Earlier this year, I was asked to make a presentation on the topic, “What will the Wisconsin Synod look like one hundred years from now?” It was a daunting assignment because the details of the future are hidden from us and known only to God.
As I considered the topic, I wondered, What if Gustav Bergemann, the synod president in 1920, had been asked, “What will the synod look like in the year 2020?” How would he have answered?
Only two years before 1920, the “war to end all wars” had ended. Could President Bergemann have predicted that less than 20 years later another devasting war would engulf the entire world, followed by wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan? President Bergemann was serving at the beginning of what was called the “Roaring Twenties,” a time of unprecedented wealth and prosperity. Could he have known that within a decade, markets would crash and the Great Depression would create hardship, poverty, and challenges for our synod and its congregations?
Could President Bergemann have dreamed of interstate highways, jet planes, or a man setting foot on the moon? What about the advances in medicine that would improve the nation’s health and prolong lifespans? Having just experienced the worldwide Spanish flu epidemic, could he have contemplated that one hundred years later another virus would change the world in only a few weeks? Could he have envisioned the baby boom, women’s liberation, gay marriage, abortion—and how all of those things would affect the ministry of the synod? Television, cell phones, computers, and the internet were not things he could have foreseen.
Could he have even dreamed that only four decades later his synod would sever fellowship with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod for doctrinal reasons? Could he have imagined that our Midwestern, primarily German, synod would expand to have congregations in nearly every state? How could he have known that, instead of having a single world mission field in Apacheland, WELS would be proclaiming the gospel in dozens of countries around the world?
As we look ahead to the next one hundred years, we have no way of knowing what events will affect the synod and its mission. But there are some things we can know about the future. We know that God’s church will struggle against the forces of evil in this dark world, with attacks coming from a hostile culture and even from erring teachers within the church. It may at times even appear as if Satan is winning. But we know that no matter what events shape the next century and impact our synod, God will preserve his church, and the gospel will be proclaimed until Jesus returns. Even though the details of the future remain hidden from us, those unbreakable promises of God fill us with a sure and certain hope.
So we head into the future with eyes focused not on unknown events but on God’s Word and promises. We hold firmly to the truths of Scripture. We trust in the power of the gospel. We stand where Luther stood on grace and faith alone. We commit ourselves to passing on God’s truth to the next generations. And we recommit ourselves—as individuals, as congregations, and as a synod—to the mission that God has called us to carry out, trusting that he will bless us in that work.
Author: Mark Schroeder
Volume 107, Number 08
Issue: August 2020