Some Footnotes, Grace Notes, and Blue Notes to a Period of Norwegian–American History, 1916–1918
Rev. T.N. Teigen
1968 Synod Convention Essay
At the close of the Synod Meeting in Minneapolis on May 24, 1916, it appeared that there would be a clean break in the Norwegian Synod. The statement issued by the large minority of the Synod soon after the Convention expressed the hope of still avoiding a split, and though it did not venture to make definite predictions as to what might happen, it did suggest that “if the difficulties cannot be removed, there will be enough congregations which will remain in the Synod so that it will be able to live and assert its great principle: ‘The Word alone and Grace alone.’” (Quoted in Grace for Grace, p. 114.)
Expressions in several private letters of the time are illustrative of the general sentiment among minority people. Mrs. C.K. Preus wrote to Miss Hannah Ottesen from the Convention in Minneapolis:
Most are going into the union and there will be few left, but, God be praised, enough to keep the Synod going with God’s help. It is good to see that Otto (Ottesen) is standing firm.
The Rev. H.M. Tjernagel wrote to his brother-in-law telling of his visit in June that year at Stanwood, Washington, his former congregation and the home of his wife:
I enjoyed my visit … Once in a while the pleasure was marred on account of the present church controversy. However, there were a great many that agreed with me in being outspoken against the present union movement with Opgjør as basis. I am, as you may know decidedly opposed to Forening (Union) on the present basis and will not be a member of “the new church body.” I have cast my lot with those who will try to keep the Synod going and remain true to what it has stood for since its organization. (In a letter to Ole Brue, July 9, 1916.)
The negotiations of Prof. C.K. Preus and the Rev. I.B. Torrison in the fall of 1916 which culminated in the so called Austin Agreement and the great mirage will not be detailed here. They are treated at some length in the Rev. Theo. Aaberg’s book, A City Set On A Hill.
When the “Invitation” of the Union Committee to the minority to enter the merger on the basis of the negotiations of Preus and Torrison was presented to the meeting of minority men at West Hotel in Minneapolis on Jan. 17–18, 1917, 72 voted for it, 7 against, and 17 did not vote. (The Rev. C.N. Peterson, in a letter to the Rev. H. Aanestad, Jan. 31, 1917). Those who did not vote were as much against accepting the “invitation” as any, but they would not vote because “they were opposed to taking a vote at this meeting where only one third of those invited were present, and by a vote the minority would be split — which is what happened” (P.A. Widwey in Amerika, Feb. 16, 1917). Of the 7 who voted against the resolution 5 were pastors; B. Harstad, J. Blakkan, J.A. Moldstad, H. Ingebritson, and C.N. Peterson (C.N. Peterson in a letter to Aanestad, Jan. 31, 1917).
At the close of the West Hotel meeting on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 18, the Rev. J. Bläkkan of Rockford, Washington, went with the Rev. C.N. Peterson, a schoolmate, to Peterson’s home in North Minneapolis to spend the time till he should board the West Coast train which was to leave at 11:00 that night. In the evening Peterson went with Bläkkan to the Union Station to say good-bye to Harstad who would take the same train for Parkland, Washington. At the depot they discussed the events of the meeting and, since the seriousness of the situation seemed to them to warrant further discussion, Harstad and Bläkkan decided to take a hotel room and stay over till the next noon. Peterson came to the hotel again at 8 o’clock the next morning and they consulted till train-time. (C.N. Peterson in a letter to his brother, Jan. 24, 1917, and to Mr. Romnes, Jan. 26.) What was clear to all three was that the document presented by Preus and Torrison “did not grant the minority the least bit more than the original Opgjør did, namely, the right themselves to stand on the ‘first form’ of the doctrine of Election, while they thereby granted the others the right to organize the new church body on the basis of the unchanged Opgjør, which with its unreserved acceptance of the second form becomes the official confession of the new church body” (C.N. Peterson in a letter to his brother; Jan. 24, and to Mr. Romnes, Jan. 26), and that “by going along with the others into the merger on such a doctrinal basis they would be as good unionists as they are.” (Peterson in a letter to J.M. Johnson, Newman Grove, Neb., Jan. 31, 1917).
Among the things that ought to be done, in the thinking of these men, were the following:
1. It should be ascertained who were opposed to entering the merger on the basis of the Austin Agreement and they should keep in touch with one another.
2. It should be definitely established whether the Union Committee really granted as much standing to the Preus–Torrison document as the leaders of the minority evidently thought they did.
3. The matter of the advice of the St. Louis professors as represented at the West Hotel meeting by the leaders of the minority ought to be clarified.
4. Ways and means should be found to keep the Synod minority reading public informed as to real state of affairs, that is, that the Opgjør unchanged was still the basis of the proposed merger.
As to the first: the Rev. C.N. Peterson was immediately in contact with the Rev. O.T. Lee and the Rev. Henry Ingebritson in Northern Iowa, and with many others, Peterson was at that time without a congregation. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Synod’s Pension Fund and had charge of the business management of Retledning og Forsvar (For Guidance and Defence), the paper of the original minority, including the mailing list, and probably knew more minority minded people than anyone else. Carbon copies of letters he wrote have been preserved and we are fortunate in having copies of 167 letters written during the year 1917. They are a valuable source of information concerning the activities of the minority after the West Hotel meeting in Jan., 1917, until the organization at Lime Creek in June, 1918.
As to the second: To establish what the Union Committee’s view was, the Rev. Henry Ingebritson wrote to the Rev. Peeler Tangjerd, a United Church member of the Union Committee. Tangjerd responded in a letter under date of Feb. 7, 1917, that he knew of no “new Opgjør”, that since the Austin Agreement is not a “new Opgjør” it cannot be considered a “commentary on Opgjør,” that the Union Committee simply “takes cognizance of the three reservations of the minority,” and that “as a basis for union of the three conferring church bodies is to be considered Opgjør and nothing else.” He added:
The positions represented by Opgjør and “a Request” are given mutual recognition inasmuch as they are given unassailed room in one and the same church body in other words: They are not regarded as church divisive; and we mutually recognize those who take this stand as brethren in the faith without positively adopting the other’s opinion in the matter.
There is an interesting sequel to this: The Rev. D.G. Ristad, a former Synod man, wrote a report of the 1923 Convention of the “Norwegian Lutheran Church of America” in Decorah Posten. The NLCA Convention that year was held in the St. Paul Auditorium where the first merger convention had been held six years before. In the article the Rev. Ristad did some reminiscing on the 1917 Merger meeting and among other things he wrote: “The Austin Agreement became the basis of the union. The large Opgjør was quietly by-passed. The Union Committee had accepted the Austin Agreement.” A subsequent issue of Decorah Posten carried an article by the Rev. Peder Tangjerd entitled “A Necessary Correction.” He said that the Rev. Ristad’s statement concerning the Austin Agreement was historically incorrect, and went on to prove his point by quoting from the 1917 Convention Report:
For comparison herewith is appended Opgjør as it reads in its entirety and which forms the basis for the union between the three contracting church bodies… It is self-evident that the above resolution must not be interpreted to mean the Opgjør as the basis for union between the three contracting church bodies is thereby abbreviated or changed. (NLCA Convention Report, 1917, pp. 462, 465.)
One is left to speculate as to why the Rev. Ristad who had always voted with the majority in the Synod and who had in writings warmly urged union on the basis of Opgjør (e.g. Ev. Luth. Kirketidende, Nov. 24, 1915) should have made the above quoted statement. Was the remark made in the public press to provide an opportunity to have the facts stated again before all the world particularly for the benefit of the minority people who had gone into their Merger and some of whom were still vocal on what they thought was the standing of the Austin Agreement? At any rate, historians Nelson and Fevold are on solid historical ground when they in their books: The Lutheran Church Among Norwegian Americans (1960), omit the Austin Agreement from the Appendix of pertinent union documents, as is likewise Richard C. Wolf when he does not so much as mention the Austin Agreement in his book, Documents of Lutheran Unity in America. (1967).
As to the third point: the Rev. O.T. Lee obtained a copy of the St. Louis Faculty Committee letter of Jan. 9, 1917. C.N. Peterson made copies which were circulated among interested parties (Peterson in a letter to O.T. Lee, and to B. Harstad, Jan. 27, 1917). No advice could be found in the letter to go into the union. At the suggestion of his fellows C.N. Peterson made a trip to St. Louis where, together with the Rev. Nachtsheim, the Missouri Synod pastor of Immanuel Lutheran church in North Minneapolis, he discussed the whole matter with Profs. Pieper, Dau, and Graebner (Peterson in a letter to B. Harstad, Feb. 11, 1917 and to J. Bläkkan, Feb. 15, 1917). The most detailed and penetrating discussion of this entire matter to date is found in A City Set On A Hill.
As to the fourth point: It was seemingly not known for sure at the time whether R.B. Anderson would welcome articles in his paper Amerika from the minority of the minority as he had from the original minority. Pastors Harstad and Bläkkan thought it would be well that, since the Rev. Peterson was without a call and needed to find work, he should try to get work with Amerika. The Rev. Peterson wrote to R.B. Anderson asking if he might get work with Amerika, reading copy, mailing, or whatever, suggesting that besides writing a little for the paper he might be able to get pastors and lay people he knew to write articles for Amerika about “what those who continued to stand on the Synod’s old doctrine and principles and practice ought now to do.” (Peterson in a letter to R.B. Anderson, Jan. 23, 1917).
After several exchanges of letters R.B. Anderson wrote:
If this less minority can make use of Amerika, I shall be glad. I do not understand why the paper is not used more than it is since all the while all the other papers have been closed. Suppose that you, dear Pastor Peterson, were appointed to edit the religious articles in the paper. You could be a sort of “clearing house,” and everything having to do with the church controversy could be sent to you in Minneapolis before being taken into Amerika. The friends of the minority could then work for the distribution of the paper. It would lighten the load for me if there were someone to whom I could send all articles before they were taken into Amerika. But I would have it clearly understood that I cannot compromise with Opgjør. I can not make use of a clearing house assistant who would compromise with Opgjør. The minority must stand firm as a rock, however small it may become. (To Peterson, Jan. 30, 1917.)
C.N. Peterson did not feel qualified to act as such a “clearing house” (Peterson in a letter to Harstad, Feb. 9, 1917). It seems also that the minority people did not care to have that much of a carte blanche, nor to be that closely identified with a secular paper. At any rate, the “clearing house” arrangement never went into effect. Nevertheless, articles began to appear in Amerika from the pens of Pastors P.A. Widwey, B. Harstad, O.T. Lee, and G.P. Merseth and a great number of laymen. The pastors, with the exception of Widwey, were reserved in their expressions about the results of the West Hotel meeting and about the action of the members of the minority who had resolved to accept the invitation to go into the union on the basis of the Austin Agreement. They faced the reality that the Opgjør was still the basis of the union and directed their remarks in the main to that situation. The sharpest remarks regarding the majority of the minority and the leaders came in articles by laymen. One writer said that Retledning og Forsvar, which was still being published, was “no longer guiding or defending the cause of the minority. It should rather be called Vildleder og Forfører (Misguider and Seducer). We subscribers have been bilked for a dollar in that the paper does not answer to its name but rather tries to lead us over to the side of the majority, if that can be done, and likely a pa1t will be won in that way.” (Knud Helle, in Amerika, May 25, 1917). Another writer asked, “Did they (the leaders of the minority) present the matter foolishly at the West Hotel. or did the advisers (St. Louis professors — TNT) give such foolish advice?” He referred to Preus and Torrison as having claimed that they had gotten the Union Committee to make changes and corrections in Opgjør and said, “But it is well to note that there is an addition to the effect that corrections must not correct anything. Funny, ain’t it? Foolish, ain’t it? Sad, is it not?” (Amerika, May 19, 1917.)
On April 13, 1917, a boxed note appeared in the columns of R.B. Anderson’s paper and was repeated in every issue thereafter for several months:
TO THE MINORITY
Each week cancelations come in from subscribers who belong to the majority. They give as a reason that we have opened our columns to the minority. Will not you good minority people now take the trouble to get us some new subscribers from your camp so that we can be compensated for those losses? It seems to us that this is your duty.
There is no reason to believe that R.B. Anderson was misrepresenting the case. Some, at least, of the letters announcing cancelations appeared in the columns of the paper.
R.B. Anderson was a controversial character, (and still is). He had a way of espousing unpopular causes, as well as a way of alienating many a good friend, often over trifles. Be that as it may, when he wrote on theological matters, as he did quite often in things pertaining to Opgjør, he did not hesitate to admit that he was not especially qualified to speak on the subject. And still his expressions bear the marks of perceptiveness and orthodoxy. One could not wish for better than his brief article on “Naadevalget” (The Election of Grace) which is filled with Gospel warmth (Amerika, March 29, 1912). His article, “Unity — Not Union” (Sept. 6, 1912) leaves nothing to be desired — indeed, Prof. F. Bente picked that one up, and several others, reprinted them in translation in Lehre und Wehre, the theological magazine of the Missouri Synod, and commended them with the remark, “They hit the nail on the head.” (Lehre und Wehre, Nov., 1912, p. 511).
As said, Rasmus B. Anderson was a controversial character. His political positions, his feuds, and often seemingly unwarranted “jabs” put him in the “dog-house” with a lot of VIP’s, some of whom (including some ecclesiastics) weren’t exactly paragons of nobility either. It has been debated whether his paper was more of a liability than an asset to the cause of our Synod fathers under the circumstances. The fact is, though, that he opened his columns to let a minority, to whom the press was otherwise closed and who had been stigmatized as being “ruled by a carnal party spirit and sinful suspicion” (Ev. Luth. Kirketidende, Dec. 1, 1915), express their convictions which were unpopular but genuinely Scriptural and Lutheran. And for this we in this 50th Anniversary year hold also him in grateful memory.
Amerika’s position in regard to the union question took its toll, and was no doubt part of the reason R.B. Anderson had to bring it to a conclusion in 1922. His biographers have not been altogether kind to Rasmus, particularly as they comment on his religious attitudes. I cannot resist quoting a few lines from a couple of them. No doubt some of the judgments expressed in the lines are justified. But some readers will see in the lines a few rocks coming at their own heads and it is probably good for us to get the spiritual exercise of fending them:
In religion, as in politics, Anderson’s opinions underwent metamorphoses. For many years his views on theology were in a state of flux. After his father’s death he had been baptized by a Methodist minister; later he became a Lutheran. Then he compromised on creed to the extent of teaching in a Seventh-Day Baptist school. While a university professor he flocked with the Unitarians. Upon his return from Denmark, he joined the conservative Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Madison. But soon he was “double-crossed” by its minister; this seemed a common habit of the men whom Anderson knew. He ceased to attend any church, but became the champion of a brand of fundamentalist Lutheran theology with tenets not found in any history of Christian dogmas. (A dunce-cap for the last sentence!) (Paul Knaplund: Rasmus B. Anderson: Norwegian American Studies and Records. Northfield, Minn., 1954, Vol. 18)
A long and gradual decline followed, during which Amerika could no longer be regarded as a force, but only as a phenomenon in Norwegian American journalism. Increasingly it became a rallying point for fanatics and for those ever willing to gather around a fight … A small group within the Synod refused to enter the 1917 merger; they kept the name “The Norwegian Synod,” popularly called “The Little Synod.” Amerika had supported this splinter group; thus it was fitting that the small denomination should buy Anderson’s print shop when he gave up his editorship in 1922. (Lloyd Hustvedt, Rasmus Bjorn Anderson, Norwegian–American Historical Association, Northfield, Minn. 1966, pp. 305, 306.)
We have earlier alluded to the reserve with which the writers of the remnant of the minority referred to the minority people who decided at the West Hotel meeting to accept the invitation of the Union Committee to come into the Merger on the basis of the Austin Agreement. There is an interesting side-light on that. During the first days of February, 1917, the Rev. C.N. Peterson attended two meetings at which he had occasion to see a good number of majority people. Writing to Bjug Harstad, Feb. 8, 1917, he reported, “In the last three days I have met with members of the Pension Committee, so I have had an opportunity to hear how the majority people look at it. They are inclined to make great fun of the whole thing as a colossal turn-about, and as a step to insure a place ‘on the band-wagon’”. The minority people possibly had some reason to think similarly, but their expressions on the matter through the years consistently assume that the leaders of the minority and others with them were deceived. It remained for ALC piety of the 1960’s to express the judgment:
In this way the churches prepared the way for the acceptance of the Synod minority into the new church, thus allowing the minority to fulfill its real desire for union without losing face. (Nelson–Fevold, The Lutheran Church Among Norwegian Americans Augsburg, Mpls., 1960, p. 221.)
On April 24, 1917, the Rev. Bjug Harstad drafted the following letter:
The time goes by without the little remnant of our Synod having united on something definite. Is there not a danger of luke-warmness? Ought we not in concert make a definite declaration at our next Synod meeting?
We are all men who have one time taken our oath of office; we have with deliberate thought accepted the constitution of the synod and declared ourselves agreed in the doctrine and principles of the Synod; and since then we have found nothing in God’s Word that makes it our Christian duty to change anything in it. Even if it should come to pass that I should stand alone, I cannot go along into the new body. I therefore move that all who are able make the following declaration to the Synod Convention:
1. That we can not for the sake of our conscience go along into the new body on the present basis, but
2. We stand firmly on the old confession and organization, which we have the Christian freedom to defend and work under as heretofore.
3. We therefore lay claim to our Synod’s constitution with its seal and motto: “Gegraptai”, it is written.
In order not to create difficulties among ourselves the declaration ought to be as brief as possible and still contain enough so that we have not given up anything as members of the corporation, then as time goes on see what can be done.
If the members of the other body then put us out by keeping the Synod alive and going, we will be at our post.
Dear friends, let us unite on something very soon. It is getting late.
Carbon copies were made of this letter by C.N. Peterson and sent to all who were known not to have voted for the Austin Agreement and to some of whom it was known that they had voted for it at the West Hotel but had changed their minds. Peterson sent an accompanying letter suggesting that since they ought to consult together it would be well if they all put up at the same hotel. Let him know and he would make the arrangements. One by one letters came in from men who were in general agreement with Harstad’s motion. Peterson made the arrangements for rooms and a meeting place at the Aberdeen Hotel not far from the St. Paul Auditorium. At a meeting of the minority at the Aberdeen Hotel on June 7, C.N. Peterson reported that he had received word of agreement from 43 men, and expected more in the day’s mail.
In the meantime there were other developments. May 18–20 there was a meeting of the Circuit Young People’s Association and Choral Union at Searville, Iowa. Prof. W.H.T. Dau was there to speak on “The Lutheran Church as a Singing Church.” There it was learned that the Synodical Conference Committee (Pieper, Dau, and Schlueter) intended to be at the Convention of the Synod in St. Paul, June 5–9, 1917, and that to date they had not been able to get Dr. H.G. Stub to agree to a meeting with them. Several days later a letter was sent to Prof. Dan signed by 7 men of the minority within convenient reach requesting the Committee to meet with the minority men at the Aberdeen Hotel on the evening of June 5. In a few days they had an affirmative reply. (Peterson in a letter to Dau, May 24, 1917, and to J. Bläkkan, May 29).
Amerika for June 1, 1917, carried a translation of the letter by Pieper, Dau, and Graebner dated Jan. 9, 1917. This was accompanied by some remarks by Henry lngebritson, among other things:
With the permission of the respected gentlemen in St. Louis printed herewith is the advice which Prof. Preus and Pastor Torrison brought from them at New Year’s time. It should have been published long ago, since it is the official advice — the only thilng we can go by. We ought also to have gotten to hear this at the minority meeting in Minneapolis last January and to hear it in translation. In this advice, as everyone can see, no one is advised to go into the new church body. On the contrary …
At the meetings at the Aberdeen Hotel held during “off hours” from the Synod Convention June 6–8 the minority agreed to the first two points of Harstad’s proposal and resolved to make a statement read at the convention. The opportunity to read them into the record never came. Saturday, June 9, dawned and people of the three uniting church bodies marched from three directions to meet at the St. Paul Auditorium amid band-playing and banner-waving. The Norwegian–American secular press quite forgot about World War I and the Germans and covered the Merger Meeting with voluminous enthusiasm. The treatment by the large Minneapolis Tidende was typical. Front page banner headline: “THE GREATEST GATHERING AMONG NORWEGIANS IN AMERICA.” Headline two: “The Norwegian Lutheran Church of America.” Then four lines across the page: “The Church body of nearly a million members, 3000 congregations, 1200 pastors, owns or controls 26 Seminaries, Colleges, and Academies, with 192 teachers and 4,500 students, 16 hospitals, 9 orphanages, 7 homes for the aged; the institutions have a combined worth of $15,000,000.
On the front page also was a large picture of the 16 member Union Committee representing the United Church, Norwegian Synod, and Hauge Synod. Page two carried a brief history of the three church bodies. It was noted that some leading men in the Norwegian Synod had for some years found the Opgjør unsatisfactory but further negotiations during the last few months of 1916 had cleared up matters to their satisfaction. Then, “There is still a very little minority within the Norwegian Synod, as well as within the Hauge Synod, who have shown a reluctance to go along with the merger; but none of these movements are of sufficient significance to hamper the great common work, and the accomplishment of the union matter occurs under circumstances which the most zealous friends of union could not consider more fortunate.”
The next two issues of Minneapolis Tidende devoted generous space to news from the merger convention. The June 14 issue carried an elaborate description of the parade of the three bodies to the St. Paul Auditorium as well as a picture of the officers of the merged church. It included also this note, “At the time the union meeting was held the church bells in the congregations of the three bodies were rung throughout the whole land, from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts, from Texas to far north in Canada.” A curious editorial noted that “the 9th of June has become a memorial day both for the Norwegian people in general as well as for Norwegians in America.” It compared June 9, 1917, to June 9, 1880, when the Norwegian Parliament resolved to amend the Norwegian Constitution over the veto of the king, “as a mighty assertion and ratification of the work of independence from the 17 of May, 1814.” “June 9, 1917, will hereafter stand as a significant memorable day especially for Norwegians of America. With the merger of the three church bodies, special interests and duplications in church work will be eliminated, and one of the beneficial effects will be that there will be more unity in civic and social matters among Norwegians of America.”
News of the merger, however, did not completely dominate the columns of Minneapolis Tidende. Tucked away in another part of the paper was a little article with the title, “Against the Union.” It noted that about 20 pastors and a like number of laymen had in these days been meeting in the Aberdeen Hotel and had resolved to organize themselves to continue in the old paths, had elected some officers (inaccurately giving the names), and had resolved to put out a paper. It noted also that the minority men had been in conference with three men from the Synodical Conference, which consisted of the German bodies, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Michigan Synods. The discussions had been concerned with various points in Opgjør.
One paper of the Norwegian–American secular press was distinctive in its coverage of the merger news. The merger made the front page in Rasmus Anderson’s Amerika for June 15, 1917, but in the following manner. At the head of the left hand column was a black cross followed by an article reading in part:
THE NORWEGIAN SYNOD, 64 years old, born 1853, died in St. Paul Saturday the 9th of June, 1917. The patient for many years had been bedridden. The sickness, however, was not at all fatal; but the doctors who had been appointed to attend him neglected their duty. They failed to give him the proper care, and the medicine they prescribed contained poison. The physicians are guilty of “malpractice” … The same day the old Hauge Synod also died. The cause of death was the same … The United Church changed its name and swallowed the two corpses. But, as one will see from Pastor Moldstad’s report in this issue, it was not able to swallow the whole body of the Norwegian Synod … The false doctrinal form — intuitui fidei — has won out all along the line …
Let us now finally get clear lines and clear standpoints. We will now get to see how many there are who in spite of persecutions, sufferings, and all kinds of adversities will be faithful to the eternal revealed truths, even if it leads to the poor house.
The Rev. John Moldstad’s article was the first authoritative published report on the actions of the “remnant” and we insert it here for the record:
FROM THE SYNOD MEETING IN ST. PAUL, MINN.
The minority in the Synod at the Convention in Minneapolis last year insisted that three things must be corrected in Opgjør before they could with good conscience go into the new church body.
Efforts were made to correct certain offensive things in Opgjør in that a Committee brought before the Union Committee a motion that three corrections be made. The Union Committee felt itself “for certain reasons” prevented from following this plan, but still invited the minority to be along in the union. A part of the minority thought they ought to go along on this invitation. But many could not go along into the new body unless the said were made. Another thing that caused the minority to even more misgivings about entering the merger was the circumstance that the Hauge Synod’s insistence that its “understanding” of certain points in the “Conditions of Union” should be tolerated was accepted by a large majority in the Synod. Among the points in the “Understanding” was participation with the heterodox in church work, something which in the Synod has always been regarded as in conflict with God’s Word.
The minority therefore held meetings at the Aberdeen Hotel in St. Paul, Minn., where among other things the following points were adopted: 1. For our conscience sake we cannot go along into the new body on the present basis; 2. We remain standing on the old confession and organization which we have the Christian liberty to defend and work under now as before.
A temporary administration was elected: the Rev. Harstad, president; the Rev. J.A. Moldstad, vice-president; the C.N. Peterson, Secretary; and the Rev. O.T. Lee, Treasurer.
In God’s name we intend to stand fast and not turn aside from the good paths which earlier have been followed in the Norwegian Synod. Our purpose is to try to preserve the Synod’s old principles, doctrine, confessions, and free churchly government.
It is our intention as soon as it can possibly be done to set forth our program.
Minneapolis, Minn., June 11, 1917
(Amerika, June 15, 1917, front page.)
Prof. Franz Pieper in July reported on the Norwegian merger and said, among other things, “There can be no talk of unity in the Lutheran doctrine in the new body, because the Opgjør which expresses not only Lutheran doctrine, but also un-Lutheran, is not changed. Let us hope that the last word is not yet spoken, but that yet finally the standpoint of the minority will be acknowledged as the right one and will be handled accordingly.” (Lehre und Wehre, July, 1917, pp. 333–334).
Prof. F.W. Stellhorn, the leading Ohio Synod exponent of the “Anti-Missourian” position on disputed doctrines, wrote his friend, 79 year-old F.A. Schmidt, in St. Paul, on July 5, 1917:
The 20 men of the minority who remain outside of the new body are fully right according to their “Missouri” standpoint … How Preus and others could join the new body without having gotten the changes in Opgjør demanded by their consciences, and how the others can accept them according to their standpoint as brethren in faith, I do not understand. Maybe they will sometime still make a public explanation of that. That is one of the flies in the ointment.
On Oct. 27 Stellhorn wrote again to Schmidt:
It amazes me how things stand with your minority (that entered the merger. Ed) and with your general president (H.G. Stub): they still seem to me to halt to a certain extent between two opinions. Hopefully they will cause no special unrest. Those of the minority who stood fast command my respect, however wrong their position is. (The Stellhorn letters are in the Schmidt Papers, Concordia Historical Institute, St. Louis, Mo.: Microfilm #490.)
The Rev. M.F. Wiese (1842–1933) one of the greatest scholars of the old Norwegian Synod, an irenic gentleman, saw Opgjør soon after its birth in Madison in 1912, didn’t like it, but took explanations in good faith and voted for it at the Eastern District Convention in 1912. Later he became more convinced of its intenability and made his contributions on the minority side of the discussion from 1912–1916, letting his name also appear as “Publisher” of Retledning og Forsvar in 1916. At the West Hotel meeting in January, 1917, he voted for the Austin Agreement. On June 18, 1917, he wrote a touching letter to his good friend, Prof. C.K. Preus, expressing his amazement that the Hon. Lauritz Swenson, representing the minority, had told the Union Committee that it was not the intention of the minority that the Austin Agreement should be published etc. (For details of that phase, see A City Set On A Hill). He continued:
… He certainly had no authority for that from the Minority — as far as I can recall. I regarded our resolution as a document that was to be published so that also those of the Minority who were not present at Minneapolis could know what we had decided there. I was heartily willing to go along to the extreme limits in order to avoid a split, but I did not want to be along on any secret maneuvers. Our cause was honest before God and men; and since it concerned a doctrinal matter for which the Norwegian Synod had suffered and contended, it demanded a public confession. On the basis of the Austin Agreement I was determined to go along into the new church body, until J. Nordby and Kvale explained to me (right after Easter) that my understanding of that agreement was wrong. Also I am now convinced that the change in Para. 4 cannot be defended. I believed before that a good construction could be put upon it.
I have now experienced a good deal of what it means to be a “scape-goat.” Perhaps you also have experienced a little in this regard? Among us people are astonished, grieved and indignant over what the “Minority” has ventured to do in St. Paul. You can believe that your old friend Tarje Tvedten is not mild about it. And no wonder! In my opinion an offense has been given by our trusted men such as has no parallel in the history of the old Norwegian Synod. I cannot yet regard it as anything but church politics (something our Synod has always shied away from), and a faithlessness in the confession of the divine truth. And not to forget myself: After about 50 years’ service in the Synod, I have by my vacillating position lost the confidence of my friends and won scorn and contempt in return. That is probably just what I have deserved. Ottesen, your father (my unforgettable, fatherly friend), V. Koren, Frich, etc. would certainly turn over in their graves if they could hear that while our opponents do not find that our demands for change in Opgjør are contrary to the Scriptures and the Confessions, we in return have publicly voted that the same Opgjør shall stand “unchanged and unabridged as a basis etc.” — the Opgjør which we for about 5 years could not accept with good conscience. Do you really believe that God will bless such conduct? But enough about that. It will grieve you to read this; but it also grieves me to write it. I believed, I can assure you, that if there was anyone I was sure would stand fast, it was you. This influenced me not a little that I also finally voted for our resolution at the West Hotel, but not gladly.
This is an exceedingly severe trial for us. God guide and counsel for Jesus’ sake.
Prof. C.K. Preus died on May 28, 1921, at the age of over 68 years. At his passing, the Rev. John A. Moldstad wrote an appreciative article about him which is illustrative of the attitude nourished among the remnant toward one who had been their respected leader, and a beloved teacher of most of them. It reads in part:
Prof. Preus was a noble character — “one of nature’s noblemen.” With his great talents both as a speaker and as an administrator one might have feared that he would become greedy of honor and vain; but he did not seek his own. His greatest desire was to be true to God’s Word and will both in doctrine and in practice. During the days of the Election controversy he, together with his father, suffered himself to be deposed by the Norway Grove congregation rather than subscribe to an un-Scriptural and false doctrine concerning the Election of Grace. When the whirlwind of the union matter broke over the Synod and the lamentable Opgjør came into being he was one of the first to see the false and sinful in that compromise. At the District Convention in Willmar he was the only one who voted againt Opgjør, and at the Iowa District Convention he fought and witnessed manfully for the truth of God’s Word. He continued his steadfast fight as one of the Minority’s leaders until the Fall of 1916. We regret with great sorrow that he, as so many others, let himself be deceived by the so-called Austin Agreement and fooled into the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America. He believed the letters and the assurances that were given him and thought that he with good conscience could go into the new body. He was much interested in our little church body and heartily sympathized with us in our work He had come into the new body and thought it therefore his duty to stand there for a time and to witness for the truth. He said repeatedly: “We testify and fight for the same within the body as you do outside,” and “we stand as you.” He, as many others, expected the enthusiasm for the union to pass over and that the church people would wake up, and that there would be a new alignment, and that those who wanted to hold fast to God’s Word would then be united. At the district meeting in Decorah in 1918 he fought and testified courageously against the “National Lutheran Council” and got only contempt and evil words for it. Now his life’s journey has ended, and the sun has gone down. His was a long and rich activity, — nearly 45 years. May Cod in grace grant that his testimony may sometime be heard and bear fruit! The Lord comfort his wife and children and bless for them his memory.” (Evan. Luth. Tidende, June 1, 1921, p. 757–759.)
As indicated earlier, the minority meeting at the Aberdeen Hotel on June 9, 1917, resolved to put out a paper of 8 or 16 pages, to be called Luthersk Tidende. It was to appear twice a month. B. Harstad was to be listed as the “Publisher” and C.N. Peterson, who lived in Minneapolis, the Managing Editor. Peterson was to have 50 dollars a month for his work The plan had been to get out an issue on July 1, but for one reason or another it was delayed, and the first issue came out July 16. It contained an article by Harstad, “Why the Minority could not go along into the New Body”; an article by O.T. Lee, “What is Now the Minority’s Position?”; an article without a heading and without a signature showing the unionistic character of the Hauge Synod’s “understanding” of the “Articles of Union,” which “understanding the other two bodies had agreed to; an article “Faithfulness, if otherwise genuine, never makes peace with sin,” signed “W,” presumably Wiese; another article by O.T. Lee entitled, “Ought we hold fast to the Doctrine of the Confessions regarding the Election of Grace as the true doctrine revealed by God?”; and then a brief note, “To the Readers,” introducing Tidende, stating subscription price as a dollar a year, and appealing for subscriptions.
The format of the paper was simple: Luthersk — a picture of a little church — Tidende. — And thereby hangs a tale of a masthead.
The little minority was laying claim to being a continuation of the old Norwegian Synod. It should like to have had an organizational continuity but if that was not possible it would be content to have the more important spiritual continuity. Since 1872 the old respected organ of the Synod had been called Evangelisk Luthersk Kirke Tidende (Evangelical Lutheran Church Times). That paper was still in existence after the merger took place, and the minority knew it could not use that name, but wanted to proximate it. On July 3, C.N. Peterson wrote to O.T. Lee saying that someone else had made the suggestion and he thought it would look quite well if they had a cut made with the picture of a church between Luthersk and Tidende, “It would then be Luthersk Kirketidende without our having taken the old name. What do you think of it, Pastor Lee?” He added that it would cost $3.00 to have the cut made, $1.50 if he were fortunate enough to get the painter B. Gausta, a member of Our Saviour’s in Minneapolis, and a strong minority man until the cave-in, to draw the picture. And ’twas done. The little church attracted the attention of some VIPs and stirred up some ire, too. On Sept. 25 of that year President H.G. Stub and the District President were at a meeting of Harstad’s congregation at Parkland, Washington, in a first move to get Harstad deposed because his congregation had not declined to go into the merger. In a speech at the meeting Stub said:
By the side of great organization, the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America, a teeny weeny church body has been established. I don’t know what they will call themselves. I know that a little paper is being published, which is called Luthersk Tidende. They have not dared to call it Kirketidende, but have placed the picture of a church between Luthersk and Tidende. Such manner of procedure I do not like. This is not the right way to proceed, to give Luthersk with a painted church and then Tidende as the name of the organ published by the new church in definite opposition to the new church body, the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America. (Stenographic Report of the Meeting, Tr. by Chr. Anderson}
Harstad could truthfully answer that he had nothing to do with the picture being put there. “But who would have thought that this would have caused such difficulty?” Stub: “Why did they not name it Kirketidende?” Harstad: “Yes, that we could just as well have done, if we had wanted to. The one who was taking care of the printing placed it there, and I did not know anything about it. But what harm might it cause? I beg of you to consider seriously: What is the use of such things in the church? To forbid free-born American citizens to choose for themselves in such things, when they do not encroach on the rights of others does not serve any good purpose. It is deplorable that we shall not have liberty in the church even if we do not have anything else. I want to have my Christian liberty.” (Ibid.)
The little church in Luthersk Tidende remained and did duty in the mast head for many years to come. Only the next year it got another beautiful word to keep it company. At the convention in Lime Creek in 1918 the Synod resolved to call the paper EvangeUsk Luthersk Tidende, the Evangelisk printed in nice gothic type over the little church. And so, there it was after all: Evangelisk Luthersk Kirketidende; and so it was called until its demise in Dec. 15. 1953 — in which issue the sainted Christian Anderson wrote a reverent little history of that beloved tidings of so many years. Just one little footnote: The familiar picture of the little church did not stay with Evangelisk Luthersk Tidende til the very end. Until March 15, 1951 Evangelisk Luthersk Tidende was printed on the presses of the John Anderson Printing Co. in Chicago. After that company closed, Tidende was printed by Decorah Posten in Iowa. But something was lost in the move. When the Tidende came from the presses of Decomrah Posten the familiar picture was not there. A picture of a church was there, and it was nice, but it was different. A question intrigues me: What happened to the cut that made the picture that roused the ire of some but thrilled and comforted the hearts of many as it greeted them in such a friendly manner from the mail-box for 44 years?
We will have to stick with the story of Luthersk Tidende a while longer. Publishing it was a major project of the little minority until the Convention in Lime Creek in June 1918 — and a major project thereafter, for that matter. C.N. Peterson was the managing editor. He wrote very little in the paper himself, but saw the material through the press and took care of the mailing. The material was supplied in the main by Bjug Harstad, O.T. Lee, M.F. Wiese, J.B. Bläkkan, Henry Ingebritson, A.J. Torgerson, Emil Hansen and a few pastors whose names for wise reasons, presumably, were withheld from the public. Some lay men wrote good articles, too, and we note the names of Lars Isakson, Knud Helle, Jacob Lunde, C.S.N. Peterson, Arnold Jacobson. 2000 copies of the first issue were printed and 1700 sent out immediately. A paid ad was also inserted in R.B. Anderson’s Amerika. And subscriptions began to come in. As mentioned before, C.N. Peterson kept in touch with a good many people, lay and learned. He wrote in answer to requests for information, passed on news of developments, and plugged the paper. I have translated one letter in its entirety and insert it here because it covers a good deal of ground and it will serve well in telling the story of those troubled days. It also gives an idea of the philosophy and the hopes of the men who were determined to stand by the doctrine and on the principles of the Old Synod. It is a letter to Mr. Peter G. Tjernagel of Story City, Iowa, and is dated July 24, 1917.
Thanks for your welcome letter. It should have been answered long ago, but there were so many things to take care of before I could get the first number of Luthersk Tidende, and then I had to make a trip out to S. Dak., and so it is quite difficult to answer letters as soon as they come.
The organization of the minority consists in this, that a number (74) of pastors and congregation members have subscribed to 2 paragraphs which were given in Moldstad’s article in Amerika. They elected the following officers: B. Harstad, President; J.A. Moldstad, Vice-President; O.T. Lee, Treasurer; and C.N. Peterson, Secretary. There were in all, 23 pastors who took part in our minority meetings in St. Paul, and there are 53 pastors and professors of whom we have the hope that they will stand outside, and when all is in order will go with the minority.
But the whole procedure at the big meeting was such that there was no opportunity to learn who went along and who did not. There was no roll call and it was simply announced that there were so and so many pastors and representatives from each church body with the right to vote. This was likely done so that no opportunity should be given for such as did not want to be regarded as voting members of the meeting to make a disclaimer.
Besides, there were so many of the minority pastors who expected opposition in their congregations and who rather wanted to have the opportunity to take up the matter with their congregations according to convenience when they came home then that their names should come before the public amid the enthusiasm of the great jubilee. And so it was agreed not to publish more than the names of those who were elected to offices.
The result is that no one knows, or can know until after the next meeting how large or how small the minority is. Whether we will hold a meeting this fall or not until next spring is still undecided. The likelihood is that our meeting will be called for the same time as the large body will hold its meeting. Thus an opportunity will be provided for congregations to elect representatives to the meeting of the minority rather than to the meeting of the new body. Likewise those minorities in congregations, who think they cannot go along with their congregations into the new body will elect representatives to our meeting, etc.
For the present it is important to try to reach people with information that the new body was organized in an illegitimate way and that it has a doctrine of election that does not harmonize with the teaching of God’s Word in this matter. Also, that those who have voted to accept the Hauge Synod’s “understanding” of the Articles of Union as to who are brethren in faith have made themselves guilty of the crassest kind of “unionism.”
Our people who understand what right and truth is ought to stand fast on the foundation of truth and not let themselves be tricked into this confusion, but at the same time they ought not to be hasty in leaving congregations which were carried along by the union intoxication. As long as one has any hope of being heard, he ought to stand and testify for his fellow congregation members.
The only way in which we can expect to get our testimony before the people is through our paper Luthersk Tidende, and therefore it is important that all who are interested in the cause of the minority try to get as many as they can to subscribe to the paper. If we can get enough subscribers to keep the paper going until next summer we can, hopefully, organize ourselves better and take up a more definite work. For the present, the best way you can help us is to gather all the subscriptions you can.
Later, as soon as I have time to make copies, I will send you a copy of the speeches Professors Pieper and Dau made at our minority meetings.
With faternal greetings,
“Luthersk Tidende” went its modest way. The number of subscribers grew, though not spectacularly (400 by year’s end). Good doctrinal and devotional articles graced its pages. It brought news of the struggles in a number of congregations and notes of encouragement from individuals in many states, listed financial contributions to the cause, wept at the seemingly untimely passing of the able Rev. O.T. Lee on March 30, 1918, and rejoiced at his “salige hjemgang,” and finally announced on April 1, 1918:
Pastors and members of congregations who desire to continue in the old doctrine and practice of the Norwegian Synod will, God willing, hold their annual meeting in the Lime Creek congregation, Pastor H. Ingebritson’s charge, June 14, and following days.
And so it came to pass …