1953 Synod Convention Essay
It is a rare privilege which is afforded us of the Norwegian Synod this year. We are permitted to celebrate 100 years of God’s saving grace within our church. Not a single one of those who went before us in any way earned or merited this grace of God. Much less have we. “For by GRACE are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast”, Eph. 2,9. Our joy in the grace of God which bringeth salvation is all the greater since we know and confess that it is a free and loving gift of God. Our joy is like unto the spirit and joy of Mary so that we say from the heart: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior”, Luke 1,46.47. The grace of God in which we rejoice is not something abstract and far removed from the congregations and members of our synod. It reaches and has reached every family and each member of every family within our church. Our parents and others dear to our hearts who are now in heaven before the throne of the Lamb singing unto Him a new song of praise and glory are there because the grace of God reached them in their lifetime. “By grace are ye saved” also. Hence we sing:
“O happy day when we shall stand
Amid the heavenly throng,
And sing with hosts of every land
The new celestial song.
“God, may Thy bounteous grace inspire
Our hearts so that we may
All join the heavenly, white-robed choir
Upon that glorious day.”
Such is the joy that is set before us. Such is the hope that is set before us because we have the grace of God in our midst through the pure Word and Sacraments. Will our dear church, will our descendants, still have this grace of God after another 100 years? That is the question which we must answer with the greatest of care so that our children and children’s children down through the years may be saved.
We wish that it could be said: “Everyone that has died, having heard of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, is in heaven”. We wish that all who have been privileged to bask under the warmth of God’s love and grace within the church in the past were even now in Abraham’s bosom. But no! It is not so. There have been many who have received the grace of God in vain. God still must say, as He did to Israel of God: “I have spread out My hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts”, Is. 65,2. It is not so that the Savior still stands upon the heights, looking down upon those who have been given the grace of God in richest measure but who have spurned it to their own damnation? Hence the tears still course down His cheeks, and His body is quivering with sobs as He says with the greatest sorrow: “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes”, Luke 19,41. “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye, would not”, Matt. 23,37. Here is a serious matter, and one that we dare not pass over lightly. We must use all the means which God gives us in order that we may “stand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand”, Eph. 6,13. It means a very thorough and complete training in the Word of God. It means that we must learn all the things, whatsoever Christ has commanded us, and have His Word dwelling in us richly so that we may teach it in the same way to our children. The Norwegian Synod has always been for a good, solid, and thorough training of children in God’s Word. The records show that the leaders and others have advocated and pleaded for the establishment and upkeep of Christian Day Schools, as well as for Christian Secondary Schools. Somehow the establishment of Christian Day Schools lagged, so that there never have been many within the Norwegian Synod. We shall not try to pass judgment upon this failure; rather, we shall study to show ourselves approved of God, pray, speak, and work for the erection of Christian schools so that in the second century of grace we may, with God’s help, establish such a school in each one of our congregations. Before we go over to a more thorough consideration of our theme, we can do no better than to make our own the prayer of the Apostle Paul for the Ephesians, changing the pronouns in each case to the plural: “We bow our knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of Whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant us according to the riches of His glory to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith; that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that we might be filled with all the fullness of God”, Eph. 3,14–19.
“The Christ we want our children to worship” — in treating this subject, we are fully aware of the truth that our children are given us by God and belong to Him. In particular are they His children through baptism, for it is none other than God Who says: “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ. For as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ”, Gal. 3,26,27. We must ever keep in mind in dealing with our baptized children that we are indeed and in every truth dealing with God’s children. He will ask of us an accounting of the things we have done for and to them. His command is clear, short, and to the point; “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”, Eph. 6,4. This can be done only when they have learned to know the true God and Jesus Christ, Whom He has sent. God tells us that we are to bring up our children to worship Christ so that they will be saved. “There is salvation in none other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved”, Acts 12. Only as our children worship God will they be pleasing to God, since “No man cometh unto the Father but by Christ”, John 14,6. Just how important it is for our children to worship Christ is made evident from the Bible, which teaches that without faith in Him we can do nothing to please God, Heb. 11,6; while on the other hand, we can do all things through Christ, Which strengtheneth us, Phil. 4,13.
We are to teach and train our children from the time they are small. The foundation we lay in those years must be safe and sure so that they can build a safe and happy life upon it. People today pride themselves on their scientific and careful approach to all things. Before building, they plan very carefully how they may lay a foundation which shall be lasting and strong, standing unbroken even after the superstructure is decayed. Cost is certainly figured in, but is not spared, because the wise man knows that a poor foundation will cave in, and the whole building put thereon fall into ruins. It is a good thing that people use wisdom in planning the foundations of life, which are exceedingly more important! Woe unto us, if it must be said to us by God: “The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light”, Luke 16,8. God help us to apply true Godly wisdom in the training of our children. The foundation we lay when they are young must be so good and strong and perfect that it shall not fail them in the end, It must be a good foundation which will support their life here and for all eternity. There is only one such foundation, namely, Jesus Christ. It is this biblical truth which is set forth in one of our treasured hymns:
“Christ alone is our salvation,
Christ the rock on which we stand;
Other than this sure foundation
Will be found but sinking sand.
Christ — His cross and resurrection —
Is alone the sinner’s plea;
At the throne of God’s perfection
Nothing else can set him free.” (Hymn 81, v. 1)
The prayer of the Apostle Paul for the Ephesian Christians shows the urgent need of holding fast to Christ and His merits. When the Apostle mentions the breadth and length and depth and height of the love of Christ, he wants to show us as best he can, in words and thoughts which we can grasp, how boundless and abounding it is. No matter from which side or angle we study it, His love is so abundant that it surpasses all our understanding and every presentation we make of it. Surely no one has spoken more clearly and convincingly of this love than John, the Apostle of Love. Among other testaments, he states in words which Luther calls the “Little Bible”: “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. And it is he who exclaims in complete wonder: “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God”, I John 3,1. God, speaking by the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah, asks: “Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?” And at once he has to add, “Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee”. Even mother-love, great as it is, does not set forth a picture of God’s love. Its breadth, length, depth, and height far surpasses even that love.
That God loves is certainly a marvel. Think of what man has become, and that by his own doing, since he came perfect and holy and good from the hand of God. Ruined by his own sin, he has become filthy rags, Is. 6,4,6. He is turned away from God, disobedient, riotous, and full of enmity to Him. Man, because of sin, has deserved to be an abomination unto God, instead of the subject for God to pour out His holy love upon. To eternity it must remain a mystery that God loves man so much that there is an abundance of love which cannot be measured, no matter what dimension is used.
Let us think briefly of the four dimensions of God’s love which the apostle mentions, — To what may we liken or compare the breadth of God’s love? We shall have to liken it unto God Himself, Who is from everlasting to everlasting. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee”, Jer. 31,3. It spans eternity’s timelessness and our life from its beginning to eternity as well. From our conception and birth we are the object of His love, and, lest we forget, all this was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. Surely our children, God’s children, have need of learning this glorious truth so that when sin and a bad conscience rise up to plague them, they may know how to answer: — That they can say that God’s love is so broad that by it He has removed my sin as far from me as the East is from the West, Ps. 103,12. Yes, “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him, and His righteousness unto children’s children”, Ps. 103,17. As F.W. Faber has put it,
“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice
Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
If our faith were but more, simple
We should take Him at His Word;
And our lives would be all sunshine,
In the presence of our Lord.
Is not this worth knowing well?
The length of God’s love reminds us that it is constant and unchangeable. In spite of the ungratefulness of men, the love of God reaches out to them all, inviting, pleading, and beseeching them all to come. We learn that God’s mercies are new every morning. When God saw that the inhabitants of Ninevah turned from their evil way, He repented of the evil He had said that He would do unto them, and He did it not. This displeased Jonah exceedingly, and He was very angry. And he prayed unto the Lord and said: “I pray Thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish; for I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness and repentest of evil”. We cannot agree with Jonah in his anger, but what a sea of comfort it is to know that God is merciful and slow to anger, and of great kindness! In short, constant is His love. There was a young man who was not satisfied with things in his father’s house. He requested his inheritance so that he might leave home. His father did not want him to go. The young man did not give much thought to the hurt it gave his father. It caused him no worry or pain that he was despising his father’s love. In fact, he was of the opinion that his father’s love was all wrong, because he would not let his son do all the wicked things he loved to do. The man wanted to be as far from home as possible, and so he went to a far country. There he wasted his money on things which today are often glorified, but which in the eyes of God are an abomination and a hateful thing. He spent it on fast and loose living; such living besides being wicked is very expensive. There came a day when his money was gone, and he had to earn his living. A famine arose in that land which made living conditions bad. In desperation he takes on himself the despised work of tending swine. “And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat”, Luke 15,16. This he brought upon himself. He could not blame this upon his father. His father — ah, if only he were back there! Would he dare go back to his father? Would not his father spurn him and say: “You turned away from me; no, I do not want to see you any more”? He remembers then the love his father had for him. Because of that love, he dares come back and ask that he be allowed to be a servant. His return hinged upon the fact that his father had loved him. The reception he received was unbelievable to him. A great party, a hug and kiss of love! — You have long since recognized the story of the Prodigal Son. Jesus, in telling this story, did so in order that the constancy and unchangeableness of God’s love should be imprinted upon our minds and hearts. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Is it not in the Christian School that this truth will best be written in the hearts of our children?
Consider the depth of God’s love to us. It reaches down from the realms of holiness and light to us who not only live upon the earth, but all too often our hearts and minds are buried in the earth and in earthly things. We have not been created for this earth. God tells us that we are only travelers on the way to our true fatherland, which is heaven. We are to set our affections on things above, to be heavenly-minded and have a desire to depart and be with Christ. This is to be the spirit, desire, and way of life of the children of God. Alas, how often it is reversed. People bury their hearts and desires in their property and riches, in their earthly relationship, to such a degree that they utterly forget the home above. What else is this than to forget God? So common is it in the world that people feel it must be the right thing. “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but of the world”, 1 John 2,15,16. See the depth of God which reaches down to sinners lost in error’s maze! There are thousands and thousands of glorious angels surrounding His throne and singing praise to Him in endless song. Surely they are worthy of His love. But while God is mindful of them, His warm and throbbing Father-heart is beating with love for us wayward, wrong-choosing, sinful children of dust. Upon nothing else in His whole creation has He bestowed such love. Christ did not die for angels or for any other creature, but He did die for us, because we needed it. We lay in the darkness of sin and eternal death. His love reached down and snatched us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree!”, Gal, 3,13. It must ever remain the greatest mystery that the holy Christ, to Whom sin is a hateful thing, an abomination, still does not object to being made sin for us! It was He, blessed Savior, that “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and, being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”. Oh, the depth of God’s love to us in Christ Jesus!
“Thy love, O gracious Lord and God,
All other loves excelling,
Attunes my heart to sweet accord,
And passes power telling;
For when Thy wondrous love I see,
My soul yields glad submission;
I love Thee for Thy love to me
In my poor, lost condition.
“Yea, Thou hast loved our fallen race,
And rather than condemn us,
Cast out and banished from Thy face,
Thine only Son didst send us;
Who died upon the cross that we
Should all be saved forever;
Hence Jesus also died for me;
My soul, forget it never.”
(Hymn 484, 1,2)
Did anyone ever learn of the length of God’s love in a school in which Christ is not the beginning, middle, and end? Surely it is learned only in the Christian school.
“And who can properly set forth the height of the love of God Son”, Rom. 5,10, that “Christ died for the ungodly”, Rom. 5,6. The heaven can know it. Our mind staggers at the thought that, “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son,” Rom. 5,10, that “Christ died for the ungodly,” Rom. 5,6. The height of God’s love comes to the fore in the matchless statement of the Prophet Isaiah in the 53rd chapter of his prophecy, verses 1–5: “Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of the dry ground. He hath no form or comeliness: and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed”. Therefore God “highly exalted Him and gave Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”. This is the Christ we want our children to worship. It is the Christ God wants His children to worship. To Jesus belongs all power in heaven and in earth. He upholdeth all things by the Word of His power in heaven and in earth. He upholdeth all things by the Word of His power and has authority on earth to forgive sins. He delivers us from every evil work and preserves us unto His heavenly kingdom.
Knowing that there is eternal life in Him, it is surely self-evident that all Christian parents want their children to worship Christ so that they may be partakers of His salvation. How shall they learn to know Him? How shall they learn to worship Him? That is done only when they associate with him freely and constantly. Moses had the word for it when he said, Deut. 6,3–7: “Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it, that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily as the Lord God of our fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey, Hear, O Israel: The Lord thy God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up,” Christ put it this way: “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you”, Matt. 28,20. Let it rest upon the heart of every Christian father and mother that they are to train their children diligently to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord so that when they seek help in training their children, they choose Christian teachers to do the work for them. That should be as natural for them as it is for them to breathe, and no other thought should ever enter their mind than that they want Christian teachers for their children. That means Christian schools for Christian children. When Jesus says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you”, (that is, things needed for the body), He meant just that. We have no other business than the business of looking after the welfare of our soul. In so doing we shall also be looking after the welfare of our body. Everything else in life must be subject to and made to serve this one thing, that we seek the salvation of our souls. To seek Christ, to serve Christ, to believe in Christ, to worship Him, nothing comes ahead of that. Therefore all the training we give our children must serve the same goal. Every other training and teaching we give to them must serve this end. It surely must be evident that the training of our children cannot be given to schools where Christ is not taught, yea, where Christ is not THE teacher. Many people seem to have the idea that the choice lies between a Sunday School, a Saturday School, and a Christian Day School. Even if the choice lay there, it must be self-evident that the Christian Day School is the best way of fulfilling Christ’s command to feed His lambs. Here they are under His care, learning to know Him throughout the day. Let us once and for all get rid of any notion that the choice is between these religious agencies themselves. The only choice is, rather this: Shall I send my child to a school where Christ is not the teacher, or shall I send my child where Christ is THE teacher. We shall grant that Christ has not laid down any command that we have to send our children to schools of any kind. But you and I use schools. Hence, we cannot use that as an argument for sending our children to schools which are not under His jurisdiction, as if it did not matter. For it is very plain that He has never asked to give the training of your children into the hands of any person or agency which leaves Him out of consideration. Rather, He constantly says: “Bring them to Me, that I may fill them with my fullness”.
It is said that we are not, as Christians, against a thorough training in the so-called secular subjects, such as Geography, History, Science, and the like. That is true, so long as these are made to serve the one thing needful in life, the eternal salvation of our souls. One who is not led by the Spirit of Christ cannot teach these subjects aright; only the Christian, led by the Spirit of God, will be able to present and teach these aright. Some will argue that Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was mighty in words and deeds; and so he was. But in the first place, his was an exceptional case under very unusual conditions; and secondly, God gave Him plenty of training during those forty years in Midian, before He used him to do the work of leading the Children of Israel out of Egypt, When Moses first came from Pharaoh’s court, he was not properly trained to lead God’s people. It is an argument, therefore, which cannot be used by us as a reason for putting our children under the training of those who put Christ at the head of all things.
Nor dare we send our children to religious schools where the whole truth of Christ’s Word is not taught. The Apostle Paul had been trained as he states, “according to the perfect law of our fathers, and was zealous toward God”, Acts 22,4. Did he know God? No! He persecuted the Lord Jesus; he persecuted those who worshipped Christ. He had to be instructed anew before he became a servant pleasing to God. And until that instructing, he was on the way to damnation. It is Paul, the learned Paul, who writes to the Corinthians: “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect”, Cor. 1,17. It was not until Paul lived by faith in Jesus Christ that he could teach others. It is the same with teachers for our children. Only those who live by faith in Jesus Christ can really teach our children. This is such a simple and self-evident truth that no Christian will dispute it.
It would be a strange child who did not learn from the teacher at the school it attends. Christian parents who send their children to non-Christian schools must expect that their children will learn things that are non-Christian. Their training and education will take on a certain flavor. Milk or butter left uncovered will soon absorb any odor or flavor near it. Children will take on the flavor, that is, the outlook and point of view of their teachers. If it is a Christian teacher, it will be a Christian outlook and way of life. If it is a worldly teacher, it will be worldly. We must be wide awake to the danger that our children absorb and soak up the way of life of those who teach them. That is why Christian parents choose Christian schools for their children.
To set the course of our church for the next one hundred years is a serious matter. Were it left to our thinking to decide and plan we should most certainly have to decline and say: “Pray have me excused. I cannot take such a responsibility.” Thank God, it is not left to us. We have the sure way in the Word of Christ. “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John, 8,31–32.
There is but one answer which is to train them well in the Word of Christ so that they may be carried in his bosom. Is. 40,11. There in his bosom is safety from every evil and every danger that can ever come near them. Let us work for this with all our might. Let us be as little children living, confessing, praying:
“Gracious Savior, gentle shepherd,
Children all are dear to Thee;
Gathered with Thine arms, and carried
In Thy bosom may we be;
Sweetly, fondly, safely tended,
From all want and danger free.”
“I pray Thee, dear Lord Jesus,
My heart to keep and train,
That I Thy holy temple
From youth to age remain.
Turn Thou my thoughts forever
From worldly wisdoms lore;
If I but learn to know Thee
I shall not want for more,”