Ahlert H. Strand
1944 Synod Convention Essay
Our Norwegian Synod is made up of a group of Christian congregations banded together in order to help one another in doing the work, carrying on the business and performing the mission of the Christian Church in this world.
The work, business, or mission God has assigned to us is something with which we have been familiar ever since we studied our confirmation lessons. But like most everything else we have studied, so also in this matter we have to keep in mind by a sort of review now and then what we have learned so as to make the lesson effective.
It is to refresh in our minds truths we already know, not to uncover something new, that we consider.
Our Mission As A Synod
First, we ask, what is our mission as a synod?
a) By virtue of the fact that God has entrusted to us His Word and Sacraments in all their truth and purity, there rests upon us the great and definite duty of keeping these sacred means of grace pure and unadulterated. We are to watch over them with the realization that they are the greatest treasures we can possibly have in this world.
If you turn your car over to me for safe-keeping, you will be very much disappointed in me, to put it mildly, if I take off one of the headlights under the notion that one headlight is sufficient and rip out your radio and other accessories, under the notion that you can get around without those special pieces of equipment.
Think, then, of what God must conclude if we tamper with any part of His Word! He has not left it to our imagination to figure out His idea on this matter, but has stated His will in many places in the Bible. Listen to this (Revelation 22:18–19): “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life.”
These priceless treasures, the Word of God and the Sacraments, are given to us to “make us wise unto salvation” by bringing us to believe in Jesus as our Savior. They are given to us to keep our belief in Jesus strong and fruitful in every good word and work.
The Means of Grace serve as a conductor through which the Holy Spirit gets to our hearts and works upon them. To illustrate: On one side we have the powerful battery, on the other side we have a dead electric motor. In order to make that motor run, we have to connect a wire between it and the battery so that the current can flow from the battery to the motor. That is the way the Means of Grace serve. They act as a conductor, the wire, through which the Holy Ghost comes from God into our hearts and minds.
To tamper with the wire is hazardous. One may short-circuit the flow of energy, burn out the vital windings in the motor and ruin its usefulness.
As a Synod, we have a mission to see to it that we do not allow anyone or anything to tamper with the Means of Grace, the means by which God reaches us to bring us the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation won for us by Jesus.
b) We are not only to keep the means of grace, we are also to use them. We may keep every falsehood, all wrong teaching, out of our Synod, and we may have every part of the Bible taught among us in all its truth and purity, without fulfilling our mission as a Synod. To fulfill that mission we must also use the sacred means of grace.
Our book cases may be filled with costly Bibles and with excellent books setting forth the teachings of God’s Word, but they will not help us if we do not read them. Our churches may resound with the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, our ministers may preach Jesus so purely and plainly that men may see Him crucified before their mind’s eye, may see their sins laid on Jesus and Jesus carrying their sins into death for the salvation of sinners, the baptismal font may stand invitingly and attractively in our sanctuaries, the holy Supper of our Lord may be set upon our altars; but what good will all this do us, if we do not use the sacred means of grace?
You and I have read about people who lived in the poorest shacks, ate the most miserable foods, wore the most terrible clothes, never gave a penny to help anyone, and, still, when these people died, it was found that they had lots of money, sound investments, pure and genuine wealth. But what good did it do them?
We have a God-given mission to “search the Scriptures,” to “deem God’s Word holy, gladly hear and learn it,” to use the sacrament of Baptism, to partake of the Lord’s Supper. If we are to enter heaven and to please God, we must have faith in Jesus. If we are to have faith in Jesus, we must use the means of grace. Faith in Jesus is produced in us by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace and in no other way. Therefore we must use the means of grace.
c) However, we are not to be selfish about the means of grace, we are to share them with others. A remarkable fact about the means of grace is that we can use them to our heart’s content and still not be afraid of using them up or wearing them out.
There is talk at times about the need of being careful not to use up all the oil in the earth so that there will not be enough for future generations. But there is no danger about the Word of God and the Sacraments in that respect. They are inexhaustible and God has given us the command to share them with others, yes, to bring them to others.
We have the great duty and the glorious privilege of bringing to our fellowmen all over the world the wonderful message of God’s great love in and through Jesus Christ. We can do nothing more helpful to our fellowmen than by telling them about God’s love in Jesus. We may give men bodily food and clothing, we may build hospitals and schools for them, yes, even churches for them, we may make it easy for them to enjoy a comfortable life in this world, but all that is of extremely small value compared with bringing them the Gospel of Jesus Christ by which God makes people His children and heirs of heaven. “What is a man profited,” Jesus asks, “if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26). Even for “the life that now is,” to use an expression from the apostle Paul, the Gospel of Christ is the best thing we can give to our fellowmen. The turmoil, hatred, suffering and woe of our generation is sufficient proof of the great need of bringing the means of grace to our fellowmen. What changes we would find in this world if men everywhere knew the love of God in Christ? While we can’t reach everyone, we have the duty of doing all that lies in our power to reach as many as we can.
We have looked briefly at our mission as a Synod in order to remind ourselves of what that mission is. Now we shall see: What we are doing about our mission as a Synod.
a) In our efforts to keep the means of grace pure and unadulterated, we are following the definite program given for us in the Bible.
1. We discuss pure teaching in our congregations, at our conventions, pastoral conferences and circuit meetings. In these discussions, we call attention to the dangers threatening us and we fortify ourselves with the armament of the Spirit.
2. We use our church papers for presenting pure teaching and for warning against falsehood. It seems to your essayist that we can do better here than we sometimes do. It is easy to write articles in the style used in books and publications intended especially for pastors and teachers of religion. It is difficult, in the sense that it requires much effort, to write these articles in the everyday language and style of the country and city businessmen, the housewives, mothers, and young folks in our Synod.
It is a common procedure in preparing our sermons to keep in mind that the doctors of divinity in our congregations can easily follow our sermons if we use the language and expressions of business men, housewives and our young folks. Perhaps we ought to follow that same practice more in our articles in our church papers.
3. In the further interest of preserving the truth, we maintain a system of Christian schools. The Christian Day School, our High School and Junior College at Bethany receive a special place on our convention schedule. We will not infringe upon that part of our program now. However, there is a matter in connection with our schools, which, although it will have a special place on our convention program, still ought to be mentioned here.
Apparently, the time has come when we have to prepare to shoulder our responsibility in the training of pastors for the Synod’s future use. We believe that we have such great blessings from God in the purity of teaching which He has granted us that we ought no longer turn over to someone else that responsibility.
b) Now, we ask, what are we doing about our mission to use the means of grace for our own growth in spiritual wisdom and good works?
1. We are providing for regular services in our congregations and for the administration of the sacraments. But most of our churches would be packed to the doors every Sunday, if ail our people came to hear the preaching of God’s Word diligently. Our records for attendance at communion are not good. It is not sufficient that our pastors speak publicly and privately about this situation. All of us should admonish and encourage one another by word and by example.
Right here, though, let us face the facts. It is not a mere mechanical church going and Bible reading, whiCh constitutes the means of grace, but it is a putting into practice the things we hear and learn. Jesus says (Luke 11:28): “Blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”
2. We are also encouraging family devotions in order to use the Word of God for our own growth in grace. God has given us the ability to read His Word. This ability we should use with the same diligence that we apply to the feeding of our bodies. Even if our children are so small that we can do no more than read a chapter from a book like Egermeier’s Bible Stories, we are still feeding our family God’s truth and providing opportunity for family devotion and prayer.
3. Permit me to mention our church papers, too, in this connection. We are trying to make our periodicals both instructive and interesting; we are encouraging our congregations to use the blanket subscription plan or any other method by which to bring our papers into every home in our synod. This we are doing to promote the use of God’s Word for our own growth in knowledge and wisdom and fruit-bearing. We appreciate hearing from many and all of our readers, both those who find fault and also those who approve. We want to make these periodicals little messengers, conveying the truth of God so that all of us may keep informed about the happenings of our own Synod and those of other church bodies for our mutual growth in grace. … But these papers must be read, if they are to serve their purpose.
4. In the matter of using our schools, we simply call attention to the reports of our Boards for Christian education.
FINALLY, we ask, what are we doing about sharing the means of grace with others?
1. It is safe to say that we are most likely to fall short in our personal efforts to tell others about Jesus. We are somewhat reluctant to talk about Jesus. We are afraid of being misunderstood, or, we become discouraged and think the work of sharing the truth with others is a hope to spread it among our fellowmen. Fearlessly and lovingly, however, let us carry on this part of our Synod’s mission, leaving the results in God’s hands. Think of how many relatives and friends we have who are not enjoying the means of grace with us. As we love our Savior and our fellowmen, let us not only wish that these people were enjoying the means of grace, but let us go to work and bring the means to them.
2. We have quite a workable system for spreading the Gospel to people beyond our personal reach. Through our home and foreign mission system, we send out missionaries as our representatives to tell others the good news of salvation through Jesus. We support these representatives of ours by means of the money we give for missions. We want to support these missionaries well enough to permit them to work for us at the highest point of their efficiency.
3. We are not waiting for a post-war era when it will be very easy, with open doors all over the globe, or, when it will be terribly difficult, to carry on our mission program. We know that God expects us to do our work, perform our mission, NOW. If we really keep on at full speed now, we will not need to worry about tomorrow. We will find that as tomorrow dawns, God will have a clear track open for us. There will never be any other basic mission as a Synod, no matter how long we continue as a Synod. God expects us to “redeem the time,” as the apostle says; that means, to put it bluntly, — God expects us to “keep our sleeves rolled up and our shoulders at the wheel” as long as we continue to enjoy our season of grace here upon earth. Our rest will come in the kingdom of heaven.