Esteemed Brethren in the ministry, official delegates from the congregations and honored guests: Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We have come to the end of a century and to the end of a millennium. This will be the last synod convention held in the 20th century and the last of the second millennium after the birth of Christ. It is a once in a lifetime experience. This is, therefore, a propitious point in time to lift up our eyes and look around in order to see the marvelous blessings which the Lord has bestowed upon us. It is also a time to look to the future to see what challenges and opportunities He has placed before us. Let us therefore center our thoughts under this theme:
IN WHAT SPIRIT SHALL WE ENTER THE NEW MILLENNIUM?
I. Let me first of all emphasize that we ought to celebrate in a spirit of thanksgiving.
As we look back over the century that is now almost past we cannot but offer up our praise and thanksgiving to our gracious Lord for the goodness and mercy He has bestowed upon our ELS. This applies especially to those sad days right after 1917. Gone were the hundreds of congregations that made up the synod. Gone were the colleges and seminary where pastors were trained. Gone were the old friends and classmates. It was as though a hurricane had swept them all away into the large Norwegian merger. Now the little handful of 13 congregations and 10 pastors were like orphans in a strange land. But our gracious God did not abandon them. He endowed them with courage and with the determination to go forward with the work of the kingdom. Above all He had preserved in their midst the pure Word and Sacraments. They had not abandoned the blessed teaching of salvation by grace alone through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They had not yielded to the false doctrine that man could contribute something to his conversion. For this we thank and praise almighty God that He preserved them in the truth. This is the first and foremost reason for our thanksgiving today. For this we say with the psalmist , “Praise ye the Lord. Praise, O ye servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord.” Ps. 113,1.
We praise and thank the Lord today for the way He helped the synod to grow and become established. One of the greatest outward blessings was that He enabled the synod to undertake the purchase of Bethany Lutheran College in 1927. At first it seemed that it was impossible for such a small group to operate such a large facility. But again the Lord provided for their needs and gave men determination and ability so that the school could function and grow. The story of the early days of Bethany College makes one marvel at God’s grace that He would bring this about. However, no sooner had the synod taken over the school than the Great Depression struck. Now they had to make the most of every dollar to continue to exist. The Paint and Varnish Club from Minneapolis joined in the struggle to make the building more attractive. Truckloads of potatoes and other foods were donated by farmers in Minnesota and North Dakota. Dr. Sigurd Ylvisaker led the way and pleaded with the members of the synod for support. Looking round about the campus today one would not recognize it as the same place. What can we say but to repeat the words of David, “I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation. He hath made His wonderful works to be remembered; The Lord is gracious and full of compassion.” Ps. 111, 1–4.
Not only was the synod suffering during the Depression, but the congregations also. One pastor wrote in his church paper, “Some of us have not worked for three weeks; some for three years. Some of us have not been able to pay large hospital bills; others have had sickness in the home. Some of us have not been able to buy our new licenses; others have put their cars away altogether. Some of us are losing our homes; others have not been able to pay their rent. Together we all tell the same story. But if I give only ten dollars a year to the church our church building will soon be sold at a sheriff’s sale.”
But the Lord provided. Not only did the individuals survive those hard times, but the churches did also. The congregation about which the pastor wrote that their church building would soon have to be sold is now a large congregation.
The Lord also blessed the synod with outward growth. It began with 13 congregations and now has 140. It began with 10 pastors and now has about 170. At first it had no foreign missions that were truly its own. Now it has 26 pastors working in the foreign fields of Peru, Chile, Ukraine and the Czech Republic. Of these, 14 are Americans and 12 are nationals. Two seminaries, one in Peru and one in Ukraine, now train national pastors for the work in their own countries.
Thus for all the temporal and spiritual blessings which our synod has enjoyed from our gracious God we come to the close of this century with the words of the hymnwriter on our lips:
Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom His world rejoices,
Who from our mother’s arms
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love
And still is ours today.
II. In the second place let us consider briefly what kind of challenges and opportunities we face in the years to come.
We cannot sit idly by and be indifferent to the great spiritual needs of children and young people today as well as to countless souls at home and abroad who do not know their Savior. Christian education, outreach, assistance to pastors and congregations, and mission work at home and abroad are at the top of the list.
HIGHER EDUCATION AT BETHANY
One of the greatest undertakings and challenges, already in progress, is the transformation of Bethany Lutheran College into a four-year baccalaureate institution. Our college administration and faculty, with the help of the Board of Regents, has gotten off to a good start. It has won the approval of the North Central Accrediting agency and is ready to begin the third year of classes this fall. Enrollment looks promising. It will be a real blessing to confessional Lutheranism and to our synod to have a four-year college which holds steadfastly to the doctrinal foundation upon which Bethany was founded. This is the only way that Bethany can have a reason for existence. If it lost this unique character it would be no different than any other four-year school of which there are many. When the sciences are taught on the upper level there is always pressure to conform, even in some small way, to the theory of evolution. As soon as this is done the gates have been opened to the higher critical interpretation of Scripture and our position as a school which holds to the verbal inspiration and the inerrancy of the Bible is lost. Let us earnestly pray for our school that the Lord would uphold the leadership so that Bethany remains true to its founding principles. What a wonderful future the school can have for Lutheranism as a four-year college which has not given in to the modern day rejection of the Bible.
THE NEED FOR MORE CHRISTIAN DAY SCHOOLS
When we see the plight of modern public schools we sympathize with the teachers and the administrators who are doing their very best to give our youth a good education. They are faced with many obstacles. Pressure to be “politically correct,” gangs, school violence, violence and pornography on television, indifferent or absent parents are just some of the obstacles they face. The Minneapolis Star Tribune for June 2, 1999, reports that a biology teacher in Fairbault, Minnesota, was removed from his position because of his belief in creation instead of evolution. We should pray for our public schools and teachers. At the same time we need to do our best to establish schools where the Word of God is taught daily to the pupils and where subjects are taught from a Christian perspective.
We have opportunities now to establish more Christian day schools. One of the proposals of our Special Millennium Offering Committee is that we open two new Christian day schools in Lima, Peru. What a wonderful opportunity to bring Christian teaching to the children in that impoverished land. The children are the victims of our society. We can all weep when we see the suffering of the little ones depicted on TV. Jesus loves children and wants them to be cared for with love and tenderness. But we certainly need to continue our efforts to start more Christian day schools here at home. Money is now made available also in our budget and by special projects which may be proposed to the Foundation. Congregations ought to analyze their potential to see if it is possible to open such schools. The Board for Education and Youth stands ready to help. Children need Christian education! The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Pr. 22,16.
MORE INTENSIVE OUTREACH AT HOME
From many of our congregations we hear the cry “I wish we could gain more new members. If our congregation doesn’t grow I wonder how long it will last. What can we do?” We can surely sympathize with this concern. In many instances a congregation may not be able to grow because of outward circumstances. People move away. Farm communities are losing their population. Competition from larger churches with liberal theology, churches that “offer more programs” or that have more staff are hard to compete with. We should, however, not be too quick to look for excuses. We recently heard of one of our churches in a small town where the pastor canvassed every home in the village. Such diligent calling may turn up souls which are unchurched and can be won for the Lord.
What can the synod do to help churches which would like to have a better outreach program? Our special offering for the new millennium has just such situations in mind. Our Evangelism Committee stands ready to help. A sum of $100,000 will be set aside to assist congregations in setting up outreach programs. The Evangelism Committee will help the congregation in organizing the effort. It will provide material, guidance and the know-how to reach into the community to seek lost souls and invite them to come to the church where they can receive the means of grace. This is not some Church Growth program which depends upon gimmicks to entice people into the church. No, this is the good old-fashioned way of seeking the lost as we see in the story of the Good Shepherd going after the lost sheep until He finds it. It is the same spirit as that shown by the king in the parable of the great supper who said to his servants, “Go out into the highways and the hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” Luke 14,23. A pastor who does not make it a high priority in his ministry to seek the lost and bring people into the kingdom should not be in the ministry. The fact that we are opposed to the church growth movement should not stand in the way of outreach. And the pastor can’t do it alone. The congregation needs to become involved. The people need to see soul winning as one of their highest goals. It will not do to simply say “Well, that’s the pastor’s job.” It is all too easy for the members of the congregation to blame the pastor if the church doesn’t grow. What may really be needed is the development of a missionary spirit where everyone reaches out to mission prospects in an organized effort. One of our congregations hired a full-time worker for the summer to head up the outreach program.
If our millennium offering is a success the synod will be able to help many of our churches with their outreach program. Let’s discuss the offering in our congregations.
A CROSS CULTURAL MISSION ENDEAVOR
Our synod has not done a great deal in the way of reaching out to another culture here in the United States. We have tried in Bell Gardens, California, to reach out to Hispanics, but we have not had much success. Now we are pleased to report that we will again have a full-time worker in that area. But another opportunity presents itself. The Lord has provided a dedicated man of Korean descent to labor in the vineyard. Young Ha Kim, who came to the USA from Korea and became a pastor in the Reformed church, is now ready to join our synod. After completing two years of additional study in our seminary and being approved by our colloquy committee, he is now ready to go to work amongst the Koreans in our country. Our Board for Home Missions has undertaken his support and will locate an area with potential and soon work will begin. Young Ha Kim is a determined evangelist who wants to do nothing else than to bring his countrymen to their Savior. Millions of people of Korean descent have immigrated to the USA. We need to reach out to them with the pure Gospel. This will be another exciting new challenge for our synod!
THE CHALLENGE OF STEWARDSHIP
All Christians are stewards, that is, managers of the time, talents and treasures that the Lord has given to each one of us. In today’s busy society the management of our time has become an increasingly difficult task. Years ago when the book “Future Shock” was published it pointed out that time would become an even more important commodity than money. In spite of all the new labor saving devices we seem to be busier than ever. A person therefore needs to plan. We need to set aside definite amounts of time for our daily devotions, for our family, for our work, for our church activities, for recreation, etc. Without such management we can so easily leave out important matters. Our spiritual life can be neglected, our family life can suffer, and our marriages can be endangered. Stewardship is absolutely necessary!
Likewise the stewardship of our treasures is important. We need to be good managers of our earthly possessions. Each person needs to make a plan for what he will give to carry on the work of the congregation and the work of the synod. It is a responsibility that the Lord has laid upon us. Likewise a congregation should have a budget so that all needs are met. Each congregation has an obligation to support the synod. At the beginning of a fiscal year the congregation should plan its budget and include a definite percentage or amount for the Lord’s work away from home. This is what a synod is for, namely that we can do work together. Together we can send out missionaries. Together we can operate a college and seminary. Together we can help our Christian day schools and support youth work. For the last ten years giving to the synod has shown no increase. With the inflation and the growth we are having it would seem that the offerings for synodical work would also grow. We ask each delegate here at this convention to examine his own congregation’s record and to go home and discuss it in council and voters’ meetings when the next year’s budget is proposed. Place an amount in the budget as you would any other expense. Have the treasurer send that to the synod just as he pays the pastor’s salary or the heat and light bill. This is good management and careful stewardship. Let’s see what we can do together for the Lord. This is what it means to belong to a synod, namely, that we walk together with others and unite with them in carrying out work that we could not do by ourselves.
THE CHALLENGE OF MAINTAINING DOCTRINAL PURITY AND UNITY
We should never forget to set forth as one of the main challenges facing the church today the necessity of maintaining doctrinal purity and synodical unity. One of the blessings for which we thank our forefathers is that they insisted upon holding fast to God’s Word. We need to have the same concern for pure doctrine as they had. We confess in one of our hymns:
And ever is there something new
Devised to change Thy doctrines true;
Lord Jesus! As Thou still dost reign,
Those vain presumptuous minds restrain.
It is easy to point the finger at church bodies today which call themselves Lutheran while denying the verbal inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, denying various miracles in the Bible, some even questioning such central articles as the physical resurrection of Christ from the grave. We need to be aware of such total departures from the historic Christian faith. We need to be careful to practice church fellowship only with those who are in doctrinal agreement with us.
A greater challenge is that of maintaining doctrinal unity amongst ourselves. We come from many different backgrounds, have graduated from different seminaries, and have not all been educated under one system. This has some advantages. We can bring different insights into our theological observations and perhaps add a freshness to our discussions. It also presents a challenge, namely that we all speak with one voice as we confess the doctrines of God’s Word. We appreciate our diversity of backgrounds and experience, but we must not have diversity in doctrine. Our synod’s constitution makes this clear when it says, “An individual wishing to join the Synod shall make application to the president. This application shall be accompanied by a declaration of unconditional subscription to the Synod’s confessions and teachings, and to its constitution and by-laws.” Chapter II, Par. 2.
We should, in deep humility, confess that we are weak and frail. We could easily destroy ourselves. We should take this danger very seriously. Developing a party spirit could jeopardize our precious unity and we could lose what our forefathers struggled so hard to preserve. The apostle instructs us saying that we should “endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” Eph. 4,3, and again Paul writes to the Galatians, “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” Gal. 5,15. History shows us how easily this can happen. Therefore we sing with Kingo:
“How fair the church of Christ shall stand,
A beacon light in all the land,
When love and faith all hearts inspire
And all unite in one desire
To be a fam’ly and agree
To live in peace and unity.”
THE CHALLENGE OF FINDING MEN FOR THE MINISTRY
Some larger synods are facing very serious shortages of pastors. Many congregations go vacant for years before a pastor accepts a call. Seminary classes just aren’t large enough to meet the needs. We have been blessed in our synod by fairly adequate classes graduating from our seminary and also by the fact that a number of pastors have come to us by colloquy. We are thankful for them. We welcome the new pastors into our synod. We are especially pleased when congregations also join us. We need, however, to recruit qualified young men to prepare for the ministry. Each pastor should bear this in mind and encourage and speak with boys and young men, and older men, to enter into the holy calling of being an ambassador for Christ. I remember with great fondness how Pastors Ranzau and Weyland encouraged me in my high school and college years. I will forever be grateful to them. And, of course, they appreciated the packages of pork and beef which came from our locker.
What more noble calling is there than to be an ambassador for Christ. If we were asked to undertake some high government position we would be greatly honored. How much more should we be honored when the Lord Jesus Himself invites us, “Come and I will make you fishers of men.” And in order to encourage men to enter the ministry our congregations need to provide for them adequately so that they are able to care for their families and their earthly needs. Do we drive men out of the ministry by undue expectations and unwarranted criticism? Our pastors need love and approval and encouragement. Let us continue to pray for and support our pastors.
WITH JOY WE WELCOME NEW MEMBERS
We hope that new pastors and congregations will feel at home in our midst. Many continue to look upon the ELS as a place where they can find the Word of God taught in its truth and purity.
As a result of this we find that our synod can no longer be called the “Norwegian Synod.” Oh yes, we still like to talk about our Norwegian forefathers and our Scandinavian roots, and we by no means want to forget the precious heritage that they handed down to us, but the facts are that we have more members of German descent and more pastors of German origin than those who trace their roots back to the mountains and fjords of Norway. We therefore want to be careful not to overemphasize our ethnic background lest others feel that they really don’t fit in. Such is not the case. The truth is that we are an American synod, a melting pot of people of every land and nation. And all are more than welcome. When we get to heaven we will see what John saw, namely, “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? And whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Rev. 7, 9–17.
And so may we in our Evangelical Lutheran Synod of every background and nationality, joyfully sing:
O happy day when we shall stand
Amid the heavenly throng,
And sing with hosts from every land
The new celestial song.
God, may Thy bounteous grace inspire
Our hearts so that we may
All join the heavenly, white-robed choir
Upon that glorious day.
Soli Deo Gloria
George M. Orvick