Esteemed members and friends of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
Dear Fellow Redeemed:
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
No one can look upon the things that have come to pass in our Synod these last years and months without a fervent plea to God for help and guidance. With the Psalmist we plead, “God be merciful unto us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us. Selah.” It is true that sadness and even dismay grips our hearts as we contemplate the vineyard’s sad estate. We might even be tempted to enter upon our convention with gloom and despair. But this would not be right, for the Lord has not forsaken us though He has tried us sorely. And well have we deserved His chastening. As we begin our convention and look forward to the coming year we earnestly pray: “God be merciful unto us and bless us. and cause His face to shine upon,” with the hope and confidence that “our help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth.” With this prayer and in this spirit let us begin our convention, carry out all our tasks and do our work in the coming year.
Our Synod has passed through many months of serious trouble and affliction. Most of this has come about through problems that have arisen in connection with our relationship with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. For several years, ever since the late 30’s and early 40’s, we have witnessed a change taking place in the Missouri Synod, whose fellowship our fathers cherished and which we also have enjoyed. We have sought earnestly and patiently to remind them of this change on the basis of the Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions, and even their own good confession, the Brief Statement. Our testimony seems to have been of little benefit and the results very few.
Our Doctrinal Committee, which has carried on this admonition and earnestly sought to bring the Missouri Synod back to the stand it once took, now comes with the recommendation that the Synodical Conference be dissolved. Another memorial recommends that we withdraw our membership in the Synodical Conference. Another memorial recognizes the serious difference which exists, and while it does not go as far as the others, yet this memorial also points up the problem that exists. We need to come to a firm and clear decision in this matter. Not only because our ranks may be shattered yet further by more withdrawals and separations, but because we may lose our moorings and become indifferent to the danger of false doctrine and practice by exposing ourselves to situations where our testimony is neither heard nor heeded.
As indicated, brethren have left us with the earnest testimony that we are guilty of living in sin because we still remain in the Synodical Conference and have continued to meet with the other members under fellowship conditions. Sharp personal accusations have at times arisen in the course of the discussions. Behind all this lies the basic idea that our Synod does not hold to its former position in matters of doctrine and practice. We maintain that we have not changed. Some of the doctrines which have been called into question in particular are the doctrines of justification and fellowship. With regard to the doctrine of justification, we maintain that our position today is precisely the same as that set forth in “The Doctrinal Position Of The Norwegian Synod,” a synodical address to the 1927 convention by the Rev. Christian Anderson. In the matter of fellowship our position is still that of the so-called “triple-U” (“Unity, Union and Unionism,” as adopted by our synod in 1936).
Another matter which needs our earnest attention is that of missions. Some students of church history are of the opinion that once a church sets out on a course of a vigorous and strong mission program, purity of doctrine and confessionalism suffer. From various examples they seek to show that churches which have launched strong mission endeavors have in a few years become liberal in doctrine and practice. Sad to say, it often seems that those who earnestly and faithfully contend for purity of doctrine and practice are often inclined to be lax and slow in preaching the Gospel to every creature. Now we can understand how people who have seen their former church bodies grow liberal in doctrine and practice, seemingly soon after laying great stress on mission work – we can understand how they will be wary and on their guard. Let true watchfulness and deep and earnest concern for presenting purity of doctrine and practice ever continue in our synod. Let it be one of the marks which distinguish us and brand us. But with this earnest desire for pure teaching and holy living let there be an equally fervent spirit in proclaiming the saving truths to all who sit in the darkness of unbelief. It is wrong for us to hide our light under a bushel. And yet we may have been guilty of doing this in the very neighborhood in which we live. Our Savior wants us to go out into the highways and hedges, shall we say streets and alleys, and compel them to come in. We must never talk and act as though a strong mission endeavor, when done in obedience to and under the guidance of Holy Writ, is a dangerous thing. Desire for purity of doctrine and an earnest zeal for missions ought properly to go hand in hand. We of all synods should be zealously doing both with all faithfulness. As an example of encouragement we point to the apostle Paul. No one contended with greater zeal for purity of doctrine than he, and yet he was the foremost of all the missionaries of our Savior. May we be filled with the spirit which imbued him and say, “Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel!”
We shall not here enter upon a lengthy discussion of methods of doing mission work other than to say, the pastor must be ringing doorbells himself and seeking out the lost, and at the same time train, instruct and urge all the members of the congregation, men, women and children, to invite and bring in the unchurched.
In the matter of Christian education we can do much more than we have done. We are facing a serious situation in our present mode of living in which there is a secularization of education. This means that the State is more and more taking over our children and so controlling their whole training that the parents and the church have little opportunity for training them in the one thing needful. We earnestly plead with our Christian parents to become fully informed as to what is going on, and to inquire into the training their children are receiving. The training of our children is most important since it usually is true that “as the twig is bent so grows the tree.” Our Christian day schools, our Bethany High School and College, are not luxuries. Are we really making use of our Christian schools as we ought? It ought not be necessary to sell our Christian schools to our Christian people. Surely our first thought and desire should be to make use of these schools for our children. Only when we are truly unable to use them should we make use of other schools.
And so, brethren, we have many things to discuss and plan, and much work to do. Therefore let us pray with all the more earnestness, “God, be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause His face to shine upon us; Selah. That Thy way may be known upon earth, Thy saving health among all nations. Let the people praise Thee, O God; let all the people praise Thee. O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for Thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. Selah. Let the people praise Thee, O God; let all the people praise Thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear Him.” Amen.
on behalf of M.E. Tweit by Vice President Julian G. Anderson