Crucified With Christ: The life and service of Paul T. McCain

By Matthew C. Harrison

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.” (Gal. 2:20)

The Rev. Paul T. McCain shared his favorite verse of the Bible — Galatians 2:20 — with his theological hero, Martin Chemnitz, the chief author of the Formula of Concord in our Lutheran Confessions.

I met Paul at the Fort Wayne seminary in the mid-1980s, and I got to know him more during the year he was graduate assistant for the systematics department, while he worked on various projects, faculty assignments and pursued a graduate degree. He was a gifted student, appreciated by his professors and peers. I’d stop by the tiny office he occupied in the seminary “tunnel” to chat after classes. We enjoyed common interests in the Book of Concord, the history of Luther and Lutheranism, systematic theology and much more, including all things LCMS. I was translating German documents by Hermann Sasse, the great friend of the LCMS and opponent of Hitler in the German church struggle, and Paul was eager to see whatever I showed him. We eagerly sought to grow in understanding the multi-faceted Gospel of the free forgiveness of Christ delivered in the Word, Baptism, Absolution and Supper. We wanted most of all to be pastors.

A little town in Iowa

Paul was called to a marvelous little church in a place called Artesian, near Waverly, Iowa. The building was designed by Martin Stephan Jr., the architect, who stayed in the church with Dr. C.F.W. Walther and the Perry County Lutherans after his infamous father was exiled. The young Stephan was pastor at Artesian, and his remains lie there awaiting the resurrection. Aided by his very able and ever-positive wife, Lynn, Paul was a tremendous young pastor. He knew nothing about farming or rural life but jumped in “whole hog” and was soon visiting his people, asking questions, even helping with baling.

Betraying his ignorance, he’d often leave his parishioners reeling with laughter. Looking at the big blue silos on a dairy farm, he once asked, “Is that where you store the milk?” They howl about it to this day. Paul did it naturally, but it was a wise pastoral approach. Visitation allows a pastor to know to whom he’s preaching, and his preaching is received all the more gladly when his people know he’s interested in their lives and the things they care about. And, just as important, they have something to teach the pastor. The little parish flourished.

I was called to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Westgate, Iowa, only 19 miles east of Artesian. I’ll never forget Paul arriving at my church, getting out of his car, looking at his watch and saying, “Only 19 minutes!” Then the man, generally averse to physical demonstration of affection, wrapped his arms around me and gave me a big hug. The Rev. Gary Arp, later Iowa District East president, was our circuit visitor, and it was an amazing circuit. We had all the normal challenges to be sure, but our meetings and relationships were vibrant. We shared sermon studies, Bible studies and studies in the Lutheran Confessions. What a blessing. Gary encouraged us, shepherded us, and we grew and learned from each other. And so we began our dream of delivering Christ to people who need Him.

Service to the Synod

The Rev. Dr. A.L. Barry was elected Synod president in 1992. He had already called upon Paul for various tasks, and he now asked Paul to come to St. Louis to be his chief assistant. It was not an easy time. Paul complemented Dr. Barry’s warm pastoral and kind approach with theological knowledge and depth. He also saw and experienced the pain and crosses Dr. Barry endured as president, and they took their toll. Paul knew and believed full well that “being crucified with Christ” is a reference to Baptism, and that such killing of the flesh is a daily return to Baptism through repentance and bearing the cross.

After assisting President Barry, Paul served as interim president of Concordia Publishing House (CPH) from 2002 to 2006. Then he became chief editor and later publisher for CPH. He had a tremendous knack for knowing what the dear “average Joe” of the Synod wanted and needed. While Dr. Bruce Kintz was guiding “The House” onto sure financial footing, Paul provided theological leadership.

Paul’s tenure saw the production of a number of great resources such as the Lutheran Service Book and its companion volumes, including the electronic edition, Lutheran Service Builder; the 20-volume expansion of the American Edition of Luther’s Works; The Lutheran Study Bible; The Treasury of Daily Prayer; Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions — A Reader’s Edition; the great theological work of Johann Gerhard; multiple works of Walther and Sasse; and hundreds of other terrific books and resources dealing with contemporary needs and issues. All the while Paul remained an avid reader. He appeared dozens and dozens of times on the “Issues Etc.” radio show with Todd Wilken to explain the documents, doctrine and history of the Book of Concord. The Reader’s Edition has placed our church’s great public confession into the hands of many thousands, all to the benefit of the LCMS and thousands beyond. Paul was a tremendous tool in God’s hand to disseminate and proclaim Christian “doctrine and all its articles” (FC Ep X 7).

Awaiting the resurrection

The news of Paul’s death shocked me. He was taken by Christ to await the blessed resurrection on Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving 2020, at about 3 p.m. It was apparently a heart issue. Paul was 58 years old. Lord, “teach us to number our days” (Psalm 90:12). Paul was a sinner, as he was aware. In his funeral sermon, I described him as a bombastic introvert. He was opinionated when it came to Lutheran doctrine and practice. He’d ruffle feathers. But he’d also quickly cool down and apologize. The week before his death, the McCain family did a photo shoot with the first grandchild. Paul texted me his photo with the baby. Paul’s face exuded pure joy, contentment and thankfulness.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20). Paul died in a Baptism in February 1962. He died with Christ, which means his death was died already 2,000 years ago on a cross. The Lord granted him 58 amazing years of life “in the flesh … by faith in the Son of God.” Paul enjoys the beatific presence of Christ even now in heaven and awaits the resurrection unto life of all the faithful. Come, Lord Jesus, quickly. Many of us are waiting, and none of us shall be disappointed.

This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of The Lutheran Witness.

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2 thoughts on “Crucified With Christ: The life and service of Paul T. McCain”

  1. John J. Flanagan

    From your description of the life of Paul McCain, he was a blessing to the Synod and to Christians everywhere. The mark of a believer is the willingness to serve others, and to use one’s gifts and talents selflessly and for the Kingdom of God. The words of 1Peter 4:10 were probably very familiar to Paul McCain, and should guide us as well; “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Soli Deo Gloria.

  2. Rev. Thomas Chopp

    Then I(John) heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (Revelations 14:13) Indeed, Paul’s Gospel ministry (his works) continue to bear much fruit in Christ’s Kingdom. May Paul’s memory be eternal!

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