Walter: Doers of the Word – Are We Ready?

Post a Comment » Written on June 25th, 2008     
Filed under: News
By Don Meyer

GREEN LAKE, WI (June 25, 2008) – It was a message that speaks volumes about the vision newly elected Evangelical Covenant Church President Gary Walter sees for the denomination that he credits with bringing him to faith and nurturing his call to ministry.

Some might conclude that tonight’s message will in large measure define the focus and passion of his presidency – a call to Covenanters to be doers of the word and respond to what he sees as “three urgencies in scripture.”

The message capped a colorful evening that began with the traditional procession of flags, one for each of the 38 countries where Covenant World Mission has a ministry presence.

garyNine short-term missionaries were commissioned – for a list of those serving and the areas where they will minister, see Short-Term Missionaries.

Walter was installed by current President Glenn Palmberg as the ninth president of the Covenant, with Walter to assume the responsibilities September 1, when Palmberg retires. The installation service was a historic moment as former President Paul Larsen also participated in the installation service – Larsen and Palmberg are the only living former Covenant presidents.

Another special moment came with the offering of the prayer of blessing by Walter’s former colleague, Jim Persson (lower photo), who preceded Walter as head of the Department of Church Growth and Evangelism. To see additional photos from the service, please see Installation Moments.

Walter’s message was indeed a defining one. Anchoring his message in the James 1:22-25 passage, Walter created a sense of context by recalling the formation of the Covenant in 1885 and reminding his listeners of the qualities that defined that founding group. He cited an 1893 description of the Covenant that its leaders formulated in response to a request by the global symposium on the world’s religions that was part of the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.

“The Covenant is not a church organization in the ordinary sense, but a mission society having churches as its members,” the group wrote. “These churches have consolidated together because of the missionary spirit that led them to missionary enterprises too large for any single church to undertake.”

“So, the framing image for the Evangelical Covenant Church from the very beginning was that of a mission society – followers of Christ coming together to do the work of Christ in the world,” Walter noted.

“Here’s the point,” he continued. “From the very beginning, the Covenant’s commitment has been to join together, not principally to be talkers about the word, nor philosophers on the word, but at the core to be doers of the word, to live out the priorities of God.”

Drawing on numerous examples from Jesus’ life, Walter pointed out that Jesus never sought consensus. “He said follow me, do what I say.” Jesus was not interested in intellectual assent; rather, he seeks a response of the heart, hands, and feet.

InstallationWalter linked the elements of belief and action in this memorable statement founded on the James text: If there is no link between creed and deed, then there is no credibility in our faith, and we deceive ourselves.

He then explored the three urgencies in scripture revealed in his studies as they link to the command to be doers of the word.

First is the call to evangelism – the sharing of the good news. “Every Covenant president has said the same thing,” Walter declared. “It is no small matter to God that there are lost people – and it must become no small matter to us, or we deceive ourselves.”

Recalling the words of former President Milton Engebretson, Walter reminded the audience that “if evangelism is not the first priority, it will become no priority.”

Walter shared some of his personal faith journey, noting that it was the “doing” of First Covenant Church in San Francisco in crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to plant a church in Marin County that played a significant role in his conversion and call to ministry. Friends attending that church plant invited Walter to visit. “There was a young pastor who actually cared about me, and I learned that the God of the entire universe loved even me, that I am a friend of God.”

It was in that church that Walter committed his life to Christ, sensed his call into ministry, and eventually met his wife, Nancy. “Everything important in my life – my faith, my family, and my vocation . . . it all traces back to Covenant folks being doers of the word.”

JimThe second urgency in scripture is the call to be doers of the word in areas of compassion, mercy, and justice. “It is no small matter to God that there are hurting people in the world – and it will be no small matter to us. We deceive ourselves if we think otherwise and fail to act.”

Our response requires more than just sincere sympathy for those who are hurting, Walter suggests. Quoting Debbie Blue’s oft-stated illustration, Walter said compassion pulls people out of the river; justice goes upstream to stop those who are pushing them in.” Jesus wants more than sympathy for hurting people – he wants us to help them, to do something about it.

“We are people of the book,” Walter reminded the audience. “One cannot believe in the centrality of the word without embracing it.”

The third urgency in scripture is the call to be the whole church – to experience unity in Christ. “It is no small matter to God that the world is fractured, and that the church is too often as well . . . and so it will be no small matter to us. We deceive ourselves if we think otherwise and fail to act.”

The world is fractured along three primary fault lines, Walter said in paraphrasing the apostle Paul. The three lines are race, class, and gender. “But, through the cross, Christ has ushered in a new community – Paul says that in Christ, there is neither Jew or Greek (race), slave or free (class), male or female (gender). The cross creates a new community where all of God’s children are valued and celebrated.”

The three urgency themes are unmistakable, Walter suggests, because they reflect the character of God: seeking (evangelism), healing (compassion, mercy and justice), and reconciling (unity). “Everything relevant in my life traces back to the first Covenant people who were willing to be doers of the word, making sure they were not listeners only, but rather that their lives were relevant to the purposes of God.”

He then closed with this challenge: There are still lost people. There are still hurting people. There are still fractured people. All of these now need us to be doers of the word. Are you ready? Will you join in?

Editor’s note: The video broadcast of this evening’s service will be posted to the Annual Meeting section of the Covenant website for downloading and viewing.

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