loyalty as U.S. citizens (a reaction to WWI sentiment) and the growing sacralization of the flag in U.S. culture. In the history of my home congregation (Immanuel, Bristol, Conn.), the story of the responses to both WWI and WWII is given in some detail.

“However, the picture of the church after the renovation in 1948 does not show a flag. There was a flag on the grounds between the church and the school, and it was raised and lowered with considerable ceremony when school was in session.

“I think that is one response evident in many congregations: we could show our loyalty in many ways without placing the flag in the church; other congregations seem to have brought it into the building itself, with great debate about the proper location (nave, chancel, narthex, etc.).

“Non-Americans are often astounded to see a national symbol in the church (perhaps they have memories of the Nazi flag being touched to the altars of German churches).

“The so-called Christian flag is another matter entirely. It has no tradition of the church behind it. In fact, it violates much of what anyone knows of ecclesiastical heraldry.

“It seems to be the design of one man, who both drew it and profits from it. He or his heirs still get a royalty on every one sold. People seem to think that you need something to balance the U.S. flag on the other side, so you have a Christian flag.”

Obviously, the inclusion of the American and Christian flags is widespread in the LCMS. As Professor Schmelder mentioned, this probably developed out of the desire of congregations of prominently German-American heritage not to appear German during and after the world wars. Likewise, many veterans of those wars returned with great patriotic zeal, which probably manifested itself in the desire to display "Old Glory" in the sanctuary.

Today, however, it may be time to reconsider this short-lived tradition among us (Lutherans never did this prior to World War I, and then only in America). One may observe that many congregations today, when considering a sanctuary renovation or even building a new sanctuary, will opt to display the flag in a location other than the chancel or nave.

Many will place a flag outside of the building proper, or perhaps in the narthex. In such ways, as Professor Schmelder noted, we can demonstrate our patriotism, but not blur the distinction between the kingdom of Christ with the kingdom of the world/government.

Our Lord's words, of course, come to bear on this issue ultimately: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and render unto God the things that are God's" (Luke 20:22). Both are good and right ... in their respective places and times.

Guidelines for displaying the U.S. flag are directed in U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7. Sub-sections (i) and (k) are the pertinent guidance for flag placement in churches, whether in the sanctuary proper, or in a narthex/entranceway or other room.

"(i) When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag's own right, that is, to the observer's left ...

(k) ... When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman's or speaker's right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience."

It should be noted that certain church architecture may require "applying" the guidance, since some worship spaces, for example, are not designed in a traditional sanctuary cruciform manner. Given that caveat, the following general guidance is offered.

1. In the sanctuary, if the national ensign (American flag) is placed on the floor level, it may be placed to the congregation's left (the clergyman's right as he faces the congregation) "or, the flag may be placed in a position of honor to the right of the audience as it faces the speaker, with any other flag to the left" (from the Department of Defense publication, Our Flag).

This either/or placement is an indication of differing rationales in emphasis:  the first is the place of honor from the clergyman/speaker's perspective facing the audience; the second emphasizes the place of honor from the audience's perspective.

2. If the U.S. flag is placed within the chancel, the flag is placed on the left side, i.e., to the clergyman's right as he faces the congregation. If the Christian flag or the LCMS logo flag is displayed with the American flag in the chancel, the correct placement (of the Christian flag or LCMS logo flag) is on the right side, i.e., the clergyman's left side as he faces the congregation.

3. If the U.S. flag is placed with another flag elsewhere in the sanctuary or in another building, it (the U.S. flag) is always on the left as one faces it.

4. If the U.S. flag is carried in a processional, it is the first flag. If others are included, the U.S. flag's position is first if single file or on the right if other flags are carried in a line with it. If a cross is in the processional, it (the cross) leads followed by the flags.

5. If the U.S. flag is on a flagpole, by regulation is must have the superior (top most) position. If another flag is also desired to be displayed, the easiest solution to avoid the appearance of "state over Church" is to have a second flag pole; the U.S. flag's position is always on the right.

 

QUESTION: I'm doing research into my family's genealogy. They were all members of LCMS churches, and I'm looking for Baptism/confirmation/wedding/funeral records. What kind of resources does Synod offer to help me in my research?

ANSWER: Thanks for your inquiry concerning genealogical research. Concordia Historical Institute (CHI) is the Department of Archives and History of the LCMS. CHI is glad to assist in researching LCMS parish records. Concerning Lutheran genealogy, please keep in mind there is no database of names of American Lutherans. Generally, research is based on information connected to a parish and/or a pastor.

Lutheran churches only keep records of official acts, such as baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals. The records usually are located at the parish where the act took place, unless it is disbanded. CHI can help you with genealogy if you have very specific questions and reliable information about a baptism, wedding, etc. However, there are charges for non-members of the Institute.

Popular brochures include "Researching at Concordia Historical Institute," "Researching the Lutheran Pastor at CHI," "Researching Your Lutheran Ancestor at CHI," and "Resources Outside of CHI." You may write Concordia Historical Institute at 804 Seminary Place, St. Louis, MO 63105.

 

QUESTION: Does the privacy act (HIPAA) affect congregations with regard to publishing information about their members in church bulletins?

ANSWER: The following response was written by Synod's legal counsel:

Privacy Issues for Congregations

Recently, some congregations have expressed concern that, under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, they will no longer be permitted to publish in church bulletins or prayer lists the names of congregation members who have been hospitalized.

In addition, some congregations have asked whether other information, such as a member's name, address, and Baptism and confirmation information, can be disclosed to other members of the congregation. The purpose of this document is to address these concerns.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)

In 1996, to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the nation's health care system, Congress enacted the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) which, among other provisions related to health insurance portability and administrative simplification, mandated certain federal privacy protections for health information. In August of 2002, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services adopted a final rule (the “HIPAA Privacy Rule”) to implement those privacy protections.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule applies only to health plans, health care clearinghouses and certain health care providers. It prohibits, with certain exceptions, the disclosure of an individual's health information if the disclosure is not for the purpose of treatment, payment or health care operations, or is not made pursuant to a specific authorization provided by the individual.

Because the HIPAA Privacy Rule only applies to health plans, health care clearinghouses and certain health care providers, it does not apply to congregations or individual congregation members, except for members who are themselves health care providers or are employed by health plans, health care clearinghouses and certain health care providers.

Example — Jim is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church. Jim is also a nurse in the local hospital's intensive care unit. Jill, who is another member of Trinity, is admitted to the emergency room with severe injuries and is later admitted to the intensive care unit at the hospital.

Jim notifies Trinity's office that Jill is in the hospital's intensive care unit and describes her medical condition. Because Jim's disclosure to Trinity is not for the purpose of treatment, payment or health care operations, Jim will have violated HIPAA unless Jill had provided specific authorization for such disclosure.

However, because Trinity is not subject to the HIPAA Privacy Rule, it is not prohibited by HIPAA from further disclosing, in church bulletins or prayer lists, the fact that Jill is in the hospital's intensive care unit and describing her medical condition.

Although the HIPAA Privacy Rule limits the disclosure of health information by certain health care providers generally, it specifically permits a health care provider to maintain a directory of individuals in the provider's facility containing the following types of information: (i) the individual's name, (ii) the individual's location in the facility, (iii) the individual's condition described in very general terms, and (iv) the individual's religious affiliation.

This directory information may be disclosed to members of the clergy and, except for an individual's religious affiliation, to members of the public who ask for the individual by name, provided that in either instance the individual has been given the opportunity, except in cases of emergency, to object to or limit the disclosure.

Because the HIPAA Privacy Rule limits the ability of hospitals to provide, on their own initiative, information concerning the admission of a congregation member who is hospitalized, churches no longer receive this information as a courtesy from the hospitals. Therefore, a church may want to notify its members of the need to let the pastor know about a family member who is hospitalized. A notice similar to the following may be published in a church bulletin, church newsletter or on the congregation's website:

Hospital Stays  — Under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, hospitals are greatly restricted in their ability to disclose patient information. Consequently, the pastor or church office may not be notified that a congregation member has been admitted to the hospital. In the event you are hospitalized, and you would like the pastor to know, you or a family member should directly inform the church office.

In sum, HIPAA does limit the ability of congregations to obtain information from hospitals or other health care providers concerning a member's hospitalization and medical condition, but nothing in HIPAA prohibits a congregation from disclosing a member's hospitalization and medical condition in church bulletins or prayer lists.

However, there are other privacy rights that should be considered before making any such disclosures.

Invasion of Privacy

HIPAA is not violated when a church publishes the names and medical conditions of church members who are either hospitalized or ill in church publications, such as a church bulletin, newsletter, prayer list or on the congregation's website.

However, it is possible that a congregation's disclosure of a member's medical condition or even non-medical information, without the consent of the member, would constitute an “invasion of privacy” under state law. Such “invasion of privacy” laws often give an individual the right to sue when a person publicly discloses information that is private in nature.

The standards concerning “invasion of privacy” vary depending upon each state's laws. It is, therefore, difficult to set forth any universal rules concerning the types of information that should not be disclosed in order to avoid claims of “invasion of privacy.”

Ordinary care and common sense should be used in not disclosing information that is sensitive in nature, such as medical or psychological conditions, financial problems, or marital problems, without the consent of the affected individuals.

On the other hand, disclosure of nonsensitive information — such as birthdays, baptisms and confirmations — poses little risk of liability. Information such as addresses and telephone numbers may or may not be sensitive, depending upon whether it is otherwise publicly available.

In order to avoid liability, it is best to obtain consents from the affected individuals for any disclosure of private information. Obtaining consent prior to disclosure may be difficult, but it does provide protection against liability and should be obtained, especially if the disclosure involves sensitive information.

 

QUESTION: Does the LCMS hold a particular opinion as to who (pastor, elder, layman-woman) should or may read in front of the congregation the Sunday morning Scripture verses (including the Gospel books)?

ANSWER: In 1989 Res. 3-14, the Synod resolved "That the congregations of the Synod proceed with care and sensitivity in making decisions permitting the lay reading of the Scriptures, recognizing decisions in this regard lie in the area of Christian judgment."

The Synod's official position, therefore, is that there is no Scriptural "thus says the Lord" regarding who may or may not read the lessons in worship, but that congregations themselves are responsible for making decisions in this regard which take into account various factors and sensitivities relevant to their own situation.

In taking this position, the Synod has not distinguished between various "parts" of the Scriptures (Old Testament, Epistle, Gospel, etc.). For more information, you may wish to read the report of the Synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations on Women in the Church.

 

QUESTION: What is the role of elders in a congregation?

ANSWER: Strictly speaking, the word “elder” in the Bible (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 5:17-19, Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Peter 5:1-4) refers to those who hold the pastoral office. What we commonly call “elders” are laymen appointed to serve the congregation in its temporal affairs and to assist the pastor in administrative tasks. An example of this is found in Acts 6:1-6:

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.

So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."

This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

Later such men came to be known as the “deacons” (meaning “servants”). As you can see, Scripture does not define the exact role of such deacons, only their qualifications (1 Tim. 3:8-13). Scripture gives them no special spiritual responsibilities in the congregation beyond those given to every Christian.

While the office of pastor is divinely instituted and indispensable for the Church, the deacon is an optional office based on Apostolic and church custom. The deacon or elder is a position of lay-service, concerned with the temporal and administrative affair of the congregation.

In many congregations deacons or elders are also charged with oversight of the pastor. But, rightly understood according to Scripture, they exercise only that oversight given to every Christian in the congregation.

 

QUESION: Is there Scripture or something in the Book of Concord that supports the Lutheran's belief of the empty cross reflecting the risen Lord as opposed to the Corpus Christi cross? What is the background of that belief?

ANSWER: What a great question. No, there is nothing in our confessional writings that would lead us to that conclusion.

And, in fact, that is not the universal position among Lutherans. At the time of Luther, the corpus was commonly found on the cross. The same was also true in later times. When the Lutherans who formed The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod first came to this country, it was common to find a corpus on their crosses.

One of our oldest churches, which is the original church dating from the mid-1800s, has a large cross in the front of the church with a corpus on it.

In the Lutheran Confessions one finds much more support, albeit indirect, for inclusion of a corpus. Especially in Article VIII of the Formula of Concord, which discusses in depth the person of Christ, there is a clear emphasis on the two natures in Christ and the implications that this brings to our teaching. After reading that article, one would more likely expect to find a corpus.

As to where the trend came for displaying the empty cross, we can't exactly say. No doubt we have been influenced by our Protestant brethren, many of whom would not display a corpus. In addition, some of it is probably the result of a strong anti-Roman Catholic bias that causes some to run away from any and everything that might possibly be "Catholic."

 

QUESTION: How do I properly dispose of a Bible or American flag that is unusable?

ANSWER: A Bible that cannot be repaired may be reverently buried since that is what the ancient Jews and Christians did with old biblical manuscripts. It may also be burned, turning the ashes into the ground.

In regard to the American flag, the U.S. Flag Code states:

“The flag, when it is in such a condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferable by burning.”

After your flag has been burned, the ashes should be buried. If you do not have an easy way to burn a flag, there are several organizations that will retire your flag in a proper and respectful ceremony. Among them are:

 

QUESTION: Following a Communion service, what are the prescribed means for the disposal of the consecrated wine and wafers?

ANSWER: To begin, care should be taken that inordinate amounts of bread and wine are not consecrated at each service, but rather just what is needed for that service.

While Scripture does not tell us whether Christ’s body and blood are still present in the blood and wine after Communion, we should still treat what remains with greatest reverence.

The point here is to recognize the fact that these elements were used in the service to deliver our Lord’s very body and blood to us. How we treat them after the service should never lose sight of that great mystery of faith.

There are two places to find helpful information on this topic. One is Section B.2.c. of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations’ 1983 document titled, Theology and Practice of the Lord’s Supper.

B.2.c. Post Communion Reverence

The consecrated elements which remain after all have communed should be treated with reverence. This reverence has been expressed by Lutherans in various ways. Some have followed the ancient practice of burning the bread and pouring the wine upon the earth. Others have established a basin and drain-piscina-specifically for disposal for the wine. The elders or altar guild may also return the consecrated bread and wine to specific containers for future sacramental use, or the elders and pastor can consume the remaining elements. All of these practices should be understood properly. The church is not, thereby, conferring upon the elements some abiding status apart from their use in the Lord’s Supper itself.

The other point of reference is page 89 of The Altar Guild Manual: Lutheran Service Book Edition, by Dr. Lee Maxwell that says:

“If any of the Lord’s body and blood remains, they can be disposed of in a number of ways. The best way is to consume the remaining elements, since the Lord said, “Take and eat ... Take and drink,” and did not provide for anything that was left over.

“There is historic precedent for reserving the remaining elements against the next communion. The hosts can be stored in a pyx or ciborium (apart from unconsecrated hosts), the blood of the Lord in a suitable cruet or flagon (apart from unconsecrated wine).

“What remains in the chalice, however, should either be consumed or poured into the piscine or onto the ground since there may be crumbs or other foreign matter in it. The reserved elements may then be kept in the sacristy or placed on the altar or credence and covered with a white veil. It is un-Lutheran and irreverent to place unused elements in the trash or to pour the remainder of what is in the chalice or flagon into the common drain.”

As noted in the manual, the general practice of the Lutheran Church has been NOT to mix consecrated and unconsecrated elements. If the elements are saved for future use, it is best they are kept separate. The practice of consuming the remaining elements also has a long history in the Lutheran Church.

Your congregation may want to consider purchasing The Altar Guild Manual as it covers a variety of altar guild functions that include displaying, cleaning and storing paraments and linens appropriately; caring for sacramental vessels and vestments; preparing for and cleaning up after worship services; ordering supplies and more. It is available from Concordia Publishing House by calling 800-325-3040 or by going to the CPH website.

 

QUESTION: Is the use of crucifixes a Roman Catholic practice? Doesn’t the empty cross provide a better symbol for Lutherans? How does the LCMS feel about using a crucifix in church? [Note: A crucifix is a cross with a statue of the crucified Christ on it.]

ANSWER: A common misunderstanding among some Lutherans is the opinion that a crucifix, or the use of a crucifix, is a “Roman Catholic” practice. The history of Lutheranism demonstrates that the crucifix was a regular and routine feature of Lutheran worship and devotional life during Luther’s lifetime and during the period of Lutheran Orthdoxy.

It was also the case among the founding fathers of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. If you were to visit most of the original congregations of the LCMS in the United States you would find lovely crucifixes adorning their altars, and, in addition, beautiful statues on the altar of Christ and the four evangelists or other such scenes.

There is nothing uniquely Roman Catholic about this. Many Lutherans and Lutheran congregations use crucifixes. Crucifixes are used in the chapels of both of our seminaries and our International Center.

Lutheranism has always considered the crucifix to be a powerful reminder of the sacrifice our Lord Jesus made for us and our salvation, on the cross. A crucifix vividly brings to mind the Apostle Paul’s divinely inspired words, “We preach Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23).

Interestingly enough, while there is certainly nothing “wrong” with an “empty” cross, the practice of using an “empty cross” on a Lutheran congregation’s altar comes more from non-Lutheran sources.

At the time of the Reformation there was conflict between Lutherans and Reformed Christians over the proper place of pictures, images, statues and the like in the church. Lutherans stood with historic Christendom in realizing that such art in the church was not wrong, and it was a great aid for helping to focus devotional thoughts on the truths of the Word of God. No greater truth can be found than the death of Jesus Christ our Lord for the world’s salvation.

The “empty cross” is not a symbol of Christ’s resurrection, as some say, for the fact is that the cross would have been empty regardless of whether or not Christ had risen from the grave. The point to be kept clear here is that both an “empty cross” and a crucifix symbolize the same thing: the death of Christ our Lord for the salvation of the world.

Many feel the crucifix symbolizes this truth more clearly and strikingly. That has been the traditional opinion of historic Lutheranism, until the last 50 years ago, due to the influence we will now mention.

Some Lutherans began to move away from crucifixes during the age of Lutheran Pietism, which rejected much of Lutheran doctrine and consequently many Lutheran worship practices. At the time, Lutheran Pietists, contrary to the clear position of Luther and the earlier Lutherans, held that symbols such as the crucifix were wrong.

This was never the view of historic Lutheranism.  In America, Lutherans have always felt a certain pressure to “fit in” with the Reformed Christianity that predominates much of the Protestant church.

Thus, for some Lutherans, this meant doing away with things such as crucifixes and vestments, and other traditional forms of Lutheran worship and piety. It is sad when some Lutherans are made to feel embarrassed about their Lutheranism by members of churches that teach the Word of God in error and who do not share Lutheranism’s clear confession and practice of the full truth of the Word of God.

Lutheranism has always recognized that the use of any symbol (even the empty cross) can become an idolatrous practice, if in any way people are led to believe there is “power in the cross” or that a picture or representation of a cross has some sort of ability, in itself, to bring us into relationship with Christ and His Gospel. Any of God’s good gifts can be turned against Him in this life and become an end in themselves.

Lutherans have never believed that banning or limiting proper artwork in the church is the way to prevent its improper use. Rather, we believe proper teaching and right use is the best way, and the way that is in keeping with the gift of freedom we have in Christ to use all things to the glory and honor of God.

Thus, many Lutherans use and enjoy the crucifix as a meaningful reminder of our Lord’s suffering and death. It might interest you to know that our Synod’s president has a beautiful crucifix adorning the wall of his office, constantly reminding him and visitors to his office of the great love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In short, and this is the most important point of all, there is nothing contrary to God’s Holy Word, or our Lutheran Confessions, about the proper use of the crucifix, just as there is nothing wrong with the proper use of an empty cross, or any other church symbol by which we are reminded of the great things God has done for us.

We need to guard against quickly dismissing out of hand practices that we believe are “too Roman Catholic” before we more adequately explore their use and history in our own church.

In Christian freedom, we use either the crucifix or an empty cross and should not judge or condemn one another for using either nor not using either symbol of our Lord’s sacrifice for our sins.

 

QUESTION: What is the LCMS position concerning tithing? Is it required? Is there anything wrong with teaching the concept of tithing?

ANSWER: Tithing (meaning giving 10 percent of one's income) is a term used in the Scriptures, especially throughout the Old Testament.

In most of those cases the "tithe" was a "legislated" matter to support the levitical priesthood and provide other benefits. Freewill offerings were made in addition to the tithe.

In the New Testament, tithing is not mentioned nearly as much, but such expressions as cheerful, firstfruit, and proportionate are used repeatedly. This leads us to conclude that while tithing may be a good spiritual discipline and a good starting point for a mature Christian, it may not be the best way to present biblical giving since it can easily become a legalistic requirement of the law rather than a cheerful offering motivated by the love of God shown toward us in Christ.

Therefore, in the second of the eight Biblical Stewardship Principles, we maintain that God's stewards are managers, not owners. This means God's stewards have been entrusted with life and life's resources and given the privilege of responsibly and joyfully managing them for Him.

Thus, as children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and with the Holy Spirit's help, we will encourage cheerful, first-fruit, proportionate (including but not limited to tithing) living and giving in all areas of life by Christian stewards.

Another way of thinking about this issue is to remember that all things, including money, belong to God, and the real question is how much of what belongs to Him are we going to keep for ourselves and how much are we going to use to fulfill His purposes? King David said it very well in 1 Chron. 29:14: "But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand."

 

Membership FAQs

 

QUESTION: How do I become an LCMS member?

ANSWER: Pastors of LCMS congregations typically conduct a series of instruction/membership classes on a regular basis for adults interested in joining the congregation or learning more about what the LCMS believes.

The length and nature of these classes varies from congregation to congregation, so those wishing to join an LCMS church are encouraged to speak with the pastor of the church. You may use the Congregation Locator on LCMS.org to locate LCMS congregations in your area.

For those who come from a Lutheran (non-LCMS) background, these classes serve as a kind of "refresher" course in Lutheran doctrine and as a way of clarifying the differences between the LCMS and other Lutherans. For those coming from other denominations, these classes provide a thorough overview of the LCMS' central and foundational teachings and beliefs.

 

QUESTION: Could you please tell me why a person should join a congregation? Couldn't they just go to the church, give a little here and there, and do the things a member does without joining? What benefits would I have by joining a church?

ANSWER: Joining a church says to the public you are a Christian and that you are a member of God's own people, who are called "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9).

It says you believe and act thus and thus as a witness to the Christian faith and as an example to others. It means you are doing what the very first Christians did in joining to devote themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer (Acts 2:42).

It means you will be able to receive the encouragement, strength, prayers, Baptism, the Lord's Supper and the application of God's Word from fellow Christians and a pastor, which you may not have the privilege of receiving as a non-member.

It will tell other Christians and the world you have considered it a serious matter to be able to join together with Christians to support the work of the church of calling a pastor, providing instruction in the Christian faith for the youth, adults, the older set, doing evangelism and mission work at home and abroad.

It would not only witness to other people who you are and what you are about, but it would show God what He wants of His groups of His chosen, His own people — that you are not just talking about and maybe doing half-heartedly but are involved whole-heartedly in doing what He expects.

Joining a congregation is a serious declaration you intend — with His help — to participate fully in doing the things of God. In most congregations, only members who have joined receive the Lord's Supper, have the privilege of voting, obtain recognition by the government for tax purposes, and have full use of the church and other amenities.

What would happen to God's church if everyone decided not to join with other Christians to BE His own people?

 

QUESTION: What are the most common names for LCMS congregations?

ANSWER: The 12 most common names for LCMS congregations are:

Trinity — 569

St. John — 467

St. Paul — 464

Immanuel — 325

Zion — 323

Grace — 235

Faith — 221

Our Savior — 168

Redeemer — 168

Christ —144

Good Shepherd — 136

St. Peter — 131

 

QUESTION: What are the largest LCMS congregations, according to baptized membership?

ANSWER: View the most current data available for LCMS congregations reporting more than 3,000 baptized members, along with average worship attendance.

 

QUESTION: When and where has the LCMS met in convention, and which cities have hosted it?

ANSWER: View a listing of the dates and cities in which the LCMS has met in convention.

St. Louis — 20

Fort Wayne — 13

Milwaukee — 8

Chicago — 4

Cleveland — 3

Denver — 1

Detroit — 3

Houston — 3

New Orleans — 1

New York — 1

Saginaw, Mich. — 1

St. Paul — 1

San Francisco — 1

Anaheim — 1

Indianapolis — 1

Wichita, Kan. — 1

Pittsburgh — 1

 

 

QUESTION: What are the names of the LCMS presidents and their terms in office?

ANSWER:

C.F.W. Walther
Term: 1847-50; 1864-78
Residence: St. Louis

F.C.D. Wyneken
Term: 1850-64
Residence: St. Louis, 1850-59; Freidheim, Ind., 1859-64

H.C. Schwan
Term: 1878-99
Residence: Cleveland, Ohio

Franz Pieper
Term: 1899-1911
Residence: St. Louis

F. Pfotenhauer
Term: 1911-35
Residence: Chicago

J.W. Behnken
Term: 1935-62
Residence: Oak Park, Ill. 1935-51; St. Louis, 1951-62

Oliver Harms
Term: 1962-69
Residence: St. Louis

J.A.O. Preus
Term: 1969-81
Residence: St. Louis

Ralph A. Bohlmann
Term: 1981-92
Residence: St. Louis

Alvin Barry
Term: 1992-2001
Residence: St. Louis

Robert T. Kuhn
Term: 2001
Residence: St. Louis

Gerald B. Kieschnick
Term: 2001-2010
Residence: St. Louis

Matthew C. Harrison
Term: 2010- 
Residence: St. Louis

 

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