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.
We gather this week for the 70th Annual Convention of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The first convention was held on these same dates—June 14–19—in the year 1918. We meet under comfortable, air-conditioned, spacious and attractive surroundings on the lovely campus of Bethany Lutheran College. Our forefathers met for the most part in a tent which had been set up one mile north of the Lime Creek Church just over the Iowa-Minnesota border. Since they were not allowed by law to speak any language but English in the state of Iowa, they found it necessary to cross the state line into Minnesota in order to carry on their Norwegian services and sessions. We meet this week as a church body that has become well established over the years and has stood the test of time. They met as a small but determined group that faced the enormous task of organizing a new church body with very little outward strength.
But while the circumstances of that first meeting in 1918 are vastly different from those under which we gather this week, the fact remains that our objectives and our convictions remain the same.
What are these objectives and goals which our Synod seeks to accomplish as we complete our 70th year? Let me set forth some unchangeable truths which the church must ever hold fast.
We are here to proclaim the EVERLASTING GOSPEL. In the wondrous Revelation received by the Apostle John we are told that John saw “Another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting Gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” (Revelation 14:6) The crying need for the proclamation of this Gospel will never change. The reason it will not change is that human nature never changes. Article II of the Augsburg Confession sums it up in these words, “It is also taught among us that since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin. That is, all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mother’s wombs and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God. Moreover, this inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.” The sin which we see in the world around us is not new. Adultery, fornication, homosexuality, dishonesty, slander, and all the other evils may receive more public attention, they may be practiced more openly and shamelessly but they have been in man’s heart ever since the fall. When the Apostle Paul wrote about “men burning in their lust towards one another” (Romans 1:27) and “women changing the natural use into that which is against nature” (Romans 1:26) he could very well have been writing in today’s newspaper. But instead of approval of such “alternate life styles,” as we see today, the Apostle issues a harsh condemnation of those who practice such vices.
But in the midst of this fallen and corrupt world there has come a message. It is a message of hope. It is a message of salvation. It is the EVERLASTING GOSPEL. Again the Augsburg Confession sums it up in these words, “It is also taught among us that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness.” (A.C. Art. IV)
Let it ever be the mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod to spread this message far and wide and to teach it diligently unto God’s people. There are countless souls wandering about in the wilderness of sin on the way to eternal perdition who desperately need to hear the saving message. There are troubled souls who have been scarred and injured by Satan’s hosts and who are living lives of spiritual pain and misery. They need our help. There are souls who are deeply concerned about the liberal direction which their church bodies have taken and are searching for a place where the truth is proclaimed and God’s Word is upheld in its truth and purity. They are looking for direction and leadership.
May our Evangelical Lutheran Synod ever be filled with a desire to do mission work. How encouraging it is that our “Partner’s in the Gospel” offering is enabling us to begin reaching out to more and more souls. Even as there is “joy amongst the angels of heaven over one sinner that repenteth” so there ought to be real joy in our hearts as we see the establishment of new congregations.
And how glad we are to welcome into our midst those congregations who are searching for a church body which continues to adhere to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. Again this year we receive several pastors and congregations who want to continue in the truth.
A SECOND OBJECTIVE of our Synod must be to hold fast to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and inerrant Word of God. Over the past several decades there has arisen an increasing attack upon the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. Way back in the 1930’s so-called Lutheran theologians were already attacking the doctrine of verbal inspiration. Dr. E.H. Delk wrote in the Lutheran Church Quarterly in 1936 that those who hold to verbal inspiration “think in the forms and categories of an age long past for the modem mind. Their position is outmoded.” (Lutheran Church Quarterly, 1936, p. 334) Today the situation has gotten increasingly worse. The new Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will be formed on January 1, 1988, by the merger of the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. Judged in the light of the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions the theology of this church body can no longer be called Lutheran. The doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture is denied and ridiculed by the leading theologians of the new body. The newly elected bishop, Dr. Herbert W. Chilstrom. was asked if he would advocate employment of theologians who affirm the inerrancy of Scripture in seminaries or colleges of the new body. He answered. “It is well and good for our seminary students to be exposed to the fact that there are some who hold this opinion. But it is quite another thing to advocate this view in our seminaries. It would be out of character with any of the churches which are identifying with the new Lutheran Church.” (letter to Robert Jensen, MD, Feb. 27, 1985, quoted in David R. Barnhart’s “The Church’s Desperate Need for Revival.” 1986, p. 86) The method of interpreting the scriptures which is employed today by the liberal seminaries is known as the Historical-Critical method. With such an approach the Bible is viewed from the standpoint of human reason. It is judged critically as any other book. Those elements which deal with supernatural events are conveniently explained away and are regarded as mythological.
Dr. Carl E. Braaten, a professor at the LCA’s Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and Dr. Robert W. Jenson, professor of the LCA’s Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania are the authors of a two-volume work entitled “Christian Dogmatics.” (Published in 1984) In these volumes not only is the doctrine of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture clearly denied, but the very fundamentals of our faith, such as are contained in the Apostle’s Creed, are called into question. Thus Braaten can write in Christian Dogmatics that:
The history and phenomenology of the religions have called our attention to the mythic character of the incarnation. The notion of the preexistent Son of God becoming a human being in the womb of a virgin and then returning to his heavenly home is bound up with a mythological picture of the world that clashes with our modem scientific world view. (Vol. I, p. 527)
In like manner the doctrines of the Trinity, the Two Natures in Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and the very atonement itself are explained in a way that places them in the realm of myths rather than historical facts and eternal truths.
The sad thing about all of this is that most of the lay people of the new body are not aware of what is being taught. They are deceived by the fact that the new body still uses for the most part, the same language in their confessions of faith as has been common to Lutheranism. But the loopholes are such that theologians can teach whatever form of modem religious liberalism suits their fancy.
Pastors and lay people of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod should be fully informed concerning the terrible denial of Christian truth that is taking place. We should be ready and willing to testify to our concerned neighbors about what is really happening in the so-called new Lutheran Church. Heroic efforts, such as Lutherans Informed for Truth, are no doubt very influential in testifying to the errors, but each and everyone of us needs to be aware of the crisis that is taking place in Lutheranism. The prospect of future union with the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed Churches is certainly a possibility and a goal for many in leadership positions in the new church. One wonders what the Great Reformer, Martin Luther, would say if he could view the state of Lutheranism today.
A THIRD OBJECTIVE of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod ought to be that we remain truly “evangelical.”
While it is our duty to expose false doctrine and to, warn against it, yet we should remember that the old evil foe will continue to tempt us also to walk in paths that are not truly scriptural. There are dangers that beset orthodox churches. as well. One of these is that of sinful pride in our orthodoxy. It is only by God’s grace that we walk in the truth and not by reason of our own virtues. Let us exercise caution so that we do not lose the true spirit of the Gospel and fall into legalism. Let us also beware that we do not develop a contentious spirit which delights in controversy and thus brings ruin to the unity of the church. The Apostle Paul writes to the Philippians. “Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:2–3) In order to remain truly orthodox and truly evangelical we need to remember our own weaknesses and frailties. We are after all “frail children of dust” like all others in this world and have nothing in which to glory except the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
How will a truly evangelical spirit manifest itself in a church body? It will be demonstrated first of all in what is preached and taught from our pulpits. Here the pastor, after he has effectively preached the Law, will not just talk about the Gospel, but will apply its rich comfort to the lives of his hearers. He will assure troubled souls that “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18) He will encourage those who are beset by trials, doubts, temptations and sorrows with the gracious promise, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee; be not dismayed; for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea I will help thee; yea I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10) He will comfort each one with the message that there is a glorious life to come, that when this life is over we shall hear the voice of Jesus saying, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34). His Gospel presentations will have a triumphant ring as he proclaims with the Apostle, “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) This will be the chief characteristic of an evangelical spirit in a church body.
Few have understood real Law and Gospel preaching better than the sainted Dr. C. F. W. Walther. This year we are especially mindful of the rich legacy which he left to the Lutheran Church as we observe the 100th anniversary of his death. In order to “catch the spirit” of a true minister of the Gospel we can do no better than to study his well known book on the ‘’Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel” and to read his marvelous sermons.
The same evangelical spirit will demonstrate itself in congregational life. People will be motivated by the love of Christ. to love each other. They will delight in doing the Lord’s work because they have seen that He first loved them. Their stewardship will be governed by the Gospel and their hearts and pocketbooks will be opened, not by the threats of the Law but because they love a Saviour Who gave His life for them.
An evangelical spirit will manifest itself in our synodical lives. We will grow in our love and understanding of each other. We will recognize more fully that we are partners in the Gospel, and that the work we do together in the Synod is the same work we do at home. It is the Lord’s work of saving souls and it is the most glorious in the world! When we attend conventions it will be for the purpose of being enriched and strengthened by the fellowship which we experience. We will not look upon them as a political arena where opposing factions plot and plan as to how to get their way. No, together we will restate our doctrine. Together we will plan our work. Together we will praise and glorify our gracious God. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)
This convention has been designated as one in which we will give special thought, study and prayer on behalf of our children and youth. How timely and necessary is such consideration. While the world has always been hostile to children, it seems that today the little ones and the youth are subject to more stress and temptation than ever before. How they need to learn to know their Saviour Who said “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God.” (Mark. 10:14) Christian children and young people long for the assurance that Jesus is their Saviour, friend and companion throughout life. Growing up in today’s world is not easy. Broken homes, the drug scene, television violence, humanistic education are all forces which impact upon the lives of our youth. We as a church body need to be fully committed to the Christian training and tender, loving care of those little ones of whom Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” How blessed we are to have a Christian college like Bethany where our youth may learn the one thing needful. The brave venture of faith undertaken by our fathers 60 years ago has proven to be an invaluable instrument in shaping the lives of the hundreds of young people who have been privileged to attend our school. Providing a thorough Christian education on every level should ever be one of the goals and objectives of our Synod today as it was with our fathers.
As we meet together for the 70th time may we give praise, honor and glory to our blessed Saviour Who has redeemed us to God by His blood and has made us heirs of eternal salvation. And may the dedication and determination of those brave souls who met for the first time in the tent at Lime Creek be an inspiration to us all as we go about our work. The words of the hymnwriter describe the riches of our lot in life as God’s dear people.
There is a safe and secret place
Beneath the wings divine,
Reserved for all the heirs of grace;
O be that refuge mine!
The least and feeblest there may bide
Uninjured and unawed;
While thousands fall on every side,
He rests secure in God.
He feeds in pastures large and fair
Of love and truth divine;
O child of God, O glory’s heir,
How rich a lot is thine!
A hand almighty to defend,
An ear for every call,
An honored life, a peaceful end,
And heaven to crown it all!
(Lutheran Hymnary, No. 70)
George M. Orvick, president