Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord!
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
Again we are permitted to meet in order to be built up in our most holy faith which was delivered to the saints and which we have inherited from our fathers in the Norwegian Synod.
Certainly our hearts feel a heavy loss because so many of them are absent from here with whom we were accustomed to standing side by side under the same banner for the confession and defense of the indispensable truths which were attacked. From where, though, does the feeling of bitter loss come? Does it come from the flesh or from the Spirit? As faithful Christians we must be saddened, and sorrow over the fact that so many of the people we know and who are dear to us seem to have forsaken their first love for the paths of God’s Word which are narrow for the flesh, and have taken up the modern, broad ways, thought to be more agreeable to the flesh, but which lead away from the strict obedience of the old days toward every word of God. To do this is also our natural inclination. Our poor hearts also are cool and dispirited by the desire to be healed of our wounds by making flesh our arm, trusting in princes and the ordinances of men which give us favor, livelihood and good days. We must not forget this weakness or imagine ourselves to be free of it. That is why it is important for each of us to ask himself: Is the grace of God really sufficient for us or must we also have something more? ‘Follow Me,’ our Lord said to Peter. Then he saw John and said: ‘Lord, what shall this man do?’ He received the answer: ‘What is that to you? Follow Me’ (Jo. 21). We are to be fully assured that the Lord knows His own and has His time and way for leading His children. We are to follow Him, even if He often leads us contrary to our will and thought.
When we read about the apostle Paul’s work and about his all but in-humane suffering brought on by Jews and heathen, then it is quite surprising for us that on top of all that the apostle shall also be pursued by a messenger of Satan who buffeted him. This had obviously been a sharp thorn in the flesh, which is why Paul prayed repeatedly that it might be taken from him, but the Lord answered: My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Co. 12:9). It is then set forth here as a principle that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. Is, then, God’s grace sufficiently perfect for us? Do we really believe that the strength of God is made perfect in the weak-ness under which we are suffering now, namely, lack of ‘prestige’ or respect, small numbers and loss of church property? In vain do we search Scripture and the history of the church afterward, for promises from God that His strength is made perfect in earthly respect, honor and might. The kingdom of God which we are to build is not of this world. If it were that, then the Lord would have given us other means and weapons than those we are to work with as Christians.
We are delighted that we can now meet with confidence in each other and in unity of faith in order to consider and to confess undisturbed the precious truths which are revealed in the Word. But we must not rely on ourselves. On the contrary we must constantly remember well that the enemies of our salvation will regard this firm position of ours as a challenge to a life-and-death war. This is also real. Because, if we will take our high calling and glorious profession as disciples of Christ seriously, whether we are lay or learned, then for every step forward in spirit and truth we must strive earnestly to be prepared to admonish all disobedience and to use the weapons of our warfare for demolishing the fortifications, because we are demolishing the imaginations and every high thing which exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Co. 10:5).
We owe heartfelt thanks to God who has let us see and who has given us grace to stand fast on His Word which teaches us that His eternal counsel of grace and His counsel about calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying and preserving us through the gifts of the Holy Spirit for Christ’s sake are the cause which creates, works, helps toward and furthers our salvation and everything which belongs to it. God teaches us this clearly in many places. (See Ep. 1:1-14; Ro. 8:28-30; Mt. 22:1-14). We are also preserved from paying homage to the false assertion that election, strictly speaking, is the decision only about sanctification, with faith and constancy as a necessary presupposition, and that this does not contradict any doctrine revealed in the Word, that all the work of the Holy Ghost in us, conversion as well as faith and constancy to the end, are a fruit and follow from the loving counsel of the Triune God and are not a necessary presupposition for the decision which is called election of grace.
Neither must we in the orthodox Lutheran Church allow ourselves to be deceived by modes of expression about prescriptive right. Serious and harmful departures from the Word of God and the Augsburg Confession have unfortunately had prescriptive right in most Lutheran countries for hundreds of years. Church and state were early tied together to the great harm of both kingdoms. This prescriptive right has produced many sad results. How has not the right and duty of congregations to call shepherds and teachers for themselves been deprived them? The Lord has nowhere indicated that the worldly authority has any right whatsoever to meddle in the work of the church.
The church has received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the Word and the Sacraments, in order to save immortal souls through the power of the Spirit. The state has received the sword in order to protect life, property and worldly rights, nothing else. But the worldly authority took to itself even in Luther’s lifetime a little, as it seemed, insignificant right over the church, when a consistorium was established to which politicians and jurists were elected and who had the right in individual instances to judge in church matters. Luther saw immediately in his time where it would lead; hardly anyone else did.
Dr. Rudelbach discusses this in this way in his book, “The Origin of the Policy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church”: “When he (Luther) saw this before him, namely, the caesaropapism (the rule of princes in the church), which would come and already had then risen as a thunder cloud, he became indignant and could hardly control himself. ‘Dear people,’ he said, ‘you will excuse me for becoming very vehement against the jurists; you are going to hear why. We have now often written in almost all our books and painted it so clearly that if a person might be able to grasp it, he should believe that this spiritual kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ in Bethlehem is to be separated from the worldly kingdom and government. And notwithstanding the most learned, most understanding jurists want to know or understand nothing about it now; but they are mingling everything together, wrapping it all into one, leading consciences astray to uncertain things. That’s why I’m angry and will be angry, because they are encroaching upon the government of God … The largest swarm of jurists, with few exceptions, and they are held in contempt by the others, are basically the pope’s servants; they do not want to be called that but they prove it in what they do, since they want to govern the church and tread its faithful servants underfoot; therefore they are doomed. … The true right, that we praise as an ordinance of God; but we will not and we can-not tolerate the harsh, wicked practices and abuses of jurists who act as though they are plowing fields, but reject them entirely. If they want to keep on doing it, then we will chase them out of the church, and they ought to get to know that the consistorium is not going to buckle under their authority but it is going to be under the pastors. … This is what we cannot endure or tolerate: that they want to be in the church and to govern consciences. We must tear such a consistorium apart, because, briefly and to the point, we do not want to have the jurists and the pope in it. The jurists do not belong in the church with their lawsuits; they govern the world with opinion and imagination, not with right.’” So far Luther. “That is Luther’s position at the very time when he is leaving the church as an angry, threatening shadow, warding off the dread encroachment which is already at hand with his last gigantic strength; but in vain,” says Rudelbach. But this disturbance developed more and more also in the Scandinavian countries until kings and princes who do not have a call from the church, or training, or qualifications according to the Word of God to be so much as schoolmasters or bell-ringers in the smallest rural congregation, stand as the supreme bishops of the church.
Similar abuse and encroachment have evolved in more recent times even in our Lutheran free church here in this country. They have come from another direction, namely, from the Reformed church which has always wanted to have a finger in the governing of public affairs. When prosperity increased among us, it happened, unnoticed by many, that the presidents were not to have any pastoral call but were only to be presidents. In that way people got a kind of ecclesiastical prelates who were over pastors and congregations. What their right and authority are, really now consists most nearly in whatever is pleasing to that individual. In practice, some have espoused the belief that if a pastor does not want to belong to the large church body to which his congregation belongs, then the congregation is thereby either without a pastor and can only proceed to the election of another, or the pastor is to be dismissed even if there is no other complaint against him than that he cannot swear loyalty to their church body.
Whether the new secretarial office in Washington, D.C. is really going to take care of the reconstruction work of our government is hardly entirely clear yet. But in any case, a kind of high-churchliness has become apparent which people shall not easily find the equal of except with the papists who assert that their church is the only saving church. Those who do not belong to it must at the least descend into purgatory. “The Norwegian Lutheran Church in America” with its financial power and demand for authority, most resembles a diocese in the papal church.
All departures from truth and right among us have begun subtly and on a small scale while we were self-reliant and were not watching for temptations against which the Word of God has warned us. We tried to be obedient to the words of God which say that as far as we are able we are to pursue peace and unity with our fellowmen. But in the face of several years’ repeated vain attempts at this, we forgot or neglected or shrank from being obedient to the words which say: ‘Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them’ (Ro. 16:17).
Doctrines which plainly are proven to be taken from the Word of God and the Confessions of our church, time and again, publicly and privately, were branded as un-Lutheran, unbiblical and false, and our whole point of view spoken ill of, but even then we did not follow Paul’s ex-ample in Ephesus, Acts 19:8–10. Again and again we kept on meeting and listened to their rational arguments in which they only seemed to be strengthened more and more. We were lukewarm, we were self-reliant and did not flee false doctrine which works like a contagious infection and eats like a cancer, 2 Ti. 2:17. Beware of false prophets, our Lord says. When we have repeatedly admonished them with the Word of God, then we do not have the right to continue long discussions with them. It is disobedience against many clear words in Scripture, 2 Co. 6:14–18; Ti. 3:10.11; 2 Jo. 9–11. Every enlightened Christian well knows his flesh as an easily inflammable tinder over toward all error which often is very attractive to reason. To expose oneself to it is sinful presumption which we have seen was able to stop many friends who for a long time ran well on the course. We must sincerely lament and watch for this disobedience and sin after this.
So what is our main task? Not to gather large numbers and to build an outwardly large church body, but we, each for himself, each in his sphere, his call and his station, to be zealous for furthering the glory of God as the one thing needful. The salvation of our own and others’ souls by using, by appropriating to ourselves and yielding obedience to all of God’s Word, so that we get eyes to see, and wisdom and strength from on high to fight the good fight of faith against all sin. This applies not only to us pastors and teachers but in equal degree to every other Christian, man or woman, young and old. We are all called to be, and in Baptism we are made, priests, prophets and kings before God. As such we are all to use the Word of God diligently and to pray in our homes and in the congregations for the guidance of the Word, and thus make progress in faith, hope and love toward God and men. To this also belongs then, practicing brotherly admonition and chastisement of sin according to the Word of God in Matthew 18:15–18. Where we can, we pastors ought to practice the same brotherly admonition toward one another without respect of persons.
We are to encourage each other to be vigilant in our calling, humble and obedient toward the Word of God. This we will search diligently, and vigorously appropriate to ourselves all of God’s counsel of salvation which as good stewards we are to furnish pure to the flock entrusted to us in so straightforward and simple a manner that everyone has to understand it. We are not to consult flesh and blood about how we can please the masses or obtain their favor and gifts. These things can easily make us into dumb dogs who cannot or dare not bark.
In the church, all Christians, lay as well as learned, are equal brothers. They can have different positions and callings in life, given them by God as their earthly vocation. But in heavenly and spiritual things they all have, and each for themselves, the same Lord and Spirit, the same faith and hope and also the same rod and staff, Law and Gospel, which they have the right and the duty to use on themselves and on others for the correction of faith and life. They are all equal members of one and the same body under Jesus Christ as Head and the only Lord over the whole body.
If one of the equal brethren is elected to be president, then everyone must know that he has only received a human appointment to the off-ice of servant, which everyone also otherwise actually has according to the Master’s example to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the insight, knowledge and experience with which he can be equipped. At all times, however, he is only an advisor, and as other Christians, is in duty bound to point to what is written.
He himself is to guard himself against the conceit that he is now a head higher than the others and also always remember that he has no other duty or authority than diligently to serve the others in the things with which they have charged him, either in the constitution or in other mutually agreed upon arrangements. Such an office, I believe, ought to be discharged by everyone in turns, if possible.
Do not take it amiss if I now must come with a few thoughts and words which are not pleasing for the old Adam to listen to. They will perhaps anger you. But I cannot without sinning neglect the opportunity to remind earnestly about how things stand among us with respect to the instruction of our children in the fear of God. Are we bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord in the way which the Lord bids us fathers to do? Are we bringing up the children in the fear of God, when for eight to ten months each year we send them to teachers who must not teach them there so much as that Christ is the Son of God, because this is forbidden as sectarian doctrine? Or is this the best we can do for them to let them attend a Sunday School from which they go out onto the street or go home just as Christians are gathering in church for the hearing of the Word of God, for prayer and song? Many people think that they are doing well when in addition to that they also provide them one or two months’ religious school in the middle of the summer. Do rational people think that this is a proper treatment of Christian children who need a vacation during the warmest time of the year as much as other children?
Do we really believe that our children do not need more of God’s Word and strength in order to live in difficult times than what the schools I just mentioned give them in addition to the confirmation instruction? Then we must think that it is so easy to get them to understand the difference between the Law and the Gospel, to comprehend and to abhor the appalling damage of original and actual sin, together with grasping and appropriating to themselves in faith the essence of the Triune God’s will and great deeds for the whole world. Or can we stand on Judgment Day if we do not teach them the truth? Let me then ask and admonish that we ponder this matter seriously at discussion meetings and wherever we can.
For those who can use the help, the following points are laid on the table as a guide for the pondering, with these words of Luther as a motto:
“For what other reason are we old people alive than that we should tend to, teach and educate the youth?”
“And what good does it do if we have all the rest and do everything, and even if we are out-and-out saints, if we neglect the very thing for which we are living most of all, namely, to take care of the youth?”
Ought parents send their children to religion-less schools? No.
1) Because the Lord demands that everything be sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, 1 Ti. 4:5. Because it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. This is transgressed where the children may not learn to sanctify their work by the Word of God and prayer.
2) Because the Lord commands that children are to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, Ep. 6:4: And you fathers! Do not provoke your children, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. De. 31:12.13. De. 6:6.7: And these words which I command you this day, shall be in your heart. And you shall teach them to your children (repeat them to your children) and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 1 Ti. 6:13–16; De. 4:8–10.
This cannot happen in a school where according to law they are not to be instructed in the Word of God or be disciplined with the Word of God, but where on the contrary people must watch themselves for that and are to keep order and discipline without the help either of the weapons of the state or the passions of the children, since ambition, vanity, the competitive spirit and other things which ought to be laid aside, are renewed and purified by the Word of God.
3) Because the Lord teaches that the Word of God gives the correct wisdom and is the proper means for affecting, bending and forming the man.
Je. 8:9: Behold, they have rejected the Word of the Lord. Wherein should they then have (know) wisdom?
He. 4:12: For the word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces through (seizes and moves the con-science) until it divides both soul and spirit, both the joints and mar-row, and it judges over the thoughts and counsel of the heart (i.e. condemns hypocrisy and all clever excuses).
2 Ti. 3:16.17: All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
We see from this what proper teaching and true education are. Ps. 78:3–8 shows what they are to be instructed in, namely, in Bible history and the Law and the Gospel, so that the children shall learn this so well that they can tell it to others coherently. The purpose of this is that the children shall not be insubordinate and unbelieving but believing and pious.
The Father of the spirits alone can tame the spirits. Therefore the spirit of man needs the Word of God as a means for education. To bring them up without this means is to deceive them, Ti. 2:11–15; 2 Ti. 3:13–17.
4) Because the Lord punishes everything which is not of God and does not happen in faith and bids us to flee false teachers and bad company.
Jo. 8:47: He who is of God hears God’s words, you therefore do not hear them because you are not of God.
1 Jo. 4:6: He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us.
Ro. 14;23: But everything which is not of faith is sin. Mt. 7:15–23; 2 Ti. 2:16.17.
If parents ought not send their children to religion-less schools, what then ought they to do?
1) not mix church and state by bringing religion into the state’s schools contrary to the will of God and the laws of the state.
Jo. 18:36: My kingdom is not of this world, if my kingdom was of this world, then would my servants fight that I not be given over to the Jews; but now is my kingdom not of it.
2) nor set a Christian teacher in a Christ-less school and then comfort themselves by thinking that the children are out of danger; because not only are the children being led astray by denying them the milk of the Word; but the teacher then is placed in a position similar to Uriah’s, where he must fall. If he is silent when the children ought to be receiving guidance in the faith which is delivered to the saints, then he is weakening his duty to bear witness and he is denying his Savior, and if he does speak as the oracle of God to the children, then he breaks faith and law against our authority, which according to the Word of God he is not to do and according to our laws which do not want to meddle in the work of God’s kingdom.
Mt. 6:33: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Mt. 10:32.33; Mk. 3:34–38.
Co. 3:16.17: Let the word of Christ dwell among you richly, so that you teach and admonish each other in all wisdom. And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.
1 Pe. 5:2: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof.
3) Establish congregational schools where Christian instruction and discipline rule as the one thing needful and where the necessary secular knowledge is imparted in the light of the Word of God by properly accredited and regularly called teachers.
Ep. 4:11.12: And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
Is. 8:20: Yes, according to the law and according to the testimony (the word of God), if they do not speak according to this word, then say that none of them sees the dawn.
Ep. 3:10: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God. who are disobedient.
This ought to be done,
1) because God orders it.
Jo. 21:15: Feed my lambs.
Mk. 10:14: Let the little children come to me and forbid them not.
2) because he encourages it with glorious promises and great blessing for time and eternity.
De. 28:1–14. [Many earthly goods/blessings are reckoned there.]
Mt. 18:5: And whoever receives such a child in my name, receives me.
3) because he threatens harshly and punishes earnestly all who dis-obey.
De. 28:15–68: [Dreadful predictions of punishment.]
Mt. 18:6: Whoever offends one of these little ones who believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Mt. 5:18.19.
4) because our state’s constitution properly presupposes that it has nothing to do with spiritual things but that the church will obey its Lord’s injunction about preaching the Gospel to every creature. For oath’s and ethics’ sake the church owes the state this work. When the church neglects the education of children, then the state must provide worldly enlightenment as well as it can without the Word of God. But since the state must examine all its teachers without asking about their belief about life and death, both parents and children, state and church are ill served with such an education.
Mt. 5:13: You are the salt of the earth: but if the salt loses its saltiness, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.
Jo. 15:5: Without Me you can do nothing.
A Christian congregational school can be established, however,
1) not by mere talk and clever words persisting in the old way, to the irreparable harm of old and young, state and church, 1 Co. 4:20; but
2) by pastors, teachers and parents placing themselves, in prayer for the enlightenment of God’s Spirit, to
a) comparing the Word of the Lord about the education of children, with our children’s attendance at school and their knowledge as confirmands, with the demand which our position places upon the young Christians, and the duties, responsibilities and dangers they are to be prepared for.
b) considering how extremely important just the first school years up to the age of confirmation are, how few parents have the time, patience and training to be teachers in all the necessary subjects, how excellent an opportunity our religious freedom, our good livelihood gives us, etc.
c) deciding for themselves whether they want to turn away from the old lie that they do not have the means to do what God commands and for which He promises us the means; or whether for the sake of an easy-going peace in the congregation, they want to leave undecided whether or not the children’s blood shall be demanded of them on Judgment Day, or, they will yield obedience to God.
3) in diligent prayer and undaunted in confidence in God and the power of His Word, instructing, chastising and admonishing about this matter until change occurs.
4) by those who are in awe before the Word of God in the matter, establishing a private school until the congregation learns to do its duty toward the children. One must not consult flesh and blood about what the consequences will be where God’s clear injunction is concerned.
If a division occurs in the congregation because people take the matter of school seriously, that is far better than peace and quiet under a sinful neglect of the congregation.
Ro. 12:21: Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
1 Pe. 2:15: For so is the will of God, that with well doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.
Now, dear fellow Christians! let us however often be reminded of the Lord’s word that children are a heritage of the Lord and the fruit of the womb a reward, that they are immortal souls created for eternal life, redeemed with the blood of His Son and born again by the Holy Ghost to be fellow heirs of Christ who together with us daily put on the whole armor of God, and stand, after having done all. Let this be our chief concern and a life-and-death matter in all our life and work. We understand however that the child’s life up to its 12th or 15th year is the most important time of its development. It is then that it gets its view of life and basic direction for time and eternity. It is then that its understanding, will and conscience are going to be enlightened, enriched, strengthened and nurtured. For this purpose God has given us His Gospel which is the power of God unto true happiness and blessedness. It enlightens the heart and makes the ignorant wise, while merely worldly and earthly knowledge without the light and power of God’s Word impoverishes, darkens, yes, even stunts man’s understanding, being and will.
Let no one deceive himself or others with the notion that a full fledged congregational school is too expensive.
It does not take great skill or sacrifice in order to conduct a good Christian school for about half of what the state’s Christless school costs. At one time there have been not so few congregational schools in operation in our church body; some few are still be found, also here, not far from Albert Lea. But I know of none which have cost each child $20 in school fees or teacher salary for a school-year of 8 months.
But $20 per year becomes $160 for 8 years, from the child’s 6th to 14th year. If eight years’ schooling with instruction in Christianity, under the Lord’s discipline and admonition from conscientious Christian teachers is not worth $160, then we truly do not consider Christianity and real education worth much. And this is our basic error, but appaling, that our children shall suffer for it. Let us bear this in mind and turn it around before it is too late. To that end may God help us by His grace. Amen.
Bjug Aanondson Harstad
Translated by J. Herbert Larson, 2004