The Rev. Erwin John Ekhoff
1986 Synod Convention Essay
- THE “PARTNERSHIP LETTER”
- A general overview of the letter
- The reason for writing
- thanks, how he is (1:3–26)
- plans of Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19–30)
- warnings (3:1–21)
- thanks for the gift (4:10–20)
- THE “PARTNERSHIP TEXT”
- THE PARTNERSHIP OF THE PHILIPPIANS
- Heard and believed
- Lived and witnessed
- Supported its proclamation
- This was a consistent partnership, in spite of the persecution and poverty
- Some special partners
- Lydia (Acts 16:11–15)
- the jailor (Acts 16:27–34)
- THE PARTNERSHIP OF THE EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN SYNOD
- The foundation of our partnership
- The expression of our partnership
- in worship
- in teaching
- in witness
- in publications
- in charities
- in prayer
- in the special offering
“Partners in the Gospel” — that is the theme of our 69th Evangelical Lutheran Synod Convention. The members of our Synod, scattered throughout the United States and South America, have been called into a partnership by God. We express that we are “partakers of His grace” as we spread the good news of Jesus Christ to others. In our convention essay we will speak to the issue of our partnership in the Gospel. We want to explore its meaning and its demonstration. We also want to examine our past partnership. Finally we will draw attention specifically to the home mission offering which our Synod mandated.
PARTNERS IN THE GOSPEL
In order for us to better understand our partnership in the Gospel, let us first examine the entire letter to the Philippians from which our theme is taken. I have called the letter to the Philippians the “partnership letter.”
THE PARTNERSHIP LETTER
The letter to the Philippians is an “outpouring of happy love and confidence” and from beginning to end is a personal “gush of love.”1 Prisoner Paul had a personal bond and attachment to his first church in Europe. Seventeen times this short epistle mentions the words “joy” and “rejoice” which reflect this bond and great love that Paul had for these people, his partners in the Gospel. This is a bond where partners — “shepherd and sheep,” men and women, boys and girls — work for the common cause of the church. As Alexander Maclaren so aptly says,
The church is a workshop, not a dormitory, and every Christian man and woman is bound to help in the common cause. These Philippians help Paul by sympathy and gifts, indeed, but by their own direct work as well, and things are not right with us unless leaders can say, ‘Ye are all partakers of my grace.’ There are other real and sweet bonds of love and friendship, but the most real and sweetest is to be found in our common relation to Jesus Christ and in our co-operation in the work which is ours because it is His and we are His. The relation of pastor and people is so delicate and spiritual, the purpose of it so different from that of mere teaching, the laws of it so informal and elastic, the whole power of it, therefore, so dependent on sympathy and mutual kindness that, unless there be something like the bond which united Paul and the Philippians, there will be no prosperity or blessing. The thinnest film of cloud prevents deposition of dew. If all men in pulpits could say what Paul said of the Philippians, and all men in pews could deserve to have it said of them, the world would feel the power of a quickened Church.2
It also might be helpful to contrast the letter to the Philippians with some of the other letters of Paul. Since we often study the rhetoric and logic of Paul, it is also good for us to see the emotions of Paul. R.C.H. Lenski writes,
Ephesians is filled with lofty serenity as it contemplates the Una Sancta through a prisoner’s eyes. Romans is filled with apostolic dignity as it unfolds the blessedness of justification by faith alone and rises to exalted admiration in the presence of the wisdom and the unsearchable judgments of God (Rom. 11:33–36). Galatians throbs with intensity in its battle for Christian liberty. It ranges from restrained calmness (1:11–2:21) to indignation, from cold and crushing logic to unquestioned victory. Second Corinthians is also an interesting study in emotions: depression of spirit so deep, triumphant joy so high, a fool compelled to use what he deems folly, a victor who scorns his despicable enemies. And now Philippians, which shows us a prisoner whose appeal to the emperor is finally in the process of being heard, and this prisoner ringing all joy bells in the cathedral! So we might go on. These emotions are not manifested by an emotionalist. Paul is not an emotional reed that is swayed by the wind. Sound, sane, balanced, solid to the core, Paul is nevertheless alive with a human heart capacity beyond most men. Add to this the spiritual world in which this heart lives, moves, and has its being. No unspiritual man is capable of emotions that exhibit the quality, the purity, and the range of these manifested in Paul. … Yet no emotion ever runs away with Paul.3
Why does Paul write this letter? It goes without saying that the Holy Spirit commanded him to. That aside, some experts suggest that he wrote because Epaphroditus was on his way home and thus would serve as a good messenger. Others say that he wrote to update the Philippians about his prison experiences and term. Yet it seems possible that several other factors played into his decision to write to the Philippians at this time. He wanted to say “thank you” for all that God had done in and through the Philippians. He desired to share with them the plans of Timothy, their resident pastor, and Epaphroditus, their messenger. He felt compelled to warn them about the “Judaizing Dogs.” Then lastly, he wanted to thank them for their many gifts to him.
THE PARTNERSHIP TEXT
Our convention and essay theme, as well as the theme for , our special offering for Home Missions, is taken from Philippians 1:3–6. “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (NIV)
Paul thanked God for the memories. As he thought about the Philippians, perhaps he recalled the first convert Lydia, the baptism of her household, the “singing jail break,” the baptism of the jailor and his family, the kindness showed to him by Lydia and by others at Philippi. Paul recognized that God had blessed his ministry among the Philippians, so he thanked God through joyful prayer. The more Paul remembered, the more joyful he was. The more joy he had, the more he prayed. He was also grateful for their partnership in the Gospel. Paul thanked God that He began the good work in them, bringing them to faith, forgiving their sins, washing them clean, bringing them into the family of God, making them partners, people who partake of His grace. It is God who kept them in this faith “until now” according to Paul. Some ten years had passed since Paul made contact with Lydia and the others at Philippi. They continued in the faith and showed it in their testimony and confession, in their generosity, and in their prayers for him.
As we take a closer look at these inspired verses (Philippians 1:3–6), certain words and phrases should receive our attention. Specifically, we want to look at “thank” (eucharisto), “prayers” (denaisi), “fellowship/partnership” (koinonia), and “gospel” (euangelion).
While we are unworthy sinners, unable to merit God’s grace and favor, nevertheless He gives us all good things for our body and life. Thus our life should be spent in giving thanks. In Luther’s sermon on Philippians 1:3–11, he has this to say about “the duty of gratitude”:
Now, the first thing in which Paul is here an example to us is his gratitude. It behooves the Christian who recognizes the grace and goodness of God expressed in Gospel, first of all to manifest his thankfulness therefore; toward God — his highest duty — and toward men. As Christians who have abandoned the false services and sacrifices that in our past heathenish blindness we zealously practiced, let us remember our obligation henceforth to be the more fervent in offering true service and right sacrifice to God. We can render him no better — in fact. none better — service, or outward work, than the thank-offering, as the Scriptures term it. That is receiving and honoring the grace of God and the preaching and hearing of his Word, and furthering their operation, not only in word, but sincerely in our hearts and with our physical and spiritual powers. This is the truest gratitude.4
Along with this, we have many accounts in the inspired Book which urge us to be thankful. Perhaps the one which looms the largest among us is the account which is read for Thanksgiving, the cleansing of the ten lepers (Luke 17:11–19). You will recall from these words that only one returned to give thanks.
Prisoner Paul, whom we might suspect had little reason to be thankful, not only begins this letter with thanks, but expresses it throughout. As we consider our station in life, our congregational membership, and our synodical membership, it is meet and right to join Paul and thank our God.
The Scriptures do not leave us in the dark when it comes to prayer. Prayer is spoken about at length, and numerous examples are given to us of people who petitioned God fervently (Abraham, Moses, David, Mary, Simeon). Our Lord Jesus Christ truly serves as our best example when it comes to prayer. As Luther unfolds the truths of this Philippians text, he instructs us concerning the “duty of prayer.”
The other Christian duty named by Paul in this passage is that of prayer. The two obligations — gratitude for benefits received, and prayer for the preservation and growth of God’s work begun in us — are properly related. Prayer is of supreme importance, for the devil and the world assail us and delight in turning us aside; we have continually to resist wickedness. So the conflict is a sore one for our feeble flesh and blood, and we cannot stand unvanquished unless there be constant, earnest invocation of divine aid. Gratitude and prayer are essential and must accompany each other, according to the requirements of the daily sacrifice of the Old Testament; the offering of praise, or thankoffering, thanks to God for blessings received; and the sacrifice of prayer, or the Lord’s prayer — the petition against the wickedness and the evil from which we would be released. Our life has not yet reached the heights it is destined to attain. We know here only its incipient first-fruits. Desire is not satisfied: we have but a foretaste. As yet we only realize by faith what is bestowed upon us; full and tangible occupancy is to come. Therefore we need to pray because of the limitations that bind our earthly life, until we go yonder where prayer is unnecessary, and all is happiness, purity of life and one eternal song of thanks and praise to God. But heavenly praise and joy is to have its inception and a measure of growth here on earth through the encouragement of prayer — prayer for ourselves and the Church as a whole; that is, for them who have accepted and believe the Gospel and are thus mutually helpful. For the Gospel will receive greater exaltation and will inspire more joy with the individual because of its acceptance by the many. So Paul says he thanks God for the fellowship of the Philippians in the Gospel, and offers prayer in their behalf.5
Luther refers to prayer as “earnest invocation.” He clearly shows our need to petition our great God and gently reminds us that those in heaven occupy themselves with thanking and praising God. Following the command of our God as well as His promise concerning prayer, let us “lift up holy hands without doubting” (I Timothy 2:8).
Koinonia is translated as loosely as “your cooperation in missionary work” to as tightly as “faith-fellowship.” The first definition emphasizes external unity in a certain aspect of the Christian life, while the second focuses on that which God alone is able to see, the heart. Another way to look at this is to see the first as a horizontal relationship between people, and the latter as a relationship that is vertical, between God and a sinner. Let us explore the richness of this word “koinonia.”
Fellowship is a word that is pregnant with meaning. It denotes participation in something, or having part in a common thing. A 1981 CTCR (Missouri Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations) document shares with us the complexity and diversity of this word, koinonia.
In the New Testament the word koinonia (and its cognates), the Greek term for fellowship, appears in a number of places. This is the word which St. Paul uses to refer to the offering which the churches of Macedonia collected for the saints in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 9:13; cf. also 2 Cor. 8:4). The apostle also employs it with reference to the relationship existing between the wine and the blood and the bread and body of Christ received by the participants in the Sacrament of the Altar, who, though many, are one body in Christ (1 Cor. 10:16–17). Not only does St. Paul speak of the Philippian Christians as “partakers (synkoinoneo) with me of grace” (Phil. 1:7), but he also says that partaking (synkoinoneo, koinoneo) in the sins of others is to be avoided (Eph. 5:11; 1 Tim. 5:22). Luke calls James and John partners (koinonoi) with Simon in the fishing business (Luke 5:10). The New Testament describes Christians as partners who share in the Gospel (1 Cor. 9:23), in faith (Philemon 6), in suffering and comfort (Phil. 3:10; 2 Cor. 1:7; Rev. 1:9), in the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14; Phil. 2:1), and in eternal glory (1 Peter 5:1). St. Paul tells the Corinthians that they have been called “into the fellowship (koinonia) of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9), and St. John writes that he proclaims that which he has seen and heard “so that you may have fellowship (koinonia) with us; and our fellowship (koinonia) is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). St. Luke reports (Acts 2:42) that the early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship” (koinonia), and St. Paul writes that when James, Cephas, and John “perceived the grace that was given to me,” they gave to him and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship” (koinonia) (Gal. 2:9). Without referring to every place where koinonia (and its cognates) appears in the New Testament, it can be concluded that this is a term which has as its root meaning “having part in a common thing.” It is with this meaning in mind that the New Testament writers use it to refer to a variety of relationships.
The popular idea that fellowship is simply sharing breakfast with another person in a friendly atmosphere, implies human initiative and creativity. Such a definition cuts the very heart and source out of the meaning of the word by merely externalizing the concept.
Werner Elert in his study of Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries traces this popular understanding of fellowship back to the days of 19th century theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher. Schleiermacher writes, “The church at all events is a fellowship created by the voluntary actions of men and only through these does it continue to exist.”6 Dr. Elert criticizes that remark when he says, “The concept of fellowship which is here said to characterize the Church does not derive from the nature of the Church, but the nature of the Church is derived from the concept of fellowship.”7 The consequence of such a view results in a view of fellowship as “a matter about which men are free to make their own arrangements depending on the good or ill will of those concerned.”8 Elert spells out how Luther insisted that fellowship means “using, enjoying, or having part in a common thing.”9 Fellowship is not a matter of human arrangement, nor do people have fellowship with each other simply because they want to. Fellowship is a gift of God and comes into existence solely as a result of His initiative and activity through the Means of Grace. Those people who are brought into the fellowship of the Triune God also become partners with all the other saints, as the letter to Ephesians so aptly states, “This mystery is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:6 NIV). While fellowship or partnership is primarily a vertical relationship created and nourished by God Himself, nevertheless those united with Christ will manifest the unity which has already been given them by the Spirit and join hands in proclaiming and preserving the Gospel. Ralph P. Martin in the Tyndale Commentary Series, quoting J. Muller, says that the “Philippians indicated the reality of their partnership in the Gospel not by ‘a quiet enjoyment of it, but (by) a keen activity in the interest of it.’10 These words share the twofold meaning of koinonia. There is the unity which Christians have with Jesus Christ by faith in Him. There is also a desire from these same people to express this unity with others and to join their hands in work “before the night comes when no man can work” (John 9:4).
The word “Gospel” is used in a twofold way in the Holy Scripture and by ancient and modern theologians. In the one sense the word is used “in such a way that we may understand by it the entire teaching of Christ, our Lord, which in his public ministry on earth and in the New Testament he ordered observed.”11 This then includes the exposition of law as well as the announcement of the grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. In the other sense, the Gospel simply means the proclamation of God’s grace. “Gospel,” as used in our Philippian text, refers to the whole word of God, to the entire teaching of Christ, and especially repentance unto God and faith in Christ.
Having made a quick survey of the more important words used by Paul in our verses, let’s move on to see the entire partnership of the Philippians, including its creation and its manifestation.
THE PARTNERSHIP OF THE PHILIPPIANS
As we study the letter to the Philippians, their partnership with the Lord, with Paul, and with other Christians, can be easily traced.
Their partnership was created by God. We read in Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” Here Christ stands as sacrifice and priest. God reached out to the world through his beloved Son and said, “No condemnation to those of you who are in Christ Jesus.” Faith, that gift granted through the Word, clings to Christ, God’s greatest gift. Faith brought the Philippians into the fellowship of the one true God and caused them to rejoice. This Gospel was shared by Paul when he visited the Philippians. They heard the word and believed.
Their partnership also involved suffering and persecution. The faith that brought forgiveness was also the faith that gave strength and patience under persecution. Paul was aware of their affliction when he wrote, “You are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have” (Philippians 1:30). When Paul first visited the city of Philippi, he was jailed, unjustly treated and left for dead, not because of something he had done wrong, but because he had preached the word of the resurrected Christ. The Philippians were now also being persecuted, perhaps some of them jailed, not because of things they had done wrong, but because they had been granted on behalf of Christ the power to believe. They were suffering for doing what was right and that was praiseworthy (I Peter 3:13). Even as Paul suffered, they suffered. That is how the body of Christ works. When one part suffers, the body suffers. When one member rejoices, the body rejoices (I Corinthians 12:26).
The Philippians lived the life to which they had been called and testified for the sake of the Gospel. They were witnesses of those things spoken by the apostle. Paul encourages his partners when he says, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the Gospel without being frightened in anyway by those who oppose you” (Philippians 1:27–28 NIV). Again he says, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold forth the word of life” (Philippians 2:14–16 NIV). Furthermore he says, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9 NIV). The Philippian’s lifestyle reflected their partnership with the Lord. Their partnership was not hidden.
Their partnership was not only one of words but one of action. They supported the proclamation by sending Epaphroditus and by sending gifts to Paul, not one time, but several times. The congregation supported his mission work in Thessalonica (4:16) and Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:8–9). They also begged to participate in the collection that Paul was gathering for the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:1–5). It is interesting that these people of Philippi became so involved in this partnership that the sending of monetary gifts was not enough. They wanted a personal hand in the work and so they sent their man, Epaphroditus. After Epaphroditus had been with Paul for some time, he wrote, “But I think it necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. . . . because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me” (Philippians 2:25, 30 NIV). Here was a committed partner, one who almost died for the cause. Paul was also grateful for the gifts they sent, which showed him the deeper relationship he had with them. He writes, “For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need” (Philippians 4:16 NIV). He is well supplied because of their partnership and he assures them that “God will meet all their needs according to the glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 NIV).
Before we march on, we need to spend a moment reflecting on the consistency of this partnership. In spite of the persecution and in spite of their extreme poverty, they remained steadfast in their unity and fellowship with Paul and with one another. Why? Because God “was at work in them to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). The Lord Jesus kept their hearts steadfast and as a result they expressed their partnership even as they suffered. This is why Paul had such joy and gratitude in his heart. Obviously Paul continued to pray that God would continue this work in his partners.
Even though the letter to the Philippians does not mention Lydia, the first Christian convert in Europe and the charter member of the church at Philippi, nor the remarkable story of the jailor at Philippi, I would like to reflect briefly on these special partners. In both cases they demonstrate the twofold meaning of fellowship. Both of them heard the word, believed, and were baptized. Lydia and the jailor immediately wanted to share this partnership with others and thus brought their households to be baptized. They also invited Paul into their homes and aided him in whatever way they could. I would think that when Paul remembered the Philippians, his fondest memories included these two people, even though the one experience caused him great physical grief.
THE PARTNERSHIP OF THE EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN SYNOD
The Evangelical Lutheran Synod partnership has its roots in the “old Norwegian Synod.” Theodore A. Aaberg describes this synod as “a fine, vigorous Christian church body which sought to serve the Savior in love and faithfulness, truly ‘A City Set on a Hill.’”12 However, we know that this church body forsook its first love and formed another partnership on sinking sand. After much debate and doctrinal struggle, and after the few faithful partners had smelled the winds of compromise long enough, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod came into existence in June 1918. Aaberg states that it was “nothing spectacular, but a start had been made, and that, for the moment was the important thing.”13 The direction of this new partnership was well described by a Pastor I. Blaekkan who was unable to attend the historic meeting, but sent a greeting. He spoke of building on the foundation of the old truths, and not being troubled over whether or not any influential men were left among them. What was important, he noted, was that truth and God were on their side, and that God would provide. The persecution felt by some of the pastors was good for it made the partnership strong, according to Blaekkan. Finally he predicted that the lay people would respond to the task at hand, giving generously of their time and money. In a “nutshell,” this was the early partnership of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
What was the foundation of our partnership back then? What is it now? Has it changed?
We believe, teach, and confess that it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places.14
The Gospel, understood here in the wide sense, is the total Word of God, and not just the proclamation of God’s mercy for Jesus’ sake. The foundation for true unity is the total Word of God. The contrast made in the above quotation is between the Gospel and church ceremonies or man-made rites.
Inseparably connected to this foundation are the marks of the church. Through the Gospel and the sacraments God makes His unconditioned love known to us sinners and works faith in our hearts to believe. Our 1961 Synod Report referring to the Overseas Brethren Theses on Church Fellowship states,
The marks of the church are all-decisive. Everything must be referred to them. This duty is hindered by presumptuous judgments or statements concerning the faith or lack of it in individuals. It is Enthusiasm to build on subjective faith (fides qua) and love, for faith is hidden and love is variable. Both are in man. The Means of Grace are objective, solid, apprehensible. Since these are God’s own means, we must attend entirely upon them and draw from them the distinction between the orthodox church and the heterodox churches.15
Before we examine some of the ways in which the Evangelical Lutheran Synod has expressed its partnership, let me quickly summarize. God creates and sustains the church through His gracious Word and sacraments. Christians seeking to express this partnership look for the pure Gospel and the sacraments, the marks of the church and share the Gospel with others. It is on this basis that a true fellowship and partnership is formed. We long for that “bond which united Paul and the Philippians” according to Maclaren.16
The Evangelical Lutheran Synod expresses its Gospel partnership through corporate worship, education, testifying to the truth and proclaiming the truth to the nations, publications, charitable works, prayer, and special undertakings such as the special offering for home missions.
Our worship has two dimensions. First God comes to us through His Word and sacraments. God is at work as the Scriptures are preached and read. Absolution, baptism and the Holy Supper are His consoling voice to us sinners. Through these means our partnership is created with him and with the Holy Christian Church and is strengthened and nourished throughout our life. The second part of our worship is our response to God. As we sing, make confession of our sin, declare our faith, pray, give our offerings and kneel at the altar of our Lord to receive His true body and blood, our partnership is being expressed to one another and shown to the world. Our corporate worship, whether in our local congregation or here at Synod convention, surely reflects our partnership in the Gospel.
he Evangelical Lutheran Synod has had a partnership in education since its establishment. We express our partnership as we teach students at various levels all that Jesus has taught us. Aaberg gives us a synopsis of our partnership in education when he writes,
Once we are convinced that school is a necessity, we will also discover that we can afford it. We can do a lot of things that we think are absolutely impossible once they have become a matter of life or death to us (Report … ELS, 1927, p. 81). These words, addressed to the 1927 Lime Creek Convention by the Bethany College Association, might well be written over the entire fifty-year effort of the ELS for the cause of Christian education in the Day School, High School, College, and Seminary. Such a statement illustrates “the mind to work” which the ELS has displayed for Christian education throughout its history.17
After the “storm of 1917” had passed, the Synod took steps to train its pastors and teachers. Aaberg speaks of the partners who helped in our cause.
It was a stirring demonstration of Christian love and fellowship that the ELS did not hesitate to seek help from the Missouri and Wisconsin brethren, and that these noble brethren themselves were quick to offer their services, and to respond to every need. The gracious and solicitous care which these synods showed to their little brother, the ELS, is unsurpassed in the annuals of church fellowship. … Indeed, the ELS had a “mind to work,” but there were “brothers on either side” to lighten the load.18
It was not until September 24, 1946 that the ELS began training its own pastors. Our present partnership makes it possible for us, without the partnership of other synods, to train and instruct men for the public ministry. Your prayers, personal attention and commitment, regular offerings and special offerings, and encouragement given to young men to enter the full-time ministry make it possible to keep this important work a top priority. Not all of us are able to stand before the students in the classroom. But we are partners just the same, willing not by flesh, but by grace, to do our part in this work. In 1968 Julian Anderson spoke to this aspect of our partnership when he wrote,
Although our seminary is very small with regard to both faculty and student body, it is a most vital part of our educational program as a synod. In recent years modernism, liberalism and neo-orthodoxy have made heavy inroads in the seminaries of all of the larger Lutheran church bodies, with the sole exception of our sister Wisconsin Synod; and with tragic results so far as the Lutheran ministry is concerned. We have real cause to rejoice, therefore, that, by the grace of God, we have been able to establish and maintain our own theological school in which to train our pastors in the traditional Lutheran faith, which is founded squarely on the Scriptures. It should be our united aim, as members of the E.L.S., to encourage our gifted young men to attend our seminary with an eye to preparing themselves for the full-time service in the Lord’s Kingdom.19
Our partnership in educating young people at the day school level has been obvious since the beginning. Our founding partners in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, even though faced with devastating circumstances, took the time to create a school committee because they believed that Christian schools were essential to the life and the work of the Synod. One of the largest items salvaged by the Evangelical Lutheran Synod from the storm of 1917 were the Christian Day Schools. There were only fourteen Day Schools in the Old Norwegian Synod in 1917, and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod claimed three of these when it reorganized. After the merger, the number of schools in the merger decreased while the number in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod increased to the point of having thirteen schools with only 35 parishes. This partnership has been “rocky” over the years. The reasons were numerous. Today, our Synod numbers 116 congregations with 14 schools. As we look at these numbers, we should remember that many churches without schools have many concerned parents who do send their children to nearby Christian Day Schools.
We are also partners in our Bethany Lutheran College. An entire essay could be written on the desire for a college, the purchase of our college, the financial difficulties it has weathered over the years, its purpose, and the thousands of partners that have supported it and that have come from it. But let me, using the words of Professor Carl S. Meyer, share the partnership. The year was 1944 and Bethany had paid off its debt.
That Bethany College is free from debt and has an unprecedented high enrollment is due to the grace of God. He made His people willing to give liberally for this cause. He filled the hearts of men, who dared with Him, with faith and courage to venture on this undertaking, gave them strength to weather the storms, to face the problems. Now He permits us to see the indisputable blessings which He has showered upon them. It [Bethany] stands there as a monument of faith to the men of 1911 … the men of 1926 and 1927, the rank and file of the Norwegian Synod as well as its leaders … the men of 1944 and the intervening years, who in calm trust in God met the trials as they arose and never found God wanting. Bethany stands there as a monument of faith, in this respect also. The parents who sent or are sending their children there are doing so in the firm faith that God will bless their children, that seeking God and His kingdom first, in accordance with God’s promise, surpasses every other consideration and brings with it the rewards of faith.20
These words tell us about the various partners. They include the leaders of the Synod, the staff, the parents who sent their children, the students themselves, and all of those other partners who supported this work. This thriving partnership is still evident today.
How important is our partnership in education? Synod President A. M. Harstad, speaking at the seminary opening in 1946, said,
If you would want to know how a certain family is going to fare, whether it will be Christian in the future or not, then note how that family is being trained. If you ask concerning a certain congregation what its prospects for the future are, the answer is to be found to a great extent in what kind of a school that congregation has for the instruction of its children and young people. And if you ask concerning the future of a certain synod, again the answer is that under God it depends largely on the kind of institutions of learning that synod conducts.21
We express our partnership through corporate worship, through joining our hands to educate children and adults at all levels, and through our witness to testify to the truth and proclaim the truth. Our Synod has a rich heritage in “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15 NIV). This too is part of our partnership. Let Aaberg’s stirring words speak.
If the Synod’s membership can be characterized in the future, as it has been in the past, by a people who continue in Jesus’ Word, labor to do His will, and commit all their cause to Him in confident trust, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod will, under God, continue to be what it has been in the past, “A City Set On A Hill” … Truth, as a body of doctrine, can indeed be set before a people by a preceding generation, but each succeeding generation must, through the Holy Spirit, make this truth its own as a part of its very faith and life before it can actually be said to possess it. There is in this sense no continuity to synodical history. Each succeeding generation must start all over again. In this way alone is a synod spared from offensive pride, dead orthodoxy, and liberalism. In this way alone is a new generation enabled to sing: “God’s Word is our great heritage.”22
There always must be a balance between our partnership in testifying to the truth and spreading or proclaiming that truth. God has called us partners to do both. Is not the hymnwriter correct when he says that our chief endeavor is to spread the light of the Word from age to age? (TLH #283) We Christians often experience tension as we seek to express our unity with other Christians, while at the same time remaining faithful to what God says. The President’s Message and Report to the 1952 Convention stressed the one side so much that the committee reviewing it made the following recommendation.
Your committee calls attention to the President’s counsel to the Synod to be on guard against the persisting temptation to give up the truth through unionistic practices or tendencies; and at the same time your committee urges the Synod to consider that it is also our God-given mission to make use of every opportunity to publish and spread the truth of the Word — to use the trowel as well as the sword.23
With that in mind, let us talk about our partnership in mission work, our joint work of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations, beginning at home and then to the uttermost parts of the earth. Julian Anderson shares with us the early years of this partnership in our Synod.
The “founding fathers” of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod were well aware of the vital importance of such “home” mission work. Back in 1918, when they were forced to reorganize, they gave immediate attention to this work of preaching the gospel beyond the limits of their own congregations and towns. Despite the fact that there were only 11 congregations left in the “synod,” this handful of Christians immediately took two important steps. In 1918 they resolved to take over the support of a new mission in the western suburbs of Chicago; and they called two pastors to serve as “missionaries-at-large” over the whole upper midwest area.24
The history of our partnership in home missions must be viewed in the light of the circumstances which occurred in 1917 and 1918. The basic history of many of our Synod congregations is that of the members who were few in number remaining faithful to the Word. Because the congregations were small, great financial burdens came upon these people. The partners of the Synod came to their aid, not only with money, but also with fellowship, personal encouragement and prayer.
The earlier Synod Reports demonstrate a keen interest in missions. Repeated requests were made to reach out to others, to be more mission-minded, to see the fields white unto harvest and send workers into them. One such overture from Fairview Lutheran reads,
The Lord of the Church has seen fit to bless our Synod with a college and a theological seminary for training men for the Gospel ministry. He has answered the prayers for more workers in the Vineyard by a present enrollment of 16 young men in our seminary. The petition “THY KINGDOM COME” must not be considered merely a plea for more workers, but also a pledge, assuming a moral obligation to put these young men into service. Large sections of our country are still untouched by the Lutheran Church and many areas have no established churches of any kind. The spiritual welfare of our membership demands that our Synod lift up its eyes and expand the horizons.25
The later Synod Reports continued the same plea. Some saw how rapidly the country was expanding but the church population was not keeping pace. Our mission effort here at home over the years has numbered about one new mission per year. The pleas to spread the Word, to raise up new workers, to “come over and help us” (Acts 16:9) are still being heard. Today partners in the Gospel are needed who heed those pleas, who take seriously the command of our Lord Jesus Christ to disciple the nations, who realize the lost condition of mankind, who believe that there is but one way to heaven, and who are willing with prayers and offerings to support this vital work.
Over 40 of the present congregations in our Synod have experienced the financial partnership of our home mission board at some point in their history. Currently, our mission efforts do not focus exclusively on smaller groups of Christians who have remained faithful to the Word and removed themselves from a former partnership that was built on sinking sand. Our partnership in missions has now moved into the larger metropolitan areas where many residents are not only unchurched, but do not profess a saving faith in Christ Jesus. There is much that we partners still need to do.
Our partnership in independent foreign mission work is much more recent. It was in 1950 that we began a small venture in England. After nine years we let this work go because we saw little fruit. It was in 1968 that we began work in South America. Since that time our work in Peru has been blessed, especially in these recent years. Many souls in that land have come to faith and are now our partners. A group of young men are being trained for public ministry. Some of our Latin American brothers and sisters in that land have suffered for the truth’s sake and for their testimony. Through our prayers and offerings the partnership continues to be blessed.
Our partnership is also expressed through ,the printed page. The Tidende and the Sentinel, the official papers of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, served to bind and unite the partners who were scattered here and there in the early years. Already in 1917 the Tidende was being published and to this day our Sentinel still comes off the press on a regular basis. The Synod has published many books and tracts over the years, expressing its partnership. Aaberg comments,
While the ELS has not flooded the market with publications, it has printed material which is true to the Scripture, and edifying to the soul, and thus also with the printed page has served as “A City Set on a Hill.”26
The Scriptures tell us that “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family believers” (Galatians 6:10 NIV). When charitable works are done by the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, our partnership is also being expressed. As a student in our seminary, I can still remember preaching at the Kasota Home. For a number of years the partnership of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod included the work being done at this home for the elderly. Today, our partnership is being expressed through the world needs offerings, and the pension that is provided for retired pastors and pastors’ widows.
We are also partners in prayer. There are clear commands in Scripture concerning prayer. (Psalm 50:15, Matthew 7:7–8, I Thessalonians 5:17, I Timothy 2:8) We are to pray for our partners, to pray that we reach more partners, and to pray that those who are not partners become partners. One of the bulletin inserts for our special offering has this prayer on it. “Oh, give me Lord, thy love for souls, for lost and wandering sheep, that I may see the multitudes and weep as thou did’st weep. From off the altar of thy heart take thou some flaming coals, then touch my life, and give me, Lord, a heart that burns for souls.” Partners pray for each other as we join our hearts in the Lord’s Prayer. How encouraging it is to hear that people are praying for you and me. The Apostle Paul was spurred on and uplifted as his partners prayed for him. In the letter to the Ephesians we hear him say, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly, make known the mystery of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19–20). We who are partners in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod are to pray with boldness and confidence, remembering that we speak to our Father, Who is not only almighty, but Who alone does what is right and good for us, His children. Prayer is part of the armor of God that we are to put on. Let us not only talk about prayer, or lecture on how it is used or abused, but let us on bended knee spend more time praying, and teaching our men to be models in this act of faith (I Timothy 2:8). The fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes a great deal (James 5:16).
We are a most privileged people. Sinners though we are, God through the blood of His Son, has set us free to serve Him. We have become partners in the gospel, people who believe and express that faith in a variety of ways. Perhaps the easiest and most effective way to express our partnership is to give from the financial blessings that God has given to us. Through our regular offerings we are able to do this. We are also able to express our partnership through the special home mission offering.
What is this special offering all about? It is a three year offering which is to be used to establish a capital fund to subsidize home missionaries, to purchase land. for church sites, to build and/or acquire church buildings and parsonages and to help mission congregations expand their worship facilities. Is there a better place to invest a portion of the money that God has given to us, a place that will return more interest and benefits? People in heaven will still be thanking us for the money that was given, the money that was used to help spread the message, a message that brought them to salvation.
As we think about home missions, the special offering to expand our home mission effort, and the many facets of our partnership, I dare say that the very heart of the partnership is to be found in missions, in the local church. It is in the local church where we worship regularly, teach, testify to the truth and learn to share that truth. It is in the local congregation where our prayer life is developed and comes to maturity. It is in the local congregation where we are taught to do good unto all people. It is in the local church where we are taught to manage our master’s money. As we express our partnership through this special home mission offering, the partnership is multiplying. Will you be a partner in this work?
The apostle Paul thanked God for the partnership of the Philippians. 1 hope that we are thankful for our partnership, that we pray with joy to our God and thank Him for all He does for us, and for all that He does through the partnership of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and will do in the future.
I want to thank you, my partners, for listening, for “making” me write this essay, and for the discussion that came from it. A special thank you to those who helped me sort through things in this essay. Above all, a special thanks to God Who “began the good work in us” (Philippians 1:6), Who brought us into the partnership, and Who “promises to bring His work to completion in the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
1 Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture 2 Corinthians–Philippians (Hodder and Stoughton, George H. Doran Company, New York, 1910), p.201.
2 Maclaren, op. cit., pp. 204, 205.
3 R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians to the Ephesians and to the Philippians (The Wartburg Press, Columbus, Ohio, 1946), p. 691.
4 John Nicholas Lenker, Sermons of Martin Luther, Volume VIII (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1983), pp. 331, 322.
5 Ibid., pp. 339, 340.
6 Werner Elert, Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries, (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Missouri, 1966), p. 2.
7 Ibid., p. 2.
8 Ibid., p. 3.
9 Ibid., p. 4.
10 R. P. Martin, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, (William B. Eerdman Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1976), p. 47.
11 Theodore G. Tappert, The Book of Concord, (Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1959), pp. 558, 559.
12 Theodore A. Aaberg, A City Set on a Hill (Graphic Publishing Company, Inc., Lake Mills, Iowa, 1968), p. 10.
13 Ibid., p. 79.
14 Tappert, op. cit., p. 32.
15 Evangelical Lutheran Synod Report, 1961, p. 41.
16 Maclaren, op. cit., p. 205.
17 Aaberg, op. cit., p. 91.
18 Ibid., p. 92.
19 Julian G. Anderson, Let’s Look at our Synod, (Graphic Publishing Co., Inc., Lake Mills, Iowa, 1967), pp. 7, 8.
20 Aaberg, op. cit., pp. 117, 118.
21 Ibid., p. 121.
22 Ibid., p. 265.
23 Evangelical Lutheran Synod Report, 1952, p. 18.
24 Anderson, op. cit., pp. 7,8.
25 Evangelical Lutheran Synod Report, 1953, p. 44.
26 Aaberg, op. cit., p. 126.