1928 Synod Convention Essay
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This annual convention becomes of more than ordinary importance, because we have this year reached an important milestone in the work of our church in this country. It is just seventy-five years since the Norwegian Synod was organized. To us the history and work of the old Norwegian Synod is so significant that we cannot let this occasion pass without dwelling at some length on the serious thoughts which it brings to our minds.
At this important milestone it is proper that we pause and look both ways. It is meet that we, in the first place, look back upon God’s merciful guidance in the past; that we contemplate how graciously He has led us to a knowledge of the truth and how clearly and forcefully our fathers have testified to this truth, in order that we may be urged, not only to praise and thank God today for these glorious benefits, but that we also may examine ourselves seriously to see if we are still standing firmly on the foundation which thus has been laid. But it is meet also that we look forward upon the work which our gracious Lord expects us to perform in the future; that we endeavor to gain a clear conception of the tasks which lie before us, and of how we must go about the performance of these tasks, if we shall expect thereby to glorify the name of God, and to labor for the best interests of His kingdom of grace here on earth. Yes, by far the most important part of the deliberations of this convention concerns our future work for the upbuilding of God’s Kingdom. What will our glorious history avail us, if we do not stand today on the firm foundation which God through our pious fathers has laid, and if we do not continue our work in the same spirit and along the same wholesome lines as in the past?
We claim to be the logical successors to the old Norwegian Synod, and I do not think that any one can justly dispute this claim. But this claim cannot be made good unless we continue our work according to the same principles and on the same basis as that of the old Synod.
In order to spur us on to faithful and diligent work in the future, we have arranged to consider at this meeting a series of papers on some of the outstanding points of doctrine and practice which we must conscientiously strive to adhere to in our future work, if we would deserve the honorable name of successors to the old Synod. Throughout its history the Norwegian Synod sought conscientiously to hold forth the two fundamental principles of the Reformation, that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and the only source and rule of Christian faith and life, and that we are saved by grace alone. In its practice the Norwegian Synod sought carefully to avoid all syncretism and unionism with those of other faiths. It would not therefore countenance any fraternizing with churches with whom it was not in full agreement in doctrine and practice. And that is the reason why it has assumed such a definite stand against all secret orders which have more or less religious exercises in their work. The Norwegian Synod also emphasized very strongly the cause of Christian education, both in the elementary training of the children, and in higher education. These, I believe, were some of the distinguishing marks of the old Norwegian Synod in opposition to so many other church bodies with which it came in contact.
In order to be true successors to the Norwegian Synod, we must follow in the steps of our pious fathers in these things. We have therefore prepared for this meeting a series of papers on the topic:
The Practical Problems Which Confront Us As the Logical Successors to the Old Norwegian Synod.
The subject will be treated as follows:
I. To stand firmly on the true Lutheran doctrine of the authority of Scripture.
II. To emphasize continually the fundamental Christian doctrine of justification by faith in opposition to all synergistic doctrines, which are sweeping over the church today.
III. To bear clear testimony against all alliances with the world and with the erring churches, which threaten to rob us of the saving truth.
IV. To endeavor, as much as lies in us, to preserve the faith of our fathers to posterity by establishing and maintaining Christian schools.
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Justification by Faith
Among the priceless gems upon the golden chain of truth which God has revealed to man is found that of Justification by Faith.
When we gather to celebrate our “Diamond Jubilee” it is quite proper that we take before us this divinely given and divinely cut “Diamond of our Faith” and carefully see to that we have it in its original luster and with prayer to God, see to it that we, by God’s grace, as a Synod and as individual Christians, have kept it and are adorned by it.
There is nothing in our Christian faith that has been more carefully guarded, more sincerely confessed by the worthy fathers in our Synod than this doctrine of a sinner’s justification before God.
It is well that we remember that this doctrine, so gloriously vindicated and confessed by Dr. Martin Luther, has been the object of most intense hatred and antagonism by the Roman Catholic church.
In the canons and decrees adopted by the Council of Trent, I 545–63, we read on justification: Canon 9: “If any one saith that by faith alone the impious (sinner) is justified; in such a wise as to mean that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to obtain the grace of justification and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will, let him be anathema.” Also, Canon XII: “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in divine mercy which remits sin for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified, let him be anathema.”
Mr. W.S. Lilly, Secretary to the Catholic Union of Great Britain and a champion of the Catholic point of view, in his book, “Renaissance Types,” in the course of his hostile chapter on Luther, the Revolutionist, says: “The doctrine to this day distinctive of what we may call ‘orthodox’ Protestantism is Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. For Luther faith meant the personal appropriation by the individual of the redeeming work of Christ; a fiduciary trust in Him; a laying hold of Him which effects an imputation of His righteousness. This is what he called the gospel. … Now it is certain that this doctrine, however we may feel towards it, was Luther’s own particular and original deduction from the Pauline Epistles. Not a trace of it is to be found in any theologian from the second to the sixteenth century.”
The Lutheran Biblical doctrine of Justification by Faith is the very doctrine which has been most feared and opposed by the papal church. But it is plain that in the papal church this doctrine within the Protestant church at large is considered about extinct or so nearly obliterated as to be of no more harm.
The following statement of Dr. Joseph Phole in the “Catholic Encyclopedia” is striking: “The strict orthodoxy which was found among the Old Lutherans, as, for instance, in the Kingdom of Saxony and in the State of Missouri, is a mere system to which they hold fast, though it should be condemned to oblivion.” Luth. Vidnesbyrd. ‘
The Augsburg confession (Article IV), says: Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who by his death has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Romans 3 and 4.
It is this doctrine of the Bible our fathers have joyously defended. It was this doctrine that more than anything else shook the great papal building of more than a thousand years to its very foundation. Though the Roman Catholic church may say that the church fathers from the second to the present century did not confess it, they dare not even now declare that it is not Biblical. It has never been refuted because it is the doctrine of Holy Writ.
At this, our Jubilee Synod, we rejoice in bringing praise to our Heavenly Father who has, in His grace, “kept us in this one true faith in Jesus Christ,” and we gladly declare our adherence to the doctrine of a sinner’s Justification by Faith alone.
The seat of the doctrine of Justification by Faith has been properly found in the Epistle to the Romans, 3:24–28.
“Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation in His blood to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are passed through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness, that He might be just and the Justifier of him which beiieveth in Jesus.
“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
In this Scripture our Lord tells of the justification of sinners. We learn from it:
1. What justification is.
2. Of the fountain or source of justification (God’s free grace).
3. Of the foundation of justification (the redemption in Christ).
4. Of the means on our part of receiving justification.
What Is Justification of Sinners?
Augsb. Conf., Art. 9: “They teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake.” This doctrine, it is clear, is deducted from the above Scripture passage.
The most solemn and important problem that presents itself to the mind of man is that which the Prophet Micah raises in Micah 6:6, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before the High God.” Or how shall I be justified before God? All religions give an answer to this question, and all false religions unite in this one great error, answering: Adorn yourself with your own good works and you shall be accounted worthy to stand before God, or you shall receive as a reward the forgiveness of sins.
But the Christian religion differs from all other religions on this point and declares: “By the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.” Gal. 2:16. No flesh! Mark well, no flesh, not even the Christian is justified before God by his works of the law.
This word leads us to look away and beyond ourselves for worthiness to stand before the High God. All our own righteousness, says Isaiah 64:6, are as filthy rags (and he was a believer). “There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not.” Eccl. 7:20. From Genesis to Revelation this truth is declared. The Apostle Paul, who, as the Pharisee Saul, was led by his zeal in the outward service of the law to that blind fanaticism in which he found himself opposing the living God, denouncing His Son, and persecuting the Christians, when converted saw the vanity of his attempt at justifying himself before God by his works and led by the spirit to all truth, he stoutly declares, Rom 3:10: “There is none righteous, no not one. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” And in Romans, 3:19, he adds: “that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become guilty before God.” Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Rom. 3:20.
But having seen the Lord Jesus, having his eyes opened to the great purpose of Jesus’ life and death for sinful mankind, he exultantly declares: “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets. Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.”
To this he adds the words which define justification so gloriously:
“Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
We must mark well that this word of God does not lead us to search for some act of God within ourselves. No, the same apostle declares, Rom. 8:33, “It is God that justifieth.” It leads us to the throne of God. It is a “forensic act” of God, an act of judgment from his judgment seat toward sinful man, who cannot justify himself. There is a relation of sinful man toward God which leads to death and damnation. Man’s sin has estranged him from God and made him subject to God’s wrath and eternal punishment. Man is cursed and damned by God’s holy law which has been violated by him and transgressed by sin. But this harsh judgment of the law in which man’s conscience concurs and which needs must thrust him down into the misery and punishment of hell, is annulled by another act of judgment on the part of God who justifieth the sinner.
By an act of judgment God acquits the sinner from the guilt of his sins, declares the unrighteous freed from unrighteousness, the transgressor freed from his transgressions of the law and annuls the decree of condemnation, and not only this, in his justification God does not only free man from his unrighteousness but he also imputes to man righteousness which he could not otherwise attain and without which he cannot stand before God. While God acquits the sinner of his guilt and its punishment He also credits or imputes to him righteousness, looks upon him as one who has the perfect fulfillment of the law on his side, as one upon whom he finds “neither spot nor wrinkle,” Isaiah 5:27, as the rose of Sharon, as the lily of the valley, pure and white as snow. Isaiah 1:18, “Come now and let us reason together, saith the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
This is the gift that makes us, sinful as we are, acceptable to God. This justification is complete and perfect in every way, there are no stages in its development. It includes the acquittal from all guilt and punishment and the credit of all righteousness before God’s law.
We owe much to the authors of the Augsburg confession and the apology of the Augsburg confession for the clear manner in which this is set forth as a forensic act of God and because they have so carefully excluded the false doctrines of the papal church which includes in justification both regeneration and sanctification and insists upon the effectiveness of man’s works even before he becomes a believer in working out his justification before God. Let us turn to these confessions frequently.
That this is the doctrine of the Bible is furthermore attested in Rom. 8:33–34, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth?” Placing justification in direct opposition to condemnation and Rom. 4:6–8 defining justification as consisting in the forgiveness of sins and guilt, the covering up of sin. “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered, Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”
How completely God acquits man of guilt and punishment and looks upon him as just and righteous as though he had never sinned, is seen from the many metaphors used in Holy Writ to express this act. As, for instance, that he covers sin, hides his face from sins, blots out sin. Ps. 103:12. “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” In Isaiah 38:17, he says, “For thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.” Micah 7:19, “And thou wilt cast their sins into the depths of the sea.”
Oh, the wonders of God’s mercy who can deal with poor sinners in such a manner!
This doctrine of the Scriptures concerning justification as an act of judgment on the part of God is perverted and distorted not only by the papists and by all rationalists and synergists, but even by the synergistic Lutherans, who have supplanted the promises of God by the vain philosophies of man.
The Fountain or Source of Justification: God’s Free Grace
When God undertakes such an act with sinful man, acquits him of his guilt and sin and its punishment and looks upon him as though he had never sinned, there must be some cause for such an act.
The question will arise whether this cause is to be found in God who justifies or in man who is justified, or in part with God and in part with man.
In this momentous question the Holy Scripture breaks with all natural theology and all rationalistic thought. It differs with all other religions in the world. In this matter, Christianity advances a truth that no stretch of man’s comprehension could fathom, no fancy of man invent. The reason of natural man concludes that if man has offended against God’s law so that he has awakened His displeasure or anger, then he must himself in some way and in some measure at least make amends and appease that anger by his good conduct. This is a reasonable requirement. And there is no end to the measures invented and acceptable to the natural man through which such atonement of an angry God is attempted.
We may see it in the sacrifices and penances done by the heathens, and also in the self-inflicted burdens and sacrifices and punishments within the papal church.
With the cash currency of their own merits they hope to purchase access to God’s favor and salvation. It is the self-righteousness of man that is active in this vain endeavor.
But now God’s word says: “Being justified freely by His (God’s) grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” These words remove the cause of man’s justification entirely away from man and his merits and places it in God alone.
These words declare: That when God passes the judgment that is so full of blessed advantage to man, acquits him of all guilt and punishment and declares him to be righteous, he is moved to this act not by any merit in man, but solely by his bountiful love, and it is this compassionate love of God in regard to the sinner that reveals itself as grace, and this grace is God’s grace — God’s grace completely separate from anything human. “Freely.” This word declares that we receive the imputed righteousness as a free gift, a gift pure and simple, not as a reward or pay for any merit or worthiness on our part. We have not deserved it in any way. A Gift of Grace … This excludes all thought of a merited reward by works or any good conduct.
Grace and works are contrasted. Rom. 11:6. “And if by grace then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works then is it no more grace, otherwise work is no more work.” How clear the Holy Spirit has made this distinction! Let us take to heart what Luther says: that all that which is not grace is included in the conception of works. “Call it what you will, good conduct or anything else, that which is not grace is works, works of the law, and the Scriptures exclude that most emphatically from our justification.” (Ylvisaker.)
Being justified freely (or without merit), by His grace, “Therefore we conclude that man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law,” V. 28, and Gal. 2:16 — Luke 1:77–78. “To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins though the tender mercy of our God.” All this is one and the same expression of the great truth that the source of our justification in nowise is to be sought in us, but solely in the grace of God. “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake.” Isaiah 43:25.
Thus we see upon what a firm foundation in Scripture our confession is based when we, in the Augsburg Conf., declare: That we teach and believe, “that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits or works but are freely justified for Christ’s sake.”
But, dear brethren, this truth is more firmly established when we see from Scripture that foundation upon which our justification before God is built.
Of the Foundation of Justification
The question arises when we consider the wonderful act of God in justifying the sinner, pardoning his sins and acquitting him of his guilt and its punishment. How can this be done without violating God’s infinite justice and holiness?
This is also answered in this wonderful passage of Scripture, Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
First, the Holy Spirit reveals that a lost sinner is justified by God, declared to be righteous; then He tells us that this complete change in God’s judgment of the sinner is not caused by anything in the sinner himself, but that God is moved to take this action by His own compassionate grace, and now to answer the question raised, he adds, “by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The meeting in perfect harmony of God’s justice and His grace is made possible by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Thus the foundation of this act of God’s wondrous Jove, in justifying sinners, is found in the redemptive sacrifice of our dear Savior, Jesus Christ. Rom. 3,25–26, “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness that He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
When the Apostle Paul seeks to gather into one single word all that Jesus Christ has done for sinful man, he uses the word redemption. This word means the payment of money for the liberation of captives, to ransom.
The expression is used consistently throughout the Scriptures, “For ye are bought with a price,” I Cor. 6:20. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law. Gal. 3:13. Feed the church of God which He hath purchased with His blood. Acts 20-28. “Who gave himself a ransom for all.” I Tim. 2–6. The price paid was not gold or silver, but His holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. In this sentence from Luther’s explanation of the second article, we have an expression which includes all of Christ’s expiatory work, His fulfillment of the law, His whole sacrifice for the sins of the world.
We were transgressors of the law, therefore captives under the curse of the law. The penalty for guilt could not be ignored by God in His justice. It must be paid by some one. This penalty Jesus took upon Himself. We were bound by the moral law. This law was based upon the holy nature and being of God, it could not be disobeyed with impunity. Jesus, who is God’s Son, gave the law for man, subordinated Himself to the law for man, was made in the likeness of man, became obedient and fulfilled it in His infinitude as the God-man, and satisfied the just demands of God (toward all mankind) in the law. Phil. 2:7.
His highest obedience and greatest suffering was His suffering and death upon the cross.
There the expiation for our sins was accomplished. We were saved, “bought with a price” by Jesus, from sin, from death and the devil, from the curse of the law. Gal. 3:13, 4:4, and from the wrath to come. I Thes. 1:1O.
The apostle emphasizes this in our text further when he says, v. 25, “whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” He was set forth as a throne of grace in His blood (Bugge’s translation). Referring to the Ark of the Covenant of the Old Testament, symbolical offering of blood upon the ark and upon the people, pointing to the real expiation of Christ by His blood, which was to be made also for the sins of the past, which God had forgiven for the sake of Jesus’ future sacrifice. These sins also Jesus took upon Him and paid for. He was given as a ransom for all mankind (I Tim. 2:6). “Who gave Himself a ransom for all.” Reference is made here to the sins of the past 4,000 years. These were through the forbearance of God set aside for Jesus’ sake, atoned for, in fact, because God in His eternal plan for the salvation of man looked to the lamb who should take away the sin of the world. But when Jesus came, they were all laid upon him. All sin committed from Adam to the last man living on the earth was laid on Him, “Who was made to be a sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree” I Peter 2:24.
God’s wrath over sin was poured out upon him. He paid the penalty. “Without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22).
When Jesus died and shed His blood upon the cross it was clear that God’s justice was not asleep, but declared and asserted itself in a most vigorous manner.
This is what the Apostle Paul refers to when he says, v. 26, “To declare, I say, at this time, his righteousness; that he might be just and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
And this the apostle could declare in keeping with all Scripture because he and they view Christ’s work of redemption as a vicarious atonement. Jesus declares the same. John 10:15. “I give my life for the sheep,” and Mat. 20:28, “The Son of Mau came to give His life a ransom for many” (instead of many). Peter declares the same when he says that Jesus not only “bare our sins in his own body on the tree,” but also, that “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust.”
How definitely the Apostle Paul consider Christ’s expiation as vicarious is also seen from the second epistle to Cor. 5:14–15, “because we thus judge that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that He died for all.”
Yes, thank God, Christ died for all, and his death for all men has destroyed the power of death, so that God looks upon Christ’s death as if we all were dead and had paid the penalty of our guilt. The wages of sin is death, but Christ has paid that penalty for us all — not only for temporal death, but also for eternal death.
“My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death,” He cried in Gethsemane, for He bore the agonies of eternal death there, and upon the cross He cried: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” And because He bore these we can as His believers join the Apostle Paul in that hymn of victory, “O grave, where is thy victory; O death, where is thy sting?” Christ’s death does not only make satisfaction for guilt, but also for eternal death. Apology.
He “was delivered for our offenses and raised again for our justification.” Rom. 4:25.
And here, in the vicarious death and resurrection of Jesus, is where the justice and mercy of God meet in perfect harmony. The law is fulfilled, the penalty for sin is paid, and God is just and will not demand that it be paid twice, but gives to poor sinners the righteousness won for them by Christ. He was raised again for our justification.
Thus we see that our justification is founded upon the redemption of Christ.
But who now are partakers in this justification? This leads us to the fourth part of this essay.
Of the Means of Our Part of Receiving Justification
Christ, who was delivered for our offenses and raised again for our justification, stands before us as the Lord Our Righteousness, Jer. 23:6. Just as truly as we all fell in sin by Adam’s fall, so truly are we all raised up in Christ. As Christ in His fulfillment of the law, as well as in his death for sin, took the place of all men, so is his resurrection for our justification intended for all.
He died for the sins of the whole world and was absolved, in His resurrection, from the sins of the whole world, that rested upon Him. So it is entirely correct to teach and believe that, by Christ’s resurrection, justification has been brought to the whole world.
But who become partakers of this blessing? St. Paul says: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. God is the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.” — V. 26.
Faith is the hand reached out to receive the heavenly treasure, justification.
Man is not justified by faith as an act meriting in itself such reward. Faith is that act of the soul by which it confidently lays hold of the grace of God set forth in the Gospel promise.
Just as Jesus Christ gave bread to five thousand, not because they held forth their hands; but they held forth their hands because Jesus gave them bread. So faith is not the cause of justification, but the means of taking it.
Faith is a living approval and assent to the work of God in Christ for the salvation of man. “Faith is the flight of a penitent soul to the grace of God through the merits of Christ, which is eagerly accepted, appropriated, and built upon with trustful confidence,” as we have learned.
In order to be justified, acquitted of sin and guilt, it is necessary that we interchange places with Christ. By love He took our place and died; by faith we take His place and live. Our sins were imputed unto Him; His righteousness is imputed upon us through faith. And as our sins became His so really that He was condemned to death for them, so by faith his merits become ours so really and truly that we are justified unto fife for them.
We take Jesus’ place by faith and plead “not guilty.” We defy hell to find a single sin against us; they are all on Christ. We defy the law to find a single good work lacking; Christ’s obedience is ours. And we trust in the justice of the eternal God to acquit us.
Thus have mercy and justice met in the justification of a poor sinner by faith.
And what follows? Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.
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To Testify Against All Alliances with the World
III. To bear clear testimony against all alliances with the world and with the erring church, which threaten to rob us of the saving truth.
Hardly a convention of our synod has been held since its reorganization in 1918 but that this theme has been treated at greater or lesser length and in some form or other. But unionism and false alliances remain as much a menace to our church as ever. Few of our members realize the dangers with which our dear synod is beset, nor do they often take time to count the foe which is bent on the downfall of our faith. Therefore the complaint must be heard continually: “Let us alone from the preaching against false doctrine and false churches, as if we were so much better than they.” The very name, Norwegian Synod, has these seventy-five years served to identify us with a preaching and testimony which is at the same time an invitation and a warning. Must we still continue to warn against false alliances?
Into a world which the Scriptures call darkness God in infinite mercy has planted a bit of heaven, the holy Christian Church. This may truly be called heaven, because the King of Heaven, Jesus Christ, dwells and reigns there; because heavenly food is dispensed there, the blessed word of the Gospel and the holy Sacrament; and because the members of the Church are heirs of heaven. Though “in the world,” this Church is not “of the world” (John 17). Its members are holy and heavenly, called by God Himself “saints,” not by any inherent righteousness or holiness, but solely because they have “put on Christ” (Gal. 3), and even as the saints in heaven have “washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7). While still on earth, God hath made them “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2), and their “conversation is in heaven” (Phil. 3).
With all its infirmities, the true visible Church should be a true picture of the invisible Church. Having caught a vision of heaven, it strives with Peter to build heaven on earth (Mark 9:5). Its aim and purpose is to keep the transfigured Christ in its midst, holding fast the promise: “And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28). It aims to keep in fellowship with Moses and Elias and the host of those men of God who “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:21). It aims to be a temple and workshop of the Holy Spirit, a house where saints are born and nourished into heaven by the sacred means of grace. Though “in the world,” its holy striving is that it may not be “of the world” (John 17). It is a refuge where sins are washed away in the blood of the Lamb of God, and it cries out to the whole world the blessed message of salvation: “Come; for all things are now ready” (Luke 14:17). It is the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3). It aims to be a heavenly haven for souls in distress, where comfort and peace are given and proclaimed, and that right lavishly.
This Church receives into fellowship those whom Christ receives and denies whom Christ denies. Paul was received when he accepted Christ and left off his persecution; Zacchaeus, only after he had forsaken his ungodly way and turned in repentance to his Savior; the publican, when he had confessed his sin and his faith; the eunuch, and the rest. The prodigal son was welcomed back home, but only when he had learned to hate sin and seek his real home. But Ananias and Sapphira were rejected, Judas likewise and the rich young man, for the plain reason that there can be no fellowship of light with darkness, of Christ with Belial, of God with Mammon.
There are forces which today demand more insistently than ever the privilege of fellowship with the Church of Christ. They want to walk with the Church, dwell at peace with her, work for common aims and purposes with her, counsel with her, even teach and instruct her in the way that she should walk. They quote Scripture and say: “Have we not all one Father? hath not one God created us?” (Mal. 2:10). “All ye are brethren” (Matt. 23:8). “Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). “That they may be one” (John 17).
And which forces are these? In the field of learning and education, they are in open disagreement with, and revolt against, the teaching of Scripture with regard to the physical universe, man, nature, life, their origin and purpose and whole being. Mere chance, blind nature, dread fate are enthroned and God dethroned. In morals and ethics, they have let the dumb brute become the father and teacher, and the glory of the eternal God who made man in His image to serve Him in love and purity has been trampled in the dust. In business, their selfishness and cold greed make war on every Christian virtue, and money as a god demands and receives from them the love and worship and trust which only the true God deserves. In society, the pride of life and the lust of the flesh fill their heart to the exclusion of piety and a God-fearing life. In religion, they maintain as a self-evident thing that “all churches are working for the same goal,” that “no one can know or have the whole truth,” that “the Bible is an antiquated book no worse and not much better than many other books”; al}d “Christian” has in their mouth become a synonym for a person or church which strives to live according to the “Golden Rule.” In the form of Unitarianism and Modernism they have marshaled the hosts of the greatest institutions of learning, the most zealous scholars, have found a most willing and effective servant in the organization known as the lodge, and with a teaching utterly subversive of the Christian faith their poisonous influence penetrates into the very vitals of the Christian Church. They have summoned even politics and government to intimidate and force the Church to subject truth to error, the cause of Christ to the sinister purposes of Satan.
Is money lacking, or power, or numbers, or influence, that these may succeed? Or are their numbers, their riches, their power and influence less now so that we may fear them less? Have they discovered that they have no place in the Church, so that we need no longer to be concerned about them? Has it been proved by history that they work no harm where the Church permits them to enter? Do they come openly and in a shape that is easily recognized? None of all this. We gain little by comparing our present age with any former period in the history of the Church. Each age has enough and too much with which to contend. We must face the problems as they are, not as they were or shall be. Essentially conditions remain the same, since human nature is the same and the enemy is the same. It cannot be urged too strongly, however, that the Church, considering that this is made up of human beings, breathes the air of a money-mad and pleasure-mad world. Knowledge, particularly that which is falsely so-called, is through the press, books and magazines and schools being disseminated faster than ever and to more people. The herd instinct plays a very important role, so that the many are quite easily persuaded to believe what a few set out to make them believe. A common language has brought the Church into closer contact with the forces of wickedness which prevail about us. Means of communication are becoming only more and more rapid, and the circle of acquaintanceship is continually growing wider and wider. Mixed marriages increase steadily in number, through which the influence of the unchurched or of the other-churched becomes very intimate. Add to this the growing spirit of careless indifference, the rush and hurry of business which leaves so very little time for serious reflection, and the colossal ignorance in matters of religion on the part of such a large percentage of our people — and will anyone clare to say that the forces of wickedness and error which demand a place in the Church are not to be feared?
And yet, why not make peace with them? Ours is called the gospel of peace, and the Christian Church, as well as each individual Christian, should be a peace-maker. As well be at peace with the venomous serpent which is ready to strike and with the flame of fire when it touches the dry twigs at the edge of the forest. No enemy enters but to conquer; no poison, but to kill. It is not the individual Modernist or Unitarian or lodgemember or Reformed or Catholic or unbeliever, who is the enemy or the poison. But if he enters as a Modernist or Unitarian or lodgemember or Reformed or Catholic or unbeliever, he brings with him his Modernistic scoffing at Scripture, his Unitarian denial of Christ, his lodge-idolatry, his Reformed rationalism, his Catholic anti-Christ and saint-worship and doctrine of good works; and then Christ says: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16). “Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom. 16). Then Christ exhorts the Christian and the Christian Church: “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6). Then the peace-maker has become a soldier called to defend the peace which God has given His Church and which Christ bought with His blood. And let the Church continue to defend this peace which it owns; for it is the blessed peace with God which the soul craves above all else. Let it preserve this peace, that it may be able to dispense peace to every tired soul which comes to seek it. Or shall it ever be said of us, that we. promised the Bread of Life, and when men came to receive it, then gave stones for bread? that we promised comfort, and gave despair? that we promised light, and gave darkness? that we promised the truth of God, and gave mere opinions of men? For remember, when the Church opens the door to the robber and the enemy just so soon will it lose its sacred treasures.
But, surely, it is not necessary to be as particular and exacting as the Norwegian Synod has always been known to be? On this point our age reveals an attitude of strange inconsistency. It is an age which is altogether impatient with any opinion which does not sanction union or co-operation on the part of the various churches. We are ridiculed, defamed and persecuted, because we have disagreed with the commonly accepted slogans of church unity and union, whereby every church is obliged to recognize every other church denomination, even heathen religions, as brethren with whom we can and should build the kingdom of God. Points of difference should be disregarded, and we should rather stress those essentials in which we are agreed. Small things should not, must not, count in the Kingdom of God. On the other hand, there has probably never been an age which has learned to know so well the importance of small things. Scientists today consider it of vast importance to be able to measure by the millionth of an inch. They know that germs; though so small that they must be magnified a thousand times in order to be seen, or that they can be forced through the pores of a granite bowl, cause death and destruction on a large scale. Scientists maintain that extensive migrations and important developments in history are to be traced to the activity of minute organisms in the soil under our feet. The world is confronted on all sides by the destructive effect of a little poison, the leavening effect of a little leaven, the contagious effect of a little sickness; they can see with their own eyes the soul-corrupting influence of a little bad company, a little vice, a few false principles in education. In other words, nature and the world about us proclaims with a loud voice of warning the solemn truth of the principle uttered by Scripture: “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6). The stern lesson of the history of the Church is an emphatic endorsement of this principle in matters of teaching and religion. The germ of rationalism in the early Reformed Church has step by step, but inevitably, led to the terrible scourge of Modernism in the Reformed Church of today. The leaven of the Pharisees, the doctrine of good works, which appeared in the early centuries of the Christian era, has permeated the whole body of doctrine and brought on the Church of the Anti-Christ, Roman Catholicism of today.
Experience should teach even the Unionist this most patent development. But fundamentally it is the authority of Scripture that is at stake. For it is our beloved Savior who in love warns us, his believing disciples: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” It is He who says: “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon,” i.e., love Him who died to establish for us the truth, presented before our wondering gaze in all its glorious detail in Scripture, and love Satan, the father of lies, who in small things and big, by insidious and secret underminings as well as by open and violent attacks, is continually seeking to overthrow our sacred faith. Who has given a Christian or the Christian Church the privilege of obeying the voice of Scripture when it says: “Thou shalt not kill,” but of disobeying that same Scripture which says: “Mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned ; and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17)? Is he a faithful “steward of the mysteries of God” who for the sake of convenience or mere sloth or outward progress, by a program of unionism, invites the enemy within the gate, subjects souls, for whom Jesus gave his blood, to the subtle wiles of Satan, and demands the right to besmirch with the filth of false associations the fair body of doctrine revealed from heaven by Christ? How dare we join what God hath not joined? for the word of God says: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:14–18). But the forbidden fruit is as tempting to the modern Adam as to the first Adam, and he disregards the plain word of God for the sake of temporal and temporary advantage. The true Christian is and must be bound in conscience by every word of God, as Christ says: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:31). And the test of a Christian’s love of God lies here: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (John 5:3). Let the unionist remember that he who makes light of one word of God and chooses not to believe or obey it, has taken a step which consistently would lead to the forfeiture of our eternal hope, for he has made of Scripture an uncertain thing. He has also endangered souls by crying peace, where God calls to war. He has set aside God and His holy word for the desires and opinions of his own unbelieving heart.
Looking back upon seventy-five years of almost tireless testimony to these truths and principles, have we not a right to become discouraged at the results and rest a while from our labors? It is not for a Christian to rest in the work of “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded.” Though we today number only a small percentage of the members our Synod once boasted, have the tasks and duties and obligations changed in kind? Does not Christ say to us today as well as before: “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing, preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:1–2)? Has the light of Scripture become dim, that we should not bear it aloft? Has the truth of Scripture become faded and worn, that we are ashamed to confess it? Has the Bread of Life lost its savor among men? Is the Gospel of Christ no longer “the power of God unto salvation”? And dare we no longer depend upon the promise of God: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6)? It is God who says: “Who hath despised the day of small things?” (Zech. 4:10). Whether God has entrusted His good things to the keeping of many or of few, “it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). And may all the vain opinions and vain promises of men never obscure before our eye of faith the happiness of our final homecoming, when the Lord of the house shall welcome us into eternal mansions with the name of glory, “faithful,” written on our crown (Gal. 3:9; 1 Cor. 4:17; Eph. 1:1; Rev. 2:10–13; 17:14).
When we consider as a Synod what our testimony shall be henceforth, there is only one possibility: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Is. 8:20). That law and testimony of God points a condemning finger at every false teacher and teaching. It does not say as does the unionist: “My Baptist friend, you have robbed little children of a heaven-born means of salvation, intended by their heavenly Father also for them; but for all that, let’s be friends. We need not take God’s word so seriously.” Or, “My Presbyterian friend, you withhold from sin-burdened souls the most sacred comfort Christ has provided, the eternal pledge of His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins; but for all that, let’s be friends. Though souls must starve and God’s promise be made of no effect, men must not for all the world consider us narrow or the Church behind the times.” Or, “My dear lodge friend, you prefer to pay your respects to Allah, the god of the Mohammedans, though the God of Israel says: ‘My glory will I not give to another’ (Is. 42:8); you seek to gain entrance to the Grand Lodge above as the reward of a virtuous and pious life, though the Scriptures say: ‘by grace are ye saved through faith’ in Christ — but let’s not quarrel. We’re all striving toward the same place, and we need your money and influence to help us in the church. Probably you’ll see it our way in time.” But on that great day one thing alone shall judge us. Jesus says: “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). And that word stands to all eternity which says: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 10:11). Such an one then makes himself a partaker also of that curse which God has once and for all pronounced upon error and errorists: “there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:7–9).
We have also henceforth only one duty, to preach the Gospel. But let this preaching be clear. Let us so busy ourselves with this Gospel that the dirt of human opinion may continually be removed and the lamp of God’s truth shine in all its brilliance to the salvation of souls. “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). And what is and must be the nature of those oracles, that Gospel, that word of God if we preach it aright? “The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Hebr. 4:12,13). In this preaching we dare not forget that we preach, both as individuals and as a church, by our actions and associations and lives as well as by our words. Too many have obscured and nullified the clear testimony of their word by the unclear, vacillating or opposite testimony of their associations and deeds. God help our dear Synod, and every pastor and congregation of it, to continue faithful in word and in deed, that no man may take our crown.
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The Norwegian Synod and the Christian Day-school
I. The Past
To observe the 75th anniversary of our Synod without giving due attention to the Christian day-school would be like celebrating the Fourth of July, but forgetting the Declaration of Independence. For in spite of the fact that the Christian day-school never came to occupy the place it deserved in the church of our fathers, yet it cannot be denied that the indoctrination of its youth has ever been one of the chief principles of the Norwegian Synod. When we to-day must deplore the fact that this blessed institution never was given the support which it deserved in the church of our fathers, we must not forget that there were extenuating circumstances. For these we must make due allowance, or else we are apt to sit in high judgment on men whose hearts were as filled with zeal for the cause of Christian schools for their children as is any heart among us to-day. Looking back over the history of our Synod, we do find certain obstacles in the way of a general interest in the establishing of these schools throughout the Synod. What were they? It is highly necessary that we have knowledge of these, lest we, on the one hand, misjudge the fathers, and lest we, on the other hand, imagine that we have a valid excuse for not doing more. We have in charity termed them extenuating circumstances, not daring to consider them excuses valid before God.
Our origin. — First of all, we must bear in mind that our forefathers came from a land where they in youth had enjoyed instruction in the Lutheran faith in the common schools of their country. While many of our forebears had received but very little schooling in the so-called “omgangsskole” of the home country yet what schooling they had enjoyed had placed the Bible, Luther’s Small Catechism, the Bible History, and the Hymn Book as first requisites to a Christian child’s training. And that was in state-supported schools. There had been no abridgment of this right on the part of the state, since the Lutheran church was the state church of Norway, even as it is to this very day. Schooling, in the minds of our immigrant forefathers, meant first of all instruction in the fundamentals of the Christian religion. As a consequence, they did not come to the land of their adoption with hearts and minds prepared to cope with the new order of things in a country where the tax-supported public schools could not, in the very nature of the case, give instruction in the Christian religion or in any other religion. That the founders of our Synod, for a time at least, labored under the delusion that the church might look to the state for aid in this work of Christian training we glean from the fact that when a theological seminary was proposed approaches were made to the University of Wisconsin to have it established in connection with that institution.
Not so among our brethren of the Missouri Synod. There we find that the congregational school was at once established and was considered a sine qua non for the wholesome development of the church. But why this difference between immigrants, both of Lutheran stock? Because the Saxons in their homeland had suffered a real persecution because of their faith. It was this persecution on the part of the decadent state church of Germany (nominally Lutheran, but virtually Reformed) which prompted C.F.W. Walther and his fellow Lutherans to emigrate to America. When they came they were prepared to begin aright, since they did not entertain any false hope as to what might be expected from a state school. They had learned from sad experience that if their children were to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, the congregation would have to provide for such training through its own private school. In the history of this outstanding denomination among Lutherans of to-day we have exemplified the truth of that passage in Hebrews which says: “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Heb. 12:11. It was chiefly through their early association and affiliation with these conservative Lutherans that the fathers of our Synod learned to see the necessity of the Christian day-school, yea, learned to see the signal blessings to which they had fallen heirs when God had led them to a land where church and state were separate. But though the Synod leaders had learned to see the necessity of congregational schools, they received anything but a whole-hearted support from the rank and file of their followers, many of whom had not as yet been weaned from the erroneous view that somehow there could be a joining of interests. It was therefore an up-hill fight which a Dietrichson, an H.A. Preus, an Ottesen, a Laur Larsen had to wage in the early years of our Synod in the interest of the congregational school. But, not being “popularitetsjægere,” these men were not dismayed by the odds against them. They fought a good fight also on this sector even unto the finishing of their course. And we bow our heads to-day in grateful acknowledgment of their Christian courage. May the very memory of them be blessed unto us.
Matter of language. — In the second place, we find that the language question proved more or less of an hindrance. For when these faithful fathers of our Synod, through their contact with the Missourians, had learned to see the necessity and blessing of the congregational school, they could not quite reconcile themselves to anything but a school in their mother tongue. A congregational school meant, of course, a Norwegian school. But while the German, who by virtue of his national numerical strength, was invariably proud of the language spoken by millions throughout the world, the Norwegian, especially the uneducated, all too often felt ashamed of his mother tongue and therefore sought to drop it as soon as he had acquired a little smattering of English. Here, then, the pastors who sought to establish congregational schools met a real hindrance. We find intimations of this difficulty again and again in the half-century struggle for the maintenance of the institution.
Instead of being in a position to center their attention upon a Christian day-school, therefore, which could do the full work of the common school at the same time that it was a school in which the Christian religion was first of all inculcated and in which Christian discipline was exercised by teachers who accepted the word of God as the only norm for faith and life, many precious years were frittered away in a discussion of the language question. Satan, the inveterate enemy of the Christian day-school, saw to it that wherever possible interests were divided so that the prayers and pious plans of the faithful should not come to full fruition.
All sorts of compromises were concocted by some, whereby the establishing of the full-time Christian school might be made to appear as superfluous. Some sought to satisfy themselves with the securing of Norwegian-Lutheran teachers to conduct the common schools of their community. Others would have the public schools teach the common school branches for a part of the school term, and to have instruction in religion for the remainder of the term. And still others demanded that the state be petitioned for the right of having instruction in the Norwegian language made possible in the common schools. But in all instances the language question played in, to the detriment of the full-time congregational school.
But in spite of national origin, in spite of the language question which was constantly confronting them, in spite of the many compromises which were resorted to by the indifferent and half-hearted, the fathers of our Synod continued to plead the cause of the Christian day-school until they finally got a hearing. It is not necessary here to enter upon any exhaustive review of their word and work. Suffice it to say that the cause of the Christian day-school was kept before the people in the official church organ, in annual synodical reports, in papers read before Synods and pastoral conferences, in circuit meetings, sermons, and in the private pastoral work. It is a source of true satisfaction to know that in the very first issue of the Synod’s official organ (then called “Maanedstidende”), March, 1855, there appears an article from the pen of Rev. Dietrichson urging proper indoctrination of the children, and demanding the absolute separation of church and state also in the matter of schools. To quote briefly from this early statement: “In all too many quarters we notice also among us the spirit more and more permeating the congregations, that it must be considered sufficient when their children learn what is being taught in the public schools, and that it is a burdensome bond the pastor would place upon them when he demands that every member of his congregation shall contribute, and that the parents shall send their children, to the Christian school. But I nourish the fond hope that as Christian knowledge increases, the more its (the Christian school) necessity will be recognized and appreciated. But also here it is necessary that both pastor and congregation, trusting in God’s sustaining grace, do not let themselves grow weary and faint-hearted, even though many burdens and hindrances oppose, but in meekness seek to convince the gainsayers and with Christian admonition and counsel cause them to understand what a vast responsibility they assume when they neglect to have their little ones made partakers of that which alone can make them happy here and blessed in the hereafter.” This firm, yet thoroughly evangelical, statement from the pen of our sainted pioneering patriarch ought to be inscribed in letters of gold in the annals of our dear church.
That he is clear on the fundamental question of separation of church and state, we glean from his commentary on the resolution of the Pennsylvania Ministerium regarding the reading of the Bible in the public schools. We quote from the above-mentioned article in “Maanedstidende”: “When the committee proposes that only such men shall be elected to the school boards as will see to it that Christian teachers are appointed and that the reading and explanation of the Bible be introduced, then I cannot agree thereto. For to read the Bible and expound religion in the public schools is contrary to the laws of the land, which demand that no religion shall be taught in these schools, lest anyone should be offended and, on religious grounds, be forced to keep their children out of school.” Would to God that more of our present-day “Lutherans” had as clear a conception of this fundamental question.
Dietrichson closes his plea with these words: “May God’s grace and blessing attend us, so that there may be awakened a serious concern among us for the Christian training of our youth; then the Lord will also grant us the spirit of wisdom to arrange everything in the best way, and will grant us the spirit of power, so that we shall not grow faint when we at times will meet with opposition where we expected to find support.”
The first committee appointed by the Synod to consider ways and means for the establishment of congregational schools arrives at the conclusion that “all instruction must be given in the light of the Christian religion.” This same committee expresses itself as follows regarding the influence of such schools: “Especially will such a school wield so great an influence for the future that, as already stated, our congregations’ continued existence, so far as human judgment goes, may well be said to depend more on this than on anything else. God grant that we may acknowledge this and act accordingly.”
In his annual report to the Synod in 1873 president H.A. Preus joins with those pastors of the Synod who have expressed it as their conviction that there is no hope of betterment and proper arrangement except through the establishment of Norwegian-English congregational schools. A set of theses prepared by President Preus this same year were printed and distributed. The following quotations from these theses will show where the sainted H.A. Preus stood in the matter of the Christian day-school:
“The school is the forecourt to the church.”
“Parents cannot defend the committing of their children’s instruction to un-Christian teachers.”
“When the church or congregation, at the request of the parents, administers baptism to the little ones, it is not alone the sponsors, but the congregation as a whole which pledges itself, through the establishing and maintaining of schools in its midst, to see to it that all its children which through baptism have been grafted into Christ may remain with Christ. The school is the forecourt of the church, the church is the mother of the school.”
“A congregation must, therefore, for the sake of Christ’s command, for the sake of the children’s salvation, and for the sake of its very existence and continuance, provide for the school.”
“With fear and serious concern must we contemplate what the future holds in store for our children, our land and people. The only thing we have with which to construct a dam which shall shield us from the oncoming flood, threatening to carry away everything in its course, is the Lord and his word. With implicit trust in him our hearts must be stablished. In the fear and love of him we will as humble Christians and faithful citizens continue to testify and labor while it is day.
“In such a faith and committed to such a labor of love we earnestly strive by the aid of God to rear our children.
“Then shall neither that night of darkness, which threatens to enshroud the earth, nor the night of death, which most certainly awaits us all, terrify us or our children; we shall see light in God’s light.”
In his annual report of 1875 President Preus says concerning the Christian day-school:
“But there is another thing [he has just spoken of the increasing worldliness of the church] which more than anything else causes me to fear that the spirit of the world shall gain the upper hand, even as we have evidence sufficient that it has already made its entrance. I refer to the little interest and the great neglect which shows itself in many quarters for Christian training and a Christian school system. I have again and again spoken about this matter, but though I shall have to suffer scoffing and scourging therefor, yet I will not cease so long as I am granted life to cry unto our church body: ‘Bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.’ Perchance some, by this continued cry, could have their ears and eyes opened and grasp the importance of the matter. As I see it, a thoroughly Christian educational system is the chief of all conditions for our church body’s health and development in this country. But the gross neglect thereof, in a non-Christian, irreligious, more or less worldly-minded training of our children and youth I see the decay and destruction of our beloved church within a few generations.”
Controversies and Unionism. — In the latter half of the seventies and in the early eighties we see a general awakening in the Synod to the necessity of the Christian day-school. A number of these institutions are established and are reported in a flourishing condition. On the same day, Sept. 3, 1877, Christian day-schools were opened in the Decorah congregation and in Rev. Juul’s congregation of Chicago, both institutions having a male and a female teacher in charge. But due to the anti-Missourian controversy which arose in the eighties, the work so well begun was for a time disturbed. However, the Christian day-school, which had vindicated itself wherever it had been given a fair trial, continued to flourish, so that at the Synod’s Jubilee celebration in 1903 it was given the most prominent place on the program of the church. Both President Koren in his annual report and Prof. Larsen in the opening sermon at that Jubilee celebration stress the absolute necessity of Christian day-schools. And with renewed interest the Synod set about carrying into effect the most promising program to which it had ever been committed.
But again it encountered an hindrance which not only cooled the ardor of its love for the continuing of the schools it had already established, but which caused a number of these institutions to be closed. Leaders arose who, while they with their mouths confessed that they were concerned about the feeding of the lambs, nevertheless by actions soon showed that they in their hearts carried a concern for something quite different. They sold their blessed birthright for a pottage of unionistic lentils. In every congregation of the Synod where these schools were to be found, but where the congregation entered the merger of Norwegian Lutherans based on the Madison (Wis.) “Agreement” of 1912, the schools were closed and remain closed to this day.
II. The Present
In speaking of the present, let it be stated at once that, in spite of what has again and again been said by our enemies concerning our right to call ourselves by the time-honored name, “The Norwegian Synod,” we are historically justified in claiming it as our rightful heritage, and not least because of our attitude toward the Christian day-school. Also here we have sought to remain true to our sainted fathers, not because we worship mere man, but because the fathers were in turn bound in the word of God. And in this matter we have a divine injunction to remember them which have had the rule over us, who have spoken unto us the word of God: whose faith we should follow, considering the end of their conversation. It would ill become us to rear monuments to the memory of a Dietrichson, a Preus, an Ottesen, a Larsen with our lips, while we with our feet were trampling upon the dismembered corpse of their dearest child.
What of the present? In spite of all the ridicule which has been heaped upon us, in spite of the heartaches we have had to endure, in spite of the numbers which stand opposed to us in our struggle for the preservation of the faith once delivered unto the saints, we can rejoice in the fact that the last decade has been the most flourishing era in the history of this blessed institution among us. Not only have we proportionately more Christian day-schools in our reorganized Synod than ever was to be found in the Synod of the past, but we can truthfully say that it has been given the chief place of prominence on the program of our church. And there is not to be found among us a single shepherd of souls who is not at heart committed to the cause. Also we have been chastized, but, by the grace of God, we have been made glad according to the days wherein he has afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.
What of the present? While we have nothing of which to boast, we are truly grateful to our kind heavenly Father, who, in spite of our all too little faith, has so signally blessed us. I, for one, would not exchange a single one of our humble day nurseries for the most pretentious institutionalized church of the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America.
What of the present? Am I saying too much when I state that it is our greatest joy on the occasion of our Jubilee Synod to hear in our midst songs, of praise to the blessed Redeemer’s name from the lips of children who in these very institutions have been taught that there is but one thing needful? Could a more fitting “festskrift” be presented than that which the Rev. Tjernagel to-day has placed in your hands, a work dedicated to our Christian day-schools? Our Jubilee Souvenir speaks a language which needs no interpretation. It answers the question: “What of the present?”
III. The Future
But what of the future? Believing that it is God’s will that all our children shall be taught of the Lord and that only then shall the peace of our children be great, we have no other program for the future than that which has governed us in the past. With renewed zeal in this endeavor we propose to carry on. Mindful of the faith of our true Synod fathers, it is our solemn resolve on this our 75th anniversary rather to be here rededicated to the cause for which they gave their last full measure of devotion. For just as certainly as we are bound in the word of God in all matters of faith and life, just as certainly must we remain champions of the Christian day-school.
We must, however, if the future is to be ours, never nourish the vain hope that the Christian day-school will ever become popular in a world at enmity with God and in which all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. Our ideal is, and must ever remain, a Christian day-school for every congregation of our Synod. To that ideal we have pledged ourselves as a church body. And in the attaining of that blessed consummation we must, even as a Moses of old, be ready rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
Courage and strength for the task will be found in Him alone whose strength is also to-day made perfect in weakness. The question must ever be considered in the light of eternity. Let us not be over-much concerned about the world’s vain standards. Patiently we will labor, fervently will we hope, that what a gracious God has committed to our trust shall not be lost to us because of our indifference and ingratitude, even though we shall have to bear the reproaches of Him who suffered without the camp.
Preparing our little ones for the citizenship of heaven, we are rendering the land of our present sojourn the greatest service in giving it citizens who will be subject not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. To this most momentous work of the future we go forth in the true fear and love of God, who has commanded us to pray and who has promised to hear us. This, then, shall be our earnest petition:
“Let thy work appear unto thy servants,
And thy glory unto their children.
And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us:
And establish thou the work of our hands upon us;
Yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.”