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The Promise of a New Millennium: Reflections of Lutheran Bishops

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Date 12 Oct 1998 16:20:43


Reflections by the Presiding Bishop and Conference of Bishops
        of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

     As the year 2000 approaches, there is a growing sense of anticipation
around the globe.  Despite protests that the new millennium technically
begins on December 31, 2000, it is abundantly clear that for the general
public, when the number "two" appears on the calendar, the celebration will

                         The Millennium

     What will the world be celebrating at the turn of the millennium?  It
will be more than a momentary observance of a rare calendar event.  Like a
birthday or anniversary,  it is a natural invitation for us to reflect on
our past and to look ahead to the future.

      Why 2000?  Why the third millennium?  The reason is Jesus Christ.
For centuries dates have been designated as "B.C." (before Christ) or
"A.D." (from the Latin anno Domini which means "in the year of our Lord").
Early societies typically marked time by reference to their king or
emperor.  When Christians placed the initials A.D. after the calendar year,
it was a great statement of faith: Jesus is Lord. Although secular
historians use other designations today, for Christians A.D. is a powerful
reminder that Jesus Christ is Lord "yesterday, today and forever."

     The Millennium, Second Coming and the End of the World

     The early Christians "lived on tiptoe," peering expectantly to the
future.  They lived in the early glow of the Resurrection, and anticipated
that their beloved Jesus would return soon.  Their hope in Jesus' "Second
Coming" looked for the fulfillment of history and God's final triumph over
sin, death and evil . As the third millennium nears, we remember the
impassioned prayer of hope that marked early Christian worship:
"Maranatha", i.e., "Our Lord, come."

     When Jesus was asked about his return, he said, "About that day and
hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the
Father" (Mark 13:32).  Despite various "millennialist" theories throughout
the centuries, there is no biblical basis for equating a year 1000 or
2000 with Jesus' return, the coming of the Kingdom of God, or the end of
the world.  When the Bible mentions "a thousand years" (Revelation 20:2-6),
it refers to a period of time and not a specific date.  As Christians, we
live each day as if it could be the last, and embrace each new day as a
gift of God.  Whether "the close of the age" comes soon or millennia hence,
Jesus has promised to be with us (Matthew 28:20). When that day comes, it
will not be a time of  fear for the Christian, but a time of completion.

                      A Time to Look Back

     The end of the second millennium invites us to reflect on the past
thousand years of the church. There has been tremendous expansion of the
Christian church since the year 1000, for which we thank God.  But not all
has been good; in fact, there has been much for which we must repent.  Too
many wars have been fostered in the name of religion; our sin against God
has too often turned to hatred and deadly sin against one another.

     For Lutherans and others, the second millennium of Christian history
is indelibly marked by the Protestant Reformation, a Christian reform
movement initiated by Martin Luther.  In a time stained by corruption in
the church, Luther sought to restore the centrality of the Gospel as the
"true treasure of the church."  Regrettably, the effort for reform led to
divisions, and although some progress toward reconciliation has been made,
competition and mistrust among churches remain.

     This millennium also saw a great worldwide missionary effort, in
response to our Lord's command to "go therefore and make disciples of all
nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the
Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19).  In spite of shortcomings and sins, millions
were reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ.  Yet there are
millions more who do not know the love of Christ.  Even as we "wait for the
blessed hope of . . . Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13), we are keenly aware that
we have urgent missionary work to do.

                      A Time to Look Ahead

     What will be the shape of the Church's mission in the year 2000 and
beyond?  Many cultures have become increasingly secular.  Like the earliest
Christians, we are unlikely to serve and witness in a world where those in
power view the Christian church as a partner or an indispensable guiding
light.  But whether Christianity is a central institution in society or a
mission from the margins of society, the basis for our hope and our mission
remains the same, "Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age"
(Matthew 28:20).

     We know some of the challenges that lie ahead.  Acknowledging the
divisions and distrust between nations, religions, races and even among
Christians we are called to work for reconciliation and peace.  In a
divided Church we are called to demonstrate the power of the Gospel to make
us one. In a world where resources are often concentrated in the hands of a
few, we are called to work for equity, justice and dignity on behalf of the
poor and oppressed.  As part of God's creation, we are called to be wise
stewards of the earth in the face of forces that exploit, consume, or
pollute the environment.

     There is much about the future that could give us pause as
Christians, but we are not afraid.  We move into the third millennium in
the confidence that Jesus will be Lord of this millennium too.  We remember
his assurance that even the gates of Hades will not prevail against us as
we carry out his mission (Matthew 16:18).  Whatever the years may bring, we
have a Lord who is faithful to his promises. May we be faithful too!

A resource for study, "The Year of Our Lord 2000," was prepared as a
pastoral letter from the Presiding Bishop and Conference of Bishops of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  These reflections are based upon
that pastoral letter.
                             Festival of the Reformation, October 31, 1998

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