Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Dearly beloved members of the Norwegian Synod:
We come to the synod meeting in this twilight hour of the world’s history with the conviction that we are meeting in days which are numbered among the last which God will give to this world. This fact impresses upon us the urgency of the work which God has given His Church to perform. We know not how many more days or years this earth will be permitted, to stand nor do we know how soon the working days of each one of us individually may come to an end. “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” I Thess. 5,2–6. This reminds us of the urgent and pressing need of using every opportunity given us to exercise our spiritual priesthood in showing forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Among those who possess the Word in truth and purity should be found the unmistakable evidences. of a very lively activity in proclaiming the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ in public and private. With the deepest movings of the heart we should be saying with the Apostle Paul, “Necessity is laid upon me; yea woe is me, if I preach not the gospel!” I Cor. 9,16. As we see the end of, all things approaching we should realize that time is of the essence and that thoughts of postponement and delay in the Lord’s work are temptations of Satan who desires nothing but the death of the sinner and so does not want him today or tomorrow or at any time to turn from his wicked way and live. Since he knows that those who proclaim the pure and unconditional Gospel of forgiveness are his real enemies, therefore by every wily trick in his command he seeks to turn them aside from their God-given work. By laziness; by luke-warmness, by indifference, by worldly-mindedness, he draws and entices in order that the Gospel may not have that free course which he so much opposes and fears. By impious deeds, by loose talk, by spite, by jealousy, by pride, by stubbornness, by wrath, by a fractious and quarrelsome spirit, he promotes offenses in order that the way of truth and of life may be ill spoken of by those who are without. To all of these temptations we are not immune. And we need, by the grace of God, with the determination of the apostle Paul, to say: “I keep under my body, and bring into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away.” I Cor. 9,27.
As we see the children of this world more zealous in their endeavors and wiser in their generation and in the promotion of their corruptible projects than the children of light are in the preservation and spreading of the spiritual and eternal truths, then indeed we find cause to stop and examine ourselves and so much the more as we see the day approaching when all shall be revealed and we shall be called upon to give an account of our stewardship. Well we must know that all boasting is vain and that the most skillfully worded excuses for our neglects cannot satisfy. Were it not for the boundless grace of God in Christ Jesus we would none of us be able to stand on ,the great day of reckoning. We are no exceptions to the rule that if we are to be clothed in the snowy-white garment of Christ’s righteousness, we must first appear in the sack-cloth and ashes of heartfelt repentance. Only he who has found himself an humble suppliant at the throne of grace will feel and know the urgency of this hour and how late it is in the day to cry: “Awake thou that sleepest, arise from death’s slumber!” There is still time, however, for the day of grace is not ended though the signs of the setting sun upon this earth’s existence are apparent. While the old evil foe is hard at work to bring the sunshine of the Gospel into a total eclipse it is well for us to consider how we must employ the time remaining.
Christians prayer may well employ you,
The powers of darkness would destroy you:
Yea, Satan’s self has planned your fall.
Wield, God’s Word, a weapon glorious,
Against each foe; and soon victorious,
Our God will make you o’er them all.
Is Satan strong and fell?
Here is Immanuel.
The Strong ones yield,
With Christ our shield,
And we as conquerors hold the field.
Well we know that the greatest calamity that could befall us is to lose the blessed unconditioned Gospel which declares to sinners ruined by the fall that God has in Christ declared the whole world righteous. The pathways upon which Satan would lead us to effect this loss are as devious as they are crafty and deceptive. One of the worst deceptions with which he operates to gain his end is the lie that disobedience to God’s Word in some seemingly minor point is not so serious and destructive if only the end in view is good. The error of this way is revealed by that man of God, Samuel, who as the mouthpiece of the Most Holy upon a certain occasion declared: “Hath the Lord as great delight .in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of rams, For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” I Sam. 15,22–23a. These words were spoken to a man who by anointing had been placed by God into a position of great responsibility and trust. To this man Samuel shortly before had said “The Lord sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel; now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the Lord.” I Sam. 15.1. The man to whom these solemn words were spoken was Saul, first king of Israel. Through Samuel, Saul was instructed of God to smite the Amalekites, to utterly destroy all that they had and to spare nothing. Saul obeyed but deviated in one respect. “Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them; but everything that was vile and refuse; that they destroyed utterly,” I Sam. 15.9. When Samuel heard the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen he confronted Saul with his act of disobedience and called upon him to give an account. Saul with a pious voice maintained that he had obeyed the voice of the Lord but that the people took of the sheep and of the oxen in order that sacrifices might be made unto the Lord in Gilgal. Then it was that Samuel, after a night of prayer and communing with the Lord, said, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” Because of his disobedience which he tried to excuse and defend with a reference to the sacrifices, Saul was rejected from being king over Israel. He lost his position of trust and responsibility and another was anointed to be king in his place. Though the crown for a time rested upon his head, yet the sceptre had passed to another, namely to David, Son of Jesse.
This incident indeed has been set down not for our entertainment but for our admonition and learning upon whom the ends of the earth have come. It finds its application in so many areas of church life today. We often find that defenses and pious sounding excuses are made for acts which are in fact a disobedience of God’s Holy Word. The unwary may be taken in by such excuses and may easily accuse and condemn those who like Samuel proclaim God’s judgment over such disobedience. For instance when lodge members are received into the congregation the excuse is sometimes made that this is done in order that an opportunity may be given to testify to them and to win them. Those who oppose this are then sometimes made to appear as though they would place hindrances into the way of winning them for the truth, even as there were, no doubt, those who would have made Samuel to appear as though he were not very zealous for the offering of sacrifices to the Lord in Gilgal when he reprimanded Saul for saving the sheep and oxen of the Amalekites. But the whole matter is settled when we note that reception into the church of people who are members of Christ-denying secret societies is disobedience to God’s Word which says: “Be ye not equally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel. And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God, as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord almighty.” II Cor. 6,14–18. Any number of pious sounding excuses will not cover-an act of disobedience. “To obey is better than sacrifice.”
It has been common in our day to hear that acts which are clearly acts of unionism have been explained in this way that the opportunity offered gives a chance to proclaim the Gospel. This makes it appear as though those who oppose such appearances with those of another faith and confession, are not as zealous and wide-awake and willing as they should be to avail themselves of opportunities to preach the Gospel and join in worship in such circumstances where an act of unionism and therefore of disobedience is involved. The bastion which God has erected for us here is that key Bible passage over which so many have thrown a dark cloak as though it were a passage hard to understand and difficult to know when and where it ought to apply — Romans 16,17 “Now I beseech you brethren, mark them which cause division and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” On the basis of this Bible passage and related passages the “Brief Statement” declares, and we whole-heartedly subscribe to it “Since God ordained that His Word only, without the admixture of human doctrine; be taught and believed in the Christian Church, I Pet. 4,11; John 8,31.32; I Tim. 6,3,4. all Christians are required by God to discriminate between orthodox and heterodox church-bodies, Matt. 7, 15, to have church-fellowship only with orthodox church-bodies, and, in case they have swayed into heterodox church-bodies, to leave them, Rom. 16,17. We repudiate unionism, that is, church-fellowship with the adherents of false doctrine, as disobedience to God’s command, as causing divisions in the Church, Rom. 16,17; 2 John 9,10, and as involving the constant danger of losing the Word of God entirely, 2 Tim. 2,17–21.” Par. 28. This matter of unionism is not something to be bandied around as in an academic debate. It is disobedience to the Word. Unionism causes divisions in the Church and involves the constant danger of losing the Word of God entirely and so of losing our own soul. The matter is that serious.
By unionism, by all disobedience, by every departure from God’s Word Satan would seek to rob us of that central and precious doctrine of justification. For this is the doctrine with which the church stands or falls. Our Formula of Concord puts it this way “This article concerning justification by faith is the chief article in the entire Christian doctrine without which no poor conscience can have firm consolation, or can truly know the riches of the grace of God, as Dr. Luther also has written: ‘If this only article remains pure on the battle-field, the Christian Church also remains pure, and in goodly harmony, and, without any sects, but if it does not remain pure, it is not possible that any error or fanatical spirit can be resisted.’” (Thorough Declaration, III. Triglotta, page 917) With the loss of the real message of the unconditioned Gospel goes the ability to distinguish error from truth and the ability to oppose error. Preaching becomes moralizing and the real Gospel message of forgiveness drops away until the sin-burdened soul finds no balm or healing.
God knows how weak and frail we are and how prone our flesh is to minimize the leaven of error and to bow to the cunning words of man’s wisdom And therefore he has built around us a wall of protection and has warned us not to expose ourselves to the influences of those whom he has clearly asked us to avoid. If we for any pretext disobey by affiliating ourselves or by continuing affiliation with those who have caused divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which we have learned then we are in danger of losing the Word of God entirely. Saul’s rejection as king of Israel because of his disobedience went into effect even though he pleaded his concern for the sacrifices to the Lord God in Gilgal.
In the face of what is going on in the World Council of Churches, which this year convenes in this country at Evanston, Ill.; in the face of what is going on among many “Lutherans” in our time, we realize that such statements as have been made here will be stamped as uncharitable, separatistic, and as showing little concern for the progress of the Gospel through united efforts. Yet for us the Word of God stands there too powerful. And we know that if we lose the Gospel, the unconditioned Gospel, then we have nothing to offer the sin-burdened soul. Evil days have come upon us and as the end approaches we know that falling away shall characterize the close of the day of grace. So few will be truly converted to the truth and remain in the truth in the twilight hours of the world that it is said in Holy Scripture “When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18,8. It is only by closing our eyes to the words of Holy Scripture concerning the last days of the world in which we are surely living, that we overlook the seriousness of the hour to which we have come. There is no doubt that also Our synod has come to the hour of severest testing. Each one of us individually is being tested and tried in these last days of the world. Let us bow before the Lord in all humility and ask Him to take away all sinful pride and thoughts of personal glory, comfort, and advantage, beseeching Him to make us duly conscious of His Word, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” Let us take comfort from these words, “When thou art in tribulation and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice: (for the Lord thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy, thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.” Deut. 4,30,31. Then indeed to you God shall say as He did to Israel of old, “If ye will obey my voice indeed and keep my covenant then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people; for all the earth is mine.” Ex. 19,5.