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Growing up in a Christian family, with the influences of regular worship, Sunday school and Lutheran schooling, naturally I was familiar from a young age with the Ten Commandments.

The First Commandment sets the tone. ‘You shall have no other gods.’ It was spelt out even more clearly through Luther’s Small Catechism explanation: ‘What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.’

All the other Commandments flowed from it. If we put God first, if he is the Lord of our lives, we shouldn’t have trouble keeping the other 9/10ths of God’s law.

It sounds simple enough. Don’t put your trust in other ‘gods’, or idols, like those recalcitrant Israelites did. The Golden Calf (Exodus 32, 1 Kings 12) and Baal (Numbers 25, Deuteronomy 4) are just two that spring to mind. Or like those first sinners, Adam and Eve, who were tempted by the prospect of being God.

Of course, in addition to not judging others, we need to be wary of putting our faith in things like money and possessions, success and power, and passions, including sport. And then there are music and movie celebrities and sporting ‘gods’ all vying for our adoration.

But, as Rev Dr Michael Lockwood and Pastor Mick Hauser point out in our theme features, the greatest danger we often face when it comes to breaking the First Commandment is even closer to home: the Idol of the Self.

In God’s eyes it’s not wrong to love ourselves – in fact, we should. But not more than God. And not at the expense of loving and serving our neighbours.

It’s worth remembering that examples of material plenty aren’t the only idolatry traps. Elements of our faith lives can be, too. We can make idols of the saints, the church as an institution, the ordained ministry and even Scripture. The list goes on.

Indeed, most of our idols are good gifts from God. They become a gateway to sin when we rank them above him, and they interfere with our relationship with him. Jesus offers the alternative in Luke 10:27, when he says: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.’

As well as looking at idolatry in this edition, we begin the build-up to February’s in-person sessions of General Synod and, as always, are privileged to share encouraging stories, resources and devotional materials. I hope you’ll be blessed by what you read, as I have been as I’ve prepared these stories for you.


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Bishop Paul’s letter

Rev Paul Smith
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand

‘So, you’re a bishop? Good job! …’

In 2023, three of our LCANZ District Bishops will be handing on the work of bishop to another. In Western Australia, Bishop Mike Fulwood will be concluding his service as bishop. In the South Australia – Northern Territory District, Bishop David Altus will be concluding his service. Finally, in the Lutheran Church of New Zealand, Bishop Mark Whitfield will be concluding his service. In all three cases, these ‘Servants of the Word’ are asking the Lord to guide them as they consider what service they will next undertake in the Lutheran Church.

What does a bishop do? In our church’s constitution and by-laws, both for the LCANZ and its districts, there are extensive guidelines to answer this question. The repeated words you find there, are that a bishop shall ‘exercise oversight’ with specific reference to doctrine and practice in the church. There are also descriptions of the various administrative responsibilities of a bishop, and this includes the expected list of meetings he must attend.

The opening duty listed for a bishop in our church is significant. It declares that the bishop shall, ‘preach, teach and administer the Sacraments in accord with the Confession of the Church, exercising this ministry in congregations in consultation with the congregation and pastor concerned’. As people of the Lutheran witness to Christ Jesus, we expect our bishops to be busied with our God’s means of grace. We expect our bishops to be preaching and teaching, and administering the sacraments, that they would be active in the mission of God to bring life, salvation and the forgiveness of sin.

In St Paul’s first letter to Timothy, chapter three, we are taught a simple expression about the work of a bishop. In the King James Bible of 1611, verse one of this text reads, ‘This is a true saying, “If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work”’. More modern translations read, ‘desires a noble task’. There is a potential hidden danger with that translation ‘noble task’. A church leader ought not suppose that the service of bishop is somehow elevated above, or more ‘noble’ than the service of any other sisters and brothers in Christ.

There is a profound key for us to properly understand the work of a bishop in this very scripture passage. This is something you discover in the two words in the Greek New Testament that are translated as ‘noble task’ or ‘good work’. Those two words appear together in another place in the New Testament.

Matthew 26:6–13 tells the story of the woman who pours expensive ointment on our Lord Jesus when he is in the house of Simon in Bethany. The disciples criticise her, calling her action a waste of money. But our Lord defends the woman and declares that ‘she has performed a “good work” for me’ (Matt 26:10). These are the same two Greek words we find in 1 Timothy 3.

A bishop serves his Lord. This is the good work. Like the woman at Bethany, the bishop is focused on the revelation that our Lord Jesus is the promised Messiah. The story of the woman in Bethany occurs just before the crucifixion of our Lord. A bishop of the church is busied with preaching Christ and him crucified, for the salvation of the world.

So please pray for our three districts of Western Australia, South Australia – Northern Territory and the LCNZ, as they ask the Lord to provide them with a man to undertake the ‘good work’ of serving as District Bishop from 2023. Please also pray for the pastors who are nominated for this role, that they would know how to best offer their gifts in service to their Lord in the cause of the gospel, listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd. Finally, please ask for the Lord’s blessing on our bishops who are continuing in 2023: Bishop Robert Bartholomaeus, Bishop Lester Priebbenow, Bishop Mark Vainikka and Assistant Bishop Neville Otto.

Bishop? Good job!

In Christ,

Lord Jesus, we belong to you,
you live in us, we live in you;
we live and work for you –
because we bear your name.

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by Pastor Michael Lockwood

Years ago, when I first began reflecting seriously on the idolatry of contemporary society, my goal was to understand the beliefs of those outside the church so I could bring them the gospel.

Yet the more I reflected on the idolatry of the world, the more I realised that the same idolatry had infected the church and my own heart too. Just as the ancient Israelites were tempted to worship the Lord and Baal as well, so we easily slip into thinking we can serve Christ without relinquishing the idolatrous agendas of our society.

In past ages, people worshipped gods of wood and stone. In the West today, we mostly just worship ourselves. This problem is as old as Adam and Eve, who wanted to be like God. Nevertheless, our society has sunk to new lows with its dedication to the worship of human beings, and all too often we Christians fall into the same trap. I therefore will explore three ways in which this idol is evident in us and our world and how the true and living God can set us free.


  1. Who do we love? We love ourselves.

Our secular world can propose nothing greater to live for than individual happiness and equates happiness with the fulfilment of our desires. Thus, the goal of life is to get the world around us to give us what we want.

This idolatrous self-interest is not restricted to those outside the church. The reality is that we all love ourselves too much. We may not always like ourselves, but we are self-interested and want the world and even God to revolve around us and give us what we crave. Often, we put a religious spin on this. We slip into thinking that if we are sufficiently virtuous or pious, God and those around us should reward us by bending to our will. We are then inclined to get angry with God or lash out at others when this strategy fails.

Furthermore, the church often panders to this idolatry. Pastors become people-pleasers. Churches try to cater to people’s felt needs, hoping to be rewarded with popularity. In the process they lose sight of giving people what they really need, the Bread of Life.

Paradoxically, this pursuit of our own happiness does not bring happiness. We were not created to be at the centre of the universe, and neither God nor the world around us will allow us to pull them into our orbit. Such efforts just lead to frustration. It is God’s will that will finally be done, not ours, whether we like it or not.

  1. Who do we trust? We trust ourselves.

Our society repeatedly tells us to believe in ourselves and its fundamental assumption is that there must be a human answer to every problem. No matter what confronts us, we are told that human work and ingenuity can engineer a solution. This appeals to our sinful pride, which wants to be able to say, ‘We can do it’, rather than giving glory to God as the one who provides.

People in the church are not immune. All too often we say we trust in the Lord when our behaviour shows that we are really trusting in ourselves or other human beings. For example, what do we do in a crisis? Often, we call a meeting, in which we pray for two minutes and then plan and strategise for three hours. We never dream of calling on the church to pray all night as we see in Scripture, and as I have witnessed among Christians in Nepal. This pattern reveals the extent to which our faith is really in ourselves and not in the God who answers prayer.

This idolatrous self-reliance is expressed in how we relate to all three members of the Trinity. For example:

  • Our Heavenly Father promises to care for our earthly needs. Yet often our prayerlessness, workaholism and desperate groping after earthly things reveal that we are really trusting in ourselves to provide.
  • Our Lord Jesus Christ is the one who justifies us. He alone makes us acceptable in God’s sight and worthy to hold our heads up high. Yet too often we seek to justify ourselves instead and turn our own righteousness into an idol we put in his place. We make excuses, point the finger, pass the buck, exaggerate our virtues, downplay our vices, go fishing for praise and try to claim that the wrong we have done is really right, instead of confessing our sins and glorifying Christ as the one who forgives and saves us.
  • The Holy Spirit is the one who enlightens us through his word, works faith and its fruits in our hearts, and so builds God’s church. Yet all too often we seek to enlighten ourselves and turn our own wisdom into an idol. We neglect God’s word as if we are too clever to need it or set it aside for the sake of human opinions. Then we try to build the church or reform our own lives through our own efforts.

These efforts inevitably fail. Like all idols, the idol of the self demands great sacrifices from us, but then it lets us down since we have neither the strength, virtue, nor wisdom to take God’s place. Whether we like it or not, we are totally dependent on him. When we act like we do not need him, we guarantee that we will end up sinking exhausted under the weight of our foolishness, failure and sin.

  1. What do we fear? We fear everything.

Our humanistic society is an anxious place. This is the hallmark of idolatry. When we turn to idols, trusting them to provide for us and take our fears away, they inevitably fail us, so the fears remain. The same is true when we trust in ourselves or other people. The more we do so, the more anxious we will be about our performance and the things we cannot control.

The COVID crisis did not create this anxiety, but it has revealed it. In this crisis, our society has fractured into two camps, both of which are driven by fear. One side has been fearful of COVID and has trusted in human measures like masks, lockdowns, and vaccines to manage this fear. The other side is more fearful of things like censorship and creeping authoritarianism and has fought these fears with social and political activism. Whatever the merits of these respective actions, both sides would be less frantic if we spent more time looking to Jesus.


The God who gives us every good thing by grace.

The good news in this situation is that the true and living God wants to give us by grace all the things we have vainly tried to supply for ourselves.

This true God has come to break us out of our narcissistic self-focus. He wants what is best for us and is able to deliver. Yet he knows that this involves us dying to our destructive self-centred desires.

True joy is not found in getting whatever we want, but in learning to want what God wants. The blessed life is one that revolves around him and his will for us, which is always gracious and good. We are free to live this way, since he has promised to give us everything we need by grace, apart from our self-centred striving.

God has got our backs, so we can forget about ourselves, and instead focus on serving him and those around us as he calls us to do.

This same God now calls to us: ‘Trust in me. I will give you by grace what you have failed to provide for yourselves. I will feed you, clothe you, protect you, heal you, forgive you, honour you, empower you, delight you, instruct you with true heavenly wisdom, and welcome you into my kingdom.’

Furthermore, this God has come to calm our fears. The most frequently repeated command in the Bible is ‘fear not’.

Fear the Lord and him alone and then you will have nothing to fear, since he is gracious and he is mighty, and he has conquered everything that can bring you harm.

When Peter took his eyes off Jesus, he became afraid and started to sink.

How often have we not done the same? Yet while his eyes were on Jesus he could walk on the waves. The same is true with us.

By ourselves we can do nothing. We cannot provide for our earthly needs, save ourselves from death and hell, still our fears or fill the aching void in our souls.

Yet the true God is calling to us and saying: ‘Look to me, and me alone, in every dimension of your lives, so that your cup runs over with what my grace supplies.’

Rev Dr Michael Lockwood serves as a theological educator for LCA International Mission and has recently been called to teach in Taiwan. He is the author of The Unholy Trinity: Martin Luther Against the Idol of Me, Myself, and I.

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by Mick Hauser

It is difficult to know where to start when writing about the subject of idolatry. I’d like to approach it with some humour, but it’s such a hard-hitting topic, how can you do that?

Australian Lutheran pastor Rev Dr Michael Lockwood, who has also written for this edition, has penned a book on Luther’s understanding of idolatry entitled The Unholy Trinity. Its central thesis is that the self and its desire to be covered in glory rather than with the blood of Christ lies behind all idolatry.

And we continue to make innumerable idols, chiefly with our imaginations.

‘Idolatry is an attempt of the imagination to take the divine and make it visible, to make it understandable, to make it manageable’, say the authors and Lutheran theologians Gene Veith Jr and Pastor Matthew P Ristuccia, in their book Imagination Redeemed.

Martin Luther, his fellow Protestant reformer John Calvin and 20th-century Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer all agreed somewhat that the imagination was an idol factory.

Our imaginations seem to be unrelenting in creating idols. Even within the church, faithful Christians have a habit of unwittingly chiselling out idols, abstract or otherwise.

We often take aspects of a divine promise or gift and idolise them. For instance, freedom, love and wisdom or reason.

These are aspects or qualities of divinity, but torn away from the person of Christ, created and carved into abstract notions or principles, they become idols.

The most common idol according to Luther is mammon – money, property, riches or any material wealth. They are created gifts that we mistake for God. In our materialistic world and culture, we don’t have to look far to find the influence of mammon on our lives.

Idols, too, especially most recently, often dress themselves with the garment and scales of ‘justice’. For instance, freedom for everyone is good, especially for me! Ethical philosophical systems easily become idols. ‘Virtue signalling’ is a product of idolatry.

A little more hidden is the idolatry we find surrounding the chief articles of the church, our confessions. I don’t mean that the Book of Concord itself is an idol – although this would be and is concerning – but I mean the idolatry that seeks to copy closely the articles of faith, but with distortions that can be manipulated.

We idolise the office of public ministry, the pulpit and the authority it holds and the voice that it gives.

We idolise the keys to the kingdom too, to bind and to loose sin as we become the judges of the world, offering up an opinion on everything and pasting them all over the cyberworld. We are very ready to declare someone as unspeakable and another to be worthy of mention.

A little closer to our hearts though, the idol of self-love has always told us that we can be whatever we want to be. In our pandering to one another, we thought that loving our neighbour meant agreeing with them and reiterating the lie.

Now we reap what we sow. People modify their bodies, not only in their gender, but some go so far as to want to look like a different species altogether.

Science fiction often imagines cybernetics or beings that are part-human and part-machine, leaving humanity facing a struggle to maintain control. In many cases, the progress and ultimate survival of humanity are held up as the leading ethical principles of what is just and right.

Living for eternity seems to be the goal for many, as we idolise life itself. We have literally locked up those who threaten life with sickness.

We cast aspersions and mock those who stand against worldly tides. Idolatry has infiltrated all levels of society and it is a religion in itself.

Lord have mercy on us! We have plenty to turn away from. Help us, we pray!

Pastor Mick Hauser serves as a lecturer at Martin Luther Seminary at Lae in Papua New Guinea.

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As the in-person sessions of the 20th Convention of General Synod approach, LCANZ members are asking whether the ordination question will be on the agenda once again. It will be. Six proposals on the topic have been presented for discussion by delegates. Three of them refer to the Theses of Agreement. The following document has been prepared for delegates and other church members interested in this conversation. Endorsed by the General Church Board, it provides a summary of the proposals about ordination to come before Synod, as well as the status of the Theses of Agreement.

Ordination of women and men – the proposals before General Synod

Six proposals relating to the ordination question are before the 20th General Synod and will be considered at the in-person sessions in February 2023:

  • three proposing to remove TA 6.11 from the Theses of Agreement
  • one proposing that the LCANZ allow two practices of ordination
  • one proposing that the General Church Board (GCB) work through the theological, constitutional and governance requirements in establishing one church with two different practices of ordination, and reporting back to General Synod in the form of a proposal for discussion and potential endorsement
  • one proposing to give a peaceful dismissal to those congregations unable to live under the current teaching of a male-only pastorate and exercise their right to withdraw membership from the LCANZ.

Some proposals refer to the Theses of Agreement, particularly TA 1.4 and TA 6.11. The GCB is aware that, across the church, there are various levels of understanding of the Theses of Agreement and has approved the following summary.

Theses of Agreement

What are the Theses of Agreement?

The Theses of Agreement are the common consent of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Australia (UELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia (ELCA) on matters of doctrine which were in dispute between them. They were adopted by the respective churches in the mid- to late-1950s.

The journey to union of the two Lutheran churches had a number of false starts in the early part of the 20th century. The concerted effect to renew union discussions began in 1937–38, but it was not until 1941 that the official meetings of representatives of the two churches began. The various theses were adopted by the joint committees between 1948 and 1956. Aspects of Theses 5 ‘The Church’ were adopted by the joint committees in 1965.

Although the clarification on matters of doctrine was predominantly settled with the adoption of the Theses of Agreement by both churches, the way forward on cooperation and fellowship was only resolved with the Document of Union, which was registered by the churches in 1965. The Theses of Agreement was recognised in the document as acceptance of the expression of the common consent of the two churches and was made part of the Document of Union.

At the constituting convention of the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) in 1966, the General Synod adopted the LCA Constitution and resolved other matters regarding the amalgamation of the new church. The Theses of Agreement is not part of the LCA Constitution; however, its status as a document of the church has been articulated since the constituting convention in 1966.

Theses of Agreement relevant to the office of the ministry

Theses of Agreement (TA) 6 defines the teaching of the LCA on the office of the ministry. TA 6.1 to 6.10 refer to God’s institution of the office and the responsibilities and authority of those called to the office as recorded in Scripture and in the Lutheran Symbols of the Book of Concord of 1580. TA 6.11 refers specifically to prohibiting women from being called into the office of the public ministry.

None of the five proposals before the General Synod seeking the ordination of women and men disputes TA 6.1 to 6.10. Three of the proposals seek the removal of TA 6.11. One calls for the LCANZ to allow two practices of ministry in the church. Another calls for the LCANZ to work through the theological, constitutional and governance requirements to operate as one church with two different practices of ordination.

Use of Theses of Agreement 1 as the basis of proposals to allow the ordination of both women and men

Three of the proposals refer to TA 1, ‘Principles governing Church Fellowship’, specifically paragraph 4 (TA 1.4).

TA 1.4 can be summarised as follows: that where differences in exegesis (interpretation of Scripture) exist that affect doctrine (the church’s teaching) and if agreement cannot be reached following ‘combined, prayerful examination of the passage or passages in question’, divergent views arising from such differences are not church-divisive, providing that:

  1. There be the readiness in principle to submit to the authority of the Word of God;
  2. Thereby no clear Word of Scripture is denied, contradicted or ignored;
  3. Such divergent views in no wise impair, infringe upon, or violate the central doctrine of Holy Scripture, justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ;
  4. Nothing is taught contrary to the publica doctrina of the Lutheran Church as laid out in its Confessions;
  5. Such divergent views are not propagated as the publica doctrina of the Church and in no wise impair the doctrine of Holy Writ.

The full text of TA 1.4 can be found on the Commission on Theology and Inter-Church Relations page on the LCA website at

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by Matthias Prenzler

Legumes such as lentils are an essential part of the East African diet. They’re nutritious, filling, long-lasting, and cheap. But would you ever see legumes as agents for mission? Never underestimate the mission potential of the humble lentil!

In October 2021, Shepparton in Victoria was hit hard by the Delta COVID outbreak. At one stage, a third of the city was in hard quarantine, and essential services like supermarkets were struggling to keep up.

The lockdowns were felt keenly by African members of St Paul’s Lutheran Church, who were cut off from their families, community and church. Our congregation did our best to attend to the physical and spiritual needs of members. One of the only ways we could do this within restrictions was by delivering care packages of culturally appropriate food items, including lentils. These fed the belly and the heart. It also gave us an opportunity to pray with people, satisfying the needs of the soul as well.

But where do you get large quantities of lentils during a pandemic? I rang Gavin Schuster, a farmer from Freeling in South Australia and a member of the Light Lutheran Church. He asked members of his church, and although nobody had any lentils available, they sent money to enable us to purchase legumes locally. Soon after we invited Light Lutheran Church to consider a mission partnership with Goulburn Murray Lutheran Parish.

With the assistance of Craig Heidenreich, the LCA’s Cross-Cultural Ministry Facilitator, and Brett Kennett, LCA Victorian District Pastor for Congregational Support, we have been looking to establish mission partnerships. As well as financial support, these partnerships aim to provide opportunities for prayer, sharing of skills in cross-cultural ministry and mutual encouragement.

For the past six years, the Goulburn Murray Parish has been blessed by the ministry of Kathleen Mills, a deaconess from the USA who has been instrumental with ministry work among the Shepparton African community. Her position has previously been funded by a generous grant from the LCANZ’s Board for Local Mission, but this funding ended in May 2022.

On 31 July 2022, a delegation from St Paul’s Shepparton visited Freeling for a mission festival. Members of St Paul’s African choir sang, Kathleen shared a presentation on her work in the parish, and representatives of the two church bodies signed a Memorandum of Understanding. It was a very joyful and encouraging start to the partnership, and we look forward to seeing it grow and develop.

Light Lutheran Church is raising funds for mission through the work of some innovative farmers from the church. The farmers received permission to crop a plot of government land if they used the profits for charitable purposes. Last year, they got a bumper crop that earned four times what they expected. What did they grow? Lentils, of course!

Pastor Matthias Prenzler serves the Goulburn Murray Lutheran Parish in Victoria.

The full version of this story first appeared in the Victorian District including Tasmania’s District eVoices.

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The scale of cyber-security threats has increased exponentially over the past few years. This is not only in the volume of attacks but also the sophistication of hackers, who are constantly developing new ways to attack organisations and individuals. Churches are not immune.

Cyber attacks were ‘relatively rare’ when he started working for the church in 2010, says Daniel Wiltshire, who leads the LCANZ’s team of IT specialists. Today his small team defends the church against as many as 15,000 attacks a day. These attacks might be designed to infiltrate (or ‘hack’) a network or steal money or data. Extortion attempts can arrive as ‘phishing’ emails or fake websites.

Daniel and his team have been working with LCANZ members to introduce new security measures to better combat the hackers. These include passphrases (rather than passwords) and multi-factor authentication on LCANZ email accounts.

Brett Hausler, Executive Officer of the Church, adds that cyber security is not only the IT team’s responsibility. ‘This is our problem’, he says. ‘Every time we log in on our laptop or device, we’re a potential target for thieves. So, it’s important that every one of us takes these threats seriously and does everything we can to protect ourselves and every person we interact with.’

To learn more about measures you can take to protect yourself and others, go to


After Daniel Wiltshire, a 26-year veteran of the IT industry, the next longest-serving member of LCANZ IT Services is Nathan Vosgerau, who began a traineeship with the team in 2014. Keenan Manto, who also joined in 2014, left earlier this year to work in school-based IT support. New to the LCANZ team in 2022 are Ashley Rice, who previously worked for six years with internet service provider Internode in Adelaide, and Roya Amini, who most recently worked in IT support in construction in Sydney. Brisbane-based web developer David Mau is a part-time member of the IT team.

Formerly based at Australian Lutheran College prior to a 2016 move into the church’s national office, the LCANZ IT team of that era looked after the needs of approximately 200 people. It now serves around 4000 people, including pastors and other church workers, volunteers, congregation office holders and Synod delegates.


LCANZ IT is committed to developing systems and processes to support rapid, reliable and effective sharing of information across our church, including access to the wide range of LCANZ resources to support mission and ministry in local contexts across Australia and New Zealand. The team also provides advice to congregational leaders about their church cyber security needs.

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