ESTEEMED MEMBERS AND FRIENDS OF OUR EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN SYNOD, GRACE be unto you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Praise the Lord, call upon his name, declare his doings among all the people, make mention that his name is exalted.” Isaiah 12,4. With these words the prophet Isaiah exhorts the people of his time to call upon the name of the Lord and to praise Him for his wonderful works. As we gather here for the 65th annual convention of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod we too offer up our heartfelt prayers and praises for the rich mercy and grace bestowed upon our Synod for these many years. That we should be permitted to exist as a church body, to grow, and to be of some service to the Lord for 65 years is surely a mark of His grace. In spite of our sins and failures He has mercifully preserved us and given us the opportunity to have a part in spreading the saving message of salvation through His Son. Let us truly have a spirit of humility and a spirit of thanksgiving as we meet together for our 65th year. We say with the Psalmist, “I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.” Ps. 69,30.
In human terms we sometimes think of age 65 as a time to prepare for retirement. But this shall not be the case with our beloved Synod. We have the Word of God and that Word revitalizes year after year. It ever gives new zeal and new strength for the carrying on of the Lord’s work. Isaiah again has written, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Is. 40,31. By God’s grace we pray that we may go on to serve Him day after day and year after year, and when we are dead and gone that our youth shall take our places and continue to “declare his doings among all the people.”
But as we go on into the future we need to ask ourselves certain questions and face up to various needs that have recently been made evident in our midst. Some of the matters that I am referring to are brought out in a study entitled: “Profiles of Lutherans — A Study of Selected Characteristics and Attitudes of Lutherans in the United States — 1980.” Eight Lutheran Church bodies participated in the study and approximately 20,000 Lutherans in the U.S.A. received questionnaires. After the results were received and tabulated, Dr. N.S. Tjernagel made an analysis of the figures as they pertain to the ELS. Some of the conclusions at which he arrived are very encouraging, such as the love of the people of the ELS for the Word of God and their faith in the providence of God. But there are some disturbing conclusions also. These have been reported in a series of articles in the Lutheran Sentinel but we think it is profitable to discuss them again especially these which deal with the very heart and center of the Gospel.
Let us ask ourselves then, as we assemble here for the 65th time, this question: WHAT ARE THE IMPORTANT NEEDS OF THE EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN SYNOD AS WE GO FORWARD IN THE SERVICE OF OUR LORD?
We need, first of all, continued thorough instruction on the central doctrine of the Christian religion, the Doctrine of Justification by grace alone through faith in Christ.
That there is a lack of understanding in this matter which has to do with the very salvation of souls is brought out in the questionnaire. The answers that people of our Synod gave indicate that perhaps 25% of our members have an inadequate grasp of the Doctrine of Justification. The test statement was made in the “Profiles” study, “The main emphasis of the Gospel is God’s rules for right living.” It is rather disturbing that 40% of the ELS responses agreed with the statement and 55% of all Lutherans surveyed. The statement is, of course, false. The Gospel is not “God’s rules for right living.” The Gospel is the promise of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
Another statement in the questionnaire was as follows: “Although there are many religions in the world most of them lead to the same God.” This false statement was agreed to by 30% of the ELS laity and 57% of all Lutheran laymen. This is sad and alarming because the Bible clearly teaches that there is only one way to salvation and that is through Jesus Christ alone. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4,12.
Finally we quote this statement: “God is satisfied if a person lives the best life he can.” To this erroneous statement 22% of ELS respondents agreed and 42% of all Lutheran respondents agreed. This also indicates that many people do not understand the difference between the Law and the Gospel. They fail to grasp that the Law demands absolute perfection and that God is not satisfied with the “best we can do.” He is a holy and righteous God who demands that we be holy also. “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” Lev. 19:2. Since we utterly fail to live up to God’s demands for holiness we stand condemned by the Law to eternal death and damnation. It is only through the Gospel that we can become righteous before God. Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer, took our place under the law of God and perfectly fulfilled it for us. He then suffered and died on the cross for the sins of the whole world. By this active and passive obedience he earned righteousness for us and this righteousness is ours by faith. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” II Cor. 5,19.
The answers given by the respondents in the poll seem to indicate that many fail to understand the clear teaching of Scripture that “a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Rom. 3,28.
What, then, does the ELS need as we go forward in our life together as a Synod and in our local congregations? We always have needed and we always will continue to need the clear preaching and teaching of the Law and the Gospel. In the Formula of Concord we read, “We believe and confess that these two doctrines must be urged constantly and diligently in the church of God until the end of the world, but with the due distinction, so that in the ministry of the New Testament the proclamation of the law and its threats will terrify the hearts of the unrepentant and bring them to a knowledge of their sins and to repentance. . . “ while the “proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ will once more comfort and strengthen them with the assurance that if they believe the Gospel God forgives them all their sins through Christ, accepts them for his sake as God’s children, and out of pure grace, without any merit of their own, justifies and saves them.” FC V.
But will people not become tired of hearing the “same old thing” Sunday after Sunday? Dr. U. V. Koren writes about this in an address to the clergy of the old Synod. He says he has heard complaints that “from the pulpit nothing else is to be heard but the same thing over and over again Sunday after Sunday, causing only boredom and drowsiness in the listeners. When I asked what it was which was so constantly reiterated, the answer was: ‘We are all sinners and we are saved by faith in Christ.’ “ Koren then admonishes the hearers that “these old truths even though repeated constantly ever become new to us,” and he admonishes the ministers saying, “Above all will this be the case if the minister—with the proper concern for the congregation’s present conditions and needs—brings a sermon which is really the fruit of his meditation upon the particular truths which it is God’s will that he proclaim.” (Truth Unchanged, Unchanging p. 224)
We pray that a continued and renewed emphasis upon the proper preaching of the Law and Gospel will help all of our hearers to understand and appreciate more fully the blessed doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith.
As we evaluate and examine the important needs of our Synod we feel the necessity of emphasizing the fact that we must be a “mission-minded” synod. The reason that the Lord has preserved us as a synod and helped us to retain the true doctrines of His Word is that we might spread His saving message to others. Dr. C. F. W. Walther in his address to the first meeting of the Synodical Conference, which took place 110 years ago, chose as his theme: “How Important It is That Beyond All Else We Make the Saving of Souls the End and Aim of our Joint Work in Christ’s Kingdom.” In his address Walther makes it very clear that such an aim must not be motivated by any earthly, self serving goals. He says, “In the first place, we would not make it our aim to become an ever larger organization that, as people say, commands attention, and to erect an imposing, complex, though hollow, structure. Still less would we apply ungodly means to realize such an aim. Much rather, we would gladly be small, yes, nothing. And as we seek only to have it said of us as it was said of the apostolic church: ‘The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.’ Acts 2,47, we would despair of all our own skill, wisdom, and ability and would forego all our own honor in connection with our work.” In all of our work as a synod we do well to heed Walther’s advice that our attitude be that of John the Baptist who said it so succinctly, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30, and the attitude of St. Paul who wrote, “Though I am free of all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” I Cor. 9:19,22.
Therefore, in the right spirit, and strictly on account of the fact that we desire nothing more than the salvation of dying sinners, we need to be a “mission-minded” church body. The “Profiles of Lutherans” study that we have quoted indicates that many in our body feel that we are not as strong as we should be as a mission oriented group. And it is true that we are hampered by a lack of resources in this inflationary age. What shall we do then? Let us renew our commitment to the spreading of the Gospel at this convention and then go home to continue to inspire the members of the ELS with a zeal for souls. The theme of this convention is, as you know, “Show Forth His Salvation,” Ps. 96:2. The essay will instruct and inspire us to this end. The daily devotions will remind us that we are all to be witnesses to the great salvation Christ has won for us. And the commissioning of another foreign worker will focus our attention on the work in Peru.
It will take more than resolutions, however, to show our full commitment to this task. Careful planning for our work both in home and foreign missions is necessary. Let each local congregation consider itself an important part of our “team” so that we have a constant awareness that we are working together to carry out the Lord’s Great Commission. Belonging to a synod means that we want to join together with other congregations to do the Lord’s work according to an agreed upon plan. May the Lord bless our every effort on the local and synodical level to stir up our hearts for the cause of missions.
One could continue at great length to describe the important needs and tasks that confront our church body. But permit me to call attention to one factor that is staring all of society and the whole church squarely in the face, and that is the plight of marriage and the family. We are now at the point where nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. A large percentage of children are raised in single parent homes. There have been so many changes in the morals and values in our society that the home has become the number one victim. And where the home is weak or fractured there the children often suffer likewise. How can the church help? How can we support the family in its battle for survival? The future of the church is, humanly speaking, closely tied to family life. It is here that children receive their training and are influenced to continue in the Christian faith when they grow up. Scripture speaks very clearly about this matter. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Prov. 22:6. “And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down and when thou risest up.” Deut. 6:6-7.
There is no other answer to the problem of the family other than patient instruction in the Word of God. Here we should make use of every available opportunity to instruct about marriage, child rearing, family life, and Christian living at every age level. The Word is the only answer. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Ps. 119:105. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.” Ps. 119:9. Walther again urges the pastor to instruct in these matters in his sermons. He writes that something is lacking when “a pastor insistently and continuously preaches about repentance and faith, but does not preach about the necessity of good works, Christian virtues, and sanctification. A thorough, graphic and quiet description of a truly Christian life and attitude will accomplish more than merely threatening and warning assertions of its necessity.” (Truth Unchanged, Unchanging p. 226)
In the matter of helping families, children, and young people our Christian Day Schools and our Bethany College playa vital role. A full time Christian education is the best means of training young people to be faithful husbands, wives and parents, and loyal members of Christ’s church throughout their lives. Of great importance also are Sunday schools, family devotions, Bible classes, etc.
We call this matter to the attention of the Synod because we feel that the breakdown of the family is one of the most serious problems that effects the church today. May every pastor and every congregation have due concern for the strengthening of this primary institution of the Lord.
As we are reminded of all these needs which confront the church on every level we are tempted to say, “Who is sufficient for these things?” II Cor. 2:16. But there is One who is able and willing to help. He holds forth his outstretched arms and says, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Matt. 28:20. He has not commanded us to achieve certain results, or to solve all the problems of this world, or to have the answer to every ill. No, He has only commanded us to be faithful in the use of the Word and Sacraments so that His Holy Spirit is given the opportunity to work in the hearts of men.
“Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.” (Lutheran Hymnary No. 340)
May the Lord therefore bless this 65th annual convention of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod so that all that we do here may bring glory to His name and blessing to many souls.
In Jesus Name. Amen.
George M. Orvick, president