Rev. E.G. Unseth
1968 Synod Convention Essay
Voices From The Past
Let us begin by turning back the clock of time and listening for a moment to some of the faithful fathers of our Synod as they still speak to us across the years. In an essay, entitled “The Clearness Of Scripture,” that was delivered by Dr. S.C. Ylvisaker at our convention 30 years ago, we find this paragraph made up mostly of pointed questions that are as pertinent today as when they were first recorded. After outlining some of the hardships others have suffered in their untiring defense of the truth, he goes on to ask.
“Do we need comfort today as a Synod? Is there any one here who questions our right to exist? Do we go wondering whether the price we pay is not too great for what seems to be nothing but a never ending struggle against misunderstanding, defeat, and the many difficulties we seem to have as a Church?”
And then, going on, he says, “Here, in the clear Word of the Spirit of God, we find our sure comfort as a Synod to this day. Our public teaching and private confession and faith remain that of the clear Word. And pray God for our Synod that this may continue to be the case! Pray God that our pastors may ever more fervently and zealously declare this full Gospel of Christ, and that our members may abide by this faith, ready to give their all that it may be preserved inviolate and delivered to our children as a sacred trust!”
In the year 1946, as a part of his presidential message delivered to the assembled pastors and delegates, the now sainted Dr. Norman A. Madson had this to say:
“What we find today in vast areas throughout this war-ravished earth is abject want … not only physical want (where millions are destined to die, in spite of our noblest efforts to rescue them), but a spiritual poverty which is even greater. And the saddest part of it is this, that while an empty stomach will welcome the sight of a loaf of bread, and will reach out for it with trembling hands, all too many famishing souls will not want to be told about the bread of life which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die, John 6:50. It is the age-old enigma which would simply drive us to cynical despair, were it not for the enlightenment which has been given us from above … No matter what social, economic, or political upheavals you and I may be called upon to witness in the years which lie ahead, we need have no fear, so long as we ever bear in mind our calling as the beloved children of a kind heavenly Father, remembering what He has said on this very score: ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’ John 16:33 … Your president has had but one object in view: to proclaim the unconditioned Gospel of salvation by grace through faith without the deeds of the law. That is the very reason for our existence as a Synod. That shall be our one concern … at this Synod meeting. May God grant us grace to prove faithful to our high calling! We have work to do of momentous import, we have been signally blessed as a synod, we want to show forth the praises of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
For one more voice from the past let us listen now to the words which were spoken by the sainted H.M. Tjernagel at the convention of our Synod that was held back in 1932. In the early part of his presidential address he had beautifully described our blessed Savior’s substitutionary death on Calvary’s Cross as the Supreme Sacrifice and the rejection of God’s saving grace and the consequent eternal damnation of a redeemed soul in hell as the Supreme Tragedy. And then with the masterful method of presentation which the Lord had given to this humble servant, he went on to say,
“To proclaim the supreme sacrifice and to avert the supreme tragedy, that is the work of the church on earth. That is our work As we love immortal souls we must not permit ourselves to deviate from this our God-given work and even in part to enter upon other activities however commendable and more appealing, perhaps, to our natural inclinations and more popular in our surroundings, such as, social welfare work, promoting the framing of secular laws and regulations, correcting alleged corruption in affairs of etc. What would you say of a firechief who would stop on his way to a to help the police catch a thief, or to give food to a hungry one, or to tarry at a street corner to assist the traffic in helping a blind man across the street, while men and property were perishing in the flames he should have done his utmost to extinguish … If we are to work with any degree of success, we must not fall into the common error of considering the prevention of the tragedy and the proclamation of the sacrifice as independent or even separate fields of endeavor. The prevention can be accomplished only by the proclamation. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, written and spoken, and in what has been called its visible form, the sacraments, are the means with which God has equipped his church for the work He has assigned to it. Just as well try to shovel oats with a pitchfork or pitch hay with a shovel as try to save souls by any other means than that ‘power of God unto salvation’ which is the Gospel of Christ Jesus. No one has ever been saved by character, or, oratory or by timely discussions of desirable social and political reforms.
And then after a few more delightfully inspiring sentences which we could hardly refrain from quoting here if only time would have permitted, he closed his address by saying, “Let us now turn to the work of our convention with the single purpose of promoting the glory of God and the salvation of souls.”
A Call To Service
That was the spirit of Christian dedication and devotion to duty which characterized our Synod’s faithful fathers of former years, and just as they solemnly recognized the urgency of the task that had been committed to them, so it must be also among us in our generation. For this, too, is a day which demands that something be done. Doth the vast opportunities and the awful potentialities of the space age require that as the people of God and the followers of Christ we must he up and doing. This is no time for our efforts or curtailing our activities. This is a time that calls for consecrated service on the part of eve1y one of us. If we fail to tell others of the supreme sacrifice their Savior has made for them and of the supreme tragedy that awaits those who reject His redeeming love, then we, my friends, may he guilty of the supreme betrayal.
Faithful To The Truth
One of the notable features of current theological thought is the attempt to carry the message of salvation down to the world of men, and communicate it in terms that can be grasped by the twentieth-century mind. And for that we are deeply grateful. But here we would also like to raise a question. Do all those who today claim to be concerned about evangelism also insist that their message be in complete harmony with the Word of God? That is a question that is being raised in many quarters right now and to which a wide variety of replies would no doubt be given. And while we’re not going to make an intensive study of that situation here, we would like to state very emphatically that any program of evangelism which is not concerned also about purity of doctrine is doomed to failure before it even begins. That is a fact which our Synod has always recognized and is very apparent also at this convention.
Just notice the sequence or the order in which these three essays are scheduled. First we heard something about our historical development and the determination of our founding fathers to preserve that freedom which is to be found only by those who remain faithful to the revealed Word of God. In the second essay entitled, “The Trumpet With A Certain Sound” Prof. Otto stressed once again the compelling importance of maintaining a theological structure that is solidly “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief comer stone” Eph. 2:20. Yes, indeed, theology and evangelism belong together. From the earliest days of Chritianity, mission and message have been inseparably joined to each other, and for anyone to disregard the vital connection is to miss the meaning of the New Testament Scriptures altogether. Even the epistle to the Romans, which is often referred to as a theological textbook, was not written primarily to serve as a primer of Christian doctrine, but as an advance message from an itinerant evangelist to the next arena of his campaigns.
In fact, evangelism, by its very name, implies theology. To evangelize is to spread the Gospel, the good news of God’s grace in Christ. This message is given, to be sure, by divine revelation, but it is then to he carried out into the world by those who have become believers in Christ. Think of Luther, for example. Nobody deserves the name of evangelist more than he. His one and only purpose in life was to lead men to Christ. His sermons in the Town Church at Wittenberg were model of what evangelistic preaching in the best sense should he. When was asked, “What should we preach?” his very curt and uncompromising answer was, “The Gospel.”
But Luther the evangelist did not cease to be Luther the theologian. He saw no reason to cast off his theological concern along with the grave-clothes of Scholasticism. There was much, of course, in the Roman tradition that he was compelled to discard as being incompatible with the criterion of the Word, but he did not fall into the error of supposing that an evangelical reformation could dispense with theology. He had been a theologian before he he was an evangelist, and yet he did not resign the one in order to assume the other. Luther became, like Paul and Augustine before him, a theologian-evangelist. He realized that theology and evangelism need each other.
Indeed, Luther’s own conversion stemmed from theological conviction. The Reformation really began, not on the steps of Pilate’s staircase Rome, where pious legend would have us believe it occurred, nor yet at north door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, where the famous ninety-five Theses were posted, but in the square tower of the Augustinan cloister, where Luther before an open Bible and drank in the doctrine from the pure fountain God’s Work.
Know And Tell
As Luther faithfully brooded over Word, it was then that he discovered this precious truth recorded in both Old and the New Testaments, that “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17; Habakkuk 2:4). And it was this discovery of a gracious God that lit flame in Luther’s heart and made him an evangelist. Theology led to evangelism, and evangelism rested on theology. Just as the messenger from heaven said to those bewildered women who early Easter morning approaching the empty tomb, first, “Come and see,” and “Co and tell,” so that order must be followed by us also today. First we must become thoroughly familiar with the facts of the Christian faith ourselves, and then we must become missionaries or evangelists. The late Dr. John W. Behnken said in an Easter sermon,
“If we ourselves have heard of the glorious victory which Christ gained for us by His resurrection from the dead, if we know that this has established beyond all doubt the certainty of our redemption, if we are convinced that sin, death, and hell have been overcome and that salvation is now a reality, if we are assured that all men may have part in it by faith in Christ, then this very joy which we ourselves have experienced ought to move us to go and tell it to others. Where true knowledge of this wonderful fact dwells within the heart, there will also he a burning desire to let others know the glorious truth which will dispel all gloom and sadness for them and fill them with assurance of eternal life.” And just as the Bible itself has put Christian conviction first and then insists that it be followed by proclamation, so theology, or a knowledge of the Word, and evangelism, the dissemination of that Word, are also to be closely linked with one another, for “what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9).
Purity Of Doctrine
In reading the reports of previous conventions, it becomes immediately apparent that our Synod has always, and very properly, placed a heavy emphasis on purity of doctrine, and even though many — or we might even say most — churches now-a-days seem to be removing that emphasis, we must never permit ourselves to be influenced by that attitude if we truly wish to measure up to the great missionary task which the Lord of the church has placed upon us. And while we should all, of course, be diligently searching the Scriptures, not only to fortify our own faith, but also to be more ready and better prepared to share that faith with our fellowmen, it is only natural that some, with their specialized training and their God-given talents in that direction, will be better able to comprehend and to communicate to others the inexhaustible treasures that are contained in the Word of God. As A. Wood has said, they “ought to be the back-room experts who provide the front-line fighters with the latest missiles to shoot down the pretensions of those who fabricate intellectual objections to the Christian faith.” In other words, they should give the evangelist, and that means every disciple of Christ, a positive grip of the message he has to proclaim and supply new insight into old truth.
“We must never forget that if our mission activity is to commend Christ effectively to the citizens of an ever expanding society, with more people to be reached, ye,, with more people to the acre than ever before, it must always be resting firmly upon the solid rock foundation of Holy Scripture. “When many people hear the words “theology” and “doctrine” they mistakenly imagine that these things ought not he a part of our mission program at all, that they will hinder instead of help us to reach others for Christ and the kingdom of heaven. But that is by no means the case. If the evangelist is to be effective, then he must also be certain of his message. If the Christian faith is to be proclaimed with a conviction that is compelling, the truths of the Gospel must become a tool with which we are thoroughly familiar. We must be able not only to tell others about the glorious redemption which Christ has purchased for eve1y perishing sinner, but also to meet the manifold questions that come into their minds by supplying the proper answers as they are found in the Word of Truth.
So each one of us must continue to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 3:18). We must not be content to have a mere surface acquaintance with our Christian belief. As long as we live we must continue to increase our knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures beyond that which we had acquired at the time of our Confirmation. In fact the writer of the book of Hebrews speaks very strongly about this very matter, emphasizing that we must not be satisfied with a perpetual diet of Gospel milk, however pure and unadulterated it be, and that as we grow in stature and years, only the strong meat of doctrinal instruction can form the bone and muscle of sturdy Christian character.
That theology and evangelism belong together can perhaps best be seen in Christ Himself. Not only was He both teacher and evangelist, but He is Himself the subject of both theology and evangelism. Each has its being in Him. Theology means thinking about Christ. Evangelism means telling about Christ. And surely we must think before we speak.
The God Of Our Salvation
In our program of evangelism, what should we say to those who are still outside the church and whom we are endeavoring to win for the kingdom of heaven? Well, let me ask you another question, which, I suppose, may seem rather startling at first. The question is this, “Is there any better way for us to begin than by telling them of the Triune God?” To be sure, we do have here an admittedly difficult doctrine. The Trinity mystifies even the experts, to say nothing of the rank and file. But the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly taught in Scripture, both before and after the birth of Christ. It is not something that was invented by theologians to make things more difficult for the more simple-minded believer, but describes exactly how the earliest Christians thought and felt about God. They knew that the God of their Hebrew fathers was divine. They knew that Jesus Christ in the flesh and risen from the dead was divine. They knew that Holy Ghost of Pentecost was divine. They could not comprehend HOW God could be three in one or one in three, any more than we, but they knew it from the Word.
What they themselves had learned about God, they also told others. If there is any doubt in our minds about the wisdom of this type of evangelism, then turn to the book of Acts and study carefully some of Peter’s speeches recorded there, particularly his powerful sermon delivered on Pentecost, and see how he sounds the Trinitarian note time and again. He tells his hearers how God the Father has fulfilled His ancient promises; how He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, whose divine Origin was accredited by many signs and miracles, by His rising again from the grave, and by His exaltation to the right hand of the Father in heaven; and how the power of the Holy Spirit was plainly present in the hearts of the apostles and in the amazing events of that day. Yes, the mission message of the early church was Trinitarian from the very start. Therefore, we can do no better than to follow the formula of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.”
In our missionary endeavors it is extremely important that we convey to the minds of our hearers the proper, Scriptural conception of God, for, as someone has said, it is just as much idolatry to how down to a false mental image of God as to a false metal image of God. We begin with the opening chord of the Creed, “I believe in God the Father.” In our conversations with others we will present Him as a living, active Person, and certainly never refer to Him as a vague or indefinite something. It is significant that in the Bible, verbs, rather than abstract nouns, are used to describe Him. He delivers, He helps, He saves, He redeems, He blesses. And His activity reaches its climax in Jesus Christ in whom He accomplished His greatest work — the salvation of a lost and fallen world.
Above everything else, let us tell people that God is a God of love. That is the first and the last word we shall ever learn about Him. It sums up everything that we know about God now and also everything that shall be revealed to us hereafter. When we have said that God is Love, we have then exhausted our vocabulary so far as our description of Him is concerned. The love of God, however, is totally different from any kind of love that we find here on earth. For one thing, His love is spontaneous. He loves because it is simply His nature to love. Moses told the people of Israel (Deut. 7:7) “The Lord did not set His love upon you nor choose you because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people; but because the Lord loved you.” Again, God’s love is utterly unselfish. It is never turned inward. It is always reaching out in tender concern for the whole human race. And these facts about God are vitally important in our missionary activities. If God were not that sort of a God then we would have no evangel, no Gospel, no good news to proclaim.
But there is also a sterner aspect of God’s nature which we dare not overlook. It may be very pleasant to consider the sweet promises of the Gospel, but if we are to be faithful to the Word, we must also call attention to the solemn warnings which it contains. People must be told that the God of love is also the God of righteousness. The God of our salvation is also the God of our judgment. It is true that God offers His grace and forgiveness to everyone. “God so loved the WORLD that He gave His only-begotten Son.” The invitation is not only for a favored few. “God will have all men to he saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4). But if a person refuses God’s love — what then? If he rejects the redemption that God offers, if he turns down this divine grace, what is God’s reaction? Even then, God is still love. He cannot be otherwise. But in this case His love will manifest itself in judgment. The man who has consciously rejected God’s offer of redeeming love will feel the weight of God’s righteous wrath upon himself. It is the other side of His love, so to speak When we yield to God, we taste His love as grace. When we resist Him, we meet His love as wrath. And in our program of evangelism we must not be afraid to emphasize both the demands of the Law and the penalties of judgment in urging upon our hearers the claims of the Gospel.
Christ The Center Of Our Message
From the bitter conflict of the Korean vVar there has come at least one creative work of art. A refugee who fled from the North to the South of that unhappy peninsula has painted a most unusual picture of Christ. On a canvas measuring three by four feet he has carefully copied out in tiny letters the entire King James version of the New Testament. In all there are over 185,000 words, or approximately 1000 words to each line. And out of this unique text he has built up a full-length figure of our Lord, produced by inking some words more heavily than others.
But that canvas represents more than just a remarkable achievement. It also contains some very significant symbolism. It forcefully reminds us that Christ Himself is the Good News; that out of the Word comes THE Word; and that at the heart of the message stands the Master. We have spoken about God the Father. Now we come to the second Person of the Holy Trinity, as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, “I Believe in Jesus Christ His only Son Our Lord.” Here, of course, we have the very heart of both theology and evangelism. If our mission message is not Christ-centered, it is not Scriptural. As Paul said to the Corinthian congregation, “I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2). There can be no Gospel apart from Him and no salvation outside of Him. In his speech to the religious leaders at Jerusalem Peter certainly that fact when he said, “Neither is there salvation in any other, is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must saved” (Acts 4:12).
And as we tell people about Christ let us present Him as the Bible does. It is true that God’s redemptive purpose reached its climax on the cross, but it did not begin there. It began deep in the counsels of the Almighty when the Lamb of God was slain before the foundation of the world. It was put into operation at the moment of man’s first disobedience in the garden of Paradise. And, ever since God has sent His patriarchs and priests and prophets and pastors to win back the wandering souls of men. And then, “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law (Gal. 4:4–5).” We say with Luther in his exquisite explanation of the Second Article, “I believe that Jesus Christ is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity; and also true man, born of the virgin Mary.”
It is perhaps surprising to us today to learn that the first heresy concerning the person of Christ was a denial not of His divinity but of His humanity. Way back in the very first century there were some who regarded our Lord’s bodily life as an illusion. They saw Him simply as a phantom figure flitting uncertainly across the stage of history. This is the error that John, in his first Epistle, feels compelled to conteract, when he says, “Every spirit (or preacher) which confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God” (I John 4:2, 3). In other words, John realized that the humanity of Christ is as real and essential as His divinity, and that any attempt to deny or weaken it would be fatal to the Gospel. On the other hand, of course, it is equally dangerous to minimize the deity of our Lord, and the early church had to contend with that error also. It is extremely important, therefore, in our evangelistic endeavors, that we present Christ as the divine-human person that He was.
His Redemptive Death
After telling of His unique life, we must also tell of His redemptive death, for when we get away from Calvary, we also get away from the Gospel. Luther has said that all theology can be expressed in the language of personal pronouns. “HE was wounded for OUR transgressions, HE was bruised for OUR iniquities, the chastisement of OUR peace was upon HIM, and with HIS stripes WE are healed” (Isaiah 3:5). Indeed, the whole thing i beautifully and simply summed up by Paul when he tells us in Romano 5:6, “Christ died for the ungodly.” The fact that Jesus took our place, that He served our substitute, must be the very center of our missionary message. A native African convert told a missionary, “He no die, I die. He die, I no die.” A poet has written “In my place condemned He stood, Sealed my pardon with His blood.”
Let us furthermore tell people that we are not only saved from something, but also for something. Through faith in Christ we are delivered from the power of sin and Satan and redeemed into the family of GDd. As Luther says, “He redeemed me in order that I might be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him.”
His Triumphant Resurrection
Furthemore, this Jesus who was “delivered for our offences was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). While many today who claim to be Christian are either denying or at least belittling this fact, we must not fail to notice that the very first Christian preaching center about Jesus and the Resurrection. If anyone should ever wonder about the importance or the significance of our Savior’s triumph over the tomb, then just turn to page 128 of our new Synodical Catechism and show them the five points that are listed there, each one solidly supported by a dear passage of Scripture. The answer there is this, “The resurrection of Christ assures me that Christ is the Son of God, that He has fully paid for all sins, including my own, that God has accepted that payment by declaring all sins forgiven, and that I too shall rise again on the last day; and it gives me strength to forsake sin and live a new life.” Yes, without the resurrection, the cross itself would be utterly robbed of its meaning.
And let us not forget either the Ascension our Savior. This, I suppose, has more or less come to be the Cinderella of Christian Church Year. We remember Advent, and Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost. But Ascension Day gets crowded out, and as a result the significance of our Lord’s session at the right hand of the father is largely lost upon us. Certainly we must not overlook the Kingship of Christ, both in His Ascension and His Return in Glory.
The Work of the Holy Spirit
The third affirmation of the Apostles’ Creed is this, “I believe in the Holy Ghost.” If Ascension Day is the Cinderella of the Christian year, the Holy Spirit is all too often the forgotten factor of Christian doctrine and evangelism. To some extent, I am afraid, we have allowed the emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit to slide into the hands of minority movements. Tho very word “Pentecostal” has tended to become the monopoly of a group when it should be the precious heritage of the whole church. We certainly need to give to the third person of the Trinity the same honor as is given to the Father and the Son, for His work in our hearts and lives is tremendously important. In John 3:5, Jesus Himself tells us, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” And in his exposition of that passage, Dr. P.E. Kretzmann says in his Popular Commentary: “Jesus here explains, once more with solemn emphasis, that the rebirth out of water and Spirit is absolutely essential, it is a prime prerequisite, for the entering into the kingdom of heaven. Spiritual regeneration by Baptism, through which the Spirit of Cod is given, is unavoidably necessary. Baptism is the means by which the Holy Spirit works regeneration, the new birth. Conversion therefore is in no way the work of man, hut it is the work of God the Holy Ghost. To be born again or anew is to be born out of the Spirit, to receive from Him a new heart, a new mind, a new will.”
To become a Christian then, is something more than merely having our names recorded on a congregation’s membership list. To become a Christian is to be born again from above. It is dying to self and being made alive in Christ. And all this is not our work, but God’s. “For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Just as we have become the “children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26) which the Holy Spirit had implanted in our hearts, for “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost” (I Cor. 12:3), so this new life which we now have will manifest itself in what we say and do as Jesus declared when He said, “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit” (John 14:5).
We Are Witnesses
Those of us, therefore, who have ourselves tasted God’s great mercy and grace, if we are truly grateful for the blessings we have received, will surely want to share our faith with our fellowmen. In a packet of material dealing with evangelism that I received recently, and that I presume was mailed by our Mission Board to all the pastors of our Synod, are many helpful suggestions for assisting and inspiring the individual members of our congregations to greater zeal in promoting the cause of Christ in their own communities and elsewhere. Let me quote to you a few lines now from one of the pamphlets contained in that packet. The author begins by saying, “The Savior’s final promise to His disciples before His ascension was: ‘Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall (And remember the word “shall” here is a promise, not a command!) be witnesses unto Me’ (Acts 1:8). ‘Ye shall be witnesses unto me’ — this is a statement of fact. This is something that will happen. People who have seen and heard and known Jesus Christ WILL BE witnesses to Him, as surely as night follows day. The purpose of this manual, then, is not to MAKE our Christian people something they are not now. It is to help them to BECOME MOHE AWAHE of what they are: witnesses to Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. It is to help them to be BETTER witnesses.”
But many people of our present generation are asking and wondering whether the message of the Bible which we are to use in our witnessing can still be applied effectively to conditions as we find them in the world today. In books, magazine articles, sermons and in private conversations, one expression that has become very popular and keeps cropping up again and again is the word “relevance.” We are being told repeatedly that the Christian faith and its Bible must be made “relevant to modern man.” But that should pose no problem for us whatever. The Bible certainly does not need to be made “relevant” to 20th century man, any more than it did to people who were living in the 5th or the 17th century. In a paper entitled “The Relevance of Scripture Today” John Warwick Montgomery has this to say: “Holy Scripture as the utterance of the living God, is by its very nature the most relevant Word ever spoken. “When Charles Spurgeon was asked by a feverish young man, ‘Dr. Spurgeon, how can I defend the Bible?’ the great expositor replied: ‘How would you defend a lion? Let it out of its cage and it will defend itself!’” And then toward the end of his essay, after pointing out how some today are trying to find answers to the deep questions of life, either in Eastern mysticism or in psychedelic drugs, he goes on to say, “Unconsciously, modern man recognizes that whether in the metropolis or in the wilderness, whether in action or silence, his heart — to recall Augustine’s great truth — is restless until it rests in God. But to rest there, it must know who God is and what He has done for sinful man, and that can only be learned in the pages of Holy Writ.”
Yes, indeed, the message which God has graciously preserved to our Synod and which He expects us to carry out into the world is just as modem and up to date as your latest breath or as this very moment. In a recent issue of the magazine, “Christianity Today,” (dated June 7, 1968), a young clergyman who had become deeply disturbed by what he saw happening in many churches asked, “Tell me, what are we trying to do discard the Gospel that has lasted for two thousand years for a new, untried one? Aren’t they saying in effect that they simply have no faith in what Jesus actually taught? That He is no match for life in our kind of world?” And the editor responds, “The answer to that question is this: If the gospel was ever right, it is right for our time. Today it is not inadequate; it is only largely unexpressed. The prophets have forsaken the Gospel just when the world needs it most. It has not been weighed and found wanting; rather, it is scarcely being weighed.”
In that same issue the editor tells how, after many years of ridiculing the Scriptural regulations regarding marriage and divorce, the Communists are now beginning to change their minds. They have discovered that a low view of matrimony will hurt the family, and that a weakened family structure will eventually hurt the entire nation. In comment on this he says, “From age to age man has attempted to set up his own systems while ignoring the system created by the Lord. And always he has come to failure. The history of Communism should teach us that when a people denies divine ordinances in favor of man-made values, it may also be surrendering its soul in the bargain. Communism was wrong about marriage. God was right. And God will be proved to be right about countless other things that large groups of men are rejecting today.”
God’s Word Is Timeless
Let us never fear, therefore, that the message we have to offer is old-fashioned or out of date, for the Word of God is timeless and eternal. Because it has not changed during the past 50 years of our history, it still has the power to change the hearts of men today as it did a half-century ago. In his First Epistle (1:24–25) Peter put it this way, “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the Word of the Lord endureth forever.” If that were not true, then we would either have to stop singing or at least revise the lines of one of our most cherished hymns, in which we confess, “God’s Word is our great heritage, And shall be ours forever; To spread ITS LIGHT (not a social gospel, not civil disobedience or situation ethics or a new morality or salvation by character, but to spread its truth) from age to age Shall be our chief endeavor. Through life it guides our way, In death it is our stay. Lord, grant, while worlds endure, We keep its teachings pure Throughout all generations.”
When a person is physically sick, we call a doctor who will prescribe the proper pills or capsules to correct or counteract the condition. And in our witnessing for Christ let us do likewise. To those who are sick with sin let us also prescribe a couple of tablets, the two tablets on which God inscribed His holy law, which will enable them to recognize their fatal illness and urge them to seek the salvation which our Savior has earned for us and that is found in His Gospel. It is true we are a small Synod, as the world measures size, but with the dedication of our time, talents and treasures and with His blessing we can still accomplish great things for God. For example, just a few weeks ago one man, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a 23 year old rabble-rousing anarchist, known also as “Danny the Red,” gathered a few students around himself at the University of Paris. In a short while he had stirred up such a spirit of revolt on the campus that the authorities panicked and closed the place down. Going on from one rally to another, he soon gained an ever increasing number of followers for his position, until ultimately 12,000,000 Frenchmen were taking part in the rioting. The dust of that disturbance has not settled yet.
Sound The Trumpet Of Service
The word translated “preach” or “proclaim” in the New Testament is a very picturesque one. It brings before us the figure of a herald or town crier, marching down the street ringing a bell, or more likely in those days, blowing a trumpet to attract attention and shouting, “Hear ye! Hear ye! The Emperor’s proclamation.” At various points he would halt and read the imperial message. In somewhat the same way, that is our joy and our job. We carry a message from our King. Whether people will hear it and heed it is not our principal concern. If we have been moved by that message ourselves, and if we have any love and compassion for the souls of our fellowmen, then like Peter, we too will say, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
“Evangelical” is our Synod’s first name, and evangelism must be our Synod’s first order of business. To us God has entrusted the task of telling this pagan generation about Himself and the salvation that is in His Son, Jesus Christ. We must not be idle. We dare not be silent. We must work while it is day, for the night cometh when no man can work Let us then combine our forces and our resources and each one of us say with the Psalmist. “I delight to do Thy will, O my God.” (Psalm 40:8). Let us sound the trumpet of Christian service loudly and clearly in every congregation of our Synod. Let us do it for Jesus’ sake and out of love for a lost and perishing humanity, that His death on the cross may not have been in vain for any of them.