Dear 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.
As we gather here for the 81st annual convention of our ELS we do so under the theme: LET THERE BE LIGHT. The reason for choosing such a theme this year is because we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of our mission work in Peru. This was quite an undertaking for our small synod but the Lord has richly blessed this early beginning and we are assembled here to praise and thank our gracious God for such blessing.
At the 51st annual synod convention held June 25–30, 1968, the following resolution was passed.
WHEREAS, Pastors T.F. Kuster and A.M. Harstad, who toured Peru and Bolivia, South America, in January and February, 1968, in the interest of exploring the missionary needs in these countries have reported that between 800,000 to a million people live in the approximately 120 “barriadas” of Lima, Peru, and
WHEREAS, They report that very little Christian missionary work is being done among the thousands of people in these “barriadas”, and
WHEREAS, The Mission Board recommends that the Synod begin missionary work among these people, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED, a) That the Synod endorse this recommendation with thanks to God that He has granted us this opportunity for missionary work, and further b) That our foreign missionary, Pastor T.F. Kuster, begin work in this area as soon as practicable.
With this resolution our Evangelical Lutheran Synod embarked upon a new undertaking in the course of its history. The synod had always placed mission work as a high priority item in its desire to carry out the Lord’s command. It had from its very beginning in 1918 appointed a mission board and joined with the other synods of the Synodical Conference in the work in China, India, and Nigeria. When it withdrew from this undertaking it made annual contributions to the Wisconsin Ev. Lutheran Synod to help in a small way the foreign work that it was doing. But finally the time was ripe for our synod to strike out on its own and begin to preach the Gospel on foreign soil.
It is now thirty years since this resolution was passed. We can only stand back and marvel at how the Lord has blessed and guided us during this time period. From that small beginning we now see three missionaries laboring in Peru. We see a seminary training men so that six national pastors now preach the Gospel not only in Lima but in many stations in the mountains and nearby cities. From Peru the work has spread to the neighboring country of Chile where two missionaries work and another has been called. And how wonderful it is to have Pastor Fidel Convercio and Dora present with us for this convention. We also assist our sister synod in Australia, the ELSA. In addition to this our Church-Related Organization, Thoughts of Faith, has established a number of congregations in Ukraine with a seminary training workers in Ternopil. This has resulted in the establishment of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church which is really a daughter synod such as our ELS in Peru. It has also established a congregation and school in the Czech Republic with three pastors and several teachers at work. Work is also going on in the city of Prague under the auspices of the Four Comers Mission Society. We now, therefore, have fifteen Americans and six national pastors at work for a total of 21 messengers of peace to spread the saving Gospel of Christ Jesus, our Lord. We praise and thank the Lord for enabling us to spread the Good News of salvation in this dying world.
As we begin this convention permit me, therefore, to: direct your thoughts to the great work of sending forth the light of the Gospel at home and abroad.
First and foremost, when our synod sends out the light it must be the pure light of the Gospel and not a light that is made dim or partially obscured by false doctrine, human tradition or any departure from the Word of God which alone is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.
On paper our synod makes all the proper subscriptions of an orthodox church body. In our constitution we confess: The only source and rule of the Synod’s faith and doctrine is the Word of God, revealed in the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. We go on to state that The Evangelical Lutheran Synod subscribes to all the symbolical books, or confessions, of the Lutheran Church as contained in the Book of Concord because they are a correct statement of the teachings of Scripture. (ELS Constitution, Chapter I, pars. 2 & 3). It also requires that all congregations and pastors make a declaration of unconditional subscription to the Synod’s confessions and teachings, and to its constitution and by-laws.
While these constitutional declarations are of utmost importance it is not enough merely to have them on paper. There are church bodies which, on paper, sound pretty orthodox but in reality allow for a wide divergence from what they have officially accepted. What determines the orthodoxy of a church body is not only its official subscriptions but also what is being preached in its pulpits, what is taught in its classrooms and what practices are carried on in the life of the church.
What, therefore, is that pure light of the Gospel that we desire to be proclaimed to this dying world? First of all:
1) It must be based upon the firm conviction that the Bible is the inspired, infallible and inerrant Word of God. That the Bible does not contain errors, myths and fairy tales. We read in II Tim. 3,16 that All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. And again in II Peter 1,21: The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. There is no room for the so-called ‘”historical critical method of biblical interpretation” to be used in our synod.
2) It must be preached and taught in our pulpits and classrooms that the heart and center of the Gospel is the Doctrine of Justification by grace alone through faith in Christ who by His perfect life and by His. innocent suffering and death atoned for all of our sins. This is the chief doctrine of the Christian faith. This is the article upon which the church stands or falls.
3) The Gospel that is preached and taught in our churches and schools must be the UNCONDITIONED GOSPEL. Throughout our history the old evil foe has wanted to attach conditions to the message of free salvation. In other words certain things must happen on man’s part before he can be justified in the sight of God. In the so-called “Madison Settlement” of 1917, which laid the ground work for the Norwegian merger, it was taught that some people have a better attitude by nature towards God and thus are converted while others are not. One Lutheran church makes faith a cause of our justification, rather than the empty hand by which we receive it. In another Lutheran church today it is taught that before you can become a member you have to point to the day of your personal experience in which you received Christ into your heart. The emphasis in all “decision theology” is that you must do something to make your justification complete. All of this is the Gospel with conditions. It is the Gospel with a barbed wire fence around it. And in the final analysis it is not the Gospel at all. For the true Gospel announces that God has justified the whole world before and apart from any cooperation or decision or better attitude on the part of man.
On account of the perfect life by which our Saviour fulfilled all the demands of God’s law and by His innocent suffering and death on the cross by which He atoned for the sins of the whole world, as we read Behold the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world, John 1,29, God has by a forensic act declared the whole world to be righteous, justified, not guilty. All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 3,24). Even the unbelievers are justified. Paul writes, 7b him who works not, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (Rom. 4,5). And again, God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. (II Cor. 5,19). Now, of course, this justification does not benefit the unbeliever because he rejects the precious gift God sets before him. God’s justification has to be received by faith in order to benefit the sinner.
This Doctrine of Objective Justification is so woven into the very fabric of our synod that without it we would just be another Protestant church body. Our history, no doubt, has much to do with this. We have to thank our gracious God for giving us forefathers who in spite of all opposition held on to this truth. They went to battle against the synergists of 1917 who led the old synod into the merger. They testified against the ALC statement that “God purposes to justify those who have come to faith.” He doesn’t “purpose to justify them.” He has justified all men. Without this doctrine we are without hope for then our salvation is immediately placed in doubt. It is therefore beyond comprehension how the largest Lutheran body in the USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America could declare that the Reformation judgments on the Roman church’s Doctrine of Justification no longer apply. Rome condemns the article that we are justified and saved by grace alone through faith in Christ. This led to the Lutheran Reformation of the 16th century. But now ELCA has decided that these matters should be set aside and that they no longer apply. They likewise have chosen to ignore the differences with certain Reformed churches on the doctrine of the sacraments and have entered into “full communion” with the United Church of Christ, the Reformed Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Agreement on such essential teachings such as the real presence of Christ’s true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper is therefore no longer important, according to ELCA.
4. In order to preserve and spread the pure light of the Gospel our synod confesses that this is done through the Means of Grace: Baptism, the Word of God, and the Lord’s Supper. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. (Rom. 10,17). And the Augsburg Confession teaches:
To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. And the Gospel teaches that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merit of Christ, when we believe this. (Art. V Tappert p. 31).
There are, therefore, many things that could be written about preserving the pure light of the Gospel so that we have a saving message to bring to people at home and abroad who do not know the way of salvation. If the pure water of life that flows from the fountain of God’s Word is polluted and poisoned by false doctrine then we have no reason to carry on an active mission program.
But now we must go forward with the work. Yes, thirty years in Peru is wonderful but there are other nations, other peoples that do not yet know about the Savior. Our forefathers did not sit under the oaks at Lime Creek and cry over what they had lost. No, they immediately organized a mission program, began a church paper of their own, and before long purchased a college and organized a seminary. They cooperated with the Synodical Conference in Nigeria and India and China. In 1925 they called two men to open home missions, one on the east side of Madison and one in Minneapolis. We, too, must always plan to move forward especially now when new doors are open to us and financial resources are more plentiful.
We are about to enter a new millennium. Surely this is a propitious moment in history to take brave steps forward in spreading the Gospel. What opportunities do we have? Let me call attention to some of them both in the area of missions and in education:
a. We should seriously consider expanding our foreign work to another country or continent. Our board for Foreign Missions is making a study of opportunities in Africa where thousands of souls are crying out for the Gospel.
b. There may be openings to work in Korea and Russia. A Korean student is enrolled in our seminary and a student from Russia plans to enroll.
c. A congregation in Avaldsness, Norway, of our sister synod has sent a letter requesting pastoral help.
d. Your new home missions are being started this year and more opportunities present themselves. Our Board for Home Missions plans new work in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, California, and Florida.
e. A tremendous opportunity in the field of Christian education also lies before us as Bethany Lutheran College begins its transition to becoming a four-year institution. The training of young people to go out into this world with firm Christian convictions, a commitment to a life of service to the Lord and His Church, and an awareness of the great need for Christian influence in our decaying society is of utmost importance. Our college is distinctly committed to the theology of our synod as is stated in the catalog: “The college and its sponsoring church, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, are committed to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and inerrant Word of God as the sole authority for faith and life.” We therefore need to support our school with our gifts and our prayers.
f. Funds are set aside each year for the support of Christian Day Schools. Congregations which are interested in starting a school of their own should contact our Director of Christian Education, Prof. Silas Born, at Bethany College.
g. Work with children and youth in all the various agencies should continue with renewed enthusiasm as we enter the new millennium. Our Board for Education and Youth has done a marvelous job in providing for our children and youth. May the Lord bless their efforts.
h. Evangelism work in the congregations should receive special attention. Are we reaching out to souls that have fallen away, to those who do not know the Savior, and to families that are so desperately in need during these turbulent times? Each congregation should examine its own program with help and encouragement from the Board for Evangelism.
Some of the items mentioned above are already on-going programs in our synod. Others are mentioned as possibilities for our synod to consider as we approach the year 2000. How shall we proceed? What are the costs of opening a new foreign mission? Shall the synod embark upon a special “Two Thousand Years of Grace” offering? All of this planning for the future will require much thought and investigation. We suggest that the synod authorize the appointment of a special committee to study the issues and bring a recommendation to our 1999 convention.
We, who by the grace of God have been able to hold fast to the pure Gospel, dare not hide this light under a bushel. Jesus says, Ye are the light or the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matt. 5,14-16). And the last words of our Lord to His disciples as we find them recorded in the first chapter of the Book of Acts direct us: Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1,8).
May our beloved Evangelical Lutheran Synod, therefore, prepare to enter into the new millennium with courage as the Lord directs us in (Deut. 1,17), Be strong and of good courage; with determination and unity as Paul writes, Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1,27); and with great joy as our Savior tells us, These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. (John 15,11).
Soli Deo Gloria
George M. Orvick