Pastor Joseph R. Schlawin
1515 W.93rd Ave.
Crown Point, IN 46307
Phone: 219.663.5853 Contact Via Email
Philosophy of Ministry
What do the Members of Our Shepherd Believe?
The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), the church body with which Our Shepherd Lutheran Church is affiliated, still believes and teaches what it did when it came into existence in 1850. That, no doubt, sounds strange in today's world.
Many people have the mistaken impression that every area of life must change in order to keep up with the times. Because of that, many church bodies have also changed to "fit in" with society's latest trends. These church bodies that once believed the Bible to be God's Word no longer hold to that conviction. Lifestyles that were once considered sinful are no longer viewed that way. Abortion was once considered to be the murder of the unborn. But since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled otherwise, many church bodies shifted along with public opinion.. So when we say that the WELS has not changed since its inception in 1850, that may sound a bit archaic, even backward to some. But we do not believe that to be true.
Unlike other institutions, we believe that what a church body teaches must be based on the Word of God, not on human opinion. Since the Word of God has not changed, what the church teaches must also not change. What God calls "sin" will always be sin no matter how society views it. What God says is true will always be true no matter how much some people deny that. Some things just don't change.
With that in mind, we, the members of Our Shepherd, firmly believe that:
The Bible is the true and infallible Word of God - and always will be. (1 Timothy 3:16)
God created the world in six 24-hour days by the power of His Word. (Hebrews 11:3)
Everyone is born sinful and needs someone to save them from sin. (Romans 3:23-24)
Jesus is the Son of God, sent by His Father, to be the Savior of the world. (John 3:16)
There is no one else besides Jesus who has paid for the sins of everyone. (Acts 4:12)
Everyone who does not believe in Jesus does not have forgiveness or eternal life. (John 3:18)
Jesus will return to this earth one day to condemn to hell all who do not believe. But He will give eternal life in heaven to all who do believe in Him as the Savior of all. (Matthew 25:31-46)
These are eternal truths that provide us with both comfort and direction. We have the comfort of knowing that because the Word of God is always true, when it tells us that Jesus paid for all sin, that is a truth that will never change. We also follow the direction of a loving Savior who gives us eternal life as a free gift and who wants us to share that truth of that free gift with others. Both in our life and in our confession, we want the love of Jesus to be evident in what we say and do.
An Explanation of our Communion Practice
Our Shepherd practices what is called 'close' Communion. By that term, we mean to express the unity we share in faith and doctrine. We ask that only those worshipers who are members of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Church (or churches that share our biblical confession). receive Holy Communion when it is offered during the worship service.
The historic practice of 'close' Communion is often misunderstood. That is why we have prepared this brief explanation of what the Lord's Supper is, and the reasoning behind the practice of 'close' Communion. We are committed to a verbally inspired and inerrant Bible, and wish only to put into practice what the Bible teaches about Holy Communion and the fellowship we share together in this Sacrament. These teachings are the basis for the practice of 'close' Communion here at Our Shepherd.
The Bible's Teaching About Holy Communion
Holy Communion (also called the Lord's Supper; the Eucharist) is a special gift of Jesus to the Christian Church. When He first instituted this Supper, Jesus said to His disciples that He was giving them His very own body and blood, in a sacramental way, together with the bread and wine, for the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus said, "Take eat, this IS my body. Drink from it, all of you. This cup IS the New Testament in my blood, given for you for the forgiveness of sins." (Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1Corinthians 11:23-25)
The words 'holy' and 'communion' express what is happening here. There is a communion, a coming together, a participation of bread and body, wine and blood, in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. While the bread and wine look and taste like bread and wine, they are joined together with the body and blood of Jesus in this sacramental union when we eat and drink. Jesus did not say that the bread and wine merely represent or symbolize His body and blood. He did say, "This IS." Nor does the bread and wine disappear and, in some mystical way, leave only the body and blood of Jesus, as some teach. We eat bread and drink what is in the cup (wine), as Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 11:26-27).
The Apostle Paul warns us against receiving Holy Communion "in an unworthy manner," without "examining" oneself, and "...without recognizing the body of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:26-29). If someone receives Holy Communion and does not believe that it is the true body and blood of Jesus that is being received, together with the bread and wine, Paul says that "whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:27). We believe what Paul is writing. We practice 'close' Communion so that someone who does not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in His Sacrament will not receive it to his or her judgment because of a lack of understanding and/or repentance (1 Corinthians 26:27-30).
A Public Testimony of a Shared Faith
Sharing the Lord's Supper together is also an outward demonstration of the close confession of faith that we share. The Apostle Paul says this about those who join together in receiving Holy Communion: "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of one loaf" (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). At the beginning of the Christian church, Communion was closely associated with the study of and agreement with the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42). Therefore, receiving Communion at a church's alter is a sign, a public testimony, that all share the same faith in everything that the Word of God teaches. Being "one loaf" means that just as a loaf of bread is made from the same batch of dough, so Christians who commune together are of the same mind in confession and doctrine. Agreement in doctrine (what a church teaches) is both possible and necessary in order to have unity. The Bible does not present broad generalities or vague ideas that can be understood in a variety of ways. Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32). We practice 'close' Communion, not as a negative judgment on anyone's Christian faith, but to preserve and uphold the unity of faith that is based on the infallible truth of God's Word.
Concern, Not Judgment
The practice of 'close' Communion is not making a statement about someone's spirituality or a judgment on someone's faith. We are contending for the truth of what the Bible teaches about this Sacrament and about establishing a complete unity of faith. We would be most happy to discuss this with you in further detail.
Understanding Our Lutheran Worship Service
If you have never participated in a liturgical worship service as you will experience here at Our Shepherd, you will notice that there is a distinct difference between a formal and less formal order of worship. What follows is our attempt to help you understand why we worship the way we do at Our Shepherd.
A Liturgical Service is structured. A structured order of worship does not mean boring sameness withour variety. While it is true that certain portions of the service remain the same from week to week, other portions of the service change on a weekly, seasonal, and yearly basis. There is continuity in the liturgy, yet there is variety.
Another characteristic of liturgical worship is its dignity. We cherish the close personal relationship we have with God. Jesus is our Friend and our Brother as well as our Savior and Redeemer. When we worship Him, we want to show Him both our love and respect. A Liturgical Worship Service enables us to do just that.
A third characteristic of liturgical worship is its historical foundation. Much of the liturgy we use has its origin in forms of worship developed by the Christian Church during the first few centuries of her existence. Since the founders of the Christian Church were Jewish, much of that early liturgy was in turn based on Jewish worship practices.
The most important characteristic of liturgical worship is its focus on God and on what He has graciously done for us. The basic structure of Liturgical Worship is:
An opening hymn that immediately allows the worshipers to participate in the service and express thoughts of faith,
The confession of sins that is offered in unison by the congregation, acknowledging our need of forgiveness,
The absolution that is announced by the pastor, assuring the worshipers of the forgiveness Christ has won for all believers,
A song of thanksgiving that expresses the collective joy for the undeserved gift of forgiveness presented to the worshipers, and
A prayer that is offered by the pastor on behalf of the congregation.
The service continues with one or more readings from the Bible through which God speaks to us in His Word.
After singing another hymn that reflects the thoughts of the Gospel reading just heard, the pastor preaches a sermon which is usually based on one of the Bible readings.
After the sermon (sometimes before the sermon) the congregation joins in confessing their faith in the Triune God, using either the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed.
An offering to support the work of the ministry is gathered, prayers of thanksgiving and intercessions are offered, followed by a hymn that reflects some of the thoughts heard in the sermon.
On the first and third Sundays of each month, the service continues with a celebration of the Lord's Supper. Only the members of a WELS or ELS (Evangelical Lutheran Synod) congregation may come forward to receive the Sacrament. Close Communion is observed, not to be exclusive or as a judgment on the faith of other Christians in attendance, but as a matter of necessity. it is essential that all who receive the Lord's Supper first understand what Scripture teaches about this Sacrament; attendance together at the Lord's table is also an expression of a unity of faith on all matters of what God's Word teaches.
The service concludes with a final prayer and benediction and closing hymn, encouraging the worshipers to serve the Lord in His world by letting the love of the Savior be evident in every aspect of life.
We hope that this explanation will help you make your worship with us more meaningful. If you have any questions, we welcome the opportunity to offer answers about the worship service, our beliefs, or other aspects of our congregational life and family. Please ask...and do come and worship with us!