In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Honored and Beloved Brethren in the Lord:
“Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.” — Jeremiah 6:16.
The words quoted above from the Prophet Jeremiah evidently do not harmonize with the prevailing spirit of our day and age. Old paths and ways have, to a great extent, lost their appeal to the present generation. Great changes have taken place during the last two decades. The automobile, the tractor, the flying machine — or we might say the perfection of the gas engine — the radio, and other inventions, have brought about revolutionary changes in many ways. Peoples and countries which seemed far distant a few years ago have, as it were, become our next-door neighbors. Naturally and unconsciously, one’s ways of thinking, acting and being are vitally affected.
We grant that many of the present-day inventions and innovations are marks of true progress; but there are things that must not change and that can not be changed. Man and his environment may change, outwardly, but God remains the same. God’s holiness, His justice, as well as His love, grace and mercy in Christ to sinners, are changeless. The revealed truth of God concerning Himself, as well as His truth concerning man ever remains the same.
In times such as ours, full of unrest and change, there is great danger that the individual as well as the church at large might leave its safe moorings and drift into dangerous currents. A word of warning and exhortation like that of Jeremiah 6:16 is surely timely accordingly.
For the individual Christian as well as for the church, the way of the cross has ever since the fall of man been designated as the way to victory. The word of the Lord in His promise to Adam and Eve after the fall makes this clear: “I will put enmity between thee, and the woman, and between. thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Gen. 3:15. There is a promise of victory in these words. To Jesus, the seed of the woman, the representative of mankind, belongs the victory; but the victory. was to come by the way of the cross, the way of sorrows. “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid, as it were, our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3–5. And to the depraved natural mind, this way of sorrows has no appeal. “When we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” Isaiah 53:2.
To follow the Lord on this way to victory means denying oneself. To follow one’s own inclinations, one’s own mind and wisdom will lead to defeat and not to victory. It is self-evident, then, that one must not obey the dictates of one’s own mind, nor consult the world or the wisdom of the world, if one wishes to remain on the old paths where is the good way, wherein “rest” is promised “for the soul”. “Let God be true, but every man a liar, as it is written, that thou mightest be justified in thy sayings and mightest be overcome when thou art judged.” Rom. 3:4.
The old paths wherein is the good way have been revealed to us in the gospel of the cross. This gospel is the story of the love of God in Jesus Christ to a lost and condemned world — a world so utterly lost that the understanding of natural man was darkened with regard to spiritual things, I Corinthians 2:14; his mind was set against God, “for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be,” Rom. 8:7; and the peace of conscience was disturbed. Slavish fear drove man away from God. Gen. 3:10. While man was thus an enemy, God brought about reconciliation by the death of His Son. Romans 5:8. “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” Ephesians 2:1, 2.
The cross of Christ reveals to us on the one hand the fathomless love of God, and on the other hand the immensity of our guilt and condemnation. Think of the load of divine wrath heaped on Christ in Gethsemane, when His sweat was as drops of blood; when He prayed: “O my Father, if this cup may not pass from me, except I drink it, thy will be done”, Matthew 26:42; and on the cross, when He said: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46. For whom did He suffer? “He was given away for our offenses.” “Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” Isaiah 53:4. In the message of the cross, in Word and Sacrament, there is life and full salvation for lost and condemned mankind.
Let mortal man, then, boast of his own wisdom, strength, worthiness, and services; he can not add anything to the all-sufficient, vicarious atoning work of Christ. Speaking of the righteousness of God, which is by faith in Jesus Christ unto all men, upon an them that believe (Rom. 3:22), the apostle Paul says (v. 27): “Where is boasting then. It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay: But by the law of faith.”
The Gospel of the cross has always been a stumbling block to the Jew, and foolishness to the Greeks (I Cor. 1:23), and yet the same Apostle calls it “the power of God” and “the wisdom of God” (v. 24), and “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish, foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God” (v. 18). So exclusive is this Gospel in its blessed work, wrought by the Holy Ghost, that the Apostle states, Gal. 1:6–9: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the Gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel. unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” The Apostle beseeches the Corinthian Christians in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: “That ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same judgment.” Thus we note that there is room for only one Gospel in the Church of God. “If we grant error a place alongside of the truth, we thereby take back our confession of the truth, because the truth has this characteristic: it claims exclusive right and shuts every error out. The truth is always ‘exclusive’ over against error. We deceive ourselves when we imagine that we embrace the truth, if at the same time, we grant error a place alongside of the truth.” (Dr. Pieper in Unionism.)
But where Christ builds His church, the devil builds a chapel next to it. In the days of the prophet Jeremiah, idolatry and unbelief ran rampant in Israel. The believers were exhorted by the Lord to “stand in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths.” The multitudes had gone their own way. In the Apostolic Church strange and discordant voices threatened to obscure the gospel of the cross, which is the power of God to salvation to everyone that believeth. The exhortation of Jeremiah to Israel of old, “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way”; and the exhortation of the Holy Writers of the New Testament to hold fast to the one revealed Gospel as the only hope of our salvation is given to God’s church of our day also. Let therefore no one fail to note that we are not only to cling steadfastly to that one good way; but also to shun all by-paths and divergent. ways. False doctrine “will eat as doth a canker”, II Timothy 2:17. God commands us by the apostle Paul: “Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned and avoid them,” and (v. 18), “By good words and fair speeches they deceive the hearts of the simple.” By the same apostle, God also says: “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject” (Titus 3:10); compare II John 10:11.
The books of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, are replete with such warnings, commands, and admonitions against unionistic practices. Bible history as well as church history show the dire consequences. In spite of the clear and pointed warnings by the Holy Spirit, man’s wisdom seeks a middle-way. The testimony against unionistic practice is often met by the “middle-way man” with the words: “There is not much difference.” Against such arguments the words of our Lord by the Apostle are a strong rebuke: “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” I Cor. 5:6.
The so-called “social gospel” which has permeated the testimony in preaching and in writing of large sections of the Reformed Church is not the gospel of Jesus Christ, but it is “another gospel”. It has great promises for this present time, making the cross of Christ superfluous and a mockery, denying central doctrines in the revealed Word of God. The gospel of Christ in prophesy and fulfillment reveals to man the eternal counsel of God for the salvation of a lost and condemned world. The social gospel is a product of the fallible mind of man, trying to release man from the consequences of sin according to a theory of evolution and reconstruction.
This social gospel is also making its inroads within Lutheran denominations. This is not so strange. Lutherans also have the old Adam, the sinful flesh, to contend with; and the social gospel is the gospel of the flesh. It has great promises for this life, extolling the virtues and strength of man. The “establishment of the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God here on earth, as an outward visible organization,” will therefore appeal to the flesh. Significant in this connection is the greeting by the President of the American Lutheran Conference at the meeting of the American Lutheran Church at Sandusky, Ohio, last fall. The President declared: “That the Lutheran Church has a duty and responsibility of helping to build America into the nation she is to be.”
In watching the activities of some Lutheran denominations and viewing them in the light of statements made by leaders who are caught in the hectic merger fever of our day, we get the impression that it is man-made union and man-power that is to build and give strength to the Lord’s Zion. Denials of central doctrines in the word of God, such as Verbal Inspiration, are allowed to pass without any real objection. The laity of the church is left with the impression that it does not make any difference. Thus in an editorial in “Folkebladet” of last November, official organ of the Lutheran Free Church now affiliated with the Norwegian Lutheran Church, verbal inspiration is definitely rejected and the doctrine of predestination is spoken of as a stumbling block causing divisions and an offence within the church.
There is truth in the old slogan that “in union there is strength”, but one must not forget that the Spirit of God is the only unifying force in the church of God. A union without the unity of the Spirit does not bring strength, but it spells disaster to the church, even where great numbers of men are brought together in one body. In the Church of God, strength is gained by outward union and mergers only where hearts and minds are united in the acknowledgement and confession of the divinely revealed truth, abhorring and shunning all false and unscriptural teaching, ungodly living and practice, and all false hopes given by another gospel than that which has been revealed in Jesus Christ. “The Church is always strongest when it continues in the Word of God in every particular. This should be self-evident to Christians everywhere as long as they bear in mind that they not only have Christ’s command to hold fast the Word of God whole and entire, but have His promise attached to such command, namely: ‘Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you alway even unto the end of the world’.” (From F. Pieper, Unionism.) Twelve fishermen with Christ meant a tremendous force in the church. The man-made unification of the church, its prestige, its command of earthly riches filled the church with weakness and error in the days of Constantine the Great.
That the social gospel finds its way into a church where unionism is practiced, and where fundamental doctrines of Scripture are denied or tampered with, is to be expected, Rejection of the doctrine of verbal inspiration, so common even among many Lutherans in our day, opens the flood gates to all manner of errors in teaching and practice. We do well in remembering that where one fundamental doctrine has been tampered with, as is commonly the case with the doctrine of inspiration of the Bible, the whole system of Christian doctrine will suffer.
What, for example, has brought about the new practice with regard to women’s position within the church? In many Lutheran congregations, the women are permitted to vote and to speak. Has the word of the Holy Spirit changed? The Lord says by the Apostle Paul: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.” I Cor. 14:34. Must we not say in this case that the wisdom of God, revealed in the Bible, has been found also within the Lutheran Church to be foolishness, and therefore cannot be followed in all things? Synergjsm, unionism, and all other false “isms” find their support in a falsified word of the Bible. One error leads to another. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”
By the unmerited grace of God, we have heretofore, within the Synodical Conference, been spared from many errors which have eaten their way like. a. canker into the life of many other Lutheran bodies. But the danger of being drawn into the shifting currents of our times is threatening. We need more than ever “to stand in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, “where is the good way.”
How are we then, as faithful members of God’s Zion, to serve as a barrier against the destructive floods of error which threaten the church? In the first place, we must once and for all, by the. grace of God, have it settled in our minds that the will of God, as revealed in His Word, the attitude of God to sin and unbelief, as well as His love and mercy in Christ to sinners, are in no way matters subject to change or evolution. These are all definitely settled, as revealed in Holy Writ. Likewise, we must also have it in mind, that natural man does not change in his attitude to God, In the fall he became an enemy of God, and thus he will remain to the end of the world. What God revealed through the, prophets of old corresponds exactly to the revealed word, penned by the evangelists and apostles of the New Testament. The truth revealed in the New Testament, as well as the Old Testament, will ever continue to be the truth.
We hold that the truth revealed in Holy Writ has been clearly set forth in our Lutheran Confessions, condemning errors in doctrine and practice which had crept into the church. In this way the church of the Reformation became an instrument in the hands of the Lord for the preservation of divine truth. The truth to be confessed ever remains the same because truth comes from God. Errors and denials of that unchanging truth, on the other hand, come from man and from the father of lies, the devil. Falsehood and error may therefore vary and appear in different forms, from time to time. Thus it has become necessary for the defenders of the truth to destroy errors by stating the truth and rejecting the errors in their confessions.
But our duty of confessing the truth goes far beyond writing a declaration in the form of a confession. A written declaration or confession, accepted by common consent, but thereupon put on the shelf and forgotten does not mean anything. There are a number of Lutheran bodies who have subscribed to all the confessional writings of the Lutheran Church, whose teaching and practice. are not in harmony with these confessions. It has been reported that even the Evangelical Church of Germany has subscribed to all the confessions of the Lutheran Church. The church needs not only written confessions but confessing Christians who are “living epistles” of the Lord.
In order then to meet the errors of our day, the members of the church must jointly and individually both acknowledge the truth and confess the truth, rejecting and shunning all error as deadly poison. To quote from Dr. Pieper’s treatise on Unionism: “Consider what would have become of the Lutheran Church in America had there been no orthodox synods? Had the few Lutherans that were here, twenty-five or thirty years ago, hidden themselves somewhere with their faith, there hardly would be a Lutheran Church in this country today. That there now are thousands upon thousands of Lutherans here, who have come to the life that is in Christ Jesus, that church papers are in circulation, which are true to the Lutheran confession, that schools, and charitable institutions have sprung up and are flourishing–this is the fruit of God’s grace, operating through the faithful testimony and confession of the truth, on the part of orthodox Lutheran Christians.” The clergy, as well as the laity, of our church must therefore ever turn to Scripture and the confessions. Without them; we stand as helpless in our fight for the preservation of the truth and for victory over error as an army, in our day, facing its enemy without necessary modern equipment for going into battle.
Our congregations must be satisfied with doing the Lord’s business, proclaiming the Gospel of peace, built on Jesus Christ as its only foundation. Let there be a definite God-given message of sin and grace proclaimed from our pulpits. Let us never cease to make every effort to bring up the children entrusted to our care in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Thank God, we have a number of Day-schools, doing excellent work; but outside of this, the reports show that many of our congregations are negligent in their work of training the children. The young, as well as the old, must be brought to the fountains which God in mercy has opened for us — namely the Word and the Sacraments. Where the Christian home and Christian school work hand in hand, under the blessings of God, results will not be lacking.
The church that does not fearlessly and faithfully confess the truth and reject errors is like a ship without a rudder. It is at the mercy of the destructive elements of wind and wave. Early Lutheran immigrants to this country are an evidence. “Festskrift” of 1903, page 5, tells about the fate of the first settlement of Norwegian Lutherans to this country. The settlement was made in Morris and Kendall townships, Orleans county, New York. No efforts were made to organize Lutheran congregations. Members of the colony were evidently left to drift. Henrik Christopherson Hervig is quoted: “Jeg maa bekjende at da vi først kom hid, syntes vi, at alt var galt her, fordi det var ikke saaledes som vi var vante med i Norge. Men vi fandt snart, at der var gode ting ogsaa blandt folk som dyrkede Gud paa en anden maade end vi gjorde, og vi fandt at forskjellen i grunden ikke var saa stor, naar vi blot byggede paa den rette grundvold, Jesus Kristus, og da vi erindrede os at landets konstitution tillod enhver at dyrke Gud paa den maade, hans samvittighed sagde ham.” It is reported that this colony organized no Lutheran church or school and had no pastor among them. They were adrift. In a few years many of the members of the colony moved westward. The fact that they sympathized with Quakers evidently had something to do with their laxness. Yet we are informed that there was only one confessed Quaker among them.
We also have the last sad chapter of the old Synod, an example of how the members of the church suddenly may fall away from confessionalism to indifferentism. In spite of doctrinal differences between the conferring bodies, a forced unnatural union was brought about with “Opgjør” as its basis. From 1910 and on, the spirit of unionism and indifferentism began to silence the confessionalism which had prevailed in the Synod. 1912, with. the advent of “Opgjør”, threw the flood gates of unionism and indifferentism wide open. The minority members who entered the merger with intention of testifying were evidently silenced. There has been little evidence of public testimony against indifferentism to doctrine and un-Lutheran practice from those who entered the merger with that purpose in view. The confessionalism evidenced by, for example, Rev. Thos. Nilsson’s essay at the Synod meeting in Chicago in 1908, virtually ceased with the adoption of “Opgjør”, so far as the former members of the Synod were concerned.
It is well to note that Lutheran high school or preparatory courses in former Synod institutions were soon dropped. Over a dozen academies formerly controlled by the Synod have been closed. Also a number of Christian Day Schools immediately died in the new atmosphere of the merger. Undermine the foundation, and the superstructure will fall.
Large sections of the Lutheran Church are also in this respect following in the footsteps of the Reformed Church, depending on the public schools to a great extent for the early training of children and youth, building on that foundation with college courses. There can be no doubt but that the church which neglects the thorough training of children and youth will sooner or later be drifting. “The old paths, wherein is the good way” also in this respect has clearly been shown us in the Word of God: Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Eph. 6:4. Our fathers of the Lutheran Church walked in that way and were blessed. Any self-chosen way will bring regrets and ruin. Let us therefore, even now in 1939, stand in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths.
“Remember the days of old,
Consider the years of many generations:
Ask thy father, and he will shew thee;
Thy elders, and they will tell thee.”
Our fathers spent large sums building and maintaining institutions — many of them — for the Christian education of the young. Shame on us, if we allow ourselves to fall into indifferentism and inaction in this respect!
We may, however, with many others in our day erect imposing structures and gain the applause of the world thereby; but as children of God who have been entrusted with a sacred heritage, we seek first of all the glory of God and His holy name, and “rest”, according to His promise, “for our souls.” This rest we can not earn. It is a free gift from God’s hand to those who stand in the ways and ask for the old paths and walk therein. To them the Spirit says: “Ye shall find rest for your souls.”