1953 Synod Convention Essay
The religion of the Bible, both of the Old Testament and of the New is centered in Christ. Speaking of the Old Testament scriptures Jesus says: “They are they which testify of Me.” John 5,39. And the teaching of the New Testament may be summed up in the words of the Apostle Paul: “I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” I Cor. 2,2.
Every human being has an inevitable appointment in prospect: the appointment to appear before the judgment seat of the Lord. 2 Cor. 5,10. We are constantly hastening to that hour. And there is only one thing that can save in that hour: the righteousness of Christ that has been appropriated by faith. “For as by one man’s obedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One many shall be made righteous.” Rom. 5,19.
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
Bold shall I stand in Thy great day;
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am,
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.
Our fathers clung to Christ and through Him have entered into blessedness. “For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.” Rom. 10,11.
We worship the same Christ whom our fathers have worshipped. We cling to the same doctrines to which they clung. We are not carried away by a spirit of bondage to our fathers, for we know that they were fallible human beings even as we are. Nor are we motivated by a spirit of undue veneration for that which is old. For we know that the age of a thing is in itself no guarantee of its correctness. But we have examined the stand which our fathers took doctrinally, and find that it tallies with Scripture; and for that reason we want to stand on the same doctrinal basis as that on which they stood. We want to be led by the Holy Spirit through the Word and let our faith stand on the God-given ground.
The Christ whom we worship is the Christ whom Scripture teaches us to know and to worship. It is of God’s grace toward us that it is so. We will let no other doctrine prevail in the church than the doctrine of Scripture. The Biblical principle of Scripture alone” prevails among us — Scripture, without any abbreviations or additions. Clinging to Scripture alone we shall not err, for “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.
The Jews of Jesus’ day were looking for the Christ, but not such a Christ as Jesus of Nazareth was. They were looking for a Christ who would be a worldly prince, a bread-king. But it was because the Jews were following their own ideas concerning the Christ instead of following the Scriptures that they had such wrong notions concerning the Christ. If they had followed Scripture alone they would have accepted Jesus as the Christ. Jesus and His Apostles used the Scriptures in order to prove that he was the Christ. Luke 24,25–27, Acts 17,2.8; Acts 18,28.
Even as our fathers contended for Scripture alone as the source of doctrine (Cf. “Faith of Our Fathers”, page 50), so do we, their children. And let it be in all humility that we say it, for we know how strong the devil, the world, and our own flesh are to lead us away from this God-given principle. These enemies may tempt us, in the name of progress and of keeping up with the times, to be willing to yield in matters of doctrine and not be so strict to adhere to the Scriptures alone. We must also hold fast to the teaching of Scripture that it is clear, that it is “a light that shineth in a dark place”, 2 Peter 1,19, and that when we continue in Jesus’ word we shall know the truth. John 8,31,32. We shall not let ourselves be misled by the false principle that Scripture is unclear and that therefore there are divisions in doctrine which we see. It would be wicked to lay the blame for the divisions upon the Word of God as though it were unclear and that therefore we cannot know whether we have the truth or not. The cause for false doctrine lies in the devil and in men who do not follow Scripture alone, but their own ideas.
The Christ whom we worship is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man born of the Virgin Mary. The doctrine of the person of Christ is with us an all-important matter. For, a Christ who was not true God or was not true man could not save. Christ had to be true God in order that He might conquer the devil, death, and hell; in order that His suffering and death might be valuable enough to pay for the sins of the world. “For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for His own sins, and then for the people’s; for this He did once when he offered Himself.” Heb. 7,26.27.
And the Christ whom we worship had to be true man, too, in order that He might be under the law and keep it for us, Gal. 4,4.5, and in order that He might suffer and die for us. Heb. 2,14. “Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures.” I Cor. 15,3.
The God-man, Jesus Christ, was our proxy in keeping the law and in taking upon Himself the punishment of sin. He has redeemed us, lost and condemned creatures, purchased and won us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold and silver, but with His holy and precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death.
In connection with this doctrine of Redemption, we bear in mind that God is a holy God into whose presence nought that is sinful can come. And he demands of His creatures that they be holy, even as He is holy. He has a right to demand this of us, for He made the human race holy in the beginning, and the cause of man’s fall must not be sought in God, but in the devil and in man himself.
We must not try to tone down this doctrine concerning the holiness of God so as to make out that God will be pleased with us if we only do the best we are able to keep the law or to obey the golden rule. Even with our best efforts we remain sinners; and as such, the Law sentences us to damnation.
Neither are we to imagine that God is like a judge who suddenly has become playful, or forgetful, or indulgent, and so, all of a sudden, agrees with Himself that He will overlook our sins and take us unto Himself without further ado. Such a god would not be a just and holy God.
But God is and remains just and holy. How, then, can He forgive us our sins? Only because Jesus has kept the Law for us and has died for us. “Without shedding of blood is no remission.” Heb. 9,22. “By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” Heb. 10,14.
And that God was satisfied with that which Jesus did for us He has declared openly before the whole world when He raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in heavenly places. Our Substitute has been accepted before the Father. We are accepted in Him. All our spiritual blessings are in Him. Forgiveness of sins is in Him. Our righteousness before God is in Him. We are children of God in Him. We have hope, joy, and comfort in Him. We have eternal life in Him.
Such is the Christ whom we worship — the God-man who is mighty to save, who sitteth at the right hand of God and also maketh intercession for us.
He is One to whom sinners dare come, nay, are invited and urged to come. In the days of His flesh He was known as “a friend of publicans and sinners.” Luke 7,34. He does not ask that we be worthy to approach Him. Indeed, we cannot make ourselves worthy. We come to Him with confession of sinfulness and unworthiness. The centurion of Capernaum approached Jesus with the confession, “I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof.” Matt. 8,8. And he was not rejected. Unworthy as was Zachaeus, yet Jesus sought him out and said to him, “Today I must abide at thy house.” Luke 19,5. The sinful woman of Samaria found Jesus to be very approachable. She had expected to find that the difference in nationality between her and Jesus would make Him unapproachable, for she said, “How is it that Thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?” John 4,9. Jesus bids all people of all nationalities and tongues to come unto Him and find rest from their sins. Those who come to Jesus by no means come thinking themselves better than others. They do not come in Pharisaic self-exaltation, but in the self-abasement of the publican. They come with the prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” It has been rightly said: Only broken instruments can play in the symphony of the Lord.
Jesus sinners doth receive!
Well may we the saying ponder
Who in sin’s delusions live,
And from God and heaven wander:
This alone can hope revive
Jesus sinners doth receive!
The Christ whom we worship is found in the Word and Sacraments. He is to be sought nowhere else — not in ourselves, not in our deeds, not in the secret chambers of the cloister, not in the hermit’s desert dwelling. Any Christ who is reputed to be found in such a manner as through man’s deeds, or to whom one would draw closer through the putting on of a certain kind of apparel or by entering into monastic life is a false Christ. Matt. 24,24–26.
But Christ is surely found in the Word. Rom. 10.6–9. He is found in Baptism which is for the remission of sin. Acts 2,38. “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Gal. 3,27. He is found with all His saving grace in the Lord’s Supper. There He promises us forgiveness of sins and seals it unto us by His very body and blood which we receive under the bread and wine.
Since the Gospel and the Sacraments are the means through which Jesus comes to us with all His saving grace, therefore Jesus has commanded us to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and teaching them His Word. And where there are believers, He wants the Lord’s Supper administered for the furtherance of their faith.
The Christ whom we worship is accepted simply by faith. He can be apprehended in no other way. His blessings are spiritual blessings and therefore a spiritual hand is necessary by which to accept and hold them. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3,16. “A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law.” Rom. 3, 28. “The just shall live by faith.” Rom. 1,17.
Hebrews 11 gives us many examples of persons of the Old Testament times who were saved by faith and by faith alone. They were Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and others. Indeed, these all proved their faith in their life, as is amply pointed out. Yet it was their faith, and not their deeds by which they were saved. And there is the host of New Testament saints who were saved simply by faith. In fact, no one is a saint except he who is made holy by faith in Christ. Our works do not make us saints, but first we must be saints before we can do works that are good before God. “Without Me ye can do nothing,” says Jesus. John 15,5.
And this faith is the gift of God to us through the means of grace. We do not hold that we can attain to faith by ourselves, but only by the power of God through the means of grace. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Rom. 10 17. “We believe according to the working of His mighty power which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.” Eph. 1,19.20. The reason why we believe is not because we offered only a natural, and not a wilful resistance, nor because we showed a better attitude by nature toward the grace of God than others did. But we believe because God by his Spirit and through the means of grace worked faith in Christ in our hearts, without any cooperation on our part; for we were by nature dead in trespasses and sins. Cooperation with God comes after conversion, not before or during conversion. And yet our conversion is not a forced conversion. In conversion He makes of the unwilling willing ones.
Scripture does not lay it down as a requirement that we must be members of such and such a visible church body here on earth in order that we may have Christ and salvation in Him. We of the Norwegian Synod do not teach that it is only those who are in outward fellowship with us who are going to heaven. Our doctrine is sometimes misinterpreted to be that. Our insistence on purity of doctrine is misunderstood by some in this manner. But both our doctrine and our practice show that we do not hold that: Our doctrine is that all who believe in Christ crucified shall be saved. And in our practice we are against proselytizing, i.e., against going out to lure members away from other Christian churches where we hold that the Gospel is still found, though it may be mixed with error. If we held that we were the only ones who were to be saved, we would be in duty bound to try to get members away from other Christian Churches and into our fellowship. But our pastors and our members are instructed not to do that. Those who come to us from other churches we are glad to instruct in our doctrine, and if they agree with our doctrine and wish to join us we are glad to receive them into membership. Scripture says: “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” I Peter 3,15.
This stand of ours, in turn, is not to be misinterpreted to mean that we count it a matter of indifference where one is a member. For Christ has made it our duty to adhere to truth and to reject error. In ignorance to err in some points of doctrine while one otherwise clings to Christ alone for salvation is one thing; to continue in error when one knows better is quite another thing. Faith can exist together with the former, but not with the latter.
The Christ whom we worship knows all our burdens, sorrows, and cares; and He bids us cast them all upon Him and not worry. While the Christian walks through this world he is beset by much that tends to cause him anxiety and distress. The very fact that Jesus found it necessary to warn so strongly and so lovingly against worry shows how prone we are to make this mistake. He says: “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matt. 6,31–33. “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Deut. 33,27. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee; be not dismayed; for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness.” Isaiah 41,10.
Thy way and all thy sorrows,
Give thou into His hand
His gracious care unfailing,
Who doth the heavens command;
Their course and path He giveth
To clouds and air and wind;
A way thy feet may follow
He, too, for thee will find.
He who has redeemed us by His blood and has made us His own by faith rules also in the Kingdom of Power and will overrule all things for the good of them that cling to Him.
The Christ whom we worship moves us by His Spirit and Word to shun sin and seek after that which is God-pleasing. We are sometimes accused of being careless about our manner of life, as though we taught that it does not matter how one lives, just so one is baptized and confirmed and is outwardly connected with the means of grace. This is not our doctrine.
We do well to be aware of it that there often is much that is wanting among us in respect to living the kind of lives that we ought to live. We would be blind if we did not notice that there is a strong tendency among us to become conformed to the evil world, to think, speak, and act like the world. We have in us the proneness to all the sins to which the world about us is prone. Unless we watch and pray, we may quickly fall.
We teach that our baptism obligates us to a life of drowning the Old Adam in us by a daily contrition and repentance, and to live before God day by day according to the new man who delights in righteousness and purity. We teach that faith without works is dead, being alone. James 2,17. We teach that there is forgiveness with God to the end that He might be feared, that Christ has redeemed us “in order that I might be His own, and live under him in His Kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.”
God make us ever more and more zealous of good works, that His name may be glorified through us! God make us willing to bear the cross that will fall to the lot of those who follow Jesus! “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” 2 Tim. 3,12.
Lift up your heads, fellow members and friends of the Norwegian Synod. The Christ whom we worship is a glorious Christ. May He continue to be unto us our priceless Treasure, our Joy, our Crown. Amen.