Greetings in the name of our one true God, the holy Trinity—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We welcome you to our 89th Annual Convention as we gather for mutual edification in God’s Word, for strength and motivation to do even more in furthering the cause of Christ’s saving Gospel, and to discuss and adopt resolutions in keeping with the purpose of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
We have grown accustomed to certain opening lines in the news. “A recent poll taken by USA Today indicates…” “The Barna Group has conducted a tracking survey which shows…” “Latest information from a Gallop Poll has found…” One newspaper columnist, bemoaning how much our American culture depends on polls and surveys, concluded his editorial by saying: “No one believes in them, but everybody uses them!”
“No one believes in them, but everybody uses them.” Could the editor’s comment about polls possibly also describe each of us at times in relation to the standards of this world? The world would say, for example, that the acquirement of money and the corresponding ability to dispose of it serve as significant criteria for measuring success. The world would also claim that a person’s access to the conveniences and pleasures of life has much to say about true quality of life. Yet, who of us gathered here would hold that the size of a person’s paycheck, the model of his car or boat, the designer style of her clothes, or the price tag of the furnishings in the home are the standards by which we ought to gauge success or happiness? Would any of us speculate that, from God’s perspective, the true and meaningful quality of life on this planet is evaluated by the kind of access one has to cell phones, computers or DVD players, or by the number of frequent flier miles accumulated at year’s end? None of us here believes these things to be what indicates genuine value in life. We Christians know that the Bible says, Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2). Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19, 20). We also know the loving admonition of our Lord, What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mark 8:36, 37). But we could ask: Although we do not believe in the standards of this world, don’t we find ourselves so often using them, maybe even subtly living our lives by them? The world has a way of squirming and squeezing itself into our Christian lives. It can happen without noticing.
Thank God we have a Savior who has delivered us from all sins, including sins of becoming attached to the things and ways of this world. When Jesus said for the comfort of his disciples, I have overcome the world (John 16:33), he was not speaking in any limited sense. He truly, as our spotless substitute, has overcome all temptations of the world and all fears of the world to which you and I often fall victim. God our heavenly Father has credited his holiness to our account. This good news of our being justified on account of Christ we apprehend by faith.
When we Lutherans think of the doctrine of justification and what it means for us and for our children and for future generations, we are reminded of the powerful exposition of this teaching given by our Lutheran confessors. Our synod’s Lutheran Sentinel has been reminding us each month that this year marks the 475th anniversary of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. This confession of 1531 is about seven times greater in volume than that of the Augsburg Confession (1530) and was intended as a defense of what was presented in the shorter document. Most troubling for the Lutherans in dealing with the Roman Catholic theologians was the concept of sinful man being able to contribute in some way to his own salvation. Dr. Luther had taught clearly the Scriptural position that no good works on the part of man would influence obtaining forgiveness and eternal life. In his commentary on Galatians, he had written: “By the one solid rock which we call justification we mean that we are redeemed from sin, death and the devil and are made partakers of life eternal, not by ourselves … but by help from without, by the only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ” (Plass, II, #2186). The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, authored by Luther’s friend, Phillip Melanchthon, gives this explanation of what it means to be justified by faith: “When a man believes that his sins are forgiven because of Christ and that God is reconciled and favorably inclined to him because of Christ, this personal faith obtains the forgiveness of sins and justifies us… By freely accepting the forgiveness of sins, faith sets against God’s wrath not our merits of love, but Christ the mediator and propitiator” (Tappert, p. 113).
But now, go back to what we just said about the affects of the world’s standards upon us and our children. We, who know and believe that we are justified by faith and therefore rescued from this evil world, still live in a battlefield while having been declared victors over the world surrounding us. So many temptations abound to live only for this world and not the hereafter. Furthermore, the truth of God’s Word is seen as something to be toyed with, or at least regarded as irrelevant for people of such a technologically advanced and enlightened era. Today’s world urges—even insists on—tolerance for all kinds of beliefs and lifestyles and views religious truth as some kind of elastic band even stretching to the size of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Are we above and beyond it all? Dare we think that our children and our children’s children will somehow be immune from the evil influences because we here today have been blessed with good spiritual training? Like the proverbial frog in the kettle not sensing the changing temperature as it heads toward boiling, could we or our children be lulled into a false security that eventually leads to bubbling and bouncing along with the views and standards of this world and finally to a temperature rise of an eternal magnitude?
This is one of the reasons why our synod has chosen to emphasize Christian education this year under the theme, For You and Your Children. The theme is drawn from the apostle Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, where he told his mixed audience, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:38, 39). By having our children baptized and instructed in the faith—the faith that holds to the certainty of sinners justified by the blood of Christ alone—we will, by the power of the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament, protect them from the anti-Christian forces at work all around them.
Lutheran Schools of America (LSA) is a synod entity that supports the establishment of two Lutheran elementary schools per year for the next fifty years throughout our Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The mission is to develop funding and support systems for assisting established congregations and exploratory missions in providing confessionally Lutheran schools known for adherence to the Scriptures, academic excellence, high student achievement and community awareness. At this convention, under the guidance of our Board for Stewardship, we are kicking off the special two-year offering for LSA. This coming fall the offering is scheduled to begin in our congregations. Of all that occupies our daily concerns, we especially want the next generation to know Jesus Christ as the world’s only Savior and to see the joy and the urgency of serving him in every walk of life with the abilities he provides. Will you join the members of our synod in supporting this timely and necessary cause? We ask for your prayers and urge that you consider making a financial contribution to this offering. Remember the picture of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, where he holds in his arms a dearly loved and redeemed lamb.
Dissemination of the Word—whether in Lutheran elementary schools, in Sunday Schools, in mission fields, in church services or in instruction classes—is what our synod is all about. But this Word is not like a how-to manual for getting from point A to point B. It is far greater than that. It is in a category all by itself. Permit me to share this pertinent quote from one of our synod’s prime historical books, Faith of our Fathers:
God’s Word is not like one of the mileposts or road signs which we often see at the cross-roads for the information of travelers. It does not merely show men a way which they must seek to follow as best they can. Nor does it have only the persuasive power which every eloquent word may have to move us. But there is in this word a supernatural power which is inseparably connected with it, since the Holy Ghost speaks through it, so that the power and work of the Spirit and of the word are identical, and it brings light and strength into the heart… (p. 75).
It is because we as a synod are convinced that the Word of God is living and active and contains the very energy used by the Holy Spirit to engender and nurture faith in the Savior, that we are committed not only to teaching children in the classroom, but also to maintaining missions, both at home and abroad. At the risk of referring to a survey in light of my opening remarks, I nevertheless will refer to one here. According to the US Center for World Mission the percentage of people in the world identifying themselves as Christian is still approximately 33%, or close to two billion followers. The total number of adherents to Christianity is said to be growing at about 2.3% annually, but this is only approximately equal to the growth rate of the world’s population. Islam is growing at a faster pace, nearly 3% annually. This globe has so many souls whom the Lord redeemed with his precious blood, but who still are not in Christ’s kingdom. We have been blessed with the Word. We have also been blessed with opportunities and resources. Can we prayerfully as a synod adopt a new mission field, such as South Korea? Might this also one day be an avenue for us to reach the many unconverted souls in the great land of China? Are we able to open one new home mission every year? The starts are expensive, as land prices in urban areas escalate and building costs soar. But moving forward in the advancement of Christ’s kingdom is imperative as we do our planning. We want all to know the great truth recorded by the apostle John, that “[Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
In an 1879 essay entitled “Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod,” Dr. C.F.W. Walther told delegates to the Iowa District of the Missouri Synod: “We are assembled here not for our own sake. We are in the faith, and by this faith we hope to be saved! But there are still many millions who have no faith! That is why we are here and have established a synod, so that we might bring salvation to as many people as we possibly can, so that the sad situation in Christendom and the corruption of the poor, blind heathen world might be remedied” (Essays for the Church, II, pp. 60–61).
Mission-mindedness is essential for a healthy church body. Yet, the doctrine it professes must be completely in accord with what our Lord has provided in his Word, even as he has stated in his great commission, “…teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). We praise God for having blessed our synod with a sincere love for diligent study of his Word and also our Lutheran Confessions. Basking in the pure sunlight of his saving grace though word and sacrament, we fervently desire and pray that no destructive rays of heresy would penetrate our beloved ELS. The tantalizing breezes of indifferentism and unionism have swept over so many church organizations and have nudged them, if not utterly shoved them, from their once purported theological moorings. May God keep us always in the fortress of his word, and in the correct exposition of that word as we confess in the writings of the Book of Concord.
In 2005 our synod, after years of doctrinal discussions on the subject of the public ministry, adopted a statement entitled “The Public Ministry of the Word.” This adoption was not taken lightly. The resolution for adoption was prefaced with this significant Whereas: “Whereas, ‘The Public Ministry of the Word’ clearly and faithfully states the doctrine of the public ministry as drawn from Holy Scripture and as reflected in the Lutheran Confessions…” As expected in the wake of a theological controversy, a number of negative votes were recorded by individuals and now also by certain congregations. The degree as to which these objections have been raised varies. Your president has tried to exert proper patience in understanding the questions and concerns on the part of those who hope for continued fraternal discussions. In fact, I believe that such patience should be encouraged and put into practice when brothers are genuinely interested in further study of God’s Word without charging or insinuating that the position adopted by the synod is erroneous.
An objection raised by one of our pastors, however, crossed the fraternal boundary. In a widely distributed paper, Pastor Rolf Preus charged that our synod’s adopted document on the public ministry contains false doctrine (“breaks with the clear teaching of God’s Word and the pattern of sound words set forth in the Lutheran Confessions”). He therefore asserted that his conscience would not acknowledge it as a teaching standard (“I will not permit it to be a standard for my teaching and I do not acknowledge it as having any authority over me whatsoever”). Your president asked him repeatedly for the sake of brotherly unity to withdraw his remarks, but Pastor Preus refused to do so. Therefore, it became apparent that the difficult decision to issue a suspension from the clergy roster of our synod would need to be implemented. Confessional integrity for a church body assumes adherence to the teachings we profess and takes for granted that member pastors will refrain from propagandizing against our adopted doctrinal statements. The suspension ruling is being appealed by Pastor Preus, and a special Commission on Appeals will need to be elected at this year’ convention. We pray that God will give the necessary wisdom and guidance to the men who will serve on this commission.
What will the future hold for our Evangelical Lutheran Synod? In many ways, the convention this year is quite significant. We have big items before us. Besides dealing with the doctrinal concerns and the related memorials, we are working on the guidelines and structure for Lutheran Schools of America (LSA), and we are being asked to make a decision on a new mission field (South Korea). But let us remember that the Lord is with us and in his providential wisdom and care he will direct us accordingly. We think of what the apostle John wrote in his first epistle: This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know we have what we asked of him (1 John 5:14, 15). Notice those words: …if we ask anything according to his will. Our prayer is that God’s will be done for all that we do and stand for in our synod. We pray that all glory and honor is given to his holy name.
Permit me to reference a memorable address from one of our synod’s early presidents in 1927. Reflecting at that time on the great benefits of the newly formed synod, less than a decade in existence, the Rev. Christian Anderson made these cherished remarks in his 1927 presidential address:
We have received a glorious heritage. Let us defend it and work untiringly, so that as many other people as possible can come to use it. May the Lord give us willing hearts to make the sacrifices that are needed in order to further the great work which he in his grace has entrusted to us. Let us in humility, with faithfulness, and being of good cheer, continue with carrying forward the testimony for these glorious truths for which our forefathers strove and suffered; let us willingly bear the adversity which the battle for these truths carries with it, and the Lord will in truth not let our work be without fruit.
Delegates, pastors, and guests to the 2006 convention: Let us also not forget that a major part of our convention every year is to grow spiritually during the busy week in our faith in the Lord Jesus through the sermons, the devotions, the Communion service, the hymns, the essay and the uplifting conversations with one another. Some times we can become pretty discouraged and act like a man I heard about who had just purchased a used car. After driving away from the lot, he returned to the dealer to ask the salesman some further questions. The salesman saw him coming and became uncomfortable and defensive, thinking he was going to be fussed at and accused of being dishonest. But the salesman was in for a surprise. The customer declared, “I had become a little discouraged. I simply wanted to come back and hear the sales pitch again!”
On a much grander scale, we need to hear again and again and again the wonderful and inviting truths of the Scriptures of how heaven indeed has been won for us sinners by Christ the Lord. How can we be discouraged when we hear such positive news regarding our salvation? We need and want to hear repeatedly of how God has made a deposit guaranteeing us heaven: the Holy Spirit, whom he especially poured out on his Church at Pentecost, but who still is poured out on us today wherever and whenever the Means of Grace—Word and Sacrament—are in use. Remember this precious deposit. Scriptures says, [God] has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Corinthians 5:5b). Even when we face our moment of death in this present world, we are to know that, because of the Spirit’s bringing us to faith in Christ through holy Baptism, our moment of death will result in life eternal for us in heaven! May God instill in us this great confidence in Christ our Redeemer as we go about our work this week under the theme, “For You and Your Children.” No poll or survey is telling us of God’s love, just the straight truth from our Heavenly Father.
We pray God to bless our 2006 convention.
John A. Moldstad, president