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Presidential Address

Translation from 1920 Beretning

Esteemed Synod!

Grace and peace be to the brothers and sisters in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

It is a great blessing, joy and pleasure to be able again to gather for mutual devotion, counsel and encouragement from the Word of God. We do not need to sit in fear that something will come up which we either must protest against, or being only doubtful, keep quiet about it. We are agreed about sticking with the Gospel and speaking only as the oracle of God. But when we think about our situation and look around us a little here, then we miss many people who used to be with us. Then the heart is heavy by faint-heartedness and hesitant because we certainly do lack nearly everything which now, as in the past, is counted among the necessities for really being able to do anything and to make any progress. We are only a handful, we lack all ‘prestige’ or respect, we have no property and no favor from the world. On the contrary we must understand that all hands are turned against us and we against them, and be-fore we know it, there creep into our minds thoughts and questions about how we are going to manage to become stronger and about not having to fight battles and engage in controversies.

Dear friends! Such things are serious matters. Is it the flesh or the spirit which places such thoughts upon us? Everyone ought to be clear about this in his own mind. Otherwise we easily become caught in a subtle trap. When we must confess that by nature we are just as vain and fragile, and that we prize good days, our friends, power and respect in the world as well as anyone else, then it is really the old Adam who is placing these thoughts upon us and thereby is drawing our hearts away from the Lord. Here we must stand watch, to watch and pray that we shall not fall into temptation. This applies not merely to us pastors, but to all our fellow believers. Even more than Moses, we need fellow Christians who will stand at our side and hold up our hands. Ex. 17:12.

It is good and well that we know how to and that we dare to fight for the clearly revealed, great articles of faith. But there must also be much more to it. In order to be fully equipped to stand fast as true and steadfast witnesses in this extraordinary time, we must know where alone help is to be sought and where it must not be taken from, even if it seems reasonable. We see it in our Lord’s disciples and His instruction immediately before He is separated from them. They agreed with Peter when he said to the Savior: ‘to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ Jo. 6:68.69. Even then they went about with carnal thoughts about the kingdom of God, neither believed His resurrection, even though Peter had bitterly mourned his sin.

Humanly speaking, they were about as bad off as we are both in numbers and respect. But did they then receive both better knowledge and courage? The Holy Ghost has shown us this clearly in the 14th, 15th and 16th chapters of John’s Gospel. There we have our Lord’s painstaking instruction and answer to our doubts and questions. He promises them everything which they need, He strengthens them and He revives His perplexed, poor disciples to go out with the message of the kingdom. Let us read this last instruction and sermon of the Lord to His disciples often. It is the sermon of the heavenly majesty from the throne, to His enemies. They receive information about who should guide them and what they had to prepare themselves for, both with respect to the testimony itself and its unavoidable consequences, namely, cross and persecution from the haughty world.

The Lord had often instructed them about His kingdom and the import of His work of saving them. Even though they believed in Him, after His resurrection they did however still sit in a spiritual twilight of false conceptions which revolved around earthly power and respect. In one of the Lord’s last conversations with them they asked Him immediately before His ascension: ‘Lord, will You at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?’ The question shows that they believed in the restoration of the earthly kingdom where they really expected better conditions for themselves, about like our desiring better prospects for the future for ourselves. But the Lord dismisses the question and promises them the right help, but of a different kind than they expected. He says: ‘It is not for you to know the time or the seasons, which the Father has put in His own power. But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and you shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth,’ Ac. 1:6–8.

But after the Lord’s Supper on the night when He was betrayed, He spoke a great deal with His disciples, and, as Luther says: ‘richly poured out from on high, heartfelt comfort which the whole of Christianity has, and which a person should desire in every distress and suffer-ing. … But it is written (Jo. 14, 15 and 16), not for their sake but for us, so that we also shall learn to apply this comfort in the face of present and future distress, and that every Christian who is baptized and has given himself to Christ, ought and shall also find himself here-in and surely expect it for himself, that also to him will come terror and dread which will make him weak of heart and faint-hearted whether this occurs through one or many kinds of enmity and opposition.’

We must now hear a portion of his excellent instruction. Among other things the Lord says the following: ‘If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He shall give unto you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever: even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him, neither know Him: but you know Him; for He dwells with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. … He that has My commandments, and keeps them, he it is who loves Me: and he that loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him. … If a man loves Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that does not love Me does not keep My sayings: and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s which sent Me. These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. … I am the vine, you are the branches. He that abides in Me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be My disciples. … You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you. These things I command you, that you love one another. If the world hate you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him that sent Me. … But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father, He shall testify of Me: and you also shall bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning. These things have I spoken unto you, that you should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yes, the time is coming, that whosoever kills you will think that he is doing God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor Me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, you may remember that I told you of them. And these things I did not say unto you at the beginning, because I was with you. … Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you. And when He is come, He will re-prove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe on me; of righteousness, because I am going to My Father, and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come. He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father has are Mine: therefore said I, that He shall take of Mine, and shall show it unto you.’ John 14:15–18, 21, 23–27; 15:5–8, 16–21,26–16:4, 7–15.

Many excellent things are taught here both about the essence of God and the presence and dwelling of the Triune God in all who truly keep the Lord’s Word. The Lord has certainly not left out anything which His disciples needed to know or which they should get help from or rely on.

He promises them the Comforter, the Holy Ghost. But He was not going to come with any new revelation but only explain or glorify Christ by reminding them of and teaching them just that which He had said to them. There is nothing here which suggests in the least that there should be any cooperation in anything between the world and the kingdom of Christ. Neither did Paul receive any such instruction from the Lord. He says, to wit: ‘For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom did not know God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. … But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; … For you see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in His presence,’ 1 Co. 1:21.23.26–29.

Imagine then that the apostle James in Jerusalem had begun to gather taxes and tithes in order to reconstruct the kingdom of Israel together with the Pharisees, or that the apostles had elected Peter to settle in Rome in order to reform the world from there, together with the great worldly power; what a denial of the Savior’s word! And how sad that many Christians in our days are misled to sanction something like that!

Our Savior’s promises about the Comforter are fulfilled since the Holy Ghost was given to them in such a way that He reminded them of everything which the Lord had told them and also put into their minds what they should write, not with words which they themselves chose according to their own or other men’s wisdom, but with words which the Holy Ghost taught them. The Lord has promised that not a tittle of it shall ever pass away. According to the Lord’s will and the Spirit’s inspiration the Scriptures thus teach us with divine and infallible words all the counsel of God for our true happiness and salvation. We are to hold to that Word alone. We are to desire no other help or comfort than that we must be one with the Savior in spirit and truth and have sufficient in union with Him through the Spirit’s working upon our hearts through the Means of Grace. But are we then really satisfied with His grace and present without any help or support from our own or other men’s conduct? That which then applies to us is that we, each for himself, by faith and confidence in the Word of God seek to obtain a saved soul and to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, coupled with power and courage to be living witnesses of all truth, so that on the day of reckoning no one shall be able to testify that we suppressed the truth in any point for the sake of peace and friendship. This must we do if we are going to be saved, whether we take someone or no one with us.

Our Confessions say: ‘To dissent from the consensus of so many nations and to be called schismatics is a serious matter. But divine authority commands us all not to be associated with and not to support impiety and unjust cruelty’ (Smalcald Articles, Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, p. 328, Tappert edition). This is what we must do if we shall be saved, whether we get some people or no one with us.

Many people tell us that we can easily keep our faith and doctrine if we will only live together with them in peace and brotherly love. And people ask us if it is not possible that we can be mistaken, or whether we have a monopoly on the truth, etc. To this we must answer: In the Word the Lord says to us, as to His disciples: But you also should witness, i.e. in the same manner as the Holy Ghost teaches us in Scripture. It is not only possible that we err but it is also verifiable that we do err in many things, but just for that reason must we so anxiously hold to every word because God does not err in the Word. We do not at all wish to keep the truth only for ourselves, therefore we ask: Why do you not want to live in peace and love together with us now as before?

We must have the light of the Word undarkened on our path. We walk on a narrow way and precisely to this reminder the Lord added the command to His disciples: Beware of false prophets.

The unclarity, lukewarmness and liberalism of the times are dangerous because several harmful things follow from them. Because people do not stress the heart’s inner life of faith and heartfelt appropriation of God’s undeserved grace and gifts, the forgiveness of sin, life and salvation through faith alone without the deeds of the law, then no particular desire to dwell much with the doctrine of God’s essence, attributes, grace and the Means of Grace, is felt, but mostly the need for cooperating in the externals. Meetings and talks revolve then most around practical things, man’s own undertakings, often completely ordinary worldly business which sometimes is praised as Christians’ deeds of love, while a precise exposition of one or another important doctrine would produce disturbance and disagreement. Must I ask if such church work is anything other than idolatry before God?

This tendency makes the church worldly, especially when with it follows a desire to seek support from the world, whether it now is called knowledge, great men, the will of the people, or a state. That this brings destruction ought we now have learned both from the history of the church and the world in our time. The one has drawn down sickening doubt and crass rationalism, but the other various kinds of socialism, refined anarchism and Bolshevism. Brotherly admonition and chastisement among the pastors and in the congregations is neglected.

Our church body has long ago laid the Word and will of God concerning church discipline on the table. Would that we could revive it in word and action!

Another fruit of that basic error is that people are vying with each other to gather many members into a large congregation as if the main goal was to get people to enter their names in the external church organization and contribute to it. Lutheran congregations also admit persons who are members of societies which are enemies of Christ, in the false thought that it ought to in order to make them Christians, while, however, among honorable people, the admission signifies a mutual recognition of each other’s belief and principles. Before admission the applicant ought to be well instructed about the congregation’s confession, purpose and means, so that he himself as well as the congregation can know if he desires admission in order to enjoy the congregation’s goods in the Word and Sacraments. People ought not tempt anyone to halt between two opinions.

Our church body has also laid down a good confession against secret societies which are enemies of Christ. We ought to confirm it and thank God that our stand is so widely known that as a rule we are spared from being asked about carrying on church business together with the confess-ors of a false faith. We ought to support the testimony of Mr. B.M. Holt against secret societies and ask that he now will serve us with reliable reminders and information about such societies in the stead of the sainted Pastor O.T. Lee.

The unionism which makes the church worldly also often plays a sad role in the calling of pastors to the congregation’s pastoral office. When people do not ask so much then whether the candidate can rightly divide Law and Gospel and deliver simple Catechism sermons which reach the heart and do not sail over people’s heads, but most often they ask whether the man concerned is a gifted speaker who can associate with all kinds of people without offending anyone, whether he will accept the Call on trial for a fixed period of time or on a few month’s mutual notice and the like, then the occupation of the congregation’s holy office has declined to being a more or less shrewd business matter of church politics without heartfelt prayer that the Lord will give the congregation a shepherd after His heart. Such a pastor can be a sufficiently popular kind of Easter speaker but a miserable Pentecost preacher. The anointing of the Spirit is demanded in order to dare to speak about God’s appointed counsel as Peter did on that Pentecost Day and to use the Spirit’s two-edged sword in such a way that the unbeliever is pricked in the heart while the weak and believing receive the strength and encouragement of the Gospel. Then, with Peter, one will also be able to say to his friends and relatives: By your sins you have killed the Lord of life, but believe on the Lord Christ, and you shall receive the forgiveness of sins in His name.

Permit me to mention another matter which seems fairly innocent, and ask the congregations and pastors to take notice of it.

In my opinion it is praiseworthy that a women’s society, a youth society, and a choir exist in the congregation along with the Sunday School teachers holding meetings together with their pastor. He is responsible also for the feeding of the lambs. But when, in addition to that, there is also a young man’s society, a girl’s club, a men’s club, and each of these has their distinct purpose which certainly has in mind furtherance of the church’s cause, then, however, I question whether there is not a danger of the energies being divided and spread in such a way that the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is not at all strengthened but is loosened by various interests which sometimes can oppose each other. Thus when the rule really is that the pastor is to be along and support all these societies with their aims, then I must ask again: Can he do all that? If he tries to, when and where is he going to find time and energy to study the articles of faith which his ordination oath demands, and for orderly preparation of his sermons, funeral addresses, sick visits, etc.? Will not such an arrangement soon destroy either himself or his sermons or both? Do enlightened Lutheran congregations want to accept such a Reformed way of doing things?

In my opinion women’s societies ought to be for edification and support, and youth societies chiefly for the support and training of the society’s home talent for suitable sociability in the presence of some of the parents. If it is the custom that outsiders are also admitted into the society, this also brings about a course which does not gather but scatters the flock of the shepherd. O my, questionable things can easily come in also by enchanting discourses by non-Lutherans! Let us all, young and old, be on guard against all dangers! There is an old Roman expression which is said to be the devil’s motto, namely this: ‘Divide and conquer’! that is, divide or separate, and you rule. May the Lord preserve us from that by grace!

There are several things in our little church body which make us happy and for which we want to thank God.

As far as I know the pastors and congregations have worked diligently and hard in the past year. The good seed has been sown in the hearts of many people. The Word is not going to return void but it will accomplish that for which it is sent.

Some of the most joyful things which I can think of in our situation are that our Albert Lea congregation has decided to establish and maintain an American Lutheran parochial school beginning this fall. May the Lord bless this excellent undertaking and preserve the congregation from becoming weary. Such an institution is the most important mission which I can think of. Would that many congregations would soon follow this encouraging example. If we do not do it then we take on a great and serious responsibility. We cannot excuse ourselves by saying that we do not have the means. We are so fortunately placed that we do not need to concern ourselves with the building of seminaries or colleges. We have full access to both kinds of well-equipped institutions together with our proven German-Lutheran friends who are now being Americanized just as we are. Our college is Concordia College in St. Paul. During the last school year our professor there has worked with blessing among many students. We are receiving sufficient reports from him. A couple of old-Lutheran seminaries and teacher-training schools are also at our command as our own.

But we ought also see to it that our confirmed youths who want a higher education do not need to go to Christ-less universities. The plight there is in several respects far more appalling and dangerous than some people want to believe.

In order to get to be along in establishing true Lutheran universities we do best, in my opinion, in joining ‘The National Lutheran Edu-cation Association.’ If the Synod wishes, it can get more exact information about this association.

Thus we can now all, comparatively easily, concentrate on the establishment of good parochial schools and no longer leave it to the state to bring up our children without a single word of God. The Lord has commanded us to nurture them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord.

Our “Evangelisk Luthersk Tidende” has, in my opinion, solved its problem sufficiently well, and is large enough. I do not really believe that a weekly paper ought to be a book of devotions. The Bible, Catechism and hymnbook ought to be used for that. The church paper ought to contain pithy pieces to teach, and in defense of the truths of faith, and instruction about dangerous trends, together with reports about our work.

We are glad that we have made a nice beginning in a book trade. But also here we are going on a narrow way. We cannot offer worthless books or similar things for sale, although one certainly makes the most money that way. Just as we must flee false prophets so must we also be on guard for worthless books or other useless wares. It is my heartfelt wish that we could all work zealously for each family in the congregation providing itself with and diligently using a little home library consisting at least of the Altenburg Testament, the Book of Concord and one of Luther’s postils, along with our hymnbook and children’s books. If our bookstore could publish the Altenburg Testament in the English language jointly with Concordia Publishing House then our book trade has accomplished a great work. In my opinion no general devotional book can be placed alongside of the testament I mentioned. The text is there, help for understanding and applying it, and nice sighs and prayers also. I wonder if the other devotional books do not have too little text and too much talk?

It is also a joyous thing to experience that there are round about not so few people who wish to stand firm on the proven truths and the principles of the Norwegian Synod. Such people then are seeking advice from us. Then we come into a somewhat difficult position where we can easily harm ourselves.

According to God’s Word, 1 Peter 3:15, we are always to be ready to give an answer for the hope which is in us, but neither must we encroach upon a stranger’s business. In such cases we seek to learn for what reason a person is complaining about facts in the congregation and wants to get help from us. If it is then found that the party concerned is standing on unessential things, personal or selfish considerations which do not violate some conviction of conscience from the Word of God, then we counsel such a person not to cause trouble. but if it is really a conscience-reason which is causing his distress, then in love to God and the congregation, he ought to seek with biblical reasons to get the congregation to correct that sinful thing whether this is in doctrine or public practice. If repeated admonitions either by pastor or congregation, preferably both, bear no fruit, then we advise with good con-science that such a person part company with them in order not to be partaker in their evil deed. When this has happened, we take him in with us, as best we can. This is not intruding into a stranger’s business but confessing the truth and serving Christians who ask an account of us.

In conclusion another thought and counsel which you are asked to listen to and to consider patiently.

If people close churches to us and refute past agreements and divisions of property, then let us rather lose everything than take action. Let everything go, as a witness to them. Or, on top of the loss, shall we waste time and money on a lawsuit which can bring new disappointment?

We must never forget that we have reason and everything great in the world against us. According to the Word of God we cannot expect anything else from the haughty world.

Let us therefore take these words of Luther earnestly to heart:

‘Thus must faith be exercised, worked on and strengthened, and also be led through the fire as gold. Because faith, the great gift and treasure of God, must emerge and be sure for me, for God, for all the angels, the devil and the whole world, that it is right. Well then, with my confession I must bring on myself the devil, hell, death and the whole world, kings and princes, pope and bishops, priests and monks. Because, through faith everything which reason can and ever has devised unto salvation, is rejected; and all the world’s foolery is punished, and the jewel of faith is alone praised. The world cannot tolerate it, therefore it falls also into murder, kills, and says: It is better that one man perishes than that the whole nation perishes, as Caiaphas says in John 11:50. Thus must the confession that God alone is the Savior emerge; and then this confession puts us to death, as the Lord says afterward: They shall put you out of the synagogue and kill you. The cross cannot be portrayed otherwise than it is done here, because this is its true color.

‘It is a golden suffering, that we are persecuted and killed with contempt in this way, so that they who persecute us have condemnation, praise, right and glory on their side, but we on our side, shame, disgrace and wrong over toward the world which thereby wants to have defended the honor of God, so that all the world says that it serves us right, and that God, Scripture and all the angels are against us. Here must no one complain, no one be right, but only be cursed and put out of the way with shame. Thus it also happened to Christ, that people brought the most dishonorable and disgraceful death upon him and hanged him between two thieves or murderers. He was regarded as public enemy number one, and with scornful words it was said: He called himself the Son of God, let him help him now, if he wants to. God and all the angels had to be against him there. Thus he says also here: They shall kill you, not pure and simple, but with disgrace, so that the world will say that people are doing God a service. Now, it is a hard thing, that people nevertheless must hold fast and confess that God is gracious to us and a Savior against all the world, with firmness and light. Well then, let it be as hard and sharp as it will, thus it must be confessed, if we want to fare well otherwise’ (Church Postil).

May God give us grace.

Bjug Aanondson Harstad

Translated by J. Herbert Larson, 2004

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