Pastor M.K. Bleken
1919 Synod Convention Essay
When we, a little remnant of the old Norwegian Synod, are gathered here to discuss important doctrines, which we ask God to help us to hold to tirelessly, so that we do not deny them either in word or deed, then there are two things that we must have clearly in view as the goal of the discussions:
1) First, the thing that is to be discussed, the matter itself, must be so clearly presented that even the simplest person can grasp it. There should not be any so-called scholarly treatises which can astound, but not be comprehended by most people, and whose impression therefore also is soon erased. Here we can remember and take to heart what the Apostles Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:1f: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,”
2) Secondly, we should remember that the goal is that the truths which we are to discuss and try to help each other to acknowledge better and better must so permeate our consciences that they come to be followed in life, so that we do not become Pharisees about whom Jesus says: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.” (Matt. 23:2-3)
It is nothing new that we should discuss; for we have not made any new discoveries. But it is the doctrines which have been regarded to be — and that is important also — chief doctrines. The doctrines which the Lutheran Reformation brought to light again. The doctrines which the Norwegian Synod has emphasized with power and clarity in the past, and which we also want to emphasize, so that we might be the heirs of the Norwegian Synod not just in name, but also in benefit. And it is fitting that right now when we must in a way begin again from scratch, we take upon ourselves these topics so that our work that rest on the right foundation and that we thus can take our leave in regard to the conscience of all people before the face of God (2 Cor. 4:2).
The Scriptural principle or the right rules for Scripture interpretation, Scripture explanation, and Scripture exposition.
1) We thus proceed from the truth that the Bible is God’s Word. That God’s Spirit placed in the minds of the holy prophets, evangelists, and apostles what and with which words they should write and “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). This Scripture, this Word of God, is therefore the only sure and perfect norm for our faith and our life. John 8:31[–32]: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” To this Scripture we are all directed. In this Word we should remain. It regenerates us, makes us new people. “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). This Word guides us. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). It “is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28). This Word shall judge us on the last day: “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him — the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). From this we see how extremely important it is that God’s Word is explained and interpreted correctly. Or as we also usually say: is preached in its truth and purity. Not everyone does that. The New Testament already says that. 2 Cor. 2:17: “For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.” But now someone could perhaps be inclined to think: “Yes, that is quite correct. God’s Word ought to be explained correctly; but what does that have to do with us. We are not preachers and expositors of Scripture. That has to do with those who administer the office of the Word in the congregation [or church], not us listeners.” Certainly it has to do with those who expound God’s Word publicly in the congregation, those who instruct in the Word. They should hold firm to the trustworthy Word according to the instruction (Titus 3:9), continue in what they have learned and recognize the Holy Scripture (2 Tim. 3:14–15). But it is a great and fatal mistake to think that it only has to do with them. No, it likewise has much to do with those who are instructed in the Word, all who want to be Christians. They also have their duties and responsibilities. If it were the case that all who took it upon themselves to expound God’s Word expounded it correctly, then the listeners could certainly save themselves the trouble of investigating the matter; but now, we know that one cannot completely rely on that. God’s Word teaches us that. Paul says to the elders in Ephesus: “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking per-verse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29–30). Jesus says: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). That this is not some-thing that was peculiar to the time when the Apostles wrote is clear. Such will always be the case. About the last times the Savior says: “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matt. 24:24). By what should one then test the spirits whether they are of God? Yes, only by God’s Word; for it says: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11).
It is then quite clear that those whom we usually call listeners have both the right and duty to familiarize themselves with the doctrines of God’s Word that they are in a position to judge whether what it preached or explained to them is correct or not. Ah, what misery and danger has been caused in the church by a person neglecting the golden rule that the Bereans followed when Paul and Silas preached to them: “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). It is naturally much easier to take it easy with this person or that person having said such and such, and being someone who worships authority; but if one is to have a firmly grounded conviction, then it must be built on God’s Word. And one cannot come to such a conviction without himself having searched the Scripture and knowing what it says. Only then can one say: “I believe this because it is written thus.”
But then there are those who say that it is impossible to come to such clarity in the doctrines of God’s Word that one can say and assert that one thing is right and the opposite is false. In that way finding Scripture’s true and correct meaning does not matter. Scripture contains the infallible truth; but one cannot find it. Look at the many different kinds of interpretations, they say. The one contrary to the other. Who now will decide who is right? When the scholarly theologians who can read both Greek and Hebrew cannot come to agreement, how then should we who are simple and uneducated people be able to decide? Never bother about the scholarly theologians! The doctrine is good enough and a precious thing when it is used correctly, but it can also be misused. But tell me what use would it be at all to have God’s Word in Holy Scripture if it were impossible to come to clarity over what it teaches? If I give a man a Bible and say to him: “See, here is a very good book. It is the Bible, God’s own Word, which He has given us. It tells us about the way to salvation. But you must not think that it will be of any use to you to read it; for there is no human being who can definitively find out what it teaches. It is so vague and unclear.” Then he would certainly say: “Then that book is of no use to me at all. You can keep it yourself.” Or if I should instruct a class of confirmands and say to them: “Dear confirmands! I shall now instruct you in the Christian faith. But I do not know whether what you learn from me is correct or not.” What kind of instruction would that be? Or if I should preach a sermon to my congregation and I should begin something like this: “Dear congregation! I shall now explain and interpret a portion of Scripture; but there have been so many kinds of meanings that I really do not know what kind of doctrine and instruction this passage contains.” Or if I am called to a sick and dying person and should guide him. Or to a troubled sinner, who perhaps lies at death’s door. He is weighed down and wants guidance and comfort from me as a pastor, and he wants to have something sure and firm to hold on to, something that he can rely on, something that he can die on. Should I say: “Yes, here I shall read something to you in the Bible; but how what is there it is to be understood, I have no idea.” Everyone must admit that such talk would be meaningless. But, if it that were the case, then one would have to say that one cannot possibly come to any firm conviction about what the Scripture really teaches. Such talk is either a thin covering for one’s unbelief, or it is a convenient excuse for those who are so spiritually sluggish and foolish that they do not bother to investigate whether these things are so, but simply go along where it is easiest and most comfortable and let others think and believe for them, such as is the case in the Catholic Church. Besides, it would be to deny the clarity and directness of Scripture to say that it is impossible to come to any certainly with regard to Scripture’s doctrines, and thus to know either if an interpretation of Scripture is correct or not. One of the first questions we have in the [Catechism] Explanation deals with that matter. Isn’t the Bible dark and unclear to the simple and uneducated?
In all those things that are required to know for salvation it is clear enough for someone who handles it correctly, whether he is lay or learned.
How does one handle God’s Word correctly? When one first prays to God for the enlightenment of His Spirit, then reads with devotion and a willing intention to want to live according to the Word.
It is thus important for all to learn how they should handle God’s Word correctly, both for the one who should interpret it and for the one who is a listener or reads the Scripture himself. It applies to us all to an equal extent whether we have the office in the church to instruct or we are instructed. It is taken for granted that we cannot give this topic an exhaustive treatment. We do not have time for it, but we shall try to take up the most important things.
1) The meaning of Scripture must be found from Scripture itself, from its own words, or when the Holy Spirit speaks through Scripture, then the Holy Spirit’s meaning must not be separated from Scripture itself. Thus one does have the right at all to place a strange meaning into Scripture, but to try to come to a clear understanding of what the Holy Spirit’s meaning is and submit to it.
The Holy Spirit speaks to us only through the words of Scripture, and everything that does not agree with the words of Scripture must therefore be lies and deceit. It must be so, otherwise it could not be true that the Holy Spirit placed into the minds of the holy prophets, evangelists, and apostles not only what they should write, but even the words they should use. Here the objection is raised that in this way one is a slave of the letter, and to show that, 2 Cor. 3:6 is cited: “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” as if the Spirit did not have anything to do with the letters or the words, but was some indefinite thing that was separate from the words. But if we look at the passage and the context, then we see that the letter here means the Law and the spirit means the Gospel. And what the Apostle intends to say here is that the Law cannot make alive. Only the Gospel can do that.
If we should not be bound to the words, then thought has a free playroom. Then one can certainly arrive at an interpretation that is often called brilliant; but it is not what the Holy Spirit wants to teach us. The Savior says: “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). What Christ says here about His words, the same applies also to the words of His servant; for he says: “He who hears you hears Me” [Luke 10:16]. And further: “It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matt. 10:20). And the Apostle Paul says: “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches” (1 Cor. 2:13). That shows clearly enough that the Holy Spirit’s meaning is in the words and is bound to them. Therefore we should not divide His meaning from the words, and we must therefore get or find out Scripture’s meaning from Scripture itself. How much controversy we would spare ourselves if we followed this simple rule, that one “did not know any virtue in an interpreter other than humble faithfulness to God’s Word, so that he will not teach the Holy Spirit, but be taught by Him.” Much can depend here on a single word and the understand-ing of it. A false interpretation of a single word can cause irreparable damage.
One hears this rather often: “Yes, that is what is written — but.” And after this impediment come long and involved explanations that it is difficult to understand. There is an abundance of proofs of this in writings that are published during a church controversy. When one points to expressions in these that are erroneous, when one takes the words in their straightforward and natural meaning, then the response is: “That is not what is meant!” Yes, then let them speak their true and real meaning in expressions and phrases that a common person can understand. Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 13:12 are often cited as proof of the idea that one cannot be certain of Scripture’s meaning: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” Verse 9: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part.” This is applied then in such a way not only that we have the truth only in part; but that neither can we know whether the part we have is correct or not, which is [a] false [idea]. A presentation that holds precisely to the words of the Bible will also have the characteristic of being clear.
Therefore no human being has the right to place his meaning into the words, but we should take the Holy Spirit’s meaning out of His words and let Scripture interpret itself. Scripture should interpret Scripture. For the Holy Spirit Himself is the only reliable interpreter of Scripture. When we say that if one will handle God’s Word correctly, then one must first pray to God for the enlightenment of His grace and then read with devotion and a willing intention to want to live according to the Word, then that does not mean that one gets the enlightenment of the Spirit through anything outside the Scripture; but that through what one reads one now gets this enlightenment of the Spirit; for one does not have that of himself, since reason is darkened and has no light in divine things on his own. 2 Peter 1:20 shows that: “knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.” (New translation: “knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is given to any private meaning”); “for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” [2 Peter 1:21]. Now if one places a different meaning into the words, then it will be a foreign meaning and not the Holy Spirit’s meaning. We should be afraid to do that. If it is true that we are to be careful, then we cannot ascribe to any person what he has not said or the opposite of what he has said, then what is important, rather, is that we are careful, so that we do not ascribe to the Holy Spirit a meaning that His Word does not have. We should have a holy reverence and submission to God’s Word. Only then can we read it and hear it with the correct devotion.
When we say that Scripture should explain Scripture or that Scripture should interpret itself, then we can point here to how it often happens right away. When Jesus instructed His disciples with parables, He often adds an explanation of the meaning of the parable. The parable of the Sower, Matt. 13:1-23; the tares among the wheat, Matt. 13:24–43. When it says here “the field is the world,” then it cannot possibly mean that “the field is the church” as some have explained it, John 12:32: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” In verse 33 the explanation is added: “This He said, signifying by what death He would die.” John 2:19: “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” The explanation is added is verse 21: “But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” Here also it pertains that the Old Testament gets its explanation and interpretation in the New. In the Old Testament we have the prophecies, in the New Testament we see how these are fulfilled. In the Old Testament there are shadows and models [types, forbider], in the New Testament there is the substance and what the models [types] pointed to. But just as Christ is the main subject in the New Testament, He is also the main subject in the Old. And here the testimony of the New Testament must stand firm in opposition to all attack against the Old. Thus it says in John 8:56: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” When Jesus walked together with the two disciples to Emmaus, it says that He rebuked them for their unbelief and said: “‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” And again: “Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’ And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44–45), namely the Old Testament. See Hebrews.
The unclear passages should be judged according to the clearer ones, not the other way around. That is a very important rule. But we said that Scripture is clear; how can we talk then about unclear passages in it? Scripture is certainly clear in itself; but because our ability to understand is darkened by sin, not everything in Scripture is equally clear to us. We read that even in Scripture itself, 2 Peter 3:14-16. Here Peter says that in Paul’s epistles there are “some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction.” It is also said that some things in Scripture are milk and some things are solid food, 1 Cor. 3:2. One should note, then, that one should first hold to the clear direct passages and let these shed light on the unclear ones. There are some people who delight in busying themselves with the unclear passages in Scripture, for example, the book of Daniel and Revelation, and give their imagination free rein with regard to the condition of the world in the time preceding the final judgment. We aim here at the millennialists who have been so active in recent years. According to their understanding a golden age for the church shall arise here in the world. Christ shall come again and rule in His church for a thousand years here before the end of all things comes. But if we look at what the Lord Jesus Christ says with clear and plain words to His own disciples, we see that no such golden age for God’s true children shall arise here in the world, and there shall be no glorious days for the church toward the end of the world, quite the contrary. Concerning this, see Luke 21:25–36; Matt. 24:29, 36–44; Luke 18:8: “I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” Elsewhere in Scripture there are historical accounts about peoples and situations, things concerning science, etc., that can be difficult to explain because we do not have the necessary helps to understand them; but now even if we cannot organize these for ourselves, we still regard them as true and do not submit to any unbelieving critique.
By the way, it is right for us to impress it upon our hearts not to fall into the temptation of pondering what we call the unclear and difficult passages in Holy Scripture; but to hold on to what is the main subject. That is presented plainly and clearly enough for everyone. And the main subject is that Jesus is the way to salvation for all believing souls. “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” John 20:31. There cannot be anything more plainly expressed in any writing in human language than what the Scripture says about the way to salvation, and it must be obvious that the great main subject is precisely that we learn to know the way and walk on it. Here we can look at individual doctrines that are fundamental, but which obviously many people have not at all appropriated to themselves, for example: the doctrine of original [inherited] sin.
Let us look at some of the passages that discuss man’s natural corruption and inability for any good.
Genesis 6:5: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Psalm 51:7: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
Job 14:4: “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!”
John 3:6: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” And what is meant by flesh here is what we learn in Romans 8: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5–8).
Romans 5:12: “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.
Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:10ff.
It is clear enough from these passages that natural man is totally corrupt, dead in trespasses and sins. If one stays with the clear expressions of Scripture concerning this, one cannot go astray in the doctrine of original sin.
2) Likewise it is clearly stated in the Scripture that no human being can be saved by works. For “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” Rom. 3:20.
“For by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” Gal. 2:16. Is this not clear?
3) Furthermore it is clear that salvation is a free gift of grace from God for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:28: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”
Romans 5:1: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Romans 3:24: “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
But many think that they are soon finished with this and then they can begin to speculate on the unclear [passages]. That is a misconception. Let us first and foremost hold on to the main subject and continue with it. It is also necessary to warn against seeking solutions to questions that God has not answered in Scripture. No good can come from this, but much evil. If we know all about the clear and plain passages in God’s Word, then we can leave alone what seems to us unclear and not understandable until eternity sheds light on it for us. Yet to read [them] so that we deepen our knowledge. That is necessary.
The interpretation must also be according to the analogy of faith, Romans 12:: “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith.” In this passage prophecy cannot be the same as to foresee what shall happen in the future; but must mean interpretation of Scripture or explanation of Scripture. If anyone has received that gift of grace, then he should use it in accordance with faith. What does faith mean here? It cannot be a rule which is outside of and independent from Scripture; for if that were the case, then such a rule would be above Scripture, stand higher than it, and then Scripture would not be the only sure and perfect norm. But faith here means what should be believed, or Scripture itself. The interpretation must be Scriptural, that is, in agreement with Scripture and not going against it.
When someone wants to assert that he is teaching correctly, then he must prove the correct-ness of his doctrine from clear and obvious passages in God’s Word. If he cannot do that, then no one is obligated to believe him. When two doctrines are clearly revealed in God’s Word, which we cannot harmonize, but which seem to us to go against each other, then we are obligated to believe both parts. Recently it has become very much in fashion to say: “This is from God!” Naturally we cannot accept it without further ado unless one first proves that from Scripture. It will not be from God just because some human authority or another asserts it. It must be clear that even if an assembly were to accept a doctrinal statement with ever so great unanimity, it does not become truth and correct on that basis if it is not in agreement with Scripture otherwise. That is why we have the clause in our synodical Constitution that doctrine and questions of con-science cannot be decided by the majority.
Now one could also add some words about the Confessional writings. We also highly esteem them and accept them unconditionally; but not as sources alongside of Scripture. And why do we accept them unconditionally? Because the doctrine and confession contained in them is nothing other than Scripture’s pure doctrine. And among the Confessional writings there is nothing that can be compared with Luther’s Catechism. Its excellence has been emphasized time after time by the best men of the church. In simplicity and clarity as well as in depth it is unsurpassed. It contains a short exposition of Scripture’s main truths.
Let us hold firmly to its simple and clear truth. Let us not be deceived away from the sure ground. It says that in Hebrews 10:23–25. [“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”] That applies to the individual in the congregation and it applies to the whole congregation. It is the individuals together who make up the congregation. And God has entrusted to the congregation the administration of the Means of Grace, the Word and Sacraments. It [the congregation / the church] will give an account to Him, that is sure. But therein it is also retrained, since it must then in everything deal according to God’s Word. Just as the pas-tor is bound by it; so also the congregation is bound by it. And the true confession should be maintained in the congregation.
But then we have the church body, the gathering of several congregations under a common administration and with a common goal. Much has been said and written in recent years about the “church body” and the congregations’ relationship to it. The Synod’s old position was what is expressed in these words: “The alliance of a church body [Samfundsforbindelsen] is not a divine, but a human arrangement.” See the Synod Report 1903, page 90. What then is a church body for? What task does it have? The church body is a free organization [sammenslutning] of congregations. The goal shall be to promote what is the task of the congregation [church]. The church body should hold firm to the good confession, promote the unity of the Spirit, and be of help and support to the individual congregations for the defense and preservation of the truth. Therefore the church body does not have any right, either, to decide anything against God’s Word. It does not stand over the congregations, but should be a maidservant to the congregations. In this relationship one could mention much that has happened in recent years. Of this, only one thing shall be mentioned.
At the meeting in Minneapolis in 1913 the following proposal was rejected: “The Synod expresses the sincere hope that God might bless the committee’s work so that it might lead to the three church bodies being able to work together in the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace for the edification of the body of Christ.” What will someone in the future say about a church body that can reject such a proposal?
God’s Word and Its Characteristics.
Conviction about the divine origin of God’s Word is an effect of the Word’s own power over the heart, which lets it work on it. The Word’s characteristics:
1) Its efficacy (efficacia).
John 6:63: “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” That applies to both the spoken and written Word. “It produces life.” It sustains life. It is not just a message about salvation; but it brings and bestows and produces salvation.
2) The Word’s authority (auctoritas causativa) John 16:13. (Auctoritas Normativa) against Rationalism, Mysticism, and Tradition.
3) The Word’s sufficiency (sufficientia) requires no complement, no supplement.
4) The Word’s clarity (perspicuitas). From this is follows that it contains in itself the stipulations for its interpretation (interporeti). It is the interpreter’s task to try to find out the meaning of every single passage, partly by the grammatical association, partly by the association of thoughts in which the passage appears in the holy main text, all under constant reference to the historical situation during which the Word originated. There still remain obscurities, [some] clearer, less clear.
One must pay attention to the context (preceding and following), to the purpose and goal. One cannot get that from Scripture if one takes an expression out of context and considers it by itself. In that way people have often been deceived by a false interpretation that thus seemingly has foundation in God’s Word. In our time there has been a very strong movement to unite all Christian church bodies into one, and it is really also believed that it will succeed; for, they say, Christ prayed for it and prophesied about it. Since He says in John 17:21: “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” In a church journal the following was printed:
“The church is weak, first because it is split. The split into four large divisions that are in conflict with one another, and indeed in several respects small factions that constantly increase in number. Christ prayed in His last night, that we should all be one, so that the world should be able to believe that God sent Him. We are extremely far from being one. And so the world does not believe that God sent Him either.” What kind of interpretation of Scripture is that? First of all, it cannot be proved from John 17 that Christ prayed for any other unity for His people than unity in true faith in Him, and secondly, there is no evidence at all that the world as such will ever come to believe that God sent Christ. In the days of prosperity of the pope’s church, the church was certainly as close to external unity as it will ever be, and yet there is certainly no one who dares to assert that at that time the world believed more in Christ than now. It is sad how this passage has been misused.
Then one points to John 10:16: “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” The context here shows that Jesus is speaking about Jews and Gentiles. There is one flock, all true believers, everywhere in the world; there are not several flocks. And there is one shepherd for this one flock — Jesus Christ. But that is something completely different from there being one flock outwardly. Many other examples could be mentioned.
The passages in Holy Scripture in which a doctrine is only touched upon must be judged according to those in which the doctrine is discussed purposely and in more detail than in others, and not the other way around.
Quotation from Johann Gerhard, p. 49, Synod Report 1870.
“Thus the doctrine of justification is presented with definite purpose and likewise has its source [hjemsted, home place] in Romans 3 and 4, Eph. 2, Gal, 2 and 3. (Not in the epistle of James.) The other passages that discuss justification must therefore be judged according to these. The actual source for the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper are Matt. 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; 1 Cor. 10 and 11. Therefore the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper must be taken from these, not from other passages that discuss other things, for example John 6:54–55.”
Every passage in Scripture has only one meaning intended by the Holy Spirit, namely the literal. It is said that Scripture can be explained in different ways, and that there are quite opposite interpretations of a single Scripture passage. And that is true. But these different meanings and interpretations cannot all be correct, so that one can be just as good as another. For example, in Genesis. We say that “days” there means what the words also clearly say: “days.” Others say that it indicates periods of so many thousands of years. Both cannot be correct. They are completely contrary to each other. The Reformed say that in the Words of Institution: “This is My Body,” is = it signifies. We say that the meaning is just what the words say, etc., and they say that it can be immaterial which of these meanings we have, which is to deny the clearness and clarity of Scripture. Every passage in Scripture has only one meaning intended by the Holy Spirit — the literal. Then faith is founded precisely on what is written, and faith is a definite assurance of what is hoped for and a firm conviction of what is not seen [Heb. 11:1]. If it were not true that every passage in Scripture has only one meaning, the literal, then one could not have such a definite assurance and firm conviction about what we should believe. Take note of what we say in the conclusion of Luther’s Explanation to the Articles [of the Creed]: “This is most certainly true.” Words which we perhaps so heedlessly passed by when we read the Catechism, but whose significance we learned later.
Since the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek, then in the interpretation of Scripture one must go back to this basic text. Now it is not everyone’s task to know Greek and Hebrew, at the same time neither is there any proof that one is a reliable interpreter of Scripture if one knows these languages. But that certainly shows that it is necessary for the teachers of the church to know these languages, so that they can be qualified to read the basic text and defend the truth against error. It can be good that we also remember this when it becomes more and more common for the pastor to be required to travel around everywhere and get involved in restless activity which does not really bring any other result than that the pastor does not get needed rest to study. It will soon become clear what fruits will result when the congregation demands the pastor to be like Fridthjof the Bold about whom it is said: “He traveled far and wide, like a wanderer.” No wonder the pastor becomes too old when he is over 50, and that people would really like to be finished with him in order to get a younger one.
Now what is said and much more that could be said about this topic ought not be just talk, so that we chime in and say: Yes, that is quite correct. So it is; but do not let it become expressly obvious in our life. To cry out: “It is written!” can also be the devil. Do not let it be a valid complaint against us that we say it, but hardly mean it. That we are satisfied that if we are right in theory and in resolutions, we understand it in public meetings; but when we should live according to it, that then we do not take it so exactly. Let us help one another so it can permeate
1. The life of the individual Christian.
2. The congregation, and
3. The church body.
If our faith and doctrine is that God’s Word is the only sure and perfect norm for faith, doctrine, and life, then let it also be that. Let us diligently search the Scriptures and take reason captive under the obedience of faith and have a willing heart to live according to the Word, then we ourselves shall be blessed and also become a blessing to others. For Jesus says: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Luke 21:33) and “The word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).
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[These are summaries of comments of various people made during discussion of the essay.]
When we read the Scripture, the Word, we must always consider that it is God’s Word. God is there; we are standing right beside Him, the living, almighty, unchangeable God. It is Him speaking to us. It is not an earthly mighty king or lord, but our God who created us. He created us and knows our abilities and understanding and knows how to speak in such a way that we can grasp and understand what He wants us to know, and what He reveals in the Word.
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Speaking about authority and religion, reminds me of a priest once speaking on the Word of God, and set forth that nothing had authority except it was preached by a roman prelate. The Church gives the Word of God authority. Why is it necessary for us to lay stress on the authority of the word as God’s word? Because here are great dangers. The dangers are of two kinds: first — this human authority and second the human reason and without these two things, it is claimed, the Word of God has no authority. Now, let us note, we have the Word of God, and that in itself is the highest authority because spoken by and of God and has his authority in it self. The sectarians an set this principle aside, as did their founders Zwingli and Calvin. Take for instance the words of Christ in instituting the sacrament of the altar. Here the sects claim, that it is not true, what the Lord said; it cannot be his true body and blood; bread and wine only signifies his body and blood. So we see their principle of interpretation is radically wrong. But Luther at Marburg 1529 adhered strictly to the authority of God’s word and the true principle of expounding scripture. We are simply to believe what God has said. His word requires faith, faith in him and there-fore faith in His immutable word. [This paragraph is printed in English in the Report.]
Let us apply this principle to our time and our situation. Here we see individual great men stand up with such authority that they take upon themselves to set aside and set up doctrines of faith according to their own head, and then they want to ascribe these to us without us the right to be able to examine whether they are taken from Scripture and can be proved from it.
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I am glad about what has been said. But we must see to it that we hold on to sure things that especially now can be useful to us in our struggle. What matters is to deal according to the Word: trim your sails to the wind! That is to say, we must see to it that we do not go astray here. We have enemies on all sides. Some of them are not honest. We must remember here what we learned as children, namely, what the Savior taught us in His prayer: “Hallowed be Thy name.” If we follow this, we do not err and everything is decided correctly. “That God’s Word be taught in its truth and purity and we as children of God live according to it,” that is all good. If there is anything that the world and even many so-called Lutheran theologians hate, it is this, that God’s Word is taught in its truth and purity and followed in practice. A Danish Lutheran theologian has said: “It is a strange thought that Scripture is God’s Word; for that is not true.” This is a dangerous point of view: that doctrine has no significance. Both Denmark as well as Norway and Germany give plenty of sad examples of this. No one among us will reject [the idea of] accepting Scripture as God’s Word. But that is neither enough nor everything. Here we enter into the Scriptural principle that Holy Scripture is the only sure and perfect rule. The Rationalists in times past and the Synergists nowadays accept the Scripture as God’s Word. In 1917 a merger was put in place that goes directly against the Scriptural principle. In “Opgjør” [Settlement] there are many things that must be deleted if it is to be orthodox [rentlærende, pure-teaching]. I will just mention three here: The first is §1 on the doctrine in the second form; the second in the clause that refers to Article XI in the Formula of Concord; the third is the “feeling of responsibility,” etc. If that is not changed, the door is open to synergism. The good gentlemen say: It is not against Scripture and the Confessions to delete these things, but “Opgjør” stands firm and cannot be changed. And they mock us who insist on change, and we are supposed to be completely silent. These people cannot believe that Scripture is God’s Word. They have kept for themselves a back door where they can slip away. You can be allowed to believe and teach what you want. But this is sophistry; our people have been taken in and deceived.
That exact Scriptural principle is voiced [tilstemmes] by the Rationalists and the modern theologians; they speak just as we do. But they do not believe it and appear in sheep’s clothing. The same is true of the Roman Catholics and the Reformed. Yet these [the Reformed] say even more, namely that Scripture must be interpreted according to reason. Recently one could read in a journal that one who denies that the Lord’s Body and Blood are in the Lord’s Supper can still be a Christian. This can be so when it is due to ignorance. But it is excluded that a synergist can be a Christian. The synergist holds that man himself must do something in the matter of his salvation, even if ever so little, for example, by saying: salvation does not depend on God alone.
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We have now gone through a crisis and know why we cannot go along in the new external church union. We now stand on sure ground and not on anything shaky and loose. We ought here to remember Pastor Juul’s words about standing on the rock and not in the marsh. Those who have entered the union certainly will or already have learned where they stand. All of us assembled here surely also know where we stand. Here we have an object lesson before us that belongs to the basic things for us. We do not simply need thoroughness [grundighet] in our teaching, but we need something foundational [grundleggende].
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Here we ought not let it rest with just talking, but we must let these things become obviously apparent in our life. Let us not give occasion to our being accused that we are satisfied with just getting it said, but that we do not bother about whether we live according to it or not. It is of the highest significance for ourselves, our families, and congregations. This must remain a force in our church body, so that we remain a powerful salt that is sorely needed in our corrupt time. It was difficult earlier for our Fathers in our church body, but now it is even more difficult, since we have dangerous opponents in all quarters. We must not forget that a very powerful and dangerous opponent is our own flesh which wants to take it easy. Is it a serious thing for us to do, and do we have a heart willing to live according to the Word?
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When there is talk here about the power of the Word being found expressly in the Apostle’s words: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” [Romans 1:16]; this has always been the Synod’s position. And it is a very dangerous thing to allow any yielding from God’s clear Word; for every yielding and error in doctrine is a sin, a spiritual poison to life in God. Now we know what some drops of deadly poison mixed in a glass of water mean for physical life to the person who drinks it; even if the poison is not seen or tasted in the glass. The effect will not fail; so also in spiritual life. False doc-trine is also depicted in Scripture as dead flesh, and what effect it has on the physical body for everyone, so also in the body of Christ. The effect is also beautifully described in hymn 70 in our hymnbook: “When sinners see their lost condition,” etc. The effect of God’s Word is radical; it creates life out of death, peace out of unrest; it changes people’s minds and sets it in a new relationship both toward God and men. Reverence for God is useful for everything.
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Interpretation of Scripture is of the greatest significance in the church. It is said that we lay-people do not understand doctrinal discussions where it revolves around true and false doctrine and that we do not understand Scripture. And it is certain, if we do not read and think over what we read and hear from Scripture, then we can never come to understand its doctrines. But if we do it with prayer to God for the enlightenment of His grace, etc., then we can come to understand Scripture in everything that concerns our salvation, and will learn to distinguish between true and false doctrine. Thus we can also counter those people who want to make Scripture unclear and useless to us. I will refer to an example from the Old Testament where one of the Lord’s prophets had gone astray because he took other people’s words as God’s Word, namely 1 Kings 13. That is also how it goes in our days when one lets go of God’s Word and holds to what human beings put in its place. If they come to us and say they are God’s prophets, then we shall answer: Then you have God’s Word; I have that and stay with it. In that way we can counter tempters and can be preserved.
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The unity of the Spirit is given by God; His gift therefore is not from us, we ought therefore heartily to thank God for it.
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I want to urge us to thank God for the confidence in each other that He has created among us. It is not temporal gain, riches, honor, friendship, and power, but honest love for God and our neighbor. It is assured that we are united in faith and confession. But let us remember there can be a great diversity in gifts, traits, education, and opinions regarding things that do not touch the conscience, if we are simply united in the Word and in faith, then we can stand together and expect blessing and become a blessing.