Esteemed brethren in the ministry, official delegates from the congregations and honored guests from at home and abroad: Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the year 2003 we shall be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the old Norwegian Synod. Next year will mark the 85th annual convention of our reorganized synod, the ELS, which dates its beginning to June of 1918. During the course of these many years our gracious God has preserved in our midst the pure gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. By His Holy Spirit we have been led to accept what the Scripture teaches regarding what we should believe, teach and confess and also how we should live here in this world. Our theme for this convention is THY WORD IS TRUTH. It is taken from what we call the High Priestly Prayer where the Lord Jesus is earnestly praying to His Father for the welfare of His disciples. It is found in the 17th chapter of the Gospel According to St. John where in verse 17 we read that Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.” Such a theme is certainly in keeping with the historical position of our synod. At the very beginning of our church body our forefathers chose as the motto which would be our guiding star in all of our preaching and teaching the words, “It is written,” or the one Greek word “gegraptai.” May our gracious God preserve us in our commitment to this abiding principle as we face the challenges of the 21st century.
For our message to the synod we have chosen to delineate two of the challenges which face our church body as we go forward into the future. Permit me therefore to address you on this theme: TWO CHALLENGES FACING THE ELS TODAY.
If you were asked, “what are the top two challenges facing our synod today?” what would be your response? The challenge I would list as number one would be: MAINTAINING OUR UNITY. I believe that we all love our synod. Those who have recently joined us love our synod because it has provided a place of refuge where they could escape the storms of false doctrine and liberalism raging in most other church bodies. Let me say to you: you are most welcome in our midst! Some of you have brought congregations and some are serving churches that might otherwise endure vacancies. You are and shall be in the future of great help and support for our synod. The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod is seriously divided between those who would like to hold fast to the old truths and those who would compromise those truths for the sake of uniting with more liberal bodies. Besides this, a number of smaller synods cannot come together because of varying factors ranging all the way from legalism to pietism. Therefore it is apparent that newcomers and old timers alike are convinced that we have something special here in our ELS that makes membership in our synod and the preservation of our synod so vitally important. We have provided a home for those who have asked, “Where can I find true fellowship where the doctrines of God’s Word are confessed in their truth and purity?” By the grace of God we have managed to preserve an evangelical spirit, not falling into legalism on the one hand nor into liberalism on the other. We could have self-destructed many times but the Lord in His mercy has preserved us. We therefore need to exercise extreme caution and restraint so that we do not destroy this precious little church body which has come through such a turbulent history. We call upon those who have recently joined us to exercise patience while learning to know our makeup and what I call the “flavor” of our synod. This calls for much love and respect for each other. May God preserve that spirit in our midst! The Apostle Paul enjoins us that we should exhibit “all lowliness, and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Eph. 4.
Our synod faces a great challenge which makes it different from other synods. We are comprised of such a variety of backgrounds. Very few have their roots in the “old Norwegian Synod.” After all there were only about 10 pastors who were along in the organization of our ELS. Most of our pastors have come to us from Wisconsin or Missouri synod backgrounds even if they have graduated from our seminary. Some are of old ELC or ALC origin. I myself came into the synod from the old ELC when I was 14 years old, when my family moved to an area where a synod church was available. Having gone to so many different training schools and having grown up in different synods, it is quite an undertaking to bring everyone together so that they are of one mind and one spirit. Now there is something refreshing about all of this diversity. There are many different ideas and approaches to the ministry and church work. It is a real testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit that He could bring us together and hold us together for these 85 years. But each one of us needs to realize that we have this diversity and be aware of the challenges that it presents. We perhaps do not have the same in-born allegiance to the synod that is found in other church bodies where people have all grown up together and been trained in the same schools together for generations. We therefore need to offer up extra prayers for the Lord’s help and exercise more patience and understanding so that we can overcome the divisive spirit which again and again creeps into our midst.
Once again our synod is deeply engaged in a doctrinal discussion, namely the Doctrine of the Public Ministry. Many pastors who have come to us from other church bodies have told me how refreshing it is to belong to a synod where doctrinal issues are discussed and not swept under the table. In our synod there has been no shortage of such discussion. I have been in the pastoral ministry 48 years and every year, I believe, we have had doctrinal matters before us at our pastoral conferences and conventions. I attended my first convention as a lay delegate from Forest City, Iowa, in 1950 and became a pastor in 1953. In 1950 the Common Confession was published and was purported to be a settlement of the doctrinal differences between the LCMS and the ALC. You can, therefore, imagine the discussions that followed.
In the early 1950s the doctrines of Church and Ministry were hotly debated. We set aside those issues for a while since we were wrestling with matters which led to our severance of fellowship with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1955. After that the Church and Ministry debate continued. In its report to the l977 convention the Doctrine Committee made the following statement: “We can proceed with the important and necessary study of the doctrine of the Public Ministry, as directed by the 1976 General Pastoral Conference, when we agree on the doctrine of the church as it is presented above. We respectfully petition the General Pastoral Conference to adopt the above statement, including the antitheses, and thus put to an end this controversy which has sapped our strength and hindered our joint work for such a long time.” Finally, in 1980 a set of theses was adopted which stated the Doctrine of the Church as accepted by our synod. Finally that issue was laid to rest in our synod.
We again took up the discussion of the Doctrine of the Ministry and pursued it off and on during the subsequent years, with the exception of a number of years that were devoted to the discussion on the Lord’s Supper.
The Doctrine Committee has devoted much time and effort in recent years to the subject. It has asked for suggestions, invited people to come in for discussion, and has visited almost all of the circuit conferences as well as the General Pastoral Conference. It finally decided to present its finished report to this year’s synod convention.
Since the pastors of our synod come at this doctrine from several different backgrounds it is very difficult to reach complete harmony. One perspective is the so-called “Old Missouri” position, namely that only the pastor and perhaps certain theological professors are in the office of the Public Ministry. The other perspective is the position which has historically been held by most of the synodical fathers of the ELS, as shown in the report of the Doctrine Committee. This position holds that, in addition to pastors, professors who teach religion, synod officials, and Christian Day school teachers also serve in a form of the one public ministry.
As we continue our current discussion, I fear that we are in danger, as the Doctrine Committee said in its 1977 report, of prolonging a controversy which “has sapped our strength and hindered our joint work.” The controversy hinders the work of the professors in the classroom. It sets brother against brother and creates divisions in our synod. It hinders us when we have colloquies to the point that we have ceased accepting applications for membership. It hinders our work as we seek to promote our world-wide CELC fellowship and disturbs our relationship with those 15 church bodies. If we adopt a position which is in disagreement with the other 14 bodies of the CELC we would place in jeopardy our world-wide fellowship which we have labored so long to establish. We would also jeopardize our ability to provide teachers for our Christian Day Schools if we hold that they are not in a form of the public ministry but only hired helpers.
When I became pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Madison, Wisconsin, in l954 there were so many souls to care for, so many shut-ins, and so many children, that it was a real necessity to have more workers. We therefore called a visitation pastor and another pastor to work with youth and various other responsibilities. But who would see to it that the children were adequately instructed? The Lord enabled us to open our own Christian Day School. We called a man to be the principal and eventually about 10 other teachers. Now there was never a question in my mind that these called workers who were to teach the children the Word of God on behalf of the congregation were also in a form of the Public Ministry. They were not serving as pastors and yet they were not merely “helpers” or “hired hands” to assist the parents. They were extended divine calls to teach God’s Word on behalf of the congregation. They probably did more Bible teaching than I did since they were in the classroom every day. They were not teaching the Law while I as pastor taught the Gospel. They certainly taught the lambs of the flock of the great love that their Shepherd had for them and that Jesus is the only way of salvation. They did not try to assume any of the functions of my office as pastor. They did only what they were called to do, namely teach the children. As pastor I had the oversight over the school and was responsible for the doctrine that was taught there. Each teacher, each associate pastor and vicar did what he was called to do on behalf of the congregation. Each one “stayed in his own stall” as Luther once described how the workers should relate to each other. There was therefore no competition, no jealousy, no question about who should do what. There was no debate over who was the greatest in the kingdom of God.
It is my conviction that the Theses presented by the Doctrine Committee reflect what is taught in clear passages of Scripture and the position held by most of our synodical fathers. In Ephesians 4,11 we read that the Lord “gave some apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” In I Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul tells us that the church is like a human body. It has many different parts but all serve the one body. He writes, “God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” On the basis of these and other clear passages of Scripture, as well as the Lutheran Confessions, I believe the synod should adopt the theses. We could then, as was once stated by the Doctrine Committee years ago, “put to an end this controversy which has sapped our strength and hindered our joint work for such a long time.”
The matter that I would see as number two on the list of challenges facing our synod would be UNITING IN A WHOLE HEARTED EFFORT TO CARRY OUT THE WORK OF OUR SYNOD. Let us be reminded for a moment of all that we have set out to do as a church body. We get so that we relish debate and controversy and this diverts us from our main task of doing the Lord’s work. We need to have an energetic and balanced approach to the work of the Lord. Our Lord Jesus has told us, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mark 16,15. It ever remains true that souls are perishing in unbelief. They need to be rescued. Great spiritual darkness fills the hearts and minds of so many in the world. “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat.” Matthew 7,13. We have the only means whereby souls can be led from the darkness of unbelief to faith in their Savior. We can save them from eternal death and hell by bringing the gospel to those who do not know their Savior and by teaching the young to trust in the Lord Jesus. Missions and education need our generous support. An enthusiastic approach to the work of our synod is a necessity. Pastors must be balanced in their work, having the sword in one hand and the trowel in the other. Members are encouraged to be mission-minded. Let us therefore go forward in the work we have agreed to do with full cooperation and support. Let us get excited about our mission and devote our energy to that great cause. Contending for the faith is vital, yet this should not come at the expense of neglecting the great commission.
At last year’s convention we began a two-year effort to raise one million dollars for the Lord’s work in our synod. In this connection let me relate this little story. A certain man went out calling and asked a fellow church member for a pledge of money for the work of the church. The reply was an irritated refusal. The man remarked that the church was always asking for money. The other man listened quietly and meekly. Then he spoke and said “When my boy was little he was very costly. He was always wanting boots and shoes and clothing. He was always wearing them out. The older and bigger he grew the more money had to be spent to care for him. I always had to put my hand in my pocket to find money to keep him going. But then he died. And now, do you know, he doesn’t cost me a cent. Now he doesn’t ask for anything.” And so with the church. If it is alive, if it is working, it will always be needing money.
How is it going with our Thankoffering for Two Thousand Years of Grace? The answer is this: We have accomplished our first goal, namely that of helping congregations set up outreach programs. The first $100,000 has been received and is being used for this purpose. A number of congregations are working with the Board for Evangelism in sharpening their outreach skills. This program ought to have lasting effects in helping our congregations to seek the lost. Now we are working on the next $200,000 to establish two Christian Day Schools in Peru. Children there are living in darkness and superstition. The salvation of their souls depends on learning to know Jesus. Furthermore, we want to build a solid, confessional Lutheran Church in Peru. In order to do this we need to provide thorough instruction for the children. What can we do to help? We have received, however, a total of only $200,000 of our thankoffering goal of $1,000,000. We have a long ways to go. When we get home let us make a special effort to renew our enthusiasm for the sake of the children who still live and die in darkness and for the cause of building a solid Lutheran Church which will endure long into the future. When this is accomplished we will begin the effort to gather funds for new home missions. All of this is certainly important and vital work. We are doing what we are supposed to be doing! Preaching and teaching the gospel, feeding the lambs of the flock, trying to rescue lost souls who are perishing. We ask this question, “What are you doing in your congregation to support this endeavor?” About 34 congregations appear to have done nothing so far. Others have done very little. Is this matter being kept before the people? Is the congregational committee or those in charge of promoting the offering in the parish fulfilling its task? We urge you to go home and check up on what progress is being made.
Will we ever stop asking for money for the Lord’s work? No, not as long as we are alive and well. Not as long as we are obedient to the Savior’s command to go and teach all nations. We, after all, live in the richest country in the world. Above all, when we consider what Christ has done for us, we cannot do anything else but go forward. The lay delegates here at the convention should ask, “What has our congregation done to show our gratitude for 2000 years of grace? How much have we contributed?” And then go home and help to stir up enthusiasm for doing the Lord’s work. Don’t leave it all to the pastor. Laymen should speak up about this to the congregation. Discuss it in the church council and voters’ meetings. Take it to the Lord in fervent prayer. Remember that we have not dictated any amount that a person or congregation should give. We have only set before you the need. But our people need to know what this need is. If we are concerned about having enough money for the needs of the local congregation this is understandable. But we will hurt nothing by laying the special thankoffering before the people and letting them decide how much they want to give.
Also, as another one of our challenges, let us look over our church roster to see if we have young men or boys who should be encouraged to enter the ministry. Pastors should consider this an important part of their work. It is on account of my pastor that I am in the ministry today. We have an expanding work program in home and foreign fields. A number of our pastors, including me, are fast approaching retirement. But who will take our place if we do not recruit young men. Who will say, “Here am I, send me, send me.” Sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement.
We also need to recruit Christian Day School teachers. Dedicated men and women are needed to enter our classrooms and feed the lambs and guide our youth. There is a growing interest in starting more schools as people see the dangers of an increasingly secular and anti-Christian society. We urge pastors and parents to encourage their youth to consider the ministry of teaching.
These, dear friends, are two challenges which face our synod today, first WORK FOR UNITY and second UNITE TO DO THE LORD’S WORK. Much is at stake. Blood bought souls are perishing. Our church body is striving for unity. May our gracious Lord lead and guide us so that our ELS may continue to move forward. In his festival sermon at the second convention of the ELS in 1919 the Rev. G. A. Gullixson closed with these words addressed to that little flock: “We hear God’s Word saying: Go forward! Forward in faith. Forward in love. Forward as a witness to God’s grace and foreknowledge. Then we can proceed against all trials and adversity with courage.”
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
George M. Orvick, president