The Sabre of Boldness for 2011 has been awarded to Iowa District East President Brian Saunders, for his tireless efforts to in seeking to obtain calls for the 21 men from Concordia Theological Seminary who did not receive them at the April 28, 2010 call service. Pres. Saunders took more CTS candidates into his district than any other district, and has set a fine example for the other members of the Missouri Synod Council of Presidents in doing so.
The ceremony, which followed the Concordia Theological Seminary banquet, was held at the La Quinta Hotel in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Gottesdienst Sabre of Boldness columnist Chaplain (Colonel) Jonathan Shaw made introductory remarks to explain what the Sabre was, using several battle images of faith from the Psalter. He then introduced Gottesdienst chief editor Rev. Dr. Burnell Eckardt, who spoke further on the award and its meaning (see the text of his remarks below), and then announced the nominees and the winner, Pres. Saunders, who was present to receive the award. Pres. Saunders also spoke briefly to the crowd following his reception of the award.
There were seven other nominees: Pastor Rob Jarvis, of Minnesota, for his confessional convictions for which he has endured severe hardships, and following which he has come down with cancer; Bishop Roland Gustafsson and Auxiliary Bishop Matti Valsanen, both of the Mission Province in Sweden and Finland, for their strong confession in the face of the hostile Scandinavian Church and the hardships they have endured due to that confession; Rev. Jonathon Fisk, for his faithfulness in spite of parish hardships, and his boldness in his Internet confession of faith in his Worldview Everlasting videos; Rev. Ari Norro of Finland, for enduring “discrimination” penalties of the Finnish Supreme Court because he refused to acknowledge women as pastors; Rev. Olav Lyngmo of Norway, for his stance against homosexuality against the church body and a civil trial which ruled against him, resulting in personal hardships; Rev. Michael Grieve of Illinois, for his continued faithfulness in the face of perpetual grief from one of the congregations of his dual parish.
Here follows the text of Dr. Eckardt’s remarks:
“This is the sixteenth annual Sabre of Boldness ceremony. That means we have been at this since 1996, when some of the seminarians here were in fifth grade.
“It all started out rather like an illegitimate child: over drinks in a dimly lit hotel room at a Holiday Inn not far from here. It was conceived in a spur-of-the-moment bit of rather spontaneous and reckless thinking, as many of you are already aware; and for all intents and purposes nothing was really expected to amount from it, as is the case with all one-night . . . events. And the award itself is the child of the editors of Gottesdienst, a disreputable crowd by their own standards, to say nothing of the standards of the folks who perambulated the high places in St. Louis in those days. It bears remembering that the double-entendre of the S. O. B. award has always meant that its recipient, for all his boldness in the faith, is likely already to have gained for himself a kind of notoriety not generally sought after, placing him in the lower ranks, among the sons of . . . men.
“The Sabre of Boldness really should not have survived. It had too much going against it. Not only did its origin suggest trouble for it; there were calls for it to be set aside, even from among people we admire. Friendly fire, as it were. It has been, to borrow a phrase from Paul Simon, slandered, libeled, it’s heard words it never heard in the Bible.
But, to borrow another phrase, from blessed saint Paul, behold, it lives! It’s sixteen, going on seventeen! – to borrow yet another phrase, from Oscar Hammerstein.
“The list of recipients over the past fifteen years contains some pretty illustrious names, too. It includes a District President (Rev. Edwin Suelflow), a Lutheran Hour Speaker (Dr. Wallace Schulz), a renowned theologian (Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn), and Bishop Walter Obare of Kenya, to name just a few. The current bearer, The Right Reverend Dr. Paul Kofi Fynn, is president of the Lutheran Church of Ghana. So the award has people, as they say.
“Back in 2006, when we gave the Sabre to Bishop Obare, his reception of it was immediately hailed by members and friends of the Mission Province in Sweden, which he supports, and a Swedish press release declared that ‘The Sabre of Boldness is given annually to a Lutheran who has taken a stand for the Gospel in a courageous manner and thereby has encountered threats and persecution’; and then there’s this: ‘Gottesdienst is the journal of the Missouri Synod.’
“I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall at the IC in St. Louis, when they first got wind of that one. ‘What? Who?? How could Gottesdienst have replaced our prized Lutheran Witness and The Reporter all in one day? How has this happened? Who are these renegades, who appointed them to speak for us, and why are copies of this confessional rag showing up everywhere? Hey! You there! What are you doing spreading copies of Gottesdienst in this building? Hey! Come back here! Hey! Heyyyyy!’
“I’m also reminded of a lecture by the Professor Dr. Kurt Marquart, of blessed memory, back in 2005, in which he sought to explain what Gottesdienst means. The Gottesdienst eds were sitting together near the back of the room, and I remember seeing heads at once turning in our direction to get our reaction; which suggested to me that our journal has succeeded to some degree in debunking even Dr. Marquart’s definition, simply by virtue of its popularity. Why, Gottesdienst does not simply mean worship! It’s the name of this journal! Who cares what else it means!
“And of course it’s this journal which has produced the Sabre, which has produced fifteen recipients to date.
“But this award is not about us or about them, really. It’s about all the unsung heroes of the faith which are routinely missed, in the handing out of awards. There’s a little lapel pin we give to the recipient, because we don’t have the cash to hand out real sabers, and the pin has two crossed sabers: one for the recipient, and the other for all those heroes who go unmentioned, because we don’t know them. They confess the faith, they persist, they don’t back down, and for it they suffer. In some cases the suffering is quite physical, such as North Korea, China, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, and Sudan – places you should all add to your congregation’s Sunday prayer list – where people are brutalized and killed by angry mobs who cannot abide their Christian confession. In other cases, it’s more subtle, though no less real: the loss of livelihood or the threat of it, the loss of friends or status, or the loss of reputation, something the catechism tells us is one of the worst things you can lose. They get the sniffed-at treatment, the turned up noses, the complaints that they are evil, malignant, or insufferable, all because they would not compromise the faith they knew to be right, in the face of sometimes tremendous pressures from without and within. They’re people like Moses, with enemies like the sons of Korah, who rise against them and say, “You take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: why then do you lift up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?” And like Moses, they humbly suffer such abuse, and perhaps wish they could be somewhere else, or do something else, but they know that they cannot be unfaithful to their Lord. And they’re all over the place, indeed all over the world, and they silently suffer for their faith. And we salute them all tonight.
“That’s what the Sabre is about, really. But we do like to choose one bearer, to carry it, as it were, each year, on behalf of them all.”
Bearers of the Sabre
2011 The Reverend Dr. Brian Saunders
2010 The Right Reverend Dr. Paul Kofi Fynn
2009 The Reverend Juhana Pohjola
2008 The Reverend Aaron Moldenhauer
2007 The Reverend Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn
2006 Bishop Walter Obare
2005 The Reverend Edward Balfour
2004 The Reverend Charles M. Henrickson
2003 The Reverend Dr. Wallace Schulz
2002 The Reverend Erich Fickel
2001 The Reverend Dr. John C. Wohlrabe
2000 The Reverend Peter M. Berg
1999 The Reverend Gary V. Gehlbach
1998 The Reverend Dr. Edwin S. Suelflow
1997 The Reverend Jonathan G. Lange
1996 The Reverend Peter C. Bender