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What Way Union

S.C. Ylvisaker

1951 Synod Convention

Introduction —

God directs us in Scripture toward unity, first of all, and that a unity

  1. in the same simple faith,
  2. in the same sure and clear faith,
  3. about the same exalted and worthy goal,
  4. about the same powerful means of grace.

1. The striving for union among the churches grows apace, but, for direction, with less and less vigor. We believe that the Lord of the Church has not left us without testimony also in this particular, and as Christians we inevitably look to Him for counsel and safe guidance. We believe that His testimony also in this important concern of His Kingdom is to be sought and found solely in His Word of Truth, the sacred Scriptures, divinely inspired, dependable, true, clear, eternal and unchangeable.

2. This testimony is found wrapped up with that which concerns the Church of God, the holy Communion of Saints, of which invisible Communion the visible group of professing Christians should be the reflection.

3. Thus, even as the one true Christian Church is to be defined as the sum of those who believe in Christ, so the visible Church is the collection of all those who profess faith in Christ in accordance with the revelation of the Bible. And let those who would unite the Churches consider that the believers themselves are already one in this faith. (Eph. 4,3.)

4. The union of the Churches thus becomes primarily a concern of the visible Church, and in this concern this visible Church will always consider the ever-present goal of letting the visible union reflect the glory of the Invisible, as it is written: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Eph. 4,4–6.)

    1. Christianity offers a simple way of salvation, a fit basis for unity and union. Ps. 119, 130: “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.”
    2. Christianity is simple in this that
      1. it teaches utter dependence on God in the matter of:
        1. revelation — 2 Tim. 3,15–17: “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
        2. creation – Gen. 1,1: “In the beginning God created the heaven and earth.”
        3. salvation — Joh. 3,16: “For God so loveth the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
      2. it teaches this dependence solely through Christ. Gal. 3,26: “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” John 9,25: “He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.
      3. it creates this faith by the preaching of the Word. I Pet. 1,23: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.”
      4. it preserves this faith by the same means of grace. I Pet. 1,5: “Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” John 6,23: “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”
    3. We vitiate and violate the very essence of Christian faith if we make it difficult. Gal. 2,16: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”
    4. Both its advocates and its followers easily fall into the the trap of making Christianity difficult. Gal. 2,18: “For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.”
    5. Because Christianity is so simple and so “easy,” it should be a simple matter to agree on its simple basis, Christ, the one Redeemer from sin. Rom. 5,1.2: “therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” I Tim. 2,5: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
    6. Instead the reason of man and his emotional nature refuses this simplicity and change the very center of Christianity to one of supreme difficulty. This pertains to faith as well as works. Rom. 11,6: “And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”
    7. This new basis appears easy and simple because it is nearer to the sinful nature of man; but in its teachings and in its requirements it is incomparably more difficult. Mark 7,13: “Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered.”
    8. Then the inevitable tendency to compromise sets in and the desire to bring these two teachings together: the one pointing to grace, the other to works; the one simple, for the heart, and the other appealing to the mind; the one from God, the other from man. 1 Cor. 2,14: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 2 Pet. 2,2: “And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.”
    9. This is caused by poor preaching, shallow theology, neglect in the study of Scripture, love of the world, false teaching, pride. Cf. 2 Pet. 2.
    10. Misled by all of this, men formulate a new theology and a new religion, which, after all, is very old. It includes all religion finally in a three-fold confession: God, virtue, immortality. With the first compromise the downward trend has begun, until the ultimate is reached in unionistic and syncretistic religion. 2 Pet. 2.


    1. All knowledge is built on faith in someone or something. Hebr. 11,3: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”
    2. The worldling bases his knowledge on faith in the intellectual process, in human judgment, in the study of nature, in emotion, tradition, prejudice, etc. Since this knowledge can never be either complete in content or perfect in understanding, this knowledge will never be more than relative. Rom. 1,21.22: “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”
    3. The Christian bases his knowledge on faith in the revealed word of God in Scripture. Since this knowledge has its source in the perfect understanding of God and is accompanied by His perfect and clear revelation, this knowledge is absolute, so far is it goes. True humility accepts this knowledge in implicit faith, for it is from God. John 2,22: “… and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.” Ps. 48,10: “According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: thy right hand is full of righteousness.”
    4. Since knowledge in the one case is only relative, in the other is absolute, that which is relative must submit to that which is absolute where the two might disagree; i.e., that which is of man must submit to that which is revealed by God. It is at this point that the unhappy conflict arises. 2 Tim. 3,16: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”
    5. The Bible Christian is easily misunderstood in his seemingly stubborn position. Being convinced that the Bible is the Word of God and that it speaks in clear language the things of God, the Christian is helpless and must refuse any compromise by which that Word might be affected. Luther’s words “Here I stand. I can do no otherwise. God help me. Amen” are strikingly characteristic of the position of every true Christian. 2 Chron. 34,27: “Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the Lord.” Acts 4,19.20: “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, ·whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things that we have seen and heard.”
    6. The worldling is not so bound. Since his judgments, also in religious matters, are based largely on changeable human investigation and opinion, he is ready to change also religious convictions with each new discovery. Being in the nature of the case ready to compromise at eve1y turn, he cannot understand or appreciate the attitude of the faithful Christian and his plain refusal to compromise the clear and unchangeable teachings of Scripture.
      1. If two or more groups contemplate union but differ doctrinally, they may look forward to eventual unity and union if the groups hold a common basis. Thus, if both hold the Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God, it is theoretically and practically possible for both, by prayerful and believing submission to this Word, to accept the same truth. Or if both have accepted the second basis, human reason, it is usually a simple matter to effect some kind of compromise which will permit such divergent human opinions to stand, uncertain as they are, particularly in religious things.
      2. Any real, fundamental and full agreement between the two bases is never possible.
      3. This will ever be offensive to the unconverted human mind and heart.
      1. It is inevitable that he who does not acknowledge the Bible as the inspired and living Word of God will, even in all sincerity, advocate the joining of the one group with the other, pretending that the practical advantages make this imperative and claiming that slight, or even greater doctrinal differences must not hinder the great blessing. In non-essentials we may hold different views, men say.
      2. The Bible Christian, however, recognizes that he can assume no authority over the Word of God, so as to decide what is important or unimportant. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” 2 Tim. 3,16–17. Where the plain Word of God is involved, that Word is supreme.
    7. A unionistic compromise which endangers one clear word of Scripture is
      1. sin against the Lord Whose holy word it is. John 10,35: “… the scripture cannot be broken.”
      2. a forfeiting of the certainty of faith: for with the uncertainty of the basis of faith follows the uncertainty of faith itself. 1 Thess. 2,13: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not. as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh in you that believe.” 2 Pet. 1,19–21: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
      3. a gradual loss of the revealed truth, so that the content of faith becomes ever more meager and the rich treasury of the Word gradually disappears. Luke 16,17: “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”
    8. Upon the loss of the content of faith follows the gradual weakening of the Church
      1. as a lively confessing agency,
      2. as a powerful missionary agency,
      3. and as an agency to defend itself against the enemy from within and from without.
    9. Eph. 2,17–23: “And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth into an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” 1 Cor. 3,11: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Matt. 16,18: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” John 10,27.28: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”


(At this point Dr. Ylvisaker was called away to attend a funeral. For this reason the following theses were only read, but not discussed thoroughly, so that they could be adopted by the convention. They will be considered further at next year’s convention.)