Grace and peace in the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
We deem it a great blessing and a source of enjoyment to be permitted once more to gather together for mutual devotion, counsel and encouragement from the word of God. We need not labor now under the constant dread of something being brought up, against which we must protest or which we can consent to only with doubting hearts. We all agree in abiding sincerely by the truths of the gospel and in speaking only as the oracles of God.
Because of the circumstances under which we labor, we miss so many to-day with whom we were want to assemble in former years. This fact oppresses our hearts and fills us with sadness and regret; for we are certainly made to feel the lack of all those things, which to-day are considered so necessary for the successful accomplishment of any great task. We are only a handful, lacking in prestige and in the advantages of being honored by many. We have no property, nor do we receive any consideration from the world. On the contrary, we are continually made to feel that the hands of all are turned against us, and that our hands are turned against them. Before we are aware of it, thoughts and questions steal upon us, of how we may become stronger in numbers and in the estimation of men, and how we may avoid all controversies.
My dear friends, this is a serious matter. Is it the flesh or is it the spirit that fosters such ideas? Every one needs to make up his mind clearly on this question. If we are negligent in this respect, we may easily be caught in secret snares. When we must admit that we are by nature just as vain and sensitive as other human beings, that we enjoy to live at ease, and that we value as highly as others the company of good friends, influence· and a good reputation among men. then it is to be feared that it is the old Adam who suggests such thoughts as these, in order to draw our hearts from the Lord. Right here we must be on our guard, watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation. This applies not only to us as pastors, but to all fellow believers as well. Evert more than Moses, do we require the assistance of our brethren to stand by our side and support our arms. Exod. 17,12.
It is well that we are familiar with the revealed articles of faith, and that we have the courage to defend them. But this is not sufficient. Much more is required. In order to be well equipped as firm and resolute witnesses in these peculiar times, it is necessary to know, from whence our aid must come as well as, where we must not seek it, even though this may be contrary to our human reason. We learn this from our Lord’s instructions to His disciples just before He departed from them. Let us take warning from the actions of the Apostles before the day of Pentecost.
They all had agreed with Peter in making this confession: “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” John 6,68.69. And yet they cherished erroneous ideas of the Kingdom of God. Neither did they believe the Resurrection of Christ, even though Peter had bitterly deplored the denial of his Savior. Humanly speaking, they were in number and prestige as destitute as we are.
But how did the disciples gain a better knowledge and greater courage? This the Holy Spirit has shown us in the Gospel to St. John Chapters 14–16. In these chapters we find our Saviour’s painstaking instruction and His answers to our many doubts and questions. He promises to furnish all that they need. He strengthens and animates the irresolute disciples to go out into the world with the gospel of the Kingdom. Let us diligently meditate, upon this last instruction and heart to heart talk of our Lord with His disciples. It is the Royal speach of the heavenly Majesty to His ambassadors. Here they receive information both in regard to the source, from which they must seek guidance for their work, and in regard to the preparation necessary, in order to become true witnesses as well as to be able to endure the inevitable consequences of their testimony, namely cross and persecution from the world at large.
The Lord had often given them instruction regarding His Kingdom and the importance of His work of salvation, And yet, though they believed on Him, they were still, even after His resurrection, grooping about in spiritual darkness, entertaining false ideas about the nature of His Kingdom, and dreaming of temporal power of honor. At one of the last manifestations of the Lord, just before He ascended into heaven, they asked this question: “Lord wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom of Israel?” The question shows that they even now expected a restoration of a temporal kingdom, in which they might enjoy many advantages, very much as we now may dream of better prospects for the future. But the Lord rejects their question. However, He gives promise of help, though this help will be of quite a different nature from what they had expected. He says: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” Acts 1,6–8.
After the last Supper, in the night in which He was betrayed, the Lord spoke at length to His disciples, and — to use the words of Luther — “showered upon them abundantly all that sincere and sublime consolation, which all Christians now possess, and which every one should seek, when in grief and distress. … But this is not written (John Ch. 14–16.) for their sakes, but for ours, in order that we may learn to apply this consolation to ourselves in present and future needs, and in order that every baptized Christian, who has resigned himself into the hands of Christ, may learn to submit patiently to such tribulation, knowing for certain that he also shall experience fears and anxieties which will render him faint-hearted and despondent, whether this be caused by one or more kinds of enmity and opposition.”
Let us listen to a portion of this glorious instruction. Among many other beautiful things the Lord speaks as follows: “If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
If a man love 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 loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye 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 shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you: Peace I leave you, my peace I give unto you. … Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast out as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned: If ye abide me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another, If the world hateth you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth 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 know not him that sent me.
But when the Comforter is come, whomI will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which precedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness. because ye have been with me from the beginning.
These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth 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 yon, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I have told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you. But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me Whither goest thou? But because I have said these thinks unto you, sorrow hath filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not 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 reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment; of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.
I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye 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 receice of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.”
Here the Lord teaches us many glorious things, both about the essence of the Triune God, and about His presence with and dwelling in all those who actually keep His words. He has certainly not omitted anything, which His disciples needed to know, and from which they may gather help and support.
He promises to give them the Comforter, the Holy Ghost. But this Comforter is not to bring any new revelation. He is to testify of Christ and glorify Him by bringing to their remembrance and explaining to them that which Christ had spoken, while He was still with them. We find nothing in these words, which in any manner would indicate, that there should be any co-operation between the world and the Kingdom of Christ. Neither did St. Paul receive any such instruction from the’Lord. He rather warns against such an idea, when he writes to the Corinthians; “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe,” 1 Cor. 1,21.
Imagine for one moment the idea of James in Jerusalem, together with the Scribes and Pharisees, instituting a drive for funds to be used for the purpose of reconstructing the kingdom of Israel! Or of the apostles delegating Peter to establish headquarters in Rome, from which he in conjunction with the government of the great empire, might reform the world! How sad, that many Christians of today are misled into countenancing things similar to this!
The Lord’s promise of sending the Comforter was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was revealed in the form of tongues of fire, which came upon each of the apostles assembled. The Spirit served them by bringing to their remembrance all that the Lord had spoken to them, and, moreover, by giving them the very words, which they were to speak and write. For the Apostle says: “Now we have received, not the Spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not with words which human wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” 1 Cor. 2,12.13.
And the Lord has promised that not one jot or one tittle of this revelation shall ever pass away. Matt. 5,18. Thus, according to the will of God and the working of the Spirit, the Scriptures teach us with infallible divine words the whole counsel of God unto our salvation. By this word alone we must abide. We should not seek any other help and consolation than this — to be one with our Savior in spirit and in truth, and to be content in this union which is maintained by the working of the Spirit through the means of Grace.
But are we then actually well content in this alone, that we know that we are in the presence of God and enjoy His grace, without seeking any assistance from our own conduct or that of other men? If we are, then we will not only, through faith and confidence in the word of God, work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, but we will also testify with strength and courage, as living witnesses, to the truth so that no one can justly say on the day of reckoning, that we in any point have concealed or suppressed the truth for the sake of obtaining peace and of gaining the friendship of men. This we must do in order to be saved, whether anyone will follow us or not.
But it is by no means pleasant to take up such a position. We therefore confess: “To dissent from the agreement of so many nations, and to be called schismatics is a serious matter. But divine authority commands all not to be allies and defenders of impiety and unjust cruelty.” (Schmalcald Articles 346. Jacobs’ Book of Concord.) Thus we must stand, in order to preserve the prize which has been graciously entrusted to us.
Many tell us, that we may well retain our faith and doctrine, according to our hearts desire, if we will only associate with them peacefully and in brotherly love. They ask us, if it is not possible that we may be mistaken, or if we imagine, that we have a monopoly upon the truth etc.
To this we answer: “The Lord says to us, as well as to all those who wish to be guided by His Spirit alone: ‘Ye also shall bear witness;’ i.e. proclaim the truth in the same manner, as the Holy Spirit declares it in the Scriptures.” It is not only possible, that we may be mistaken, but in many things, it is an accomplished fact, that we do err. But for this very reason, is it so exceedingly important that we hold fast so scrupuously to every word of Scripture, because God alone does not err. We ask therefore in turn: “Why do you not live with us peacefully and in brotherly love, confessing the same truths with us now, as you did formerly?
The light of the word of God must be kept unobscured by human inventions. Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Therefore does the Lord add this warning: “Beware of false prophets.” Matt. 7,14.15.
Uncertainty, lukewarmness and liberalism are dangerous, because in their wake follow several injurious things. He who does not lay the greatest stress on man’s spiritual life in faith, on heartfelt enjoyment of God’s unbounded grace and on forgiveness of sins, on life and salvation by faith without the deeds of the law, will not feel any special desire to be deeply concerned with the doctrine of God’s essence, attributes, grace or means of grace, but he puts most stress on co-operation in externals. Conventions and discussions are occupied mostly with practical things, man’s own undertakings, often very common worldly enterprises, that are sometimes praised as Christian works of charity. Definite expounding of scriptural doctrines is, frequently not desired, because that would cause trouble and show disagreement in doctrine. Is such church-work anything else than popular worship of strange gods?
A tendency of this kind makes the church worldly, especially when it is accompanied by a desire to seek the help of the world, whether it be the help of of great men, of popular opinion, or of the state.
That such a tendency brings great harm, we ought to have !earned by this time, both from the history of the church and of the world in our day. The one suffers from skepticism or doubt and gross rationalism, while the other has accepted the doctrines of socialism, anarchism and bolshevism. Under such circumstances brotherly admonition and exhortation are neglected by pastors and the members of the church.
Our synod has long since set forth the principles of church discipline according to the word and will of God. May they soon again be made effective among us in word and deed!
Another fruit of this radical fault is this that people vie with each other in gathering in many into the congregation, as if it were the main object to have many people register their names in the external organization and contribute money to it. Even Lutheran congregations receive as members of the church persons who belong to societies that worship other gods and not Christ. They accept them in the vain opinion that they thereby shall be made disciples of Christ, while among earnest Christians the act of receiving a person as a member the church signifies a mutual recognition of faith and principles. Before admission into the church, the applicant should be throughly instructed with regard to the confession, the object and means of the congregation so that both parties may know whether or not they can work well together for the maintenance and enjoyment of the blessings of the word and sacraments. No one should be tempted to halt between two opinions. 1 King. 18,21.
Our synod has also witnessed a good confession against the ungodly secret societies. This testimony we should reaffirm, and let us thank God because our stand in this matter is so well known that we are hardly ever requested to conduct services together with those who teach falsely. We will stand by Mr. B.M. Holt in his testimony against secret societies, and we hope that he, in our sainted Rev. 0.T. Lee’s place, will serve us with reliable information on this vital question.
Unionistic, worldly church policy often plays a sad part in the calling of ministers. Then the question is not so much whether the candidate can rightly divide the word of truth and deliver plain, instructive sermons, that aim at the heart, without shooting above the mark. But the question is mostly: is he a gifted speaker, who can associate with all kinds of people, without offending anyone; will he accept a call on trial or for a certain length of time, or a call that may he terminated at a few months’ notice on the part of congregation or pastor, etc.? In all such cases the calling of a pastor is degraded to a more or less clever church-political business affair, without the earnest supplication that the Lord would show whom he had chosen, Acts 2,24. The unction of the Spirit is needed if a pastor shall venture, like Peter on that first Pentecost, to speak about the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” and wield the two-edged sword of the Lord, that the unbeliever may be pricked in his heart, while the troubled and believing hearts get strength and encouragement. Then he will also like Peter dare to say to his kinsmen and friends: you have by unbelief and wickedness crucified the Lord Jesus Christ. Repent, every one of you, and recieve by faith the forgiveness of sins in His name.
Another seemingly insignifcant matter you will permit me to call your attention to. According to my opinion it is commendable that there in a congregation exists a Ladies’ Aid, a Young People’s Society and a church choir; also that the Sunday School teachers regularly meet their pastor for consultation, for he is responsible for the feeding of the lambs also. But when there exists a Young Men’s Society, a Young Girls’ Society, and a Men’s Society, and each one of these has its different purpose and time of meeting, then it is a grave question, whether or not there is danger of dividing up and scattering the interest and efficiency of the working members in such a manner that the unity in the bond of peace is not strengthened, but rather weakened by varying objects and interests, that sometimes may come in conflict with each other. When to this is added the fact that the minister, as a rule, is expected to attend and aid each of them, then I must ask: is it possible for him to do all this? If he tries to help them all, when shall he find time and strength to study his Bible and articles of faith, as his ministerial promise demands, and to prepare his sermons, funeral addresses, and visit the sick? Will not such a course soon ruin the pastor, or his sermons, or both? Will sensible Lutheran congregations endorse such un-Lutheran tendencies in the church work?
I think the object of the Ladies’ Aid is edification and entertainment; and the object of the young people is to develop home talent and provide entertainment and appropriate sociability in the presence of at least some of the parents. If any of these societies receive outsiders as members and institute lecture courses with non-Lutheran lecturers, then questionable things may easily be brought up that do not gather but scatter the flock of the divinely called and therefore responsible shepherd.
Dear friends, let us all, young and old, be on guard against all kinds of dangers. There is an old Roman axiom, which is said to be the motto of Satan, namely this: “divide et impera,” i.e: “divide, scatter and rule”. The Lord graciously preserve us from such a calamity.
In our little synod there are several things, that should fill us with joy and for which we will thank God.
To my knowledge the pastors and congregations have during these years labored earnestly, diligently and in harmony. The good seed has been sown in the hearts of many, and it shall not return void, but shall accomplish that for which it was sent. One of the most encouraging things that I can imagine, is this that our Albert Lea congregation has resolved to establish next fall an American Lutheran parochial school. The Lord bless and prosper this great enterprise and keep the congregation from becoming tired. Such an undertaking is the most important mission that can be imagined. Would to God that many churches soon could follow this encouraging example. If we do not do it, a great and serious responsibility will rest upon us. For we cannot excuse ourselves by saying that we have no means. We are so fortunate that we need not be anxiously concerned about building seminaries and colleges. Well equipped institutions of both kinds we have easy access to through the kindness of our German Lutheran brethern. Our college is now Concordia College at St. Paul. At this institution our professor, Dr. S.C. Ylvisaker, has this last year successfully labored among many students. He will bring his report on this matter. Orthodox seminaries and normal schools are also open to us as if they were our own.
But we must also see to it that our young people who desire a higher education do not need to attend Christless High Schools. In many respects the conditions there are horrible and more dangerous than we now believe. For the purpose of establishing really Lutheran High Schools we will in my opinion do best in joining “The National Lutheran Education Association”. More information may be brought concerning this if the Synod so desires.
In this way we can with comparative ease devote our efforts to the establishment of good parochial schools, and we are not compelled to leave it to the state to bring up our children without a single word of God, The Lord has commanded us to bring them up in the nature and admonishment of the Lord. Eph. 6,4.
Our “Evang. Luth. Tidende and Sential” has, to my mind, solved its problems well and it is large enough. I do not believe, that a weekly should be looked upon as a book of devotion. For this purpose the Bible, the Catechism and the hymnbook should be used. A church paper should contain choice articles on doctrine and on the defense of the truth, as well as instruction concerning dangerous tendencies of the times, besides reports of our work.
It is well that we have made a start toward a book concern. But even here we must walk on a narrow path. For we cannot offer bad books or the like for sale, even though money could most quickly be made by such business. As we must beware of false prophets, so also we must avoid bad books and other useless things. It is earnestly to be desired, that we could all work diligently to accomplish this that every family in our churches procure a family library and use it daily. This should at least consist of the Altenburger Testament, the Book of Concord and Luther’s Smaller Catechism, one of Luther’s postils and our hymnbook, besides the books of instruction for our children. We would accomplish a great service to the church if our book concern, together with Concordia Publishing House, could publish the Altenburger Testament in English and get the above mentioned collection circulated and read. In my opinion, no other book of family devotion can be compared with that Testament. There we have the text, helps to understand and apply it, together with beautiful little prayers. Do not other devotional books for the family provide too little text and too much talk?
It is also encouraging to perceive how many earnest people there are who wish to abide by the truth and stand firm on the principles such as they were confessed and practiced in the Norwegian Synod. Such people seek our help. We are then placed in a difficult position where we may easily stumble.
According to God’s Word, 1 Pet. 3,15, we must be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh us a reason of the hope that is in us, but we must not become busybodies in other men’s matters. 1 Pet. 4,15. In cases where our help is asked, we seek to find out, for what reason complaints are made against the conditions in their church. If we find that the complaints concern only immaterial things of a personal and selfish nature, that do not wound a conscience bound by the word of God, then we advise not to cause trouble on such account. But if anyone complains for reasons that cause trouble of conscience, such a person is advised to endeavor earnestly from love of God and the church, to have the congregation repent of the sinful and offensive thing, whether this concerns doctrine or public practice. If repeated admonition of pastor or congregation or both is without avail, then we with a good conscience advise to withdraw from such a church, in order not to be an accomplice or to be responsible with the others for the evil things. When this has been done, then we serve that person with the means of grace. This is not acting as a busybody in other men’s matters, but simply professing the truth and giving reason of the hope that is in us. 1 Pet. 3,15.
If churches are closed against us and distribution of property by atrbitration is denied us, let us rather lose all than file a complaint in court. Let it go. Or shall we, besides losing our part of the property, spend precious time and money on a court case, that very likely will only bring new disappointment?
We must never forget, that we with our faith and confession have human reason and all that is considered great in the world against us. Let us therefore take to heart the following words of Dr. Martin Luther: “In this manner faith must be exercised, be tempered and hardened, even be drawn through the fire as the gold. For faith, that precious gift and treasure of God, must break forth and become sure to me, to God, to all angels, devils and the whole world, that it is right. Now then, with my confession I must bring upon me the devil death and the whole world, kings and princes, popes and bishops, priests and monks, for by faith all that is rejected, which human reason can invent or ever has invented unto salvation and all the mockery of the world must be denounced and faith alone praised as the true treasure. This the world cannot tolerate, but breaks in, murders and kills and declares, it is better that one die than that the whole people should be destroyed, as Caiaphas, the High Priest, says, Joh. 11,50. Thus the confession must break forth that God alone is the savior. This confession destroys us then, as the Lord goes on to say: “they shall exclude you from the synagogues and kill you.” The cross must not be portrayed otherwise than it is done here, for this is its true color. It is a golden cross when we are persecuted and killed by contempt in such a manner that they that persecute us gain applause, praise, right and honor on their side, while we on our side have only shame, dishonor and blame in the eyes of the world which in this manner would defend the honor of God, so that all the world says that we receive our just deserts, and that God, the Scriptures and all angles are against us. Here, no one must complain or demand any right, but to be condemned and brought out of the way in disgrace. Thus also the most dishonorable and ignominious death was inflicted on Christ. He was hanged between two thieves and robbers; he was considered a chief criminal, and it was said in scorn: he called himself the son of God, let Him deliver him now if He will. There God and all angles must be against him. In a similar manner he speaks to us here: they shall kill you, not outright, but with dishonor, so that the world will say that they did God a service. Now this is a hard thing, to remain steadfast still and confess that God is gracious and a savior against the world, against falsehood and fraud. Very well! Let it be as hard and painful as it will, the truth must be confessed, if we would fare well.” May God grant us His grace.