Honorable fathers and brothers!
“Thus says the LORD, Stand in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and you shall find rest for your souls,” Jeremiah 6:16.
Thus had the Lord spoken to Israel. But they paid no attention to his words. Therefore the Lord complains bitterly: “for everyone from the least unto the greatest is given to covetousness, from the prophet even unto the priest, every one deals falsely. For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace” [Je. 8:10.11].
Are not these the thoughts which have to press hard upon us when we gather at a synod meeting in this place which is rich in memories. For, nine years ago, some of us gathered here with aching hearts in order to discuss how we could best save some of the remnant which was left after the destruction which had gone over our church. Our pious fathers had sought zealously and faithfully after the old paths in order to walk in them. They had also striven earnestly to heal the hurt of our Lutheran Zion with the proper means, given by God for that purpose. But there were many who thought that they had made too little progress. These people therefore took matters into their own hands, and in a careless way, they brought about a peace treaty which was pushed through with force and deceit. This work was praised and celebrated throughout the entire country: Now the thirty-year war of the Lutheran Church in this country was finally ended, and the peace which thousands had sighed after and prayed for, was now established. But there was, however, no peace.
Some few, to whom the Lord in grace had given courage to look away from their own temporal advantage, and in spite of the overwhelming majority, came together at this place nine years ago in order to be able to ask for the old paths still unhindered and in order to deliberate about how they could best organize themselves for the future. The discussions resulted in the following resolution: “We, members present of the Synod of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, pastors, representatives of the congregations, and members of the congregations, join together herewith in order to continue the work of the old Norwegian Synod on the old foundation and according to the old principles.” A name for the synod under its new organization was adopted, the founding principles of the church body’s doctrine and practice were established, temporary officers and a constitution committee were elected.
Thus we began the work again in the name of God. Certainly there has been much which has made the work difficult. Many kinds of obstacles are laid in our way, and we have had to put up with accusations of Pharisaism and many other things. But God has richly blessed us in the past nine years. He has given us courage to witness untiringly to the old truths and He has permitted us to experience many proofs that in spite of our own great weakness, our testimony has not been in vain. We have been allowed to rejoice over the preservation of the old, proven principles for which our pious fathers labored and strove, while so many of the brethren who left us have sighed under all the confusion into which the new order of things has brought them. Not least has it made us happy to be able to experience the unity of the spirit in all essential things, which has bound us together during our work for the building up of the church.
If we compute the reestablishment of the Norwegian Synod from the resolution mentioned above at the meeting in Lime Creek in 1918,* then next year we can not only celebrate the 10th anniversary of our church body in its new form but we can also at the same time celebrate the 75th jubilee of the old Norwegian Synod. We have to have this in mind when decisions are made with regard to next year’s Synod meeting.
Certainly, objections come from various quarters that we have no right to bear the name of the Norwegian Synod or to lay claim to being its rightful heirs. The Norwegian Synod, it is asserted, has officially entered into the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America. This church body is therefore the real continuation of the old Norwegian Synod, as the fact that it has taken over and now owns all the old synod’s property, especially, sufficiently shows.
But the essential things in a Christian church body are really not its outward organization, its educational or charitable institutions, or its buildings of wood and stone. Much rather must it be its confession of faith, the principles which are followed in doctrine and practice, and the spirit in which it works and builds. In these respects we claim to be the logical heirs of the old Norwegian Synod. Even if the tree is broken off, picked clean and stripped by the ravages of the storm, yet the weak shoot which sprouts from the ruined trunk, is, however, a continuation of the old tree, because the root is still standing in the same soil. Were the outward organization the deciding thing, there could be no talk, generally, about the church’s continuity; but Luther was forced to leave the existing ecclesiastical organization precisely in order to be able to reestablish the connection with the true apostolic church.
It will do little good to argue a great deal about who really represents the doctrinal position of the old Norwegian Synod taken as a whole, whether the Norwegian Lutheran Church or we who now adorn ourselves with the Norwegian Synod’s name. Only by placing before us one at a time the things which all the world considered the Norwegian Synod as especially fighting for from the beginning, can it be proven who are now the proper heirs of that church body. This I have then thought of doing in the following.
Our fathers who founded the Norwegian Synod were firmly determined to build up a true Lutheran, which is to say, a true biblical-Christian church among the Norwegian immigrants in the new country. In the Norwegian state church of that time there were already various trends, fanatical and liberal, as well as confessional Lutherans. The first ordained pastors who came over here were thorough-going confessional Lutherans who had already learned at home to seek their guidance in Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. They received further help and encouragement in this regard through the fact that God led them into association with brethren in this country who had learned this thoroughly in the school of affliction and whose motto had become: “Back to the fathers, back to Luther and the Confessions, back to the Holy Scriptures!” Pastor V. Koren says about this in 1877:
The Norwegian Synod, earlier in several respects unclear in spite of its confessional and ecclesiastical conservatism, had through the association with the Missouri Synod, received an earnest awakening and a definitely Lutheran bearing, and the new vision which it had received of the glory in the Lutheran faith’s two basic principles, made itself felt enthusiastically in print and speech [De kirkelige partier blandt vort folk i Amerika, p. 17].
In his treatise concerning “What the Norwegian Synod Has Wanted and Still Wants,” Pastor Koren writes:
We brought this unadulterated Gospel with us from our mother church in Norway, but we had not acquired a truly clear insight into its glory, in opposition to all errors, until we came here, where both the free-church conditions and the controversies which we have had to carry on have, under divine guidance, confirmed us in the old truths. We should be ungrateful, indeed, if we were to remain silent about the manner in which the testimony of the German brethren in faith, and especially of that faithful disciple of Luther, our dear sainted Dr. Walther, mightily strengthened us. No one can rightfully accuse us, however, of being parroters of him or others. [Faith of Our Fathers, p. 99.]
With regard to a constitution for a church, the fathers of the Synod were certainly somewhat unclear in the beginning, but with help from the encouragement of more experienced brethren in the study of the Lutheran fathers and the Confessions, they soon became clear also in this regard. Pastor H.A. Preus says about this in “Seven Lectures, etc.,” delivered in 1867:
All of us, to be sure, pastors as well as laymen, recently come from our old fatherland, were unfamiliar with the drawing up of a constitution for the ordering of congregations and a church body which were completely independent of the state. It was only natural that we had taken with us various erroneous and awkward views, for example, of the relationship of the individual congregation to the church body, of church government and church discipline! It was only reasonable that through the very mixing of church and state to which we were accustomed, the concepts had also become confused among us, so that we attributed to the leadership of the church a power and authority which could, however, only be defend-ed when it was exercised by the authority of the civil community! We were now, even in our practice, led by more correct principles than those which lay at the foundation of our old constitution, so that we did, however, also want to undertake its necessary revision as soon as it was feasible.
When the first Norwegian pastors began their work here, they found that the immigrants in many places had come into contact with and were in part influenced by various kinds of sects. They did not make the mis-take then, which several of those who had sought earlier to establish Lutheran church bodies had made, of working together with the Reformed and others, to the great harm of the truth. It was clear for our pioneer pastors that it was the will of God that they should avoid and flee all false teachers and not have any fellowship whatever with those who believed otherwise. This applied also to such people who called themselves Lutherans, but who were unfaithful to the truth in greater or lesser degree. From the very beginning this was laid down as a principle which was followed faithfully and fought for in the Norwegian Synod all the way up until the merger in 1917. Certainly this practice brought the synod many enemies. Accusations were hurled against it of exclusivism and of a lack of proper Christian love. But they chose rather to suffer this reproach and to do the will of God than to go against their conscience in order to win the friendship of the world. And God blessed greatly this faithfulness of theirs toward the truth.
Very early, the Norwegian Synod began to adopt a firm attitude toward the other Lutheran church bodies in this country. In 1855, two years after the synod’s founding, when the matter of the training of pastors and teachers came up for discussion, two emissaries, Pastors Ottesen and Brandt, who were to make themselves acquainted with those various synods, were sent out with the goal in mind, if possible, of finding an institution which they could use temporarily. The report of these emissaries is clear and plain. They find in the older synods much that is un-Lutheran in doctrine and practice. Nor do they want to recommend an association with the Ohio or Iowa synods. But in the Missouri Synod they found a Lutheran church body totally faithful to the Confess-ions, with which they whole-heartedly recommended the Synod to enter into partnership. This was also done. For many years the institutions of the Missouri Synod were used, and the most heartfelt fraternal relations prevailed between the Norwegian Synod and the Missouri Synod right up until the merger in 1917.
It can be of interest to hear in this connection what President H.A. Preus has to say about the different Lutheran synods over here in “Seven Lectures, etc.” in 1867:
“The Lutheran General Synod in America” embraces more than a half score of synods, among which there are to be found such as never once profess themselves outwardly to the symbolical books of the Lutheran Church. The General Synod only endorses the Lutheran Confessions with reservations. In more recent years, however, a more definite confessionally faithful Lutheran tendency has begun to make itself felt; this trend had its best champions in the lap of the old Pennsylvania Synod … The “American Lutheranism,” so-called, in contrast to the form served up by the old German orthodoxy, is, however, held to by the overwhelming majority in the General Synod.
He says further:
The partly English, partly German, Ohio Synod, which does pledge itself to the Confessions of the Lutheran Church completely without reservation, has, however, shown great laxness in doctrine as well as in practice. Among other things it has had bitter fights about bringing pastors into its midst, because of the fact that several of them belong to the Free Masons and other secret societies.
The German Iowa Synod, whose older pastors without exception are disciples of Pastor Wilhelm Loehe in Bavaria, and persist in defending his romanizing and chilastic errors, which has given occasion for several defections.
Of the Buffalo Synod he says:
Its doctrine of the ministry and church government was, as well as its practice, so papistic, that not only its congregations laid under a tyrannical yoke of the clergy, but most of its pastors at the same time were under “seniors,” who ruled like a pope.
Toward all these more or less un-Lutheran synods, as well as toward the German Reformed and Catholic church bodies, the Missouri Synod has, right from its founding, fought without interruption with much candor as well as ability and faithfulness to the Confessions; over toward them all it has unfolded the Lutheran banner freely, gloriously and clearly. Although for that reason, everyone’s hands have been against them, although for that reason it has also had to put up with mockery, scorn and persecution from all quarters, it has, however, continued unwaveringly firm on “God‘s Word and Luther‘s doctrine.” And the Lord has not let this struggle be without blessing. After a more than twenty-year fight against it, the Buffalo Synod last year conceded to it, that it was justified in its position and requested affiliation with it … Also the secession which we heard took place in the General Synod last year, must really be viewed as essentially being an effect and fruit of the Missouri Synod’s clear witness and fight.
After having withdrawn from the General Synod, the Pennsylvania Synod, together with some others, began negotiations with the aim of establishing a conservative Lutheran federation. Through them the “General Council” came into being. But neither the Missouri Synod nor the Norwegian Synod found it advisable to enter into association with these disunited elements, who gave little guarantee to boot about firmness in doctrine and practice for the future. The position of the Norwegian Synod toward the “General Council” cannot be mistaken, when one reads statements about this federation in Kirkelig Maanedstidende from that time.
On the other hand, negotiations were soon begun between the Missouri Synod, the Norwegian Synod and a few others, among them the Ohio Synod, concerning a federation between truly faithful Lutherans. This led to the formation of the Lutheran Synodical Conference in 1872. It is true that the Norwegian Synod did withdraw again from the Synodical Conference in 1883. However, this did not happen because of any doctrinal difference, but because it hoped in that way to avoid a split in the Synod during the Election Controversy. But it continued to be in the most intimate fraternal relation to the Synodical Conference right up until 1917. Cooperation was maintained at the time with the synods which made up the Synodical Conference, but with no other Lutheran church body. We remember from the last portion of that period, how the doctor’s degree was conferred upon several of our pastors and professors by the faculties in St. Louis and Wauwautosa, and how leading teachers in the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods were awarded doctorates by our faculty. But the other Lutheran church bodies showed themselves to be disunited in doctrine and practice up until the end.
Now we want to take a brief look at the individual doctrinal positions for which the Norwegian Synod fought and suffered during that time. The first controversy which arose among the Norwegian Lutherans over here, was concerning the activity of lay-preachers. Before the arrival of the first regularly trained and ordained pastors from Norway, Elling Eielsen and other lay-preachers had traveled around and conducted meetings in the various settlements. To be sure, this was not something to find fault with in and of itself. On the contrary, it was certainly desirable in the highest degree that the Word of God could be proclaimed to the scattered settlements which had not had the proclamation of the Word among them for a long time. But these lay-preachers were unclear in their comprehension of the Gospel’s truth already from Norway, and this unclarity was increased with their coming into contact with the Reformed church bodies here. They also took a hostile attitude toward the work of the Norwegian pastors and the usages of the church which they tried to introduce. These lay-preachers wanted to continue with their activity of traveling about in the settlements even after they had gotten organized congregations established.
This is why heated controversy arose in many places. The founders of the Norwegian Synod sought to instruct the people diligently in the teaching of the Word of God about the church and the ministry. Every- thing in the church of God should be done “decently and in order.” God Himself has instituted the Christian congregation. He has entrusted the power of the keys to the congregation, which is exercised through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. The congregation also has the right and duty according to the direction of the Word of God to appoint pastors and teachers. Only such as after examination are found capable according to the direction which the Word of God gives very precisely, are to be appointed teachers of the congregation. No one has permission to step forward to interfere with a congregation’s right by appealing to his having received a call directly from the Lord. Only when necessity demands it ought someone other than the regularly examined and installed teacher step forward as public proclaimers of the Word of God. But even then the congregation ought to call them to do it, provided there is enough order, so that it can occur. This does not conflict with Scripture’s teaching about the spiritual priesthood because this can and shall come into full practice without conflicting with the ministry of the Word, instituted by God Him-self.
For the position which the Synod took at that time over toward the activity of lay-preachers, it was attacked for a long time, not only by those first lay-preachers but also by all the church bodies which were later founded in opposition to it. All these church bodies have in greater or lesser degree defended the activity of lay-preachers up until the merger of 1917.
In connection with this controversy the Synod’s position was also established firmly with regard to the relationship between the congregation and the Synod. God has instituted the congregation and to it He has entrusted the power of the keys. No individual person or party in the church has authority over the congregation. God has not instituted the church body; but it has come into existence so that the congregations have agreed about the way in which they stand in relation with the other. In this way they are better able to work together for the training of pastors and teachers, further missions at home and abroad, and do works of Christian charity, among other things. The church body thus becomes only a means which makes possible a stronger and more effective working together between congregations of the same faith and confession.
This was the Synod’s position, and as a result it came out clearly in its Constitution from 1866 on, that over toward the individual congregations the Synod was only advisory, not ruling and controlling. How painstakingly our fathers defended the rights of the individual congregation, we see from the following in President H.A. Preus’s address to the Synod in 1865:
Congregations also have to watch with the most extreme diligence that through their joining together and through the adoption of a constitution for it, that while they do relinquish a part of their freedom and things which they have in common, they do not however transfer to the synod or the joint-church such rights or such power which the Lord has only entrusted to the congregations themselves, but whose exercise by themselves is the best guarantee for the preservation of the pure faith, for example, installing and removing teachers, practicing church discipline, and adopting hymnbooks and school books. But even less must congregations give to the joint-church or its officers such a power and authority, that their decisions – even if they do not conflict with the Word of God – should be binding laws for the congregations by virtue of a divine authority, which according to the Fourth Commandment should be due them as superior. Such a concession on the part of the congregations would make the synod a papacy, which would be just as antichristian as that which reigns in Rome. It would make the congregations into slaves of man and place a yoke upon them which would be heavier to bear and more difficult to remove than that which imprisons and oppresses them in the state churches.
In this respect the Norwegian Synod was standing alone among the Norwegian Lutheran church bodies here in this country. The Lutheran Free Church with its much talk about the freedom of the congregation has with its lack of order placed the power into the hands of individual influential men, instead of really defending the rights of congregations.
I said that the lay-preachers who worked round about in the settlements during those early days were unclear in their understanding of the Gospel’s truth. This was the reason that a controversy arose between them and the newly-formed Norwegian Synod concerning several points of doctrine.
The first controversy had to do with the doctrine of absolution. Eielsen and his followers were offended that in confession the Norwegian pastors proclaimed the forgiveness of sins to the individual with the laying on of hands. They looked upon it as presumption that a man wants to take upon himself to judge the hearts of the individuals, since it is generally known that it is only the believers who really get their sins forgiven. They ought therefore only give the absolution with the qualification that the party concerned is a true believer. Thus they wanted to have a conditioned absolution. And they were offended by the laying on of hands since it gave the impression that the pastor concerned possessed an authority which God alone possesses.
The pastors of the Norwegian Synod certainly agreed with them in this that only the believer can enjoy the forgiveness of sin as well as all the benefits of salvation, along with the fact that no pastor is capable of seeing into the hearts of his hearers and deciding whether they are really believers. But they did not maintain that it was matter of judgment by the pastor to give the absolution. In absolution the person who hears the confession says nothing about the faith of the person who is confessing. He only proclaims the Gospel to the individual he has before him, just as in the sermon he proclaims forgiveness to everyone who is listening. And this Gospel is not conditioned. It proclaims the salvation which is prepared in Christ Jesus for all sinners. Since the Savior uttered these glorious words on the cross: “It is finished,” then all the sin of the world was atoned for, whether the individual sinners want to believe it or not. When the Gospel of this salvation in Christ is proclaimed in the world, then it proclaims the forgiveness of sin to all poor sinners whether they want to believe it or not. And when, in confession, the poor sinner desires absolution, then, in the power of that same Gospel I have both the right and the duty to assure the individual sinners that the Lord bestows upon them the forgiveness of sin which is already prepared in Christ. If I then would say: “If you believe, then your sins are forgiven,” then I would only confuse the anxious sinner and get him to think that his own faith is supposed to complete the salvation which was already completed long ago. No, it is my duty, without any such condition, to assure the person who is confessing, that God bestows upon him the forgiveness of sin. If with his unbelief he then wants to push the gift away, he certainly will not come to enjoy good from it, but that does not make me a liar when I say that God really does bestow on him the forgiveness of sin. And the fact that I say this during the laying on of hands only serves to lay this truth that much more personally upon the individual.
That controversy arose about the Gospel during the controversy on absolution is therefore entirely natural. The Synod’s opponents objected with regard to the Gospel, that it imparts the forgiveness of sins only to the believers and not to the unbeliever. They thus wanted to have a Gospel which was conditioned by our faith. We have an excellent testimony of the Synod’s position in this controversy in a plea from Pastor V. Koren from the beginning of the ‘60s. While he is speaking about the discussions at the pastoral conference on Jefferson Prairie, he says:
When one comes to the teaching that absolution, or the Gospel, is a powerful imparting of the forgiveness of sins, the objection is made by the pastors of the Augustana Synod that the Gospel only gives the forgiveness of sins to the believers, but not to the unbelievers. Our synod’s pastors on the contrary, taught that the Gospel is and remains the same whether few men accept it or not, and that it therefore is a powerful communicating of the forgiveness of sins to all who hear it, whether they are believers or unbelievers. That is also where they also stood, and that is where we stand to this very day.
The question is whether the Gospel is one thing now and another thing then, whether it is one thing when it comes to a believer, another thing when it comes to an unbeliever, or whether the Gospel is always the same message from God wherever it is thus sent among all people and generations and tongues, which brings the same gift to all, both to them who allow their heart to be opened to the gift of God’s love, and to those who harden themselves and despise the gift.
We know, i.e. from the Word of God, that God has given his Son for all men out of love. The Son, sent by the Father, has out of love, given himself for all men and redeemed them so that they have the forgiveness of all their sins. Love is the reason for this, according to God’s eternal counsel. The attitude or merit of men has nothing to do with it, and neither has working with or against it; it is based solely and alone on God’s own, eternal, free, independent and undeserved love for the fallen race. It is based not on God’s love for his friends, but for his enemies [Ro. 5:10]. That is why it is totally by grace and totally a gift.
Since it is the will of God that everyone shall be saved, and since no one can be saved unless he has Christ, the gift of God, thus the will of God is that the gift is to be brought to everyone in the Gospel [1 Ti. 2:4; Mk. 16:15; Ti. 2:11; 1 Ti. 1:10].
Wherever the Gospel is heard, there, therefore, the Triune God is sending his gift, that is, Christ, and in him the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation to all them who hear it. Wherever, we say, and however the people who hear it act – whether they let themselves be convinced and accept it, or they defy it and despise it, yet the will of God is and remains the same [Ja. 1:17], and thus the word in which the will of God is revealed, always remains the same [Ro. 3:3; 9:6; 2 Ti. 2:13]. Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever, the same for Adam, as for the people who are alive when the trumpet of judgment sounds; there is only one Gospel [Ga. 1:6-8], the same for the most simple-minded child as for the reflections of the sharpest mind, the same for the most defiant denier, for the most bitter mocker, as for the most pious cross-bearer, the same eternal, powerful heavenly message over which the heavenly hosts rejoice, in which God the Holy Ghost re-veals the unapproachable depths of God‘s love and testifies to every man who hears the message: ‘God loves you, you poor, fallen soul! God’s Son has paid your whole, weighty debt for you! Fear not, arise, shake the dust and chains from you, leave the prison, you are free! Rejoice greatly, it is the will of God that you shall be saved! Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you!” [Et venlig ord I en vigtig strid (A Friendly Word in an Important Controversy)], Samlede Skrifter, III, pages 47–51].
The Norwegian Synod, then, has continued to proclaim this unadulterated, unconditioned Gospel up to the present time.
During these controversies about the Gospel and absolution, people very naturally also got into the doctrine of justification. Also here the opponents were inclined to lay a very one-sided emphasis on man’s faith, which could easily lead people to ascribe to faith greater significance than a pure and simple organ with which God’s already fully-provided gift is accepted by man. In this matter the Norwegian Synod has borne unmistakable testimony of God’s great work for our salvation and of the fact that he makes us partakers in it by grace alone. Through his perfect obedience and through his suffering and death, Christ has fully atoned for all the world’s sin. He took upon himself all the guilt of our sin and paid for it. Thereby he has procured for all sinners a fully valid righteousness before God. He “was delivered for our offenses and raised for our justification” (Ro. 4:24). In Christ all sinners are al-ready justified. The Gospel brings this justification to poor sinners as an undeserved gift. Those who accept the gift by faith have it, they are justified. The believer is credited with Christ’s righteousness, as through a judicial act of God. God acquits him of the guilt and punishment of sin and regards him in Christ as though he had never sinned.
And I am convinced that it is the same unclarity in understanding of the essence of the Gospel which reappears in the Synod’s opponents in the Election Controversy. They began with attacking the Missourians’ presentation of the doctrine of Scripture and the Confessions on the election of grace, that God by grace, from eternity, not only has decided to prepare salvation for all sinners through His Son, but has also decided to call, justify and sanctify them who are saved. As God therefore by grace alone has prepared salvation for everyone, so has He also by grace alone made them who are saved, participants in this salvation.
The opponents would not accept this language. They wanted to get faith along also in the doctrine of election in order thereby to explain why some men are chosen over others. They therefore fought for the acceptance of the definition of election that from eternity God has elected to salvation those whom He foresaw that they would believe and remain constant in faith unto the end. Faith, then, should serve as a reason for the explanation of why some people are elected but others not. Certainly they would not admit that they regarded faith as a cause of election. However, when the controversy was extended to the doctrine of conversion, it came to light clearly that such a significance was being ascribed to faith, or man’s “good attitude” as it was called.
In the controversies mentioned above about absolution, the Gospel, justification and election, it was up to the fathers of the Norwegian Synod to bear a strong testimony to the second great principle of the Reformation, justification by grace alone. The all too common lack of clarity among the Norwegian immigrants in this regard shows sufficiently that it was not an unnecessary controversy, and hair-splitting. It was a testimony which in the highest degree was required in order to be able to build up an orthodox Lutheran church among our countrymen over here.
Hand in hand with this went the testimony to the first great principle of the Reformation that the Scriptures are the only perfect rule and guide for our faith and life. Besides the testimony which was constantly being borne for it during all the controversies mentioned above, there were two questions especially about which there early arose a violent battle, during which it was up to our fathers to defend the complete authority of Scripture. The first of these had to do with the doctrine of the Sabbath.
In addition to the Reformed sects, which to say the least, all spoke very unclearly on this question, the first immigrants also came into contact with missionaries sent out by the Adventists. Those missionaries found fertile soil for their work among the Norwegian immigrants whose understanding of the question of the Sabbath was very confused because of the state church situation to which they were accustomed. When our pastors instructed their members in print and orally in the Scriptures’ teaching regarding Sunday, they were attacked vehemently not only by the Adventists but also by Eielsen’s followers and by the Augustana Synod. The controversy which arose in that way was later continued by the Conference and lasted all the way up to the beginning of the ‘80s.
During this entire controversy our fathers in the Norwegian Synod held forth the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures and of the Lutheran Confess-ions clearly and strongly in contrast to the traditions which for a long time had come to be accepted even in parts of the Lutheran church. They maintained that the words “the day of rest” in the Third Commandment have no such application to a specific day, as it did for the Jews. For us Christians every day, our entire life is to be a day of rest in Christ. Keeping this day of rest holy rightly occurs through diligent and proper use of the Word of God. We find no passage in the Word of God which determines that Sunday is now supposed to replace the seventh day which was enjoined as the day of rest in the Old Covenant. The church in the New Covenant has in Christian liberty chosen Sunday as the day on which for the sake of law and order and other practical considerations, they can gather for worship and otherwise use the Word of God. Our people have drawn the benefit from this controversy, that the authority of the Word of God, and the Confessions under it, has been set forth mightily, in opposition to all kinds of traditions and the conclusions of human reason.
The same is the case with the controversy which arose during the Civil War over the so-called slavery question. Our pastors were accused of defending slavery, although they declared clearly at the synod meeting in 1861 that “slavery is an evil, and a punishment from God, and we condemn all the abuses and sins which are connected with it, just as when the duty of our call demands it, and Christian love and wisdom call for it, we will work for its abolition.” But because they would not deny clear passages in the New Testament which speak about the keeping of slaves, they could not declare it, in and of itself, to be a sin to keep slaves. They chose rather to suffer the ignominy of being suspected of being defenders of slavery than to take away anything from the Word of God. In the synod’s Festskrift Pastor H. Halvorson points out the importance of the Synod’s position in this matter in the following manner: “Although the slavery question was a subordinate matter for the Synod’s pastors in and of itself, and a very peripheral question, but since it had to do here with maintaining the absolute authority of Scripture over human feelings and preconceived opinions, then the matter became of the highest significance for them. A second very critical circumstance was also this, that both Clausen and many of them who were on his side, did not distinguish properly between the outward, physical freedom and the inner, spiritual freedom which Christ has earned for us.”
The synod has also early taken a firm position over toward the teaching of the 1,000-year rule. There was certainly no controversy about this question at first. But when leading men within the Augustana Synod, as well as in other Lutheran synods, championed this teaching, the Synod rejected all kinds of chiliastic errors, through official resolutions.
Among the questions which fall under the practice of a church body, the Synod’s position toward the parochial school and toward the lodge ought especially be mentioned in this connection. So that the coming generation could be sufficiently instructed in the truths of Christianity, our fathers earnestly laid the matter of parochial schools upon people’s hearts from the earliest times. They soon perceived that this part of the children’s education would not be taken care of here by the state school, as they were accustomed to from the fatherland. Pastor J.W.C. Dietrichson already got a part-time religious school started in his congregations. That example was followed in the other parishes which were organized. People soon perceived, however, that this arrangement was far from perfect. Already in the ’60s longer discussions were held about the education of children, which led to the Synod earnestly recommending the establishment of parochial schools owned and operated by the Christian congregation, where children could receive their entire instruction, in secular subjects as well as in Christianity. I do not need here to go further into the desirability and the benefit of the establishment of such schools. Parochial schools were also established in different places, which were conducted with great blessing for longer or shorter periods of time. It did, however, prove to be very difficult to awaken general interest for these schools among our people. The thought that the state’s schools are adequate was deeply ingrained through tradition. Besides, it was so much easier for the old Adam to let the matter rest with a little religious instruction during vacations, in addition to the Sunday School, than to establish regular parochial schools.
Certainly there was also much lacking among our pastors of the proper understanding of the necessity of the parochial school and of the proper moral courage to bear effective witness in the matter among the members of their congregations. During the Jubilee convention in 1903 it was referred to by several people as a dark chapter in the Synod’s history that so little was achieved in the work of the establishment of parochial schools.
But the Synod’s position in the matter has never been wrong. Strong resolutions which challenged to the establishment of such schools were adopted by general- and district conventions year after year. Well-prepared essays were delivered and published, and during the discussions, strong testimony was borne. It was also described as a life-and-death matter for the Synod to get general interest for the matter awakened. This testimony was continued by the Synod right up until the merger in 1917. Yes, it was even used as a powerful argument for the merger, that through it, so much more could be done for the parochial school.
Several parochial schools were also established in the latter years, which appeared to have a promising future. By instead of being furthered by the merger, they have later been closed down.
The Norwegian Synod also took a firm position in the question of secret societies. Strong resolutions against the lodge were adopted at the synod meetings and most congregations had a paragraph in their constitution which stipulated that members of such societies could not be received into the congregation. There was certainly much weakness in many places with regard to the upholding of the Synod’s official position in this matter; but the Synod did not grow weary of witnessing against the lodge during its meetings and in its publications, and that testimony was certainly not without fruit.
In the foregoing I have sought in short strokes to set forth the essentials of that which must come into consideration when we want to determine the position of the Norwegian Synod in doctrine and practice in the sixty-four years from its founding until the merger in 1917. How earnest and powerful was not the testimony borne about these things in that time! What hard battles did not have to be fought during the work of establishing a true Lutheran synod among our countrymen here! God bestowed his blessing richly upon the testimony and upheld our fathers during the struggle, so that the goal which they had set themselves actually was achieved. A true Lutheran synod stood there, in which the two great principles of the Reformation had come into their own. It was well equipped with the necessary institutions and the strength to work, to be able to work to great blessing for our people and for our country in the future.
But how is it now with the fruits of the fathers’ work? Is the new generation now standing in the ways and asking for the old paths in order to walk in them? Is powerful testimony still being borne and is it still being fought as earnestly in order to maintain the position which the Norwegian Synod adopted in those important things?
But someone can ask: Is it necessary to keep the testimony up and to continue the fight endlessly? Are not our people now so well enlightened and so well fortified in the true Lutheran position in doctrine and practice, that for a while now we can lay down the weapons of controversy and undertake a collective work for the building up of our church internally and externally? Is it not time that the Lutheran Church in this country stops wasting its energy on useless internal controversy and joins together in order to be able to make itself heard on a greater scale than ever before? There are many who think it, also among them who earlier stood faithful in the ways and asked for the old paths.
But this is not any new phenomenon either. In his address to the Synod in 1864, President H.A. Preus says:
Now when a person meets our zeal for the strengthening of doc-trine in the same way [as Pietism], and again and again shouts “life,” and cites as the reason, that in our days doctrine is so well developed and established in the Lutheran Church, and the acknowledgement of the pure doctrine so common, that there is no danger on that score, and such zeal for it is out of place, then, I think that the fact that such a cry is so common, already is testimony that it is not so splendidly conditioned with the pure doctrine in the Lutheran Church as people claim. A glance around at the divisions of the church which bears Luther’s name will also convince us of the fact that it is less than good in such respects, and just the frightful decay of pure doctrine in the Lutheran Church of the present time must challenge us, as a division of this church, to throw ourselves upon doctrine with all zeal and earnestness and seek by God’s grace to come to the greatest possible clarity and fullness in its acknowledgement. Yes, I believe that the situation into which the Lord has placed our little church body here, must challenge us to look upon it as a chief task for our church body to strive after such acknowledgement of and strengthening in the correct doctrine first of all, so that through the preservation and reception of the pure Word of God, we and our descendants can be saved. Next, so that we, with our descendants, can learn to lead a sound Christian life in truth, and finally in order that we, with the pure Word of God preserved to us according to the grace and occasion which God might give, also can lend a helping hand to others and show them who have fallen into error, the right way to salvation.
If it was necessary at that time to be zealous for strengthening in the acknowledgement of the truth, both in order to preserve it for our-selves and in order to lead others aright, then it is certainly not less important now. Departure from the truth is just as common and comes out even more openly now than at that time. The need for strong testimony is without a doubt just as great as ever before.
But what has become of most of the people who received the fruits of the fathers’ testimony and struggle for an heritage and a possession? We find them among the earlier opponents. It can certainly not be the case that these opponents have learned nothing from our fathers’ testimony. They no longer act as impudently against the proclaiming of an unadulterated Gospel, and some of them have learned to see the untenable in much of that which they defended earlier. But they have far from accept-ed the Norwegian Synod’s position in doctrine and practice entirely. Our brethren of the past who have entered the merger, have thereby broken fellowship with their former faithful Lutheran brethren and are now nurturing fellowship with them who previously were our most bitter opponents and whom our fathers would not acknowledge as true Lutherans. The assertion that toward the end the Missouri Synod is supposed to have changed its position, while its opponents are now supposed to have adopted the same position which the Missouri Synod took earlier, will be looked upon as laughable by everyone, except by them who in this way look toward salving their own conscience. In the Norwegian Lutheran Church the most intimate fellowship is now being nurtured with all Lutherans except with them who before were in fellowship with the Norwegian Synod. Yes, joint-work is even being nurtured with the Reformed, without it being complained of publicly. This is certainly as far as it can be from the Synod’s old position.
The activity of lay preachers is being urged and is thriving in that church body, just as among the Synod’s earlier opponents. Certainly, individual voices are being raised in protest, but there is no sign of any collective action against it. Zeal for the sovereignty of the local congregation is consigned to oblivion there, and people no longer seem to have use for any clear determination about the fact that the resolutions of a church body over toward the individual congregations are only advisory.
Certainly a list of theses about important doctrines of the faith was adopted, in which the second chief principle of the Reformation seems to have come into its own to some degree. However, there are also great shortcomings. People have omitted adopting these which specifically reject several false doctrines which earlier were defended by the opponents. In the theses on election the so-called second form of the doc-trine which places faith as a “necessary presupposition” for election, is given equal standing with the doctrine of Scripture and the Confessions, and unequivocal subscription to it is required of all the members of the church body. The essential things in the expression, man’s “good attitude,” are certainly denied there, but are, however, retained under the phrase “responsibility over toward the reception of grace.” Yes, even the Confessions’ definition of the doctrine of election is bungled by the misleading reference which is found in the parentheses in paragraph 3 of Opgjør.
However, what would it have served even if those theses had been perfectly correct, if all the while, all the parties had entered the merger with the understanding that they all have their former teaching in tact? The preaching is continuing as before. The earlier position of the Hauge Synod with regard to absolution has even been officially recognized. And the fact that there still rules the greatest unclarity in the under- standing of the nature of the Gospel and justification by faith alone, comes out constantly during doctrinal discussions at circuit meetings in all parts of the church body.
Chiliastic errors from which the Norwegian Synod earlier kept its distance so determinedly, are championed by many people within the church body. During public discussion this has been considered an open question.
The establishment of parochial schools is not on the agenda for the church body’s future work. The parochial schools which were in operation when the merger took place, are all closed down. The church body’s periodicals have again and again branded it as in vain to attempt to establish such schools. The whole matter is surely considered now by everyone as a thing of the past.
Testimony against the lodge is almost silenced. Several pleas about it have been denied in the church body’s periodicals. One congregation after the other which had paragraphs against secret societies in their constitutions, has removed them, with the result that not only new members are accepted who belong to lodges, but the older ones very commonly join them.
There is really hardly anyone who still dares to assert publicly that the Norwegian Lutheran Church represents the old Norwegian Synod’s position in doctrine and practice. Yes, the great majority of this church body’s members would be highly insulted if this assertion were made.
We, on the other hand, have joined together “in order to continue the work of the Norwegian Synod on the old foundation and according to the old principles.” No one can therefore rightly contest our right to be that Synod’s logical heirs so long as we will stand firm on the position which it took. Certainly, we are few and weak, and it therefore cannot be expected that we with our work are going to be able to achieve what could have been achieved, provided the Synod had continued to function in its earlier form. We will not concern ourselves with passing sentence on those who have left us. They themselves get to bear their responsibility before God. We will have enough to do with bearing our own responsibility. It is, however, a glorious comfort to know that God will not demand more of us than he himself has given us.
One thing, however, he does expect of us, and that is that we use the talent which he has entrusted to us diligently, zealously and faithfully. We have received a glorious heritage; let us defend it and work untiringly so that as many other people as possible can come to use it. May the Lord give us willing hearts to make the sacrifices which are needed in order to further the great work which he in grace has entrusted to us. Let us in humility, with faithfulness, and being of good cheer, continue with carrying forward the testimony for these glorious truths for which our fathers strove and suffered; let us willingly bear the adversity which the battle for these truths carries with it, and the Lord will in truth not let our work be without fruit.
But at the same time, as more than anything else, we need to be animated by true humility in order to be able to do the Lord’s work properly, we are not to allow the consciousness that we are so few and weak, to induce us to sit idle in the thought that for all that, we will not be able to accomplish anything with our work. We have heard so much talk about other church bodies laying such great burdens upon their members, that many can be tempted to believe that it is a virtue to evade as many burdens as possible in the Lord’s work. No, if we are few and weak, then we need so much the more to exert ourselves. If our little Synod has received a big task, then so much greater sacrifices are required.
During the break which took place during the merger, we lost our share in all the external institutions which we so sorely needed for the carrying on of the work. If we are going to continue the work we must seek to furnish ourselves with the most necessary things as soon as possible. During the procuring of these outward things we are not to allow ourselves to make up our minds according to what can give us respectability in the eyes of the world, but only by that which accord-ing to our best understanding can be most useful for the furtherance of the kingdom of God.
If our work is going to be continued, we need well-equipped workers most of all. God has laid upon the present generation the responsibility for the training of workers among the upcoming generation. We have no institution for the training of pastors and teachers. It has been a big help to us during this privation to be met with such great good-will from our brethren in the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods. With much blessing, our young men have gotten to use their schools. But can we now with good conscience rest in the thought that these our brethren will continue forever to train our pastors and teachers for us? If this arrangement is fully adequate, then the least we ought to do is to see to it that we begin as soon as possible to bear our share of the expenses of these institutions’ work. It has been calculated that each student at the Missouri Synod’s schools costs the church body about $300.00 a year. How long shall we continue to accept this as a gift, without seeking at least to bear our approximate share of the burden?
But when we come to the question whether we ought not soon seek to become independent in this regard, then it is our duty to weight whether it is not imperative that we care for at least a part of our future teachers’ training ourselves. We can certainly not expect to get better schools, pedagogically speaking, than those which we have been using. In no church body are there found better trained pastors and teachers than those synods can boast. That does not say, however, that those schools fill all the needs of our future workers. The field of our work is obviously among people of Norwegian descent. In order to be able to work among them successfully, a sufficiently adequate knowledge of the language which must still be used in large degree in our church-work, is required most of all. The faculty in St. Louis has recently sent a memo to its Synod’s colleges about not sending graduates to the seminary who are not sufficiently proficient in the use of the German language, since it is very difficult to find a place for such men when they go out as candidates. Is not something similar the case among us Norwegians? If our future workers are going to have full command of the language, arrangements must be made for that during their time as students.
But our future workers also need to become familiar with the traditions, customs and characteristics of the people, as well as the special circumstances under which they are going to work. As a rule, this cannot be attained except through the guidance of knowledgeable teachers during their schooling. And so far as we are concerned, that can only be taken care of by our getting our own college, where, at any rate, the first portion of the training can be taken care of.
Besides, experience has taught us how difficult it is to get our students to make use of an institution where they come under completely strange conditions. Our young people for that reason are not only noticeably seeking the state’s schools, but also the schools of other church bodies. Yes, individuals have been trained at other theological seminaries, and are thus completely lost for our Synod.
For these reasons among others, many of us have come to the firm conviction that the time has come when we ought to get our own college established. That it will be tremendously expensive to undertake a larger building project now, is something which everyone with a little experience knows. A hundred-thousand dollars will not stretch far toward providing the necessary buildings for a college. Is it not then a wonderful providence of God, that we have now been offered a fully equipped school building for less than this amount, which is, however, worth many times that. Personally, I will regard it as an irreparable loss if we let this opportunity get away from us. But we have no right to expect that our valiant brethren who have secured this property for us,** will refuse the offer which they now have for getting it disposed of, if this meeting says that the Synod does not want it.
Let us therefore weigh this matter carefully and earnestly. It is doubtful whether any of us will live to get a similar opportunity again. From one point of view it will certainly be a burden for us now to try to conduct our own college. But who has promised that we are going to evade all burdens during our work for the building up of the church? Was it for that reason that nine years ago in this congregation we resolved to reestablish the devastated Norwegian Synod? No, it was because we were convinced that the Lord had given precisely us a problem to solve. Should we then lose heart, when the Lord places the tools in our hands with which we can be enabled to solve the problem, only because it will demand a bit of effort on our part?
But the costs will not be so insurmountable either. I once undertook a building project which required equally great sums, which we must pay for this school property, in a congregation of about 600 souls; most of the members were common laborers. The congregation was later split. The part which left, took upon itself a project at a cost of over $30,000. Still, both the old and the new congregations’ property is now paid for. Ought not all our congregations then be able to solve the problem which now lies before us? Let us not be afraid “to draw heavily upon our Lord” when it comes to solving the problems which he himself in grace entrusts to us, and to whose solving he has promised to bestow his rich blessing.
May the blessing of this Lord rest upon our discussions of this, as well as of the other important matters which will come up before this meeting, just as he has in grace been with us at all our previous meetings. May he lead us during all our discussions and let us be motivated by the one wish and the one prayer that his will may be done!
Translated by J. Herbert Larson, 2004
* During the union meeting in 1917, the pastors and representatives who already then had become fully clear that for the sake of their consciences they could not go along into the new church body, met in the Aberdeen Hotel in St. Paul, and resolved to continue the synod’s work, so far as circumstances allowed them to do that. Officers were elected, and it was resolved to publish the Luthersk Tidende as its organ. The Norwegian Synod has thus continued its work without interruption since its organization in 1853. A[nderson].
** President Anderson refers to Bethany Women’s College in Mankato, Minnesota which an interested group of synod-people called “Friends of Bethany” has secured pending the Synod’s resolution. [Tr.]