Professor M.H. Otto
1968 Synod Convention Essay
In the days when trumpets were a standard piece of military equipment it was highly important that the trumpet be one of very clear and decisive tone. “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound,” as the Apostle Paul asks, “who shall prepare himself for the battle” (I Cor. 14:8). This applies also to the spiritual realm. A church, to avoid confusing and misleading its members, must speak out in clear and distinct tones; a church, if it is to be a faithful Christian church, must proclaim its message in a language that is not only distinctive but also unambiguous. This is the matter to which we shall give our attention at this time as we gather to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of our re-organized synod. In doing so our main theme shall be: THE TRUMPET WITH A CERTAIN SOUND.
I. NECESSARY FOR THE PRESERVATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION BY GRACE
A. Fifty years ago when old foundations had crumbled.
When that small group of pastors and lay people gathered in that modest country church just south of the Iowa–Minnesota border fifty years ago this month it was to organize themselves into a new church body. The synod to which they had belonged all their lives, and which had been in existence for over sixty years, had the year before gone into a merger which compromised the truth. These people wanted to belong to a church body which would be a trumpet with a certain sound. They saw first hand that such a trumpet was necessary for the preservation of the doctrine of Justification by grace. In order to appreciate what was at stake let us note what the Scriptures say on this point.
From beginning to end the Scriptures speak of the total depravity of man as an individual and as a species. In one way or other they again and again assert, “There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Eccl. 7:20}. They further make it clear that natural man is at enmity with God (Rom. 8:7). It should be quite evident then that, if he was the enemy of God, if he was “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), he could not do anything to appease the just and righteous God Whom he had so grievously offended with his many sins. In fact, the divine verdict over him read, “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10). How was this one-time crown of creation to get back into the good graces of God?
Here is where God took the initiative. He took it before our first parents fell into sin and before He made known to them what the consequences of their sin would be. He promised man, and, when the fullness of the time was come, sent man a Savior, none other than His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, in human form. The Lord “laid” on this divine-human Substitute “the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6), wounding Him for our transgressions, bruising Him for our iniquities, chastising Him for our peace, and scourging Him to give us healing (v. 5). With His holy life and sacrificial death this Substitute made peace between God and men, for God’s justice had been satisfied with His vicarious atonement. The penalty of sin having been paid, God was reconciled and did not have to punish or destroy those who had offended Him. This brings us to the matter of our justification.
God has declared the sinner who was uprighteous to be just and holy in Christ “who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). The sinner was not changed over into a saint but was by God judged as one for the sake of the merits of Him Who lived and died for him. Of course, the sinner never could know about his being acquitted before God unless someone told him. That is what God sent His apostles to do. Paul says, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). The Gospel is then an announcement, a revelation of something man can not know of himself, but needs to know if he in turn is to be reconciled to God (cf v. 20).
However, the Lord did more than that. He instilled the very Word which tells men of their redemption and justification before Him with the power to effect faith in that saving fact. This was the only way a by-nature spiritually blind and dead enemy of God ever could come to believe that God had forgiven him, by hearing that “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).
The problem fifty years ago was that in the United Norwegian Lutheran Church and in the Hauge Synod, which bodies were desirous of union with the Norwegian Synod, there were Spirits who said that when he was confronted with the Gospel man came to faith not only through the gracious operation of the Holy Ghost but also because of his own proper attitude toward grace. In fact, it was taught by some that God from eternity elected to save those who He saw would accept the Gospel when it would be offered them. Both contentions vitiate the doctrine of justification by grace alone. It was bad enough that some people taught this; worse was the fact that this error should be tolerated alongside the truth, as it was in the document upon the basis of which the three negotiating bodies established pulpit and altar fellowship, namely, The Madison Agreement, and in which it was maintained that both doctrines had “won acceptance and recognition within the orthodox Lutheran Church.” This synergistic idea was further postulated when the same document spoke of “man’s sense of responsibility in relation to the acceptance or rejection of grace.”1
This was most certainly compromising the truth; this was saying, on the one hand, that man is converted and justified by grace alone, without any merit or works on his part (which is what the Scriptures teach from Genesis to Revelation), and on the other hand also saying that man’s coming to faith is not by grace alone but also depends upon his attitude or conduct towards this grace of God when it is offered to him. This was mixing faith and works, things which are mutually exclusive, as the Apostle reminds us when he says, “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” (Rom. 11:6).
With two such self-contradictory doctrines in the same document it not only is in order to say that The Madison Agreement was a compromise, but that it was that by deliberate design, which made it an immoral document. This was actually admitted by one of its authors just one year after its adoption, “The United Church has not changed a title of its doctrine, neither has the Synod; the Opgjoer is a compromise.”2 And ten years after the 1917 union another proponent of the same frankly declared, “The union was consummated not because any of the three synods had changed their views on theological questions or had lost respect for the tendencies which they represented, but simply because our common Christian faith and our common blood compelled it.”3a There is no question about the uncertain sound of such a trumpet.
Consider the possible effect of such a synergistic doctrine! The work-righteous person is not only not stricken with the realization that his works count for nothing in his conversion he is even encouraged to seek his comfort and salvation in them. In other words, such a doctrine can have the effect of making a proud sinner carnally secure and even prouder. And the poor bruised sinner, who is so painfully aware of the depravity of his life and his works, is crushed even more when told that his justification before. God is somewhat dependent also upon his works. How can he do anything but despair when hearing such a doctrine, even if only the smallest worth is assigned to his works? Scripture, however, so plainly says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:28).
It was to provide a trumpet with a certain sound among Norwegian Lutherans that our present synod was, from the ruins of its predecessor, re-organized just fifty years ago. If concerned people were to be able to hold fast to “sound doctrine” and to “sound words,” a trumpet had to be raised which would give a certain sound. Had they counted the cost in the earthly things involved, in the loss of churches and institutions, and in fellowship- and friendship-ties severed, the founders of our present-day Evangelical Lutheran Synod would very likely have gone along into the unionistic merger of 1917. As it was, they regarded the truth of God’s Word even more precious; to adopt the words once written about Moses, they esteemed “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” (Heb. 11:26). Concerning this precious doctrine of Justification by grace alone, for this was what was at stake here, our fathers of almost two generations ago remembered how the Apostle had written that salvation is “of faith, that it might be by grace” (Rom. 4:16).
Lest anyone forget the historical perspective here — it must be noted that the Norwegian Synod was re-organized, not out of stubbornness, or to take on a martyr complex, or to preserve a name, but to preserve and to testify to the central truth of Scripture. Yes, it was due also to the encouragement given by leaders of sister synods in the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference in 1918 as well as to the determination of our recent fathers that a new church body was resurrected out of the mins of the old Synod all of whose members, except a pitifully small minority, were for one reason or other persuaded to embrace the synergistic union of the previous year. The world was to see that not all had compromised their faith, that there were still people who were willing to sacrifice everything they had, except their soul’s well-being, in order to preserve untarnished and inviolate the precious Gospel truth that we are justified alone by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith. Or, to express it another way, — these intrepid souls of a half century ago had no choice but to raise a trumpet with a certain sound for the sake of their own abiding hope for salvation and that of their children and children’s children. They wanted to be a synod that spoke clearly, loudly, definitely, and therefore with certainty.
B. When dialog with other Lutherans was undertaken a generation ago.
Our Synod desired to be a trumpet with a certain sound also when dialog with other Lutherans was proposed and undertaken a third century ago. In 1935 our Synod, as did others of the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference, received invitations from the United Lutheran Church and the American Lutheran Church to enter into doctrinal discussions with them. Both invitations were declined on the grounds that they failed to state that the purpose of these discussions was to endeavor to establish doctrinal unity with the church bodies concerned. Only the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod accepted these invitations. After several meetings with the doctrinal commissions of these other two bodies her doctrinal committee in 1938 reported that it could not agree on the organic foundation, on the Scriptures themselves, with the representatives of the United Lutheran Church.3b
With respect to the American Lutheran Church these doctrinal discussions at first seemed to give more promise. The doctrinal committee of the Missouri Synod reported that the discussions with the former had culminated in the preparation of a doctrinal statement by the American Lutheran Church representatives which summarized their convictions over against the respective doctrines the Missouri Synod had exhibited in her Brief Statement. This statement of the representatives of the American Lutheran Church was called a Declaration. This latter document gave rise to discussions which did not subside until over a decade later.
This new confessional document, the Declaration, did not touch on any doctrine that was not contained in the Brief Statement. It did, however, speak in a manner which was not always in harmony with the Brief Statement or the Scriptures. This concerned such doctrines as that of Scripture, of Sunday, the Conversion of Israel, the Millennium, the Anti-Christ, and Church Fellowship. Their chief fault was that their presentation was not in language which unequivocally rejected the false positions for which the American Lutheran Church, in opposition to the Synodical Conference, had contended in the past. Nor, was that all. The American Lutheran Church, as a body, in its 1938 convention formally resolved, “we are firmly convinced that it is neither necessary nor possible to agree in all non-fundamental doctrines.”4
But the point in the Declaration over which there was an immediate cry of alarm in conservative circles was on the doctrine of Justification. While there was a very definite attempt to present the entire plan of salvation along the lines patterned after the 11th article of the Formula of Concord, the Declaration failed to accomplish this in actuality. Instead there was the statement that God “purposes to justify those who have come to faith, and finally to glorify them” (Art. II).5 Here we find an opening for the old Iowa error on Conversion and Justification, namely, that “the called and awakened sinner cannot yet believe. He simply has a knowledge of sin and of the way of salvation through Christ,” that “he can do something” before his justification through the prevenient grace given him by God.6 But such a doctrine is without question opposed by Scripture when it speaks of our being justified by faith, not sometime after faith, that Abraham, for example, was counted righteous through his believing (Rom. 4:3).
The doctrine of the Declaration was dangerous because it robbed the conscience-stricken sinner of the Scriptural assurance that he was justified personally when he believed that God had already pronounced the whole world to be righteous for the sake of the merits of Christ. Any such definition of Conversion and Justification as the Declaration propounded could ultimately only serve to bolster the idea that man contributes at least a little bit towards his salvation, that he has to do his pa1t and then God will do the rest. This, too, Iowa taught when saying, “the eternal lot of man does not depend upon an unconditional decree of an electoral grace operating irresistibly, regardless of the different conduct of man, but the different conduct of men over against the offered grace is indeed thereby to he taken into consideration.”7. But the Scripture says we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). In other words, the truth was again being compromised, for while the Brief Statement proclaimed the truth in crystal-clear language, the Declaration was speaking in a different language on this doctrine which is the heart and center of the Christian religion, the articulus stantis et candentis ecclesiae (the doctrine by which the church stands and falls). Our Synod, in its desire to be a trumpet with a certain sound, had to call attention to this defect in the Declaration of the American Lutheran Church.
But there was another chapter to this dialog with other Lutherans. When the American Lutheran Church and the Missouri Synod could not come to any real agreement on the basis of the Brief Statement and the Declaration, nor on any synthesis of the two, their representatives drafted a single new document and presented it to their respective church bodies in 1950. This document, called the Common Confession, was adopted by the Missouri Synod as a settlement of the issues treated therein. At first glance this doctrinal statement seemed more suited to the purpose all the negotiations had meant to serve. The basic defect was not in what it said, but in what it failed to say. Here, too, there were no antitheses which specifically rejected the errors that had at some time or other found a haven among the constituents of the American Lutheran Church. There was a blurring of redemption into justification in the article on Justification (Art. V).8 What we call objective or universal justification was not dearly spelled out, which, of course, then left room for the old hard-to-die notion that man had to do something, too, or first, towards his getting right with God before God could complete the justification. Hence, our synod could not regard this doctrinal statement as adequate either. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod came to the same conclusion when it declared that the adoption of the Common Confession by the Missouri Synod “created a basically untruthful situation,” by claiming a “settlement of past differences which in fact are not settled.”9 It was the desire to have her sister Synod be a trumpet with a certain sound, too, that moved our synod to ask the Missouri Synod to rescind the Common Confession.10
To some people it perhaps appeared as if our synod were opposed to all doctrinal discussions and all church union. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It has always been in favor of doctrinal discussions which, under proper safeguards, were aimed at establishing doctrinal unity between the conferring bodies. She had, in fact, been a charter member of the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference, which came into being in 1872 after there had been just such discussions. Nor was the synod unalterably opposed to the Missouri Synod’s discussions with the American Lutheran Church. She approved of such discussions if the proper safeguards were observed, such as, the formulation of one simple, unified document, on the basis of Scripture, the inclusion of the necessary antitheses with respect to past errors, and the avoidance of all fellowship activities until true unity had been achieved.
You see, our people were remembering what happened in their own midst prior to 1917, when such precautions were not observed; discussions were continued despite the patent disagreement between the negotiating bodies; Scripture alone was not the guide; truth and error were permitted side by side; there were no antitheses; and there were some fellowship activities with the other Norwegian Lutheran bodies before agreement had been established. It was this possible repetition of history by the Missouri Synod that gave rise to a series of which were presented to and adopted by our synod in 1936 under the of Unity, Union and Unionism, which theses were distributed to the entire Missouri Synod clergy in 1939. The one concern was the preservation of the chief doctrine of the Christian religion, justification by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith — the doctrine which gives all glory to God and enduring comfort to the penitent sinner when it is preserved in its pristine purity. In order to remain a trumpet with a certain sound on this most essential doctrine our synod was willing to sacrifice friends and ties of long standing should they jeopardize the preservation of this doctrine.
C. Today when ecumenism is sweeping over the whole visible church.
There is still a great need for our Synod’s being a trumpet with a certain sound when we look at the ecumenism sweeping over and through the visible church. Since 1960 we have seen seven different Lutheran church bodies reduced to two, namely, into the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church, which two bodies together with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches comprise a full 95% of all Lutherans in this country. While there is no evidence that either of these two larger mergers accomplished anything that would protect and enhance the truth, there is some evidence to show that they succeeded in compromising the truth, though, e.g., when the former Evangelical Lutheran Church joined the American Lutheran Church in the merger of 1960 it was at once committed to applying for membership in the World Council of Churches, which it had up till then opposed.11
Meanwhile our Synod, together with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and a few other smaller bodies today, only 5% of the Lutherans in this country. We may not make impact on the world about us thai these aforementioned larger bodies and therefore may be inclined to he somewhat indifferent to our witness the world around us. But that does not that we have little or contribute. No, it is still the truth not numbers which a church body is deserving of the name Christian or Lutheran it can expect to have the Lord’s blessing upon it. In a day getting together is the watchword, when the slogan is made to read, up or perish,” we are more than ever under the obligation to contend for the truth of God’s Word, to sound a loud and clear trumpet call whenever and wherever we can. After all, it is the truth and only the truth which can convict and save. We profess to have it — let us use it both to preserve and to extend to ever greater areas the good news of the full justification of the sinner, for Christ, the Savior’s sake.
We speak in this vein because the argument is being advanced with ever greater fervor that all Christians will have to get together in some way if the visible church is to survive the skepticism and opposition of the day. What makes one shudder is the oft-repeated proposal that all Christian churches should unite under the banner of the pope. Because of the structure and vast power of the Roman Church such a united church would be a truly invincible church! Now, we certainly believe there are Christians also in other church bodies; we also believe that Christians of the same spirit and conviction ought to demonstrate that fact in some tangible way. But we do not want to stick our heads back into the noose from which the Lutheran Reformation delivered us so that we would lose our free and complete justification to that church body which anathematizes that Scripture doctrine and also lose our Scriptures to the rank Protestant liberals of our day. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” in the spiritual realm, too. We must so preach and so defend the saving doctrine of God’s free saving grace in Christ that our children and children’s children will be satisfied with and tolerate nothing else. Yes, if generations after us are to receive from our hands the blessed comforting doctrine of justification, we in our generation will have to preserve it for them as well as for ourselves. And that every aspect of this doctrine must be watched over with loving and care that we as a church therefore have to be a trumpet with a certain sound.
II. NECESSARY FOR THE PRESERVATION OF THE FOUNDATION ARTICLE — SCRIPTURE
A. At stake in every controversy.
A trumpet with a certain sound is necessary also for the preservation of the foundation article — Scripture itself. Ultimately, this article is at stake in every controversy. If there has been or is a difference of opinion in a doctrine, the question arises whether Scripture is to be the determining factor in settling that difference or not. Thus, when, for example, the doctrine of Conversion was being discussed, it was not only a question whether man could contribute anything towards his conversion but also whether the Scripture was to respected when it so plainly taught a divine monergism, God alone converting through the Means of Grace. The same way with Justification — will men permit the Scripture to prevail when it so unequivocally declares that man is justified alone by grace through faith in the blood and righteousness of his Savior Jesus Christ?
One doctrinal point in the Declaration of the American Lutheran Church on which there was a lack of clarity and forthrightness was the doctrine of Scripture. Any present-day definition of the Inspiration of Scripture, if it is to be adequate, must clearly spell out that the Bible is the verbally inspired and inerrant Word of God. Because the same terminology regarding the Inspiration of Scripture as was found in the Declaration was in 1940 employed in an agreement between the representatives of the American Lutheran Church and the United Lutheran Church, and called the Pittsburgh Agreement, people were led to suspect that verbal inspiration was not confessed in the Declaration either. And why not? When the doctrinal committee of the Missouri Synod reported to its constituency on its meetings with a like committee from the United Lutheran Church it had to say, “On the doctrine of inspiration, however, it was impossible for the two parties to come to an agreement.”12 Not only did the Declaration employ the same language as was later used in an agreement with the less conservative United Lutheran Church, that same language also protected such members of the American Lutheran Church as actually believed that there were sections of the Bible that were not inspired. Not much more than a decade before, Dr. Michael Reu of the Iowa Synod had said that his synod submitted to everything the Scriptures say on faith and life, but that it was “not ready to deny church fellowship because in certain instances they (i.e., others) admit errors as possible in things which unquestionably do not pertain to our salvation.”13
Of course, a false teacher will not normally say that he disagrees with the Scriptures. On the contrary, he may quote them with great facility. Unfortunately, he may quote passages which do not at all apply to a given controversy. For instance, when the Reformed would argue that Christ’s body and blood are not really present in Holy Communion and that one can partake of them spiritually, by believing, they quote a word of Jesus which has nothing at all to do with His Supper and which was spoken long before He instituted it (Cf. John 6:47–56). That is not letting Scripture speak. And then there was the Lutheran Pastor, not of our persuasion, who of the passage where Paul asked Timothy to bring his cloak and his books and parchments along to Rome, in my hearing so arbitrarily said, “I do not believe that that is inspired.” Here the point was reached where the Word was literally discounted altogether.
Perhaps the best known example of not letting the Scriptures be the final determinant in a doctrinal matter is the whole question of evolution. Its proponents would claim that the word “day” does not mean a normal solar day when the holy writer records the Creation story. They furthermore declare the Scriptures to be a myth or fable when they say man was created from the dust of the ground by a miraculous act of God. The theory of evolution, if permitted to stand, undermines and destroys the whole Bible, not just the opening chapters of Genesis. For, if the first chapters of the Bible are untrue, then by implication whatever follows upon the account there recorded gets to be untrue also, and this includes the Bible’s account of the coming into the world of Jesus Christ as the promised Savior from sin.
B. Particularly so during the past decade.
In whatever way one looks at it, one sees that a trumpet with a certain sound is necessary for the preservation of that doctrine which contains all the other doctrines, namely, the doctrine of the Word. This has been particularly so during the past decade. The Brief Statement of the Missouri Synod, drawn up in 1932, expressly declared, “Since the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, it goes without saying that they contain no errors or contradictions, but that they are in all their parts and words the infallible truth, also in those parts which treat of historical, geographical, and other secular matters.”14 In 1958 a professor at Concordia Seminary at St. Louis Missouri, an institution of the Missouri Synod, began an essay to the faculty there on the “Inerrancy of Scripture” with the words, “In this essay I propose to defend the paradox that the book of God’s truth contains errors. What is more, I hope to show that by proper resolution of this paradox we in fact magnify the truth that comes to us by divine revelation.”15 In this same paper he stated, “We do not take the account of Joshua’s making the sun and the moon to stand still in its literal meanings; for, in the face of overwhelming evidence, we have been driven to the conclusion that this portion of the Scriptures does not even propose to speak in scientifically accurate language.” Of the biblical account of the creation and the fall he there wrote, “This is the area, I would suggest, where the dimension of the symbolic (or mythical, if you wish) bulks large … That is to say, these accounts propose to speak of real events describing man’s creation and fall as well as the making of His world, but in language that is largely symbolical, or mythical, and is to be so understood.” And once more, “We need to keep in mind that it is a modern heresy to identify truth with fact.” Such unscriptural and undisciplined contention was one of the reasons for our synod’s termination of all fellowship relations with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod in 1961.
In another controversial essay delivered to the Northern Illinois District of the Missouri Synod, the same essayist maintained, “The time has come to insist that the word ‘inerrancy’ is inappropriately used of the Scriptures … As the case for revelation now stands, any use of the word is at best misleading … Strictly speaking, and in a primary sense, the Scriptures are not in themselves a revelation.”16
This type of thinking is representative of a flood of writings holding to the same position. There is hardly a book of recent origin which does not echo the same sentiments with respect to the Old Testament. The authorship of the five books of Moses, the unity of the book of Isaiah, and the historicity of almost every book is under almost constant attack from various quarters. Nor is it just the creation account and other miraculous elements in the Old Testament that are being discounted in our day. As an illustration we might take the matter of women serving as pastors and preachers in the church. We believe such a practice to be clearly prohibited when the apostle inspired of God wrote, “Let your women keep silent in the churches; For it is not permitted unto them to speak” (I Cor. 14:34). Again the same apostle wrote, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man” (I Tim. 12:12). Yet a study commission of one of the large Lutheran bodies in this country reports “that it has not found any biblical or theological reasons why women should not be ordained.”17
And lest we think that this question is really not such a vital one, continue to read the same periodical which contained the report on women serving as pastors; the very next item, in answer to the question why there was not more said in that particular periodical about saving men’s souls than there was about the Vietnam war, referring to the beggar Lazarus lying before the Rich Man’s gate and then concluded, “It’s through deeds of mercy and love to our fellowmen that our souls may he saved. Real love for God must result in love for man.” Whether it is so intended or not, the final upshot of all such thinking is that the Bible gets to be little more than just another religious book.
We thus see that such violation of Scripture is not an isolated one. The whole book, from beginning to end, is being called into question. All of which again underscores the fact that a trumpet with a certain sound is necessary if the basis and foundation of all saving truth is to be preserved. We therefore cannot tolerate even the slightest subtraction from or addition to the Word of God it is an all or nothing matter.
III. NECESSARY FOR DOCTRINAL CLARITY IN THE CHURCH
A. We are the only ones who can be such a trumpet.
Lastly, a trumpet with a certain sound is necessary also in order to have doctrinal clarity in the Lutheran Church. At a time when at least 95% of all Lutherans in the United States are found in just three church bodies, none of which can be said to be a trumpet with a certain sound, we see how highly necessary it is that we, though we are but a small part of the remaining five percent of all Lutherans, are under a divine compulsion to continue to contend for the faith which was preserved for us by our sainted forefathers of a half century ago. The Lord’s direction in this matter is very clear. Through His prophet He has said, “He that hath my Word, let him speak my Word faithfully” (Jer. 23:28 ), which is re-affirmed by the apostle when he said, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (I Pet. 4:11). At the moment we and a small number of fellow-believers are the only ones who can be a trumpet with doctrinal clarity. Surely, we cannot expect the vast majority of Lutherans today with their confusion of tongues to provide that kind of clarity in the Lutheran Church.
Lest we begin boasting of our orthodoxy and faithfulness to the Word, let it be noted that it is entirely of God’s grace that our Synod still has the Word of God in its truth and purity. And it is likewise clue to the inexplicable grace of God that you and I are members of a synod that has been preserved in the truth, when the vast majority of Lutherans are of a more liberal persuasion. Surely, we on this golden anniversary, reflecting on how richly and wonderfully we have been blessed with the saving truth of the Gospel must on bended knees with the Psalmist of old confess, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake” (Ps. 115:1).
But more than that. We on this truly golden anniversary as a synod should want to re-dedicate ourselves to the solemn task, committed unto us by none other than the Lord of the Church Himself, of preserving the Gospel of His free and abundant saving grace in its Scriptural purity and of proclaiming the same at every opportunity. Yes, as we for fifty years patiently strove and sometimes at no little cost, to keep God’s Word pure and unadulterated, so may we during all the future the Lord will still grant us, and with His help, continue faithfully to watch over this precious Gospel. The promise the Lord made to the church at Philadelphia in Asia Minor we can rightfully look to for ourselves and should act upon it with forthright resolution to pursue our work with might and main. It reads, “I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it; for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name” (Rev. 3:8). May we be given the grace to SOUND THE TRUMPET OF JUBILEE, which is really what the Gospel of God’s wondrous saving grace in Christ is!
B. A task in which also the laymen are involved.
In this connection a word should be said about the part the layman has in all this. On first thought one might be inclined to say that his role is mostly only a passive one; after all, it is the pastors who do the preaching and who are to preach the word faithfully. Yes, our pastors do carry a heavy responsibility here, but no pastor would dare teach anything not countenanced by the Scriptures if his hearers formed an impenetrable phalanx before him, insisting on and demanding a trumpet tone that is crystal clear and 100% pure. The people who call the pastor not only have the right but also the duty to insist that their pastor be a faithful Scriptural-loyal messenger of the Lord to them. If more lay people had exercised this God-given prerogative and remembered their obligation in this respect, there would not be so much questioning of or trampling on the Scriptures as we today have it in a large segment of the Lutheran Church.
Nor is this concern about pure doctrine optional for the layman. The Lord makes it the hearer’s responsibility to test the doctrine being proclaimed to him when He says, “Beloved, believe not eve1y spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (I John 4:1). The Lord gives us no choice in the matter. And since it concerns our salvation and that of all others whom we through our synodical endeavors reach, we ought to be alert wide-awake and most conscientious watchmen on the walls of Zion.
Lay people also have the means for testing the doctrine they hear — it is the same Bible their pastor is to expound to them. Since the hearers have the Word of God they can check to see whether what their pastor teaches and preaches agrees with it. And lay people have been doing this from the days of the early Church on down to our time. Scripture commends the Christian of Berea when it concerning their listening to Paul’s preaching says, “they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scripture daily whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). Therefore it will not do for lay people to sit on their hands and let their pastor teach as he will; neither will they stop up their ears when their pastor is proclaiming God’s truth, but like the Thessalonians, will receive such doctrinally sound preaching for what “it is in truth, the Word of God” (I Thess. 2:13). If the truth is to be preserved to our present synodical membership and to its successors, it will come about only because the hearers will tolerate nothing more nor be satisfied with anything less than the truth of God’s holy inspired Word. With preachers and hearers both making it a matter of individual concern that only the truth shall be heard in our churches we need have no worries about the future of our synod. If nothing but the truth is heard we shall see God’s name hallowed and His kingdom come. There is no greater blessing that can be given us this side of heaven.
In a day when many churches have forsaken the principles upon which they were originally established, when there is much debate on what the mission of the church is, when the world is swiftly plunging towards its inevitable fiery end, the more concerned we have to be about holding aloft, for all who will sec, the banner of truth and to be a trumpet from which the truth shall sound forth in tones that are as sweet as they are certain and saving. Our sister church bodies are, of course, under the same obligation, but the important thing for us to remember is to that ourselves.
What Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple makes a most fitting prayer for us of these latter days who have the task of building the Lord’s spiritual temple, “The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers: let him not leave us, nor forsake us” (I Kings 8:57).
SOLI DEO GLORIA
1 “The Madison Agreement,” #3 and 4, Documents of Lutheran Unity in America, ed. R.C. Wolf, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966, p. 233 (This collection is hereafter referred to as DLUA)
2 Rev. S. Gunderson, quoted by Theo. Graebner, The Problem of Lutheran Union, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1935, p. 68
3a Ibid., p. 68
3b Reference is the same as for footnote #12 below
4 “American Lutheran Church on Fellowship with Missouri,” #3, 1938, DLUA, p. 401
5 “Sandusky Declaration of American Lutheran Church,” 1938, DLUA, p. 395
6 Leander S. Keyser, D.D., Election and Conversion, Burlington, Iowa: The German Literary Board, 1914, p. 61
7 Dr. Geo. Fritschel, quoted by J. Buenger, The Confession of the Missouri Synod and the Desired Unity of the Lutheran Church, Shannon, Illinois: Shannon Publishing House, 1935, p. 9
8 “The Common Confession,” VI, 1949, DLUA, p. 412
9 Quoted in Our Relations with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, Union committee of the Norwegian Synod, (1954), p. 13f
10 Report of the 34th Regular Convention of the Norwegian Synod, 1951, p. 54f
11 “Articles of Agreement,” X, 1958, #2, DLUA, p. 530
12 Proceedings of the Thirty-seventh Regular Convention of the Ev. Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States, June 15–24, 1938, p. 227
13 Kirchliche Zeitschrift, August, 1926, quoted by J. Buenger, op. cit. p. 4
14 “Brief Statement,” #1, 1932, DLUA, p. 381f
15 Cf Report of the 44th Regular Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, 1961, p. 56
16 Ibid., p. 56
17 The Lutheran, April 24, 1968, p. 44. Walter A. Baepler, A Century of Grace, St. Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1947