June 17, 1974
Esteemed Members and Friends of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As we gather for the 57th Annual Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod let us pause for a moment to be reminded of some basic truths concerning the purpose and work of a Christian congregation or a group of congregations such as our Synod. In the Holy Scriptures there are an abundance of passages that make it clear to us that our purpose and work centers around the use of the Means of Grace, the Word of God and the Sacraments. The great commission of our Lord, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Matt. 28, 19, tells us that we are to preach the Word, teach the Word and also to baptize. We are also to administer the Sacrament of Holy Communion in accordance with Christ’s command “This do ye … in remembrance of me.” I Cor. 11,25. Our Explanation of the Catechism brings out what our purpose and work is under the question: “For what purpose do Christians unite?” “Christians unite in order to preserve the means of grace pure and unadulterated, to use these means of grace for their own edification, to show the unity that exists among them, and to join hands in bringing the good news of salvation in Christ to others.” (Catechism, Question No. 247)
The reason why this is our purpose is because of what the means of grace are, namely the instruments by which God chose to confer upon us the remission of sins merited by Christ and to work faith or strengthen such faith in our hearts. The means of grace are not to be considered apart from the central doctrine of objective justification. On account of the redemptive work of Christ God has declared the whole world to be righteous. The sins of every last man, woman and child from Adam and Eve down to the very last one born before the end of all things were paid for by that one great sacrificial atonement made on the cross of Calvary. II Cor. 5,19. Now this wonderful and complete forgiveness of sins earned for us by Christ is offered, given and sealed to us through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments.
The first means of grace is the Word of the Gospel. The Reformation principle is stated in the Smalcald Articles, “God gives no one his Spirit or grace except through or with the external Word.” SA, Part III, Art. VIII. The Gospel is a means of grace not just because it tells of God’s willingness to forgive our sins, but that it actually conveys and imparts that forgiveness to us. The Gospel has this power to impart forgiveness to men whether it be preached (Mark 16,15–16), or printed (John 20,31), or expressed as formal absolution (John 20,28), or pondered in the heart (Rom. 10,8). Our purpose and work then as individual congregations or as a synod is to see to it that this Word of grace is proclaimed and read at home and away from home. The Formula of Concord speaks thus, “And by this means, and in no other way, namely through His Holy Word, when men hear it preached, or read it, and the holy Sacraments, when they are used according to His Word, God desires to call men to eternal salvation, draw them to Himself and convert, regenerate, and sanctify them.” FC, Solid Declaration, II, 50,53.
The sacraments of Holy Baptism and Communion are also means of grace because they are external acts to which God has attached the promise of the forgiveness of sins. In the Sacraments God is the One Who acts. God acts, man receives. God offers His gifts, man receives them. Regarding Baptism, Scripture says expressly that Baptism “washes away sin” and gives the “remission of sins.” Acts 2,38; 22,16.
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art. XXIV, 18, speaks thus concerning the sacrament of Holy Baptism. “A sacrament is a ceremony or act in which God offers us the content of the promise joined to the ceremony; thus Baptism is not an act which we offer to God but one in which God baptizes us through a minister functioning in his place. Here God offers and presents the forgiveness of sins according to the promise (Mark 16,16) “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.”
The Holy Baptism which we have received benefited us not only when it was administered and we were given the forgiveness of sins and regenerated. On the contrary the benefits of baptism are ours throughout our earthly life and forward to the day of resurrection in eternity. Each day the Christian can comfort himself with the fact that in Baptism he was made a child of God and received the forgiveness of his sins. Each day the Christian can use his baptism to help him drown the old Adam with all sin and evil lusts.
In our Catechism we confess with Luther that “without the Word of God the water is simply water and no baptism.” Nevertheless the catechisms lay strong emphasis on the necessity of the eternal sign, namely the water, because of God’s command to use water. In the Large Catechism the water has been called a “divine, heavenly, holy and blessed water,” which has been imbued by the Word with God’s life-giving power. The reason for this emphasis was to guard against the “enthusiastic” view of Baptism which made light both of the external sign and Baptism as the work of God. It is, of course, the creative power of the Word of God which gives the water its sacramental character. “From the Word it derives its nature as a sacrament, as St. Augustine taught, “Accedatverbum ad elementum et fit saramentum.” (Large Catechism)
It is true, as Fagerberg has written “Reformation theology is baptism theology.” The fathers of the Reformation laid great stress upon the importance of Holy Baptism.
He that believes and is baptized
Shall see the Lord’s salvation;
Baptized into the death of Christ,
He is a new creation;
Through Christ’s redemption he shall stand
Among the glorious heavenly band
Of every tribe and nation.
The Lutheran Hymnary #141
The Holy Supper instituted by our Lord is also one of the “signs and testimonies of God s will towards us, through which he moves men’s hearts to believe.” (Ap. XIII,1) We confess with Luther, “The Sacrament of the Altar is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.” We receive this true body and blood of Christ “for the remission of sins.” Luke 22,19 and Matt. 26,26-28. The Augsburg Confession puts it in these words, “That the body and blood of Christ are truly present and are distributed to those who eat in the Supper of the Lord.” (AC X) The Smacald Articles make it even more definite in these words, “We hold that the bread and wine in the Supper are the true body and blood of Christ and that these are given and received not only by godly but also by wicked Christians.” (SA III VI 9) It is the creative power of the Word of God which effects this real presence. The Formula of Concord tells us, “No man’s word or work, be it the merit or the speaking of the minister, be it the eating and drinking or the faith of the communicants, can effect the true presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Supper. This is to be ascribed only to the almighty power of God and the Word, institution, and ordinance of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the truthful and almighty Words of Jesus Christ which he spoke in the first institution were not only efficacious in the first Supper but they still retain their validity and efficacious power in all places where the Supper is observed according to Christ’s institution and where his words are used, and the body and blood of Christ are truly present, distributed, and received by the virtue and potency of the same words which Christ spoke in the first Supper. For wherever we observe his institution and speak his words over the bread and cup and distribute the blessed bread and cup, Christ himself is still active through the spoken words by the virtue of the first institution which he wants to be repeated.” Formula of Concord, Art. VII.
Whenever we have thus partaken of the Lord’s Supper we can joyfully sing with Kingo:
O Jesus blessed Lord, to Thee
My heartfelt thanks for ever be,
Who hast so lovingly bestowed
On me Thy body and Thy blood.
Break forth, my soul, for joy, and say:
What wealth is come to me this day!
My Saviour dwells within me now:
How blest am I! How good art Thou!
The Lutheran Hymnary, #155
Depending upon how one defines a sacrament, absolution may also be designated thus. In so far as it is an act of worship which is commanded by God and furnished with a promise of grace, it may be called a sacrament. The Apology does this when it says, “The genuine sacraments, therefore, are Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and absolution, for these rites have the commandment of God and the promise of grace, which is the heart of the New Testament.” Ap. XIII,4. In absolution God Himself speaks the words of forgiveness to us through the instrumentality of the human voice and therefore bestows His pardoning grace upon us. “We must believe the voice of the one absolving no less than we would believe a voice coming from heaven.” Ap. XII, 40. Of course, absolution does not have the visible elements and therefore in the narrower sense we do not usually call it a sacrament. But what a comforting institution God has given us when He established absolution, and gave to men the power to forgive sins.
We have thus spoken briefly of the Means of Grace. It is our task as a church body first of all to use these means for our own edification. Here then we are pleased to report on information provided by the Secretary that in the year 1973 these Means of Grace were used as follows: 324 children were baptized, 24 adults were baptized, 55,367 communions were given, 5,788 services were held where the Word was preached. And it was heard by an average of 7,904 per Sunday. The 1972 figures were 390 children baptized, 18 adults baptized, 49,421 communions given, and an average of 7,359 heard the Word every Sunday. The Word was also taught in Sunday Schools and Day Schools and we hope that it was used in many homes. This does not include the foreign mission fields where the Means of Grace were also brought to many souls.
It is our duty also as congregations and as a church body to preserve the Means of Grace pure and unadulterated. There have always been many who have denied that God works through external means. At Luther’s time Zwingli vehemently denied that the Spirit needs any means through which to bestow His grace. The synergists of yesterday and today deny the power of the Means of Grace when they attribute to man the ability to come to faith in Christ of His own accord, or at least to cooperate in his conversion. Luther had much to say about the “enthusiasts” of his day who thought the Holy Spirit came to people apart from the Word and Sacraments. As he says, he would not follow them if “they had devoured the Holy Spirit, feathers and all, and were spiritualized through and through.” But rather says Luther in the Smalcald Articles, “And in those things which concern the spoken outward Word, we must firmly hold that God grants His Spirit or grace to no one, except through and with the preceding outward Word, in order that we may thus be protected against the enthusiasts, i.e. spirits who boast that they have the Spirit without and before the Word … All this is the old devil and old serpent, who also converted Adam and Eve into enthusiasts …” Smalcald Articles, Part III, Art. VIII, 3–10.
Today also we must beware of those who would teach us to look for a “baptism of the Spirit” which is something beyond and superior to our baptism of water and the Word. We also need to be on constant guard lest we attribute to natural man any ability “to make a decision for Christ” or a “commitment to Christ” of his own free will, or even to cooperate in that decision, for that is something that can be worked only by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace.
The tragic development of getting away from the true doctrine of the Means of Grace is that man’s certainty of salvation is gradually shifted from his reliance upon the objective promises of God over to the subjective “experience of the Spirit” in man’s heart. Not only does this utterly destroy man’s assurance of salvation and leave the troubled sinner facing once again that monster of uncertainty, but it also attacks the very doctrine of justification itself, because it makes salvation depend upon something within us rather than upon the vicarious atonement of Christ.
Let us then watch and pray that we may ever continue to preserve the Means of Grace pure and unadulterated.
Finally, we are “to join hands in bringing the good news of salvation in Christ to others.” Let us be about this wonderful work. Since the Holy Spirit works faith and brings people to Christ only through the Word and Sacraments it becomes our most serious responsibility to bring these Means of Grace to dying sinners. The fields are white unto harvest. South and Central America are such vast fields we should do all that we can to carryon the work we have begun there and expand it if possible. We need to establish more home missions. Florida, Colorado, Arizona and many other places are fields that need to be investigated and mission stations opened there. God has richly blessed our Synod. Our people are willing. We are making great strides in the area of stewardship. Let us therefore firmly resolve at this convention to bring those wonderful means of grace to more and more of Christ’s blood bought souls.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen
George M. Orvick