Rev. J.E. Thoen
1924 Synod Convention Essay
When the President of our Synod requested me to write a paper for this meeting, he expressed a desire to get a clear statement of our objections to the union which was consummated in 1917 between the former Norwegian Synod, the United Church and the Hauge’s Synod. It was especially for the benefit of our young people that such a paper was desired.
The subject assigned was the first paragraph of “Opgjør”, or what has been called the Madison Agreement. When I came to write on this subject, I found it difficult to present our objections to the union in an adequate way without touching quite extensively upon the contents of the whole document. The reason why it is difficult to treat the first paragraph alone, so as to express our objections to the union, is that I am unable to see that the “Opgjør” is anything more than a compromise, and that no differences of doctrine have been cleared up or settled. Looking upon it from this viewpoint, which I am convinced is correct, it would be difficult to say more about the first paragraph than that it is a statement of the doctrine of the United Church concerning the two forms, and that it demands an acknowledgment of this doctrine without reservation. This we have objected to, and object to now, as something which the Norwegian Synod had always consistently refused to do.
In order to make it clear why we refused to vote for the adoption of “Opgjør” and enter the union, it is necessary to recall the doctrinal situation, especially in the former Norwegian Synod and the United Church. Committees from the three church bodies which united in 1917 had been at work for several years previous to the adoption of “Opgjør” in 1912. These committees consisted mainly of theological professors and the presidents of the three churches. They were elected for the purpose of discussing the doctrinal differences between their churches, and, if possible, to come to an agreement upon the basis of the Scriptures and the confessions of the Lutheran Church. They seemed to succeed well at first. In the year 1908 they had apparently agreed upon the doctrines of absolution, lay preaching and conversion. In 1909 they discussed the doctrine of election. They met many times, but could not come to an agreement, and it ended in a complete rupture They decided not to meet any more, and reported this to their respective churches. These committees were competent and learned men, who understood the doctrines of their church and were able to express them in adequate form. When these committees failed to agree, a great clamor arose against them, especially in the United Church. Dr. H.G. Stub had written a set of theses on the doctrine of election. It was during the discussion of Dr. Stub’s theses that the negotiations stranded. The members of the United Church committee declared that they could not subscribe to these theses, because they contained unbiblical and unlutheran doctrine. Dr. T.H. Dahl, the president of the United Church and also a member of the committee, reported to his church, stating the reasons for the discontinuance of the committee-meetings. He declared that the committee of the Norwegian Synod insisted upon the adoption of a set of theses written by Dr. Stub. This his committee could not do, because these theses contained unbiblical and unlutheran doctrine. Dr. Stub was very much offended at this, and laid his theses before the district meetings of the Norwegian Synod in 1910. At Dr. Stub’s urgent request the theses were adopted by the Synod as a correct expression of the Synod’s doctrine of election. The following year the United Church committee issued a pamphlet bearing the title “Naadevalget og Foreningssagen,” in which they stated their reasons for declaring that Dr. Stub’s theses contained unbiblical and unlutheran doctrine, and also set forth their own doctrine of election. This, however, did not still the clamor in the United Church against these committees. A loud and insistent demand was made, that new committees be elected and the discussions continued. At the annual meeting of the United Church in 1911 at St. Paul, Minn., this demand was granted, and the United Church elected a new committee consisting of younger and less experienced men. The Norwegian Synod met in the same place a week after the meeting of the United Church. Dr. Stub, who now had become the president of the Synod, recommended that the Synod follow the example of the United Church, saying that he was sure that his colleagues on the committee had no objection to this. It is a fact, however, that he had not consulted the other members of his committee on this matter. He gave as his reasons for making such a recommendation, that the Synod should show itself equally as liberal and desirous for union as the United Church. The result was that the Synod also elected a new committee of less experienced men. After a preliminary meeting these new committees met at Madison, Wis., in February 1912, and are the authors of “Opgjør”. The supposed reason for electing new committees was to make sure that no personal ill feeling or old prejudices should prevent a purely objective discussion of the question. It was the understanding of the people at least, that these new committees were to make an earnest effort to come to an agreement in accordance with Scripture and the Lutheran confessions, which the old committees had failed to do. The result of their deliberations was the “Opgjør”, or the so-called Madison Agreement.
Does this document contain an agreement on the doctrine of election between the former Norwegian Synod and the United Church? In order to answer this question correctly, we must know in what points the former Norwegian Synod and United Church differed in the doctrine of election before the adoption of “Opgjør”, and then search this document to see how the committees have cleared away or settled these differences.
It has been claimed, that the only way in which we may know the doctrine of a church is through its official records. What the church has adopted by formal resolution alone can be regarded as its confession and doctrine, for which it is responsible. The utterances of individual men in the church must not be ascribed to the church as a whole. This principle has been applied frequently during the union movement in the Norwegian churches of this country. If this is a correct principle, then we find a most peculiar situation confronting us. The former Norwegian Synod had not by formal resolution adopted any specific statement of the doctrine of election, as its doctrine, until the year 1910, when it adopted Dr. Stub’s theses on election. The United Church had never formally adopted any specific statement of the doctrine of election. The conclusion must be then, that these churches never had held any doctrine of election up to the year 1910. Yet we find that the Synod was split by a controversy on the doctrine of election. This controversy on election was continued between the United Church and the Synod for twenty-five years after the Synod had been split. These two churches stood solidly in opposition to each other in this controversy. They fought each for its doctrine. It is an absurdity, therefore, to set up the claim, that they had no doctrine of election. How may we then learn to know their doctrine? We may learn to know their doctrine by the writings and utterances of their teachers and ministers. What the teachers and ministers of a church teach without protest must be the doctrine of that church, whether the church has formally resolved to adopt such doctrine or not, or whether it agrees with its formally adopted confession or not. A confession that is opposed by the commonly accepted practice of the church, is no longer its confession. It is a dead letter, and has no significance, as far as that church is concerned. We propose, therefore, to find the differences in the doctrine of election between the former Norwegian Synod and the United Church by examining the writings and public utterances of their teachers and ministers.
In order to avoid confusion concerning the doctrine of election and the so-called forms of doctrines, I wish to show firstly how the United Church and the Synod stood in regard to the first and second form of the doctrine of election. The differences that existed in this respect, the committees were expected to clear away. They were supposed to come to an agreement in accord with Scripture and the Lutheran confession.
First, let us see what the United Church taught concerning the two forms previous to the adoption of “Opgjør”.
The United Church.
The old committee of the United Church consisted of the theological professors and the president of that church. They were competent men, who knew and taught the accepted doctrines of their church. These were the men who declared that they could not with a good conscience adopt Dr. Stub’s theses of election, because these theses, according to their opinion, contained unbiblical and unlutheran doctrine. In the above mentioned pamphlet entitled “Naadevalget og Foreningssagen,” they state their doctrine concerning the two forms and the doctrine of election. What these men say is evidently the doctrine of the United Church.
We quote, “Naadevalget og Foreningssagen,” page 10:
“Just as the Scriptures and the Confessions teach that God in time is determined by faith in his work of salvation, just as definitely and clearly they teach that God in eternity was determined by the foreseen faith in deciding what individual persons should be elected unto eternal life.”
Here we must notice that they teach, that the so-called second form, which bases election upon the fore-knowledge of God, is in accord with Scripture and the Confessions. Again page 15: “His (God’s) eternal decree is conditioned in every point by what he foresees in every individual,” (of the elect). Here again we notice that they emphasize the fore-knowledge of God as determining God’s decree of election. They teach election according to the second form.
Dr. J.N. Kildahl had also written a set of theses on election, which were proposed as a basis for discussion in the meetings of the old committees. Dr. Kildahl was a member of the committee, and professor of systematic theology at the United Church Theological Seminary. His statement ought to be a correct statement of the doctrine of that church. His theses were published in the pamphlet form which we have quoted. The 7th thesis reads as follows:
If the word election is used in a wider sense, it includes the whole doctrine concerning God’s purpose, counsel, will and ordination in Christ, pertaining to our redemption, call, justification and salvation, as it is further explained in the Formula of Concord Solid Decl. Art XI, 10–20, and in this sense election must be regarded as the cause of our salvation.
If the word election is used in a narrower sense, election is that God has ordained unto eternal life all those concerning whom he from eternity foresaw that they would accept the proffered grace, believe in Christ and remain steadfast in this faith unto death.
This is a clear statement of the doctrine of the United Church concerning the two forms in relation to each other. The first form is said to include God’s whole decree and order of salvation. The XI art. of the Formula of Concord is not regarded merely as a statement of the doctrine of election, but as a statement of the whole doctrine of salvation, including God’s decree to give his Son as a Savior of man. In this way the decree of election is regarded as only a part of the doctrine of the XI art. or first form. He regards the second form as the only specific definition of election, and that the second form is included in the first form. According to this the two forms contain the same doctrine and should be subscribed to jointly and without reservation.
This is the same doctrine of the two forms which the Anti-missourians held during the controversy on election by which the Synod was split. Their confession of 1884 reads: “We confess as the doctrine of the Word of God concerning election unto a sure attainment of eternal salvation, a) What E. Pontoppidan teaches question 548, “Sandhed til Gudfrygtighed;” b) What the Formula of Concord teaches art. XI etc.” Question 548, referred to, is the second form as used among the Norwegians, and as stated in the last paragraph of Dr. Kildahl’s thesis quoted above.
Now let us learn the doctrine of the former Norwegian Synod concerning the two forms before the adoption of “Opgjør”.
The Former Norwegian Synod.
Dr. H.G. Stub, Theologisk Tidsskrift 1904, p. 167 writes: “The first form does not insert faith in such a manner, that we can speak of an election in view of faith.” On page 168 he says: “With regard to the Formula of Concord it is our position, that it does not contain the intuitu fidei form, or teach election as having taken place in view of faith.”
Dr. Koren (1910) Synodalbr., p. 117. “Election intuitu fidei rests on a definition of election which is in sharp contrast to the formula of Concord.”
What is here called “intuitu fidei” or “in view of faith” is the second form, and corresponds to question 548 of Pontoppidan’s “Sandhed til Gudfrygtighed” referred to by the United Church. The Formula of Concord, Art. XI, is the first form. We notice, then, that Dr. Stub declares that the second form, which teaches election in view of faith, is not found in the first form, and when we follow the Formula of Concord, we cannot say that God elected those whom he from eternity “foresaw” would come to faith. In other words the Formula of Concord does not say that those who are saved were elected unto salvation by the fore-knowledge of God. Dr. Koren expresses the same view by saying, that the second form is in sharp contrast to the first form.
“En Redegjørelse”, §13, of Election. “That presentation which restricts election to the bare decree concerning salvation, and which excludes therefrom God’s decree concerning the ways and means of salvation, we do not acknowledge as the doctrine of Scripture and the Formula of Concord.” This is from a statement of the doctrine of conversion, election, and that a Christian by faith in the promises of God must feel assured of his salvation, published during the controversy on election, and subscribed to by over 100 pastors and professors of the former Norwegian Synod, including such men as Dr. H.G. Stub, Dr. Koren, Dr. J. Ylvisaker, Dr. O.E. Brandt, Prof. C.K. Preus, etc.
“Concerning Election” (a lecture delivered in 1881 by Dr. H.G. Stub) page 8 and 9: “The Confessions distinguish most clearly (paa det bestemteste) between God’s fore-knowledge, i.e. that he sees and knows everything before they come into being, and the eternal election of God. “God’s fore-knowledge concerns all creatures good and bad” — — — “But the eternal election of God, that is God’s predestination unto salvation, does not concern both the good and the bad, but God’s children alone who are elected and predestined unto eternal life, before the foundation of the world was laid, as Paul says, Eph. 1,4.5: “(Konkordiebogen, Lisbon udg., side 417, §2 og side 418, §3). From these words it appears clearly that our Confession cannot use election in a so-called “wider sense,” according to which redemption and the means of grace in general should become a part of election.”
On page 29 he says that he cannot find that the second form can be proven by a single clear passage of Scripture.
We might go on and multiply such quotations, but this will suffice to show what the doctrine of the former Synod was before the adoption of “Opgjør”. If we reduce what we have found into brief sentences, it will appear that the views of the two churches were directly opposed to each other concerning the two forms.
|The United Church||The former Norwegian Synod|
|1) The second form is taught by the Scriptures and the Confessions||1) There is no clear passage of Scripture by which the second form can be proven. The second form is in sharp contrast to the first form.|
|2) The second form is contained in the first, because the first form is election in a wider sense, and includes the whole decree of salvation.||2) The first form does not insert faith, so that we can speak of an election in view of faith. The first form is not election in a so-called wider sense.|
|3) Election is based on the fore-knowledge of God acccording to both forms.||3) The Formula of Concord (first form) distinguishes clearly between God’s fore-knowledge and election. The first form does not teach an election by foreseen faith, which the second form does.|
In order to see how the committees have settled these differences, we must examine those parts of “Opgjør” which treat of forms of doctrine. Let us examine the first paragraph. This paragraph reads: “The union committees of the Synod and the United Church acknowledge unanimously and without reservation that doctrine of election which is found in the Formula of Concord, Art. XI and in Pontoppidan’s “Sandhed til Gudfrygtighed,” question 548.”
This places the two forms side by side as of equal value, and as containing the same doctrine of election. It does not say that the first form is to be regarded as the doctrine of election in a wider sense, but the natural conclusion is, that it is to be understood that way. The United Church could subscribe to this without reservation but the Synod could not do it without giving up its former attitude to the two forms. The Synod has never regarded the second form as a correct and adequate definition of election, and has always looked upon it as unscriptural and not in accord with the Confessions. Dr. Stub declared that it was psychologically impossible to subscribe to this paragraph, but he seemed to get over his psychic trouble some way. There are only two ways in which Dr. Stub could subscribe to this paragraph, and that is that he either adopted the doctrine of the United Church or determined to compromise by letting the differences stand, and looking upon this paragraph as merely a statement of the doctrine of the United Church, and “acknowledging” it as such.
There is no agreement or settlement of the differences here, unless the Synod gave up its doctrine and adopted that of the United Church. In view of the fact, as we shall see later, that both parties declare they have not changed their doctrine, I am convinced that this first paragraph is to be regarded as a statement of the doctrine of the United Church, and that both parties have “without reservation” acknowledged it as such. The second paragraph is supposed to state the doctrine of the Synod.
§2. “Since both the negotiating churches recognize that the Formula of Concord, Art. XI, presents the pure and right doctrine of God’s Word and the Lutheran church concerning the election of God’s children unto salvation, it is deemed unnecessary for church unity to propose (opstille) new and more extensive theses concerning this article of faith.”
This paragraph is partly a repetition of the first, unless we regard the two paragraphs as presenting the views of each party respectively as stated. The Synod has always regarded the first form as scriptural and adequate, and has refused to subscribe to the second form. The United Church has not been willing to subscribe to the first form except as including the second form, or that it is election in a “wider” sense. For this reason they have always insisted on the adoption of both forms. Both parties have always “recognized” the first form as true and right doctrine, but each in their own way. If this paragraph is not intended to present a different view from the first, why has it been added? This paragraph is supposed to state the doctrine of the Synod and is “recognized” by both parties as such. They have compromised by recognizing each other’s views. There is no settlement or agreement. The third paragraph tells us in plain words that the differences existing concerning the use of the two forms of doctrine should not be any hinderance to union.
§3. “Since, however, it is well known, that two forms of doctrine concerning election have been used, both of which have won approbation and acknowledgment within the orthodox Lutheran church, while some in accordance with the Formula of Concord let the doctrine of election include the whole doctrine of salvation from the call to the glorification of the elect (Form. of Conc. Solid Decl. Art. XI, 10–20) and teach an election ‘unto salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth,’
while others with Pontoppidan, like Johan Gerhard, Scriver and other recognized teachers, define election chiefly as the decree of final glorification with faith and perseverance, wrought by the Spirit, as its necessary prerequisite, and teach, that “God has forordained unto eternal life those whom he from eternity fore-saw would accept the proffered grace, believe in Christ and remain steadfast in this faith unto death,”
and since neither of these two forms of doctrine, thus presented, oppose any doctrine revealed in the Word of God, but lets the order of salvation, as this is otherwise presented in God’s Word and the Confessions of the church, remain in force (komme til sin ret),
we find that this should not cause church division, and disturb that unity of spirit in the bonds of peace which God wills should exist among us.”
First, we notice the statement that both forms “have been used and won approbation and acknowledgment within the orthodox Lutheran church.” This is true only in part. Ever since the introduction of the so-called second form, election in view of faith, the Lutheran church has been divided concerning the use of the second form. Some have opposed the use of it, others have defended the use of it. The second form has never received general approbation like the first form. It is true, that some of the orthodox fathers used the second form, but they did not use it as a vehicle of synergism, as the advocates of the second form have done in this country, and for that reason the use of the second form did not cause a split in the old church, as it has among us. In the Lutheran church of America the second form has been used to introduce the doctrine of man’s selfdetermination and the good conduct of man in conversion and thus to explain the mystery of conversion and election. This is the reason why the use of the second form became a question of controversy and a cause of division among us. It is not stating the whole truth to say that both forms have won approbation within the orthodox Lutheran church, when the use of the second form has caused bitter controversy and divisions in the church.
The two forms are defined: The first form includes in the decree of election God’s ways and means of salvation. Consequently faith is part of that to which God has elected those who are saved. The second form does not include the ways and means of salvation, but places faith before election as a “necessary prerequisite.” God first saw those who believed and persevered in faith, and then he elected them. These are two opposite views, which cannot be harmonized. As here defined the first form is the doctrine of the Synod and the second form, the doctrine of the United Church. The committees declare that these opposite views do not oppose or contradict any doctrine revealed in God’s Word, and should not, therefore, hinder union. The differences existing concerning the two forms are left standing as they were. There is no agreement in doctrine, but an agreement to unite in spite of differences in doctrine.
The differences which the committees were supposed to settle did not, however, consist merely in contradictory views concerning the meaning and use of the so-called forms of doctrine. Just as the former Norwegian Synod and the United Church disagreed thoroughly concerning the forms, the disagreement between them in the doctrine of election was just as thorough and extensive before the adoption of “Opgjør”. Let us pursue the same methods we have used concerning the forms, and learn what the two churches taught previous to the meeting of the committees.
The United Church
Naadevalget og Foreningssagen, page 9 we read: “That those who are saved are elected, the Scriptures teach, but they do not teach that these only are elected. The Scriptures also use the term, “the elect” in the same sense as believers, and teach that all believers are elected, not only a few of them.” P. 9 and 10: “Faith is not only like everything else foreseen of God, faith is not only a gift and work of God, faith is not only included in election as the means by which God has resolved to lead those whom he has elected into eternal life, and it is not true only, that faith is nothing meritorious from our side. But it is also a truth, which the Lutheran confession and our Lutheran theologians in accord with the Word of God so steadfastly (ihærdigt) have clung to over against the Calvinists, when treating the question of the election of individuals unto eternal life, that the fact that God foresaw faith in the individual explains why he has elected these unto eternal life in preference to others, or in other words, that God in eternity has been determined by faith to elect some persons in preference to others, in the same way as he in time is determined by faith to justify and save some persons in preference to others.”
This is the doctrine of the United Church based upon their interpretation of the two forms, that the first form is election in a “wider sense” i.e. God’s resolve to save the world, and that the second form is the final decree of glorification. Notice how the ideas skip back and forth between the two forms, as they understand them, confusing the whole issue. We are not, however, concerned at present with, whether this doctrine is right or wrong, but what their doctrine is. According to these statements they teach that all believers are elected, also those who believe only for a time and fall away in temptation. They also teach that God is moved to elect those who are saved by his fore-knowledge of their faith. What they include under the term “faith” we shall see later. They also teach that the fact that God from eternity saw who would believe and who would not, explains why he has elected some in preference to others.
P. 15. “According to our doctrine God indeed treats all men alike, but men do not conduct themselves alike towards the work of His saving grace. This is the cause of the different results of God’s equally powerful work for the conversion and salvation of all.”
Page 16. “According to the doctrine of the Synod God saves those who are saved without being in anyway determined by their conduct towards His saving grace; according to our doctrine God saves only those who let themselves be saved.”
“As the reader will see, the difference between the Synod’s doctrine of election and ours is not a difference in form but in doctrine. It is not merely a question of two forms of doctrine, but of two kinds of doctrine. And the different doctrines concern God’s household of grace itself.”
From this we see what they mean by the faith which God foresaw. They mean the good conduct of man. They teach that there is no mystery in the election of grace. The reason why one is saved and another is lost, is that the one conducted himself better towards God’s saving grace than the other. They teach that the deciding factor in man’s salvation is his own good conduct. One man lets himself be saved, another resists. One man decides to accept God’s grace another decides to reject it. God was moved to elect unto eternal life all those who show a goo,d conduct towards the work of His saving grace. This is in brief the doctrine of the United Church. Now let us see what the Synod taught.
The Former Norwegian Synod.
Dr. Koren’s Works, Vol. III, page 322. “That the responsibility for nonsalvation i.e. condemnation rests on man, that is correct. — — — But that the responsibility for salvation rests on man himself, that is a heresy, which I had never expected to hear in the Norwegian Synod.” Dr. Koren in his treatise, “Hvad den Norske Synode har villet etc.” page 20, says: “Whether man’s co-operation in his own conversion and salvation is placed high or low, whether much or little is ascribed to man himself, that in fact amounts to the same thing. The assurance of salvation, the steadfast confidence of the remission of sins is irretrievably lost, if we no longer can rely on God alone.”
Dr. Joh. Ylvisaker on Eph. 1,3–6, Teol. Tidsskrift 1905, page 246: “The apostle has not entertained the thought that faith is a prerequisite or condition of election, for then he would have expressed himself differently. The ‘intuitu fidei’ theory has no foothold here.” In speaking of the expression, “according to the good pleasure of his will,” he says (page 247): “It denotes in general that a person from friendliness or kindness determines to do something. Hence the word here excludes all thought of merit in those who were predestinated or elected.” Page 243: “But if the cause (of election) does not lie in us, absolutely not in us, what becomes of a better conduct?”
Dr. H.G. Stub’s Theses on Election, adopted by the Synod at its meeting 1910. Thesis 5: “The Holy Scriptures teach that only those who remain steadfast in faith unto the end are saved, and that God as an omniscient God has foreseen them as such. But the faith which God foresaw, and which is His gift and work, must not be regarded as something from our side, which has moved God to form the decree of election. Faith is, as Paul and the Confessions in accordance with him teach, included in the decree of election.
Thesis 8: “According to Scripture there will not only be mysteries which God has reserved to Himself, among other things His providence, ways and judgments, in general and particular, but in the doctrine itself it demands that we should desist from pondering that which is incomprehensible to reason. When a person is not elected, or is not saved, the cause of this must not be sought in any foreordination of God, or in any defect in His gracious call, but solely in man’s enduring resistance against the earnest and gracious call of God; when a person is elected and saved, it is solely by God’s free grace in Christ. If the cause of damnation in any way is ascribed to God, we get Calvinism, if the cause of election and salvation as a whole, or half ways, or in the least part is ascribed to man, we get Pelagianism, or Semipelagianism or Synergism.”
Reducing these statements into brief sentences we have the following:
|United Church.||Former Norwegian Synod.|
|1) All believers are elected.||1) Only those who persevere in faith unto death are elected.|
|2) God has been determined to elect one in preference to another by what he foresaw in every individual of the elected.||2) In his decree of election God has not been determined or moved by anything that man is or does, but solely by the merits of Christ alone.|
|3) God treats men alike, but men conduct themselves differently, this is the cause of the different results.||3) God treats all men alike. The reason why some are lost is their own enduring resistance alone. The reason why some are saved must be ascribed to God’s mercy in Christ alone.|
|4) The good conduct of man explains why one is saved in preference to another.||4) Why one is saved and not the other is a mystery to human reason.|
The fourth paragraph of “Opgjør” tells what the committees have done with these differences. It reads as follows: §4. “Since, during the doctrinal controversy among us, words and expressions have been used which — justly or unjustly imputed to the respective parties — seemed to the other part to be or lead to a denial of the Confessions, we have agreed to reject all errors which seek to explain away the mystery of election (Form. of Conc. Sol. Decl. XI, 39–44) either in a synergistic or Calvinistic way; in other words, every doctrine which either on the one hand would rob God of his glory as the only Savior, or on the other hand weaken man’s feeling of responsibility over against the acceptance or rejection of grace.”
This paragraph speaks first of the controversy between the two churches, and declares that certain words and expressions were used by the United Church, which to the Synod seemed to deny the Confessions, or lead to such denial. Likewise certain words and expressions were used by the Synod which to the United Church seemed to deny the Confessions, or lead to such denial. The paragraph does not want to judge in this matter. May be it was right and just for the United Church to claim that certain words and expressions used by the Synod were contrary to the Confession, or may be it was unjust to make such a claim. May be it was just of the United Church to accuse the Synod of teaching Calvinistic doctrine, or may be it was not. When the Synod accused the United Church of teaching synergism, it may have been true, or it may not have been true. The committees have not come to any conclusion as to whether the doctrine of the Synod was right doctrine or not. They have not determined, whether the United Church taught true or false doctrine concerning the election of grace. They have not agreed to do anything with regard to the differences. They have, however, agreed “to reject all errors which seek to explain away the mystery of election either in a synergistic or Calvinistic way.” This would be very well, if it were not for the fact that the two churches were thoroughly disagreed about what is synergism and what is Calvinism. The way in which the United Church sought to explain the mystery of election, the Synod claimed to be a synergistic way. The United Church denied this, and claimed that their doctrine was in agreement with Scripture and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. The Synod declared that why one is saved in preference to another is a mystery, which we must not ponder or seek to harmonize with human reason. This the United Church claimed to be Calvinisic doctrine. Now, since the paragraph does not judge between the two doctrines, are we not justified in concluding that it does not intend to apply the term “synergistic” to the doctrine of the United Church, and that we are not to understand that the doctrine of the Synod is meant by the term Calvinistic? It cannot be the intention to reject that upon which it passes no judgment. So far, no differences have been settled. They have been left standing as they were.
The paragraph then goes on to express the same proposition “in other words.” It rejects “every doctrine which, either on the one hand, would rob God of His glory as the only Savior, or, on the other hand, weakens man’s feeling of responsibility over against the acceptance or rejection of grace.” If this paragraph is to be regarded as in harmony with itself, we cannot say that by “every doctrine which robs God of His glory as the only Savior,” it means the doctrine of the United Church, for that would be to say, that words and expressions used by it “deny the Confession or lead to such denial.” That was the claim of the Synod, to be sure, but whether that was “just or unjust” the paragraph does not say. The last sentence “acknowledges” the doctrine of the United Church. They reject “every doctrine which would weaken man’s feeling of responsibility over against the acceptance or rejection of grace.” One of the authors of this paragraph has translated the expression “over against” with “face to face with.” The sense is then, that when unregenerate man stands face to face with the question of accepting or rejecting the proffered grace, he has a “feeling of responsibility” with regard to the decision to be made. It is up to him to accept or reject. He is accountable for his conduct. He is conscious of the fact that all depends upon his conduct or decision now. He must choose life or death, and he is conscious of the fact. This is the doctrine of selfdetermination in conversion, or that man must dispose himself for grace. This has always been the doctrine of the United Church. They say that it is by the grace of God that man is put in such position, that he must choose for himself to accept or reject the proffered grace, and that it is by the power of the call that he is made able to decide for himself, but it is his decision, it is his conduct at this moment, which determines whether he will be saved or lost. If he “lets himself be saved,” he is among those whom God “has elected in preference to others.” The good conduct of man is the deciding factor.
The Synod has always rejected this doctrine, and declared that it “robs God of His glory as the only Savior.” If man’s conduct is the deciding factor, then we are not saved by grace alone. To teach that man contributes in the least to his own salvation has always been regarded by the Synod as teaching synergistic doctrine.
Now then, it seems that the paragraph would defend both doctrines. It will reject every doctrine that militates against either of them. This can be understood only in one way. They do not reject either of these doctrines. Both doctrines are to be allowed and defended. The United Church is granted the right to teach and defend its doctrine. The Synod is granted the right to teach and defend its doctrine. In this sense the paragraph is in harmony with itself and in agreement with foregoing paragraphs.
Some one may say, however; “The fifth paragraph rejects synergism, and you have no right to disregard this.” We do not disregard this fact. The fifth paragraph rejects synergism, and the sixth paragraph rejects Calvinism, but it cannot be the intention of the committees to reject what is defended in the foregoing. We are obliged to suppose that the committees intended to produce a document that would be in harmony with itself. The purpose of this document was not to present an agreement in doctrine, as we see from the foregoing. The differences are left standing as they were before. The rejection of synergism in the fifth paragraph is not intended to reject the doctrine of man’s feeling of responsibility face to face with the acceptance or rejection of grace.” The rejection of Calvinism in the sixth paragraph is not intended to reject the doctrine, that “God is the only Savior.” As we have seen concerning the previous paragraphs, the two churches are to retain each their doctrine. The same holds good with regard to the fifth and sixth paragraphs. The fifth paragraph rejects synergism, as the Synod would do it, and the sixth paragraph rejects Calvinism, as the United Church would do it. Each party is supposed to have an equal chance. The differences of doctrine are not regarded as sufficient cause for church separation or to hinder union. The two doctrines can be tolerated and practiced in the same church. From this viewpoint alone can “Opgjør” be made to harmonize with itself. The Synod and the United Church have approached each other closely enough to be joined into one church without further agreement in doctrine. That is the agreement of the committees. They have carried out their agreement by letting the differences stand and making a statement of both sides so as to satisfy both parties. Each party is supposed to find its doctrine in “Opgjør”, and thus each party is granted the right to teach and practice its own doctrine. This is the compromise.
That our estimate of “Opgjør” is correct, we prove further by the fact that leading men of both churches claim to find their doctrine in “Opgjør”, and that members of the committee testify to the fact that it is a compromise.
In “Lutheraneren”, the official organ of the United Church, we read in an editorial of Dec. 25, 1913, a year after the adoption of “Opgjør”: “Even if some of the Norwegian Synod together with Dr. Stub are of the opinion that they have not changed their doctrine, but stand where they stood at the beginning of the controversy, such a circumstance should not cause us to lose our balance. There are men in our church (United Church), who have taken part in the controversy from the very beginning, and who on their side are possessed of just as strong a conviction, that they have not changed their position.”
Dr. J.N. Kildahl writes in “Lutheraneren”, Apr. 30, 1913: “Since Dr. Stub during the whole winter so vigorously has contended that the Norwegian Synod stands now where Dr. Walther and the Missouri Synod stood at the beginning of the controversy of election, it appears to me that I, for the sake of the truth, ought to declare that I am not agreed with Dr. Stub in this. — — — Dr. Stub finds Dr. Walther’s doctrine in ‘Opgjør’, I do not find it there.” Dr. Stub insisted that he found the doctrine of the Synod in “Opgjør”. Dr. Kildahl finds his doctrine in “Opgjør”, but will not concede that Walther’s doctrine is found in it. Dr. Stub had pressed the point that the Synod had not changed its doctrine, and made it appear as though the United Church had given up its doctrine. This is the cause of Dr. Kildahl’s rejoinder. It shows how each party may point to “Opgjør” as containing its doctrine.
Rev. S. Gunderson, one of the authors of “Opgjør”, declared before the Chicago Madison pastoral conference in 1913: “The United Church has not changed a tittle of its doctrine, neither has the Synod. “Opgjør” is a compromise.”
Rev. R. Malmin, another member of the committee, served as expert witness in the Silver Lake case, Northwood, Ia., and, being questioned concerning the wording of “Opgjør”, said under oath: “And therefore our first paragraph would have to state in some way — or that the adherents of both those forms had a place within the pale of the Lutheran church, had to state that, But at the same time we could not say that each one adheres to the first form, because that would leave out the adherents of the second form. We could not say that each person adheres to the second form, because that would leave out those adhering to the first. — — — We could say neither of those three things — — —. In the church, when we wish to accept any doctrine, we always say that we believe, teach, confess or profess. We discarded all those theological terms, and, instead of that, we selected the term acknowledge or recognize.” This is concerning the first paragraph. When questioned concerning the second paragraph, he says: — “but mark you there also the word acknowledge.” (Stenographic report of testimony pp. 228 and 233.
Dr. Stub was also present at this case and served as expert witness. He was asked the question: “Well now, which church gave in on its doctrine?” He answered: “No church gave in, but they agreed to give in to the truth.”
The authors of “Opgjør” found that the usual terms employed when doctrines are accepted did not suit their purpose. They “discarded” those terms and selected the term “acknowledge or recognize.” The purpose of this selection was to avoid the sense of the terms teach, believe or confess. The word “acknowledge” must not be taken in that sense. Neither party is to be bound to teach or believe what the other party teaches or believes. The word confess is opposed to deny. That sense must also be avoided. To confess is to admit and declare the truth of a thing, and not to deny it. The two parties are not bound by this agreement to admit the truth of each other’s doctrine. Now it is true that the word acknowledge may mean to admit or recognize as a truth, but that sense has been discarded in this document. We must not take it in that sense. The word “acknowledge” is to be taken in its first sense, to own or admit knowledge of. Applying this sense to the first paragraph of “Opgjør”, we can readily see how each party could subscribe to it “without reservation.” Both parties could say without reservation that they had knowledge of the fact that the United Church used the word election in a wider and narrower sense, that the second form is contained in the first, and that the two forms teach the same doctrine of election. Likewise with regard to the second paragraph, both parties could admit knowledge of the fact, that the Synod regarded the XI art. of the Form. of Conc. as a specific definition of election, that it is pure and correct doctrine according to Scripture, and that it was not necessary to propose new and more extensive theses on this article of faith.
This proves our contention completely. The “Opgjør” is not an agreement in doctrine, but it is a compromise pure and simple. It was constructed, formed and intended by its authors to be a compromise. It was to serve the purpose of union without agreement in doctrine, and it did serve such a purpose. It was called and made the basis of union between the United Church and the Synod, who had fought each other bitterly for thirty years on the question of election and never came to an agreement. This is genuine and unadulterated unionism. The essence of unionism is a pretense of agreement, when there is no agreement. The “Opgjør” was a fitting basis and cornerstone for a unionistic church, because it is so worded and constructed, that it gives the impression of an attempt to agree, while it merely puts the differences aside as being of no importance.
We object to the first paragraph of “Opgjør”, because it contains the doctrine of the United Church concerning the two forms and their relation to each other. The first form is not election in a so-called wider sense, and it does not contain the “Intuitu fidei” doctrine. The two forms do not contain the same doctrine of election, as the paragraph declares that they do. The doctrine of the second form is not the doctrine of Scripture nor of Confessions of the Lutheran church.
We do not, however, object to the first paragraph alone. We object to the “Opgjør” as a whole, because it is a compromise, an agreement by concessions, and forms the basis for a unionistic church, a false brotherhood. A brotherhood founded on a pretense of agreement is dangerous, false and sinful. It is not Christian. A Christian brotherhood must rest on unity of faith and doctrine. Brethren, members of the same church, should speak the same thing, be of the same mind, avoid those who cause dissensions and offenses contrary to the doctrine. Paul writes to the churches of Corinth and Rome: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” 1 Cor. 1,10. “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine you have learned; and avoid them,” Rom. 16,17.
We refused to enter the union, because the “Opgjør”, which is the basis of union, sanctions the doctrine of man’s selfdetermination in conversion, or that the good conduct of man is the deciding factor in conversion and election. It permits the teaching and defense of man’s co-operation in his own conversion, the doctrine that we must not rely on God alone in our hope of salvation. This doctrine we reject with our whole heart and will resist unto the last! “The assurance of salvation, the steadfast confidence of the remission of sins, is irretrievably lost, if we no longer can rely on God alone.”
Who can with confidence and assurance approach the throne of judgment on the last day? Not he who demands recognition on account of his attitude, good conduct or works. Christ has said: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” These have done great things in the name of Christ, but He never knew them as His own. Their hearts were closed to Him, for they come as those who have their own righteousness. They come with money of their own coinage to buy what they desire. They are not fit for the joys of heaven, for they cannot adore Christ and His work for their salvation. When these are made unfit by reliance upon their works, how much more unfit would those be who come relying on such small coin as a correct attitude, good conduct, or a “feeling of responsibility!” What pride and selfrighteousness must fill the hearts of those who dare to reckon with such coin!
Only when our reliance is on Christ and His merits alone can we approach the throne of judgment with assurance, for He is the Judge. He cannot deny His own work in our stead, for then he would deny Himself. Our hearts being filled with gratitude and adoration to the Judge for the love and work he has bestowed upon us, they are open to Him for the final gift of eternal life.
Lord Jesus keep us in the true faith! Amen.