DEAR MEMBERS AND FRIENDS OF OUR EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN SYNOD: GRACE AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR FATHER AND FROM THE LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. AMEN.
Our 75th anniversary has come and gone. It is now part of our history. We expressed our gratitude to the Lord for all His loving kindness throughout those years. He blessed that little group of congregations and pastors that gathered at Lime Creek in 1918. He preserved us through many a difficult crisis. He kept us faithful to the truth of His Word and caused our work to prosper. We have traced His merciful providence from the Oaks at Koshkonong to the humble reorganization at Lime Creek, to the present day stability which we continue to enjoy. But now it is time to turn our thoughts to the future. What is our mission in the next quarter of a century in which we are now living and working? What kind of conditions and attitudes are the youth of our day facing? What are the problems that confront pastors, teachers and congregations as they labor faithfully with Word and Sacrament to keep people in the faith, to preserve family life, to help those who have fallen prey to the old evil foe? What shall the church do in these last days to carry out the will of our Lord and Savior?
Permit me therefore on the occasion of the 77th annual meeting of our beloved synod to address these issues under the three headings: WATCH DILIGENTLY, WORK TIRELESSLY, and WORSHIP JOYOUSLY.
If there is any admonition that is repeated again and again in the Holy Scriptures it is that we are to be “watchful.” In both the Old and New Testaments the Lord urges his people to be aware of what is going on around them. All pastors are familiar with the words of the Prophet Ezekiel, “So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.” (Ezekiel 33,7) But the admonition to be watchful is addressed to all Christians. The Lord Jesus tells us, “Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching.” (Luke 12,37) The Apostle Paul likewise encourages us, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men.” (I Cor. 16,13) And again, in the Revelation of St. John we read, “Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain.” (Rev. 3,2)
What, then shall we be watching for? The answer: anything that threatens to endanger our souls or those of our children, or those of our congregation. We need to be aware of the signs of the times. The Apostle Paw tells us what we can expect in these last days. He writes, “In the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce breakers, false. accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.” (II Tim. 3,1–4)
Even the secular world is beginning to become alarmed over the steady decline in morality in our country. The increase in crime, drug abuse, rape, murder, divorce, drive-by shootings, etc. has finally begun to make an impression upon the public that we face a major moral crisis. The cover of the June 13th issue of Newsweek states in bold letters, “VIRTUE: THE CRUSADE AGAINST AMERICAS MORAL DECLINE.” The article states, “The fraying of America’s social fabric—once considered the preoccupation of the cultural right—has become a national obsession.” The sad factor in all of this is that many of our country’s leaders are setting such terrible examples of morality in their own lives. People in high places in the government have by their own misdeeds contributed to the decline. Open advocates of abortion occupy powerful positions that open the door for the continued slaughter of the defenseless, unborn children. Dishonest crooks in congress bleed the nation’s treasury. And a wide range of radical rationalists rally one segment of the populace against another, women against men, homosexuals. against straights, children against parents and teachers, and, says Newsweek, “I remember Mama has been replaced by Madonna music videos.”
On the world scene the cold war and the threat of nuclear holocaust has been replaced by bloody ethnic conflicts across the entire globe. The role of our country has become even more difficult to determine in this age when freedom has triumphed over the slavery of communism. As we have celebrated the 50th anniversary of D-Day we are reminded of the deep debt of gratitude that we owe to those brave men who landed at Normandy and who fought on other battlefields around the world for the cause of freedom.
As Christians, however, we should not be surprised as we see the world in disarray and the forces of evil seemingly gaining ground. The Lord has warned us very clearly in the Holy Scriptures that such days shall come. The Lord Jesus told His disciples that “nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places.” (Matt. 24,7) And the Savior continues, “As the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Matt. 24,37)
What are all of these phenomena that we see being fulfilled every day all around us? We call them the “signs of the times.” They are reminders that the world we live in is going to come to an end. All of these things happen because our first parents fell into sin and rebelled against God. That fall resulted in the corruption of every human heart and all of the decadence of this world today has come to pass on account of that one reason: Sin. Yes, these events in today’s world are strong reminders that the end of this world cannot be far off. The Lord Jesus tells us, “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the good man of the house had known in what a watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh.” (Matt. 24,42–44)
Another sign of the approaching day of judgment can be seen in Satan’s attacks upon the very foundation of our faith, the Word of God. Again the Lord says, “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” (Matt. 24,11) Sad to say, we see the Holy Scriptures being undermined continually even in Lutheran churches. When the merger of three Lutheran church bodies took place in 1988 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was formed. Some within that body realized that their seminaries openly deny that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God and proclaim teachings that subvert the fundamental articles of our faith. Some therefore left ELCA and formed a new body known as the American Association of Lutheran Churches. But this new body, which has gained a substantial number of congregations, has made room for charismatics, millennialists, and synergists demonstrating the old ALC principle that there “exists an area where there is a wholesome and allowable latitude or theological opinion.” The new body is now in the process of trying to establish its own seminary. A letter from a concerned leader in the AALC asks my opinion of the view of the historicity of Jonah held by a prospective seminary professor. Among other things the professor wrote, “should we necessarily insist upon confessing the historicity of Jonah? I have no difficulty believing that the story could be historical but I do have difficulty insisting that it must be confessed as historical because Scripture teaches it to be so.” He goes on to write, “When we say that the Bible is accurate in all that it reports relative to history we mean something other than ‘literal verbal accuracy.’ Rather, we mean something that could perhaps be designated as ‘accuracy of the intended message.’” My reply to the inquiring pastor was: “The views expressed by your enclosed material indicate that the person holding such views is clearly committed to the historical critical approach to the scriptures. He questions the historicity of Jonah which our Lord himself spoke of as being historical fact and comes with the old liberal interpretation that the Bible need not be taken literally but rather one should search for its ‘intended message.’ Such an approach to scripture results in the undermining of the entire foundation of Christian doctrine. A person holding such views would not be allowed to teach in our seminary nor be a member of our clergy.”
This is just one example of how Satan never gives up. A group may try to form a new church body faithful to the Word but if the old errors are not totally ruled out from the very beginning they are at first tolerated, then embraced and then confessed.
But what about our own church body? Does the fact that the Lord has preserved us for the first seventy-five years of our history assure us that our future is secure and that we have no need to be watchful. Indeed not! To warn us against a false sense of security the Apostle Paul comes with the terse admonition, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” (I Cor. 10,12) If the old evil foe does not gain entrance by one door he keeps on trying to find another. Therefore the Bible tells us, “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph. 6,11) It would indeed be tragic if after 75 years of blessing the devil could gain a foothold in our midst and sow the seeds of destruction. We need to WATCH DILIGENTLY.
In the second place let us consider that we need encouragement to
In the years which lie ahead our Evangelical Lutheran Synod has much work to do. We have been given unprecedented opportunities to reach out with the Gospel in a way that has not been possible before. In order to maximize these opportunities we need to have a mind-set that is committed to working tirelessly on every front.
Let us be reminded, first of all, about. what Scripture says concerning such a commitment. There is no greater example of loving service than that of our Lord and Savior. As a youth He said, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2,49) Again He said, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” (John 9,4) We know that He labored unceasingly in preaching and teaching. He was surrounded often by multitudes of people to the extent that He had to seek solitude and rest. His disciples could not keep up with Him, but often fell asleep. His greatest work was, of course, that He bore the cross for us and went to Calvary where He shed his blood and gave His life for our sins.
The Apostles also were committed to hard work. In his address to the elders at Ephesus Paul comments that “for the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” (Acts 20,31) To the Corinthians he wrote, “I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (I Cor. 15, 10)
The Holy Scriptures urge us to be committed to faithful labor in the Lord’s vineyard. Jesus said, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he should send forth labourers into his harvest.” (Luke 10,1) Paul writes to the Galatians, “Let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Gal. 6,9) And again to the Corinthians, “Be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Cor. 15,58)
In his book, A City Set On A Hill, the sainted Theodore Aaberg refers to how the Israelites got busy and rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem. He quotes Nehemiah 4,6 which records, “So we built the wall: and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.” He then goes on to show how our forefathers at Lime Creek were thus minded. He writes, “they turned in quiet faith to the tasks at hand and accomplished a great deal. The “hearts of Oak,” you see, also “had a mind to work.” A City Set On A Hill, p. 82.
In an address to the members of his congregation Dr. C.F.W. Walther becomes quite blunt in his criticism of those who want to be Christians but prefer to leave the work of the congregation to others. We quote, “Many people whom we hesitate to class with unbelievers are not as eager to do good as they should be. They do not pray without ceasing as they should; they do not read and hear the Word of God as faithfully as they should; they attend voters’ meetings only at great intervals, letting others worry and work while they remain at home and take it easy; they contribute less toward charity and the upbuilding and spreading of the kingdom of God than they should and could; they hesitate when asked to perform some labor of love; they are more unwilling still to accept some office within the congregation which involves a sacrifice of time and energy, happy to see that others are willing to perform such kind acts and accept such offices and marveling at their good-naturedness. They do not exactly deny Christ, but they are careful not to confess Him where they can expect only mockery, shame, and disdain. They rejoice when they see that people are converted, but they themselves do little or nothing to lead the erring to the way of truth.” Church Membership, C.F.W. Walther, pp. 26–27.
We of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod need to rededicate ourselves to labor tirelessly for the work of the Lord in the years which lie ahead. We see how our Bethany Lutheran College has been so richly blessed by the Lord in being able to construct wonderful new facilities. But what good will the new buildings do if the institution is not overflowing with students. From all reports it appears that the enrollment will continue to grow. We, however, as pastors and members of the synod, need to tell our young people of the great advantages that can be found in attending Bethany. If we are to help strengthen the faith of our youth in the “one thing needful” what better way is there than to encourage them to attend our Christian school. This will not happen by itself. We need to be involved in promoting the cause of Christian education on every level, from kindergarten through college. Last year we cited the fact that of the 32 students who attended Luther College in the first year of its existence, 16 of them came from the parish of Pastor J.A. Otteson. Let us follow his example.
At the present time we have an unprecedented opportunity to open more new missions. Precious souls may therefore be won for Christ. Funds are available through our Partners in the Gospel offering and in the generous offer to match our synod’s entire budget. We should take full advantage of this by increasing our support for the work of the Lord in the synod. There. is a danger that we could begin to rely on outside support for our work and cut back on our own personal giving. This would surely be harmful to our own stewardship, would deprive us of the joy of giving and would defeat the very purpose of the matching program. We need to labor and pray for Home and Foreign missions that God’s Kingdom may be brought to those who do not know the Lord.
What an opportunity we now have to expand our seminary and synod office facilities. More and more students from other synods are becoming interested in our Bethany Seminary. Through the matching program we can begin construction of the much needed expansion in the next year, 1995, and thus have a fitting celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of our seminary in 1996.
The “His Truth For Our Youth” offering is a real blessing for work amongst children and youth in our synod. Parents and leaders need to work hard in the congregations to minister to this age group. They live in dangerous times. Only the Word of God can provide a light to their feet and a lamp unto their path.
Our pastors and professors need to continue working diligently in their callings, ministering to precious souls under their care. A small congregation is just as important as a large one. Whether there are 30 souls or 300 souls each and every one is precious in the sight of the Lord and needs the shepherd’s care. Small congregations should not become discouraged thinking they have little to offer in this demanding world. Every congregation has the Means of Grace. The Word and Sacraments are what we have to offer, whether to few or to many. These are the instruments by which the Lord bestows and sustains faith. These are the tools with which we labor to bring souls to heaven.
All of us need to have a “mind to work.” Your president needs to visit congregations and pastors in order to encourage and strengthen. Pastors need to call on their members to really get to understand their spiritual needs. Members need to support their pastors and the work of their congregation. All together we need to consider what a wonderful synod we have and dedicate ourselves to promote it and realize that the Lord is using it to save precious souls and be a light in this world. In order to do this it is important that we promote an atmosphere of trust and harmony. The Lord’s apostle encourages us, “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another; not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord.” (Rom. 12,10–11)
Let us therefore go forward into the years which lie ahead with a “mind to work,” determined to labor tirelessly for the sake of the salvation of blood-bought souls, remembering, as Paul says, that “We are laborers together with God.” (I Cor. 3,9)
Finally, let me conclude this message with the exhortation to
As we proceed into the future let us continue to rejoice in the marvelous grace of God. The Prophet Zechariah exhorts us, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: Behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation.” (Zech. 9,9) Likewise the Prophet Isaiah exclaims, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.” (Is. 61,10) What is the reason for such exultation on the part of the O.T. prophets? It is because they knew that a Savior was coming. They trusted in God’s promise that the Redeemer, God’s own Son, would come into this world to bring salvation to lost and dying sinners.
The New Testament. is, of course, filled with expressions of great joy over the Savior’s birth. The angels sang, “Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2,10-11) The Savior tells us, “Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10,20) The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians uses the word “rejoice” or “joy” some 16 times, exhorting us “rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice.” (Phil. 4,4)
In spite of the ills that threaten us in this world we as children of God should have hearts filled with joy. When we have been delivered from the just punishment of our sins; when we have been rescued from the fires of hell; when we have been made members of the family of God, children of the heavenly Father; when we are assured of His gracious providence every day of our lives, how can we fall into despair?
Each one of us is precious in the sight of the Lord. Isaiah puts it in these words, “Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God.” (Is. 63,3–4) A crown or a diadem is composed of precious jewels that is very significant to the one who wears it. So are God’s people dear to Him. In the parable of the lost sheep in the New Testament Christ shows his concern for the individual. “What man of you having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” (Luke 4–5) Likewise in the parable of the Prodigal Son He demonstrates that the Father’s heart is full of grace and forgiveness.
Our Evangelical Lutheran Synod has always been marked by this attitude of rejoicing in the grace of God. This comes through in our sermons, our worship services, our concern for the lost and straying, our desire to care for the welfare of little children, the youth, the sick and the elderly. This is what makes our synod “evangelical.” It is a spirit where the Law, even though it is preached in all of its severity, does not dominate in our ministry. The Gospel dominates. The Gospel is the free grace of God offered in Christ Jesus to all sinners no matter how poor and lowly. The gospel is the forgiveness of sins brought to us in the Word and Sacraments. The Apostle Peter expressed it in these words, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (I Peter 1,18–19) In our synod no conditions are attached to the Gospel. There is no barbed wire fence around it. We do not preach that if you are sorry enough, if you live up to the expectations of the church, if you meet certain requirements, then you will have forgiveness. No, we open the doors wide and say with Isaiah, “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Is. 55,1) And we extend to all the gracious invitation of our Savior, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest for your soul.” (Matt. 11,28–29)
May our worship of the Lord, therefore, be filled with joy as we hear His gracious Word, receive His blessed Sacraments, and like the Ethiopian, who had just been baptized by the Apostle Philip, go on our way into the future rejoicing.
Watch diligently. Work tirelessly. Worship joyously. May this be our spirit as we ask the Lord to continue to bless our Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
George M. Orvick, President