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The Doctrinal Position of the National Lutheran Council

Rev. John Hendricks

1920 Synod Convention Essay

1) The president of the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America has repeatedly declared “that full agreement in doctrine and practice was reached at the meeting held in Chicago. 1919, and that this meeting was the most memorable event next to the amalgamation in 1917. He also states that the unity attained in doctrine and in church practice will have incalculable consequences and possibilities for the future of the Lutheran Church of America.”

2) The secretary of the National Lutheran Council declares: “Absolute unity is reached in all fundamental doctrines and church practice.”

3) All districts of the New Church body adopted the following points at their meetings last summer:

a) “The Iowa District of the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America heartily indorses and approves the organization and work of the National Lutheran Council.

b) The Iowa District furthermore approves the election of the President of the Norwegian Lutheran Church as President of the National Lutheran Council, and also the election of Rev. Lauritz Larsen as the executive secretary of the National Lutheran Council.

c) The Iowa District expresses its gratitude to God for the unity in regard to doctrine and practice between a number of Lutheran Church Bodies represented at the meeting in Chicago, the 11–13 of March, 1919, by representative men of the same church bodies.”

4) The South Dakota, Southern Minnesota, and the Iowa District adopted in addition to this the following:

“Iowa District authorizes the church council of our church to take the necessary steps in order to effect co-ordination and co-operation in home and in foreign mission work wherever it may be regarded beneficial to the welfare of the Church and required by the urgent need of our Lutheran brethren in Europe or in the mission fields.”

5) In the Lutheran Church Herald, April 6, 1920 we read:

“The Council was discussed at the district meetings last year and some resolutions were passed. All districts approved the organization of the council, sanctioned the election of Dr. H.G. Stub as president and Dr. Lauritz Larsen as secretary and expressed their gratitude for the unity in doctrine and practice as expressed in the theses agreed to at a representative gathering in Chicago.

The South Dakota, Southern Minnesota, and Iowa district, with some dissenting votes, decided to leave the question of co-ordination and co-operation in home and foreign mission work to the Church Council, but the other districts, while not passing identical resolutions, agreed to postpone this question until the meeting this year. Meanwhile Dr. Stub and Dr. Larsen were authorized to represent our Church in the Council and do the work as was necessary.”

These statements by the President and the Secretary of the National Lutheran Council, and the resolutions passed by the Norwegian Lutheran Church prove that these men and this Church Body believe there exists full unity in doctrine. and practice between them and the different church bodies constituting the National Lutheran Council.

The object of our investigation will he to ascertain if the basis of this unity, the theses adopted in Chicago 1919, is a full guaranty for doctrinal unity and church practice.

The theses are printed in the organ of the Norwegian Lutheran Church, The Lutheran Church Herald, March 25, 1919, under the following heading: “Mutual Declaration Regarding Doctrine and Practice in our Lutheran Church with a View to Possible Cor-ordination in Mission Work.”

The Bible, The Inspired Word of God.

This paragraph reads:

“All Lutheran bodies represented in the National Lutheran Council are agreed in the fundamental doctrine that the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments are the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and only rule of faith, doctrine, and practice.” The canonical books of the Old and New Testaments seem to he acknowledged as the inspired Word of God, and the paragraph appears to be satisfactory to all who hold that the Bible contains nothing but God’s Word. It seems to establish the true doctrine of inspiration.

But upon a closer examination this paragraph, as the other paragraphs, reveals one weakness. It is too indefinite. It is so general that a false doctrine about inspiration may easily find its way into it. There is nothing in this paragraph which prohibits one from asserting that the Bible only contains the Word of God and not that every word in the Bible is God’s Word given by inspiration.

A general statement is made in this paragraph which all Protestants agree on, but which does not exclude the modern theory of inspiration.

The Old Synod taught in regard to inspiration that the sacred writers were organs of God, so that what they taught, God taught. The Spirit of God in a miraculous manner gave to them what they should speak and write, and the very words they should use.

We fail to find this definite doctrine of inspiration in this paragraph. On the other hand, we find a doctrine set forth in such a general manner, a doctrine that is so broad that the modern theory about inspiration may easily find its way into the paragraph.

And it is a historical fact that the Eastern Synods have defended and taught the modern doctrine of inspiration, a doctrine that holds that the Bible contains the Word of God, but not that every word in the Bible is given by inspiration. Prominent men in these Synods deny verbal inspiration. In a booklet published in 1917, Dr. Delk asserts that “no theory of verbal inspiration is longer tenable,” since “modern scholarship has set theology free from that false idea of inspiration.” And Dr. H.E. Jacobs, theological professor in the General Council, said in an introduction to Dr. Haas’s Biblical Criticism that, “if the verbal theory of inspiration means that every word and letter (of the Bible) is inspired,” that is “an assumption for which there is no warrant.”

The Work of Christ, Redemption, and Reconciliation.

This paragraph teaches that Jesus Christ is God and man, and that He suffered and died for the human race, fulfilled the Law and paid the penalty for the whole world.

We have no objection to this paragraph, but what we object to is that the Norwegian Lutheran Church declares that there is unity in regard to doctrine between a number of Lutheran Church bodies represented at the meeting in Chicago, the 11–13 of March, 1919. Dr. Delk, of the General Synod, attacks the doctrine that in the person of Jesus Christ the divine and human natures are “inseparably joined together.” He also declares that the “ransom theory” of the atonement is a “delusion”, a “time-worn fallacy.” He denies that the death of Christ was a “substitutional sacrifice” for the sins of the world. This doctrine, which is the very heart and center of our faith, is denied by Dr. Delk And the book in which Dr. Delk denies these fundamental doctrines is highly praised and advertised in the General Synod. We fail to see how the Norwegian Lutheran Church can agree in doctrine with this church body.


This paragraph reads:

“Absolution does not essentially differ from the forgiveness of sin offered by the Gospel. The only difference is that absolution is the direct application of forgiveness of sin to the individual desiring the consolation of the Gospel.”

This paragraph teaches that absolution is the direct application of forgiveness of sin to the individual desiring the consolation of the Gospel.

We have taught and yet teach that absolution consists in this that the communicant receives forgiveness from the pastor as from God Himself, and in no wise doubt, but firmly believes, that our sins are thereby forgiven before God in heaven; and that absolution is not conditional. We have taught and yet teach that absolution is just as real whether the communicant accepts the gift or not, as the condition of the communicant neither detracts or adds anything to the contents of absolution.

This paragraph teaches that absolution is the direct application of forgiveness of sin to the individual desiring the consolation of the Gospel. To “apply” on the individual the forgiveness of sin and to “pronounce or declare” the forgiveness of sin to the communicant are two different things. To “pronounce” the forgiveness of sin is according to John 20:23 the same as to remit or forgive sin, but to “apply” the forgiveness of sin is to use or employ the forgiveness of sin on the communicant. We shall also note the expression, “the individual desiring the consolation of the Gospel.” Here a condition is attached to the individual communicant partaking of the absolution, this condition is that the communicant “desiring” the consolation of the Gospel. We can hardly put any other meaning on this expression, “desiring the consolation of the Gospel,” than to believe, as the beginning of faith often consists only in a longing or desire after God’s grace. Christ says: “Blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.” (Matt. 5:6).

From this we see that the paragraph teaches a conditional absolution which the Old Synod declared is no absolution.


“Faith is not in any measure a human effort. Faith is an act of man in sofar as it is man who believes. But both the power to believe and the act of believing are God’s work and gift in the human soul or heart.”

Our opponents have always maintained that faith is a work of God, and that the power to believe is from the Lord. But they have also maintained that the successful result depends upon man himself when God through His Word operates on man’s heart. And in order to emphasize this doctrine stress is put upon words which speak about Christ gathering the children of Jerusalem together “even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” (Matt. 23:37).

The paragraph in its general terms is suitable for such a construction, and still more so, because it fails to state that God also must create in man the will to believe.


“Conversion as the word is commonly used in our Lutheran Confession comprises contrition and faith, produced by the Law and the Gospel. If a man is not converted, the responsibility and guilt fall on him because he is in spite of God’s all sufficient grace through the call, ‘would not’ according to the Word of Christ, Matth. 23:37: ‘How often would I have gathered thy children even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not’.

If a man is converted the glory belongs to God alone, whose work it is throughout. Before concersion or in conversion, there is no co-operation of man, but at the very moment man is converted, co-operation is never independent of the Holy Spirit, but always to such an extent and so long as God by His Holy Spirit rules, guides, and leads him.”

This paragraph seems to teach that man’s salvation is of grace alone and not in the least the work of man.

But as the paragraph deals with a doctrine that constitutes the very foundation of the doctrine of Election a more complete treaty of conversion should have been given.

During the controversy about Election, yes, at the present day, prominent men teach that faith is a condition of salvation. As late as this last winter Prof. Keyser, of the General Synod, writes in American Lutheran Survey: “Man’s salvation depends on faith as a condition” and, “indeed, the reception of salvation by faith is the only condition on which God can save men by grace (sola gratia).”

A condition is that which is required in order that something else can take place. An illustration from daily life may make this clear to us. Suppose a man says: “I will give you $100.” If nothing more is said the hundred dollars is a gift. But suppose he adds: “if you work for me a month,” this addition is a condition and changes the gift into an earned salary. So also with our salvation, if faith is a condition God demands from us, then it is no longer a gift but a salary we have obtained by fulfilling the condition. Therefore, if faith is a condition it ceases to be a gift. Dr. Koren, certainly, states correctly the case when he says: “If faith is a condition or a requirement, then it is a merit.”


This paragraph states that “the causes of Election to salvation are the mercy of God and the most holy merit of Christ; nothing in us on account of which God has elected us to eternal life. We reject all forms of synergism and all forms of Calvinism.”

During the controversy which the Old Synod had about this doctrine our opponents always denied that they taught synergism — man’s co-operation with God in conversion — they even claimed that the Formula of Concord contained the doctrine of man’s good conduct in conversion. This being the case a confession by accepting the Formula of Concord is not sufficient. If any one asserts that he accepts our Lutheran Confession and by his action shows that he plainly rejects certain portions thereof, then the action decides against the mere assertion.

In examining this paragraph we find a very serious omission, nothing is said regarding the position of faith in Election. Any one is permitted to teach that faith is a “necessary prerequisite of Election” or that we are elected “in view of faith” or “on account of faith.” This un-Biblical doctrine changes the relation of faith and thereby the NATURE of faith. Let us never forget that the nature of the truths in the Word of God is determined by its relation. If we push faith out of the eternal decree of Election and place it ahead of Election we thereby not only change its position but also its nature, it no longer remains a fruit of Election, but it becomes the necessary prerequisite of Election, something which guided and determined God in forming His elective decree. Dr. Koren says: “If this, that God foresaw faith, is the thing that guided and determined God in Election, then the term ‘in view of faith’ is false.”

Strange to say, the President of the Norwegian Lutheran Church states under oath before the Court in Northwood, Iowa, that he finds no difference between faith as an antecedent to Election and faith as a fruit of Election. He is asked: “That is the way that you explain that there is no difference between faith as an antecedent and faith as a result?” Stub: “Yes. there is no difference.” In former years Mr. Stub found a great difference between these two terms.


Concerning baptism the paragraph states that the, “Holy Ghost works regeneration of the sinner both through baptism and the Gospel. Both are, therefore, justly called the means of regeneration.”

Rev. John Wagner, in the Lutheran Quarterly last year, maintained that infants are not endowed with saving faith in the act of baptism. And Dr. Keyser, of the General Synod, writes: “Most of our children receive in baptism the seed of regeneration.” We hold that all children are regenerated in baptism and not merely that most of them receive the seed of regeneration. A strong faction in the General Synod holds the Reformed view concerning Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. How the Norwegian Lutheran Church can thank God for the unity in doctrine with these Lutherans we fail to see.

The theses fail to mention the Lord’s Supper and the Millennium (Chiliasm) although it is a historical fact that the Reformed teachings concerning the Lord’s Supper and the Millennium have many adherents in the Eastern Synods and that these false doctrines have caused agitations for years in these Synods and still are taught by ministers of the Gospel and Professors in the theological schools.

Mutual Declaration Regarding Practice.

The church practice in the Eastern Synods has continually leaned toward the so-called “New Measures”. These “New Measures” consist in co-operation with the Reformed in an exchange of pulpits, altar fellowship, secret societies, chiliasm, rationalism and externalism.

When the General Council was organized in 1867 at Fort Wayne, the Missouri Synod and the Ohio Synod did not join the new organization, not because the constitution and the confession of the Council were faulty, but because un-Lutheran practices still existed in various Synods. The Ohio Synod asked the Council to give a resolution on the following “Four Points”, namely: Chiliasm, Altar-fellowship, Pulpit-fellowship, and The secret societies.

These “Four Points” were discussed during the following years without any concessions from the Council or resolutions to root out the old leaven. During the discussions some of the members of the Council were of the opinion that it was a dangerous subject that ought to be avoided, others that it was below the dignity of the Council to take up the subject, and still others thought that the Council’s time was too precious for such discussions. The result of the discussions was the “Akron Rule”, which avoids the main issue and refuses to take a definite Lutheran attitude and allows every pastor to act according to his conscience. Dr. Seiss, one of the most prominent members of the General Council, declares concerning the “Akron Rule”: “They are badly mistaken who believe that the General Council demands that only Lutherans must be admitted to the Lord’s Supper at our Lutheran Churches.”

When we bear in mind, that this un-Lutheran spirit was the real cause of the numerous conflicts in the Eastern Synods, a warning example is placed before us by which we certainly ought to profit. The history of the Lutheran Church in America testifies to coming ages that a firm adherence to the Word of God and to the Confessions of our Lutheran Church assures a strong Church.

In the declaration adopted by the Norwegian Lutheran Church we fail to find this assuratnce.

1. The document states that our Church REGARDS it as a matter of PRINCIPLE THAT ITS MEMBERS attend services in their own churches, that their children be baptized by their own pastors, and that they partake of the Holy Supper at their own altars, and that pulpit and altar fellowship with pastors and people of other confessions are to be AVOIDED as contrary to a true and consistent Lutheranism.

2. Associations or societies which have religious exercises from which the name of the Triune God or the name of Jesus Christ AS A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE is excluded or which teach salvation through works must be REGARDED as incompatible with the Lutheran Church.

3. We promise each other that it shall be our earnest purpose to give a fearless testimony and do our utmost to place our respective church bodies in the right Christian position in this matter.

These paragraphs are similar to those dealing with doctrine. They are alike in this respect that they both are evasive and general, so general in their terms that they may be interpreted many different ways and each interpretation may be claimed to be the correct one.

The authors of the declaration claim that their Church REGARDS it as a matter of principle, they do not say IT IS a command given in God’s Word that we shall attend these Churches where the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and where the Sacraments are administered according to the institution of the Lord.

Regarding pulpit- and altar fellowship with the sects they merely state that it must be AVOIDED as contrary to consistent Lutheranism. We are of the firm opinion that such unionism must not only be avoided, but that it cannot be tolerated by a church body claiming to be Lutheran. We are also of the firm conviction that such unionism is not only contrary to consistent Lutheranism but contrary to the Word of God.

The statement concerning the secret societies is of special interest. It is stated that societies which as a MATTER OF PRINCIPLE exclude the name of the Triune God and the name of Christ are incompatible with the Lutheran Church. Such societies only which have a settled rule of action or a governing law of conduct to exclude the name of the Triune God and the name of Christ are not in harmony with the Lutheran church. Not a word is said about the fact that secret society members must not be admitted as members of the church, neither do we find anything about this that the lodges are not only contrary to the Lutheran Church but to the WORD OF GOD.

When we remember that the lodges are not only tolerated in the Eastern Synods, but that they are the leading element in these church bodies, do we then ask too much when we demand that a definite platform be given in these resolutions which condemns the lodge principles and asks that the Lutheran Church keeps aloof from this evil?

But this resolution, as well as the “Akron Rule”, leaves the lodge question undecided. How Dr. H.G. Stub and the Norwegian Lutheran Church could feel justified in thanking God for the unity in faith and church practice with these Eastern Synods, we fail to see, but we see clearly that the Lutheran faith has suffered terribly in the past by attempts of union and co-operation with various Christian denominations and tendencies. This unionistic spirit has penetrated the heart and the soul of a large part of the Lutheran Church and it has poisoned its life-roots.

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