Esteemed assembly, brothers and sisters in the Lord!
Grace and peace unto you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We have the honor and pleasure of being guests in one of the oldest Norwegian-Lutheran congregations in America. On Friday, the 30th of August in 1844 the Koshkonong settlement held its first public divine service in a barn belonging to Amund Anderson, and some days afterward under an oak tree not far from the church here, with the sermon by a Lutheran pastor ordained in Norway, namely, Johannes Wilhelm Christian Dietrichson, and the Lord’s Supper.
He, as well as C.L. Clausen from Muskego, Wisconsin, who had begun work the year before, were called by Lutheran Christians to establish and serve congregations according to the Lutheran Confessions and the Danish-Norwegian Church Ritual. This congregation as well as also the church body which they were along in forming and have supported the entire time, can be compared with that ship on the Sea of Genessareth which had Christ and the disciples on board. Our Norwegian-American sloop and little ferry boat sailed out from this harbor under full sail seventy-seven years ago.
It was originally only a poor little group, but it was animated by faith, hope and love in and for the unfailing truth in Christ Jesus. Daily they experienced during the poverty and pains of the pioneer’s life, what riches, refreshment and rest they had in the Lord’s promises of grace.
As undaunted spiritual men-of-war they hoisted the banner which as yet has never suffered defeat or can be taken by enemies, to the top of the mast. Every blow and shot which has been directed against it has only confirmed its living and abiding power. In the course of time many people gathered around that banner of the Word, who knew and sang about the fact that “The ship which sails with Jesus, The lone Captain aboard, Where all souls the Spirit kiss, Loving naught but His Word, Their souls’ food e’er shall be, And ne’er man’s wisdom and dreams, That ship will never be free Of opposition’s waves.”
So far as I know, all the fathers and mothers who were along in putting this ship in order and gathering people onboard to fill it, have now died blessed deaths, but many of their children and descendants are still with us and have today bid us welcome here through one of the Synod’s oldest pastors.
But to them who will ask us sadly, Why have you come to be so few in number? Our fathers and we have up until now sought to gather and preserve the church body which once numbered 100 persons for every individual who is here today? then, with downcast eyes we must answer: The flock which we once were, often encountered a strong headwind and violent waves, but at last we sailed from a region which we least expected. It was our own captains and helmsmen who demanded that we either should come aboard with them in a large newly-rigged old barge or be cast overboard. Our bark should be unrigged, disarmed and sunk. At the end there were only extremely few who chose, hoping against hope, to save themselves on pieces of the crippled ship, rather than to sail away from land, with the wind, in a sufficiently large privateer. Thus pastors and representatives have appeared here by invitation, to hold a Sabbath in your midst for several days, where the Synod’s cradle still stands.
But since the times are full of plans and zeal for union and great human measures in the church, many people will ask us if we are sure that we have a right and a duty to stand firm on the old platform and to preserve the main point of what the old Norwegian Synod worked and suffered for, you will excuse me then if I feel the need to point briefly to the Synod’s work and destiny, especially concerning doctrine and controversies. It can perhaps serve as an excuse that the Norwegian Synod has been known and dear to the undersigned since his confirmation by Pastor P.A. Rasmussen in Lisbon, Illinois in 1863.
For about as long as the oldest of us can remember something about the work of the church and the various factions of the church among us, we really must testify that up to this very day the Synod has been attacked and contended with from several quarters.
But before some “decent” person wants to judge the Synod or those who still stand fast on its principles, guilty of destruction, he must have unquestionable proofs that in spite of exhortations and admonition we are guilty of such sins and errors that the whole must be destroyed. If our fathers or we have committed such sins, then with Daniel and Jeremiah, we will repent and confess the sins.
When we thus consider our fathers’ first achievement, we know that in 1844 Koshkonong and several other settlements got a Lutheran pastor, and service. At the time there was only one pastor here in this country, namely, C.L. Clausen, who organized and served congregations in Muskego and other places according to the usages of the fatherland and the Lutheran Confessions. Before that time other preachers had gathered flocks about themselves in the settlements round about; Elling Eielsen since 1839. They did not work with, but against the congregations formed by these two pastors. In 1848 a pastor came from Norway, namely, H.A. Stub. These three worked jointly as well, and in as wide an area as they were able among the settlers. Everyone has to agree about this.
In 1849 these three pastors began to think about organizing a church body of the Lutheran congregations. The congregations were invited to send representatives to a meeting on Koshkonong on St. Hans Day in 1849. That meeting was held but neither Clausen nor Stub could come. Dietrichson, however, presented a draft of a synodical organization which he called a “constitution.“ The next year, 1850, he went back to Norway, but in his place, A.C. Preus came here to Koshkonong. In January 1851 the three pastors and thirty representatives met on Rock Prairie at Pastor Clausen’s. Here the church constitution was adopted and Pastor Clausen elected ‘Superintendent’ of the church body. Later in the year three new pastors came from Norway, namely, H.A. Preus to Spring Prairie, G.F. Dietrichson to Rock Prairie, and N.B. Brandt to Rock River, Wisconsin.
In February 1852 a meeting was held again in Muskego, Wisconsin. After the three pastors, Clausen, A.C. Preus and H.A. Stub, together with the representatives from six congregations, had opened the meeting and called it to order, a motion by A.C. Preus was adopted unanimously by which the then-existing arrangement was done away with in order to give the last three pastors who had arrived, and several representatives, opportunity to take part in a renewed thorough study of the constitution for an association of congregations. This step shows how careful and conscientious our fathers were in their work for the congregations and the synod. In the original draft, namely in paragraph two, were these words: “The doctrine of the church is that which is revealed through God’s Holy Word in our baptismal covenant, together with the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments.“ These words sound Grundtvigian. Clausen and Dietrichson certainly accepted Grundtvig’s view about the baptismal covenant as God’s living word. Because of these words the Synod was accused many years later of being Grundtivigian.
Pastor Rasmussen, who at that time and up until 1862 held mostly to Elling Eielsen, testifies about this matter in this manner in a letter to the Luthersk Kirketidende in Norway in 1870: ‘That Grundtvigian leaven in paragraph two was not once noticed by the Synod’s opponents (at any rate, I never heard anything about it) and therefore neither was it the subject of any attack whatsoever. On the contrary we see at the Synod meeting in 1852, where the pastors were augmented by Pastors Gustav Dietrichson, N. Brandt and H.A. Preus, a motion was made, specifically by the pastors themselves, about getting that leaven removed from the constitution. In the Synod Report of that year we can read the following about it: “H.A. Preus moved: The words, ‘in our baptismal covenant‘ be omitted. The expressions in the paragraph appeared to him, in part, to contain a contradiction, in part, to be ambiguous, yes, there could be a view lying in them which he thought neither the Holy Scriptures nor the symbolical books of the Lutheran Church contained. At the voting which took place the next day, Preus’ motion passed” (Kirkelig Maanedstidende, Decorah, 1870, p. 245).
Both before and during these painstaking efforts by Lutheran pastors and congregations to form a truly orthodox Lutheran church body there were many kinds of itinerant preachers in the settlements who tried very hard to hinder this church work and to lead people against the few strict Lutheran pastors and congregations. It was not just men like John G. Smith, who called themselves Lutherans but obviously were like Baptists, or Ole, “the Consul,“ a Methodist preacher or G. Unonius, an Episcopal priest, and Mormons, who worked in this manner, but also several Norwegian Lutheran pastors. Elling Eielsen was really the most forceful. Quite early some rather well-gifted speakers attached themselves to him, such as Ole Anderson Aasen (O. Andrewson), a school teacher from the Hvideseid seminary (came to America in 1841, reported converted in 1842), Andreas J. Scheie, converted by Eielsen; together with Paul Anderson; the last two from the Stavanger region.
In a letter dated “Rockford, March 6, 1848,“ Paul Anderson asserts that the Norwegian church-ritual ’conflicts with the Word of God’ — “is aristocratic and tyrannical” — “that the doctrine of original sin is damnable, and that Baptism is conversion, or the new birth,“ — “no evangelical church believes this; I know scarcely one in the world, outside the Roman Catholic.“ A friend of Elling Eielsen, E.O. Moerstad, reports this in his book, Elling Eielsen, pages 141–142, and immediately adds: “This letter awakened doubts and concerns especially in Elling Eielsen, and also that these men (Paul Anderson, Ole Andrewson and A.A. Scheie) were at this time about to join a German-American church body which called itself the Franckean Synod, a church body, which although Lutheran in name, hardly without reason, is accused of being un-Lutheran in several doctrinal points. The views which are expressed in the above letter, people have also believed, were most likely written by him” (Moerstad, p. 142).
Pastor Hatlestad reports in his article: Historic meddeleser, [Historical Communications], page 37, that a meeting was held on Jefferson Prairie in April 1846 in order to write a church constitution and at the same time that the basis for Eielsen’s “old constitution” came about in this way that “Eielsen dictated and O. Andrewson wrote.“
On the 24th of August 1848 O. Andrewson advertised “for the Evangelical Lutheran Church which was organized on the 13th and 14th of April, 1846 by representatives of the people in convention, that the annual meeting stipulated in the constitution is to meet the 29th of September next (Michael’s Day) in Middle Point, LaSalle County, Illinois, in order to consider the church’s future necessities,’ etc. … “The meeting was held. There were especially two things as topics for inquiry: 1) The grievance against Eielsen; 2) Joining the Franckean Synod’ (Moerstad, p. 143). Pastor Hatlestad observes in Historical Communications, p. 43, that “it had to be a private agreement that O. Andrewson arranged, because not a word is to be found in the constitution either about annual meetings or representatives of congregations.“ Hatlestad, who was himself present, says that that meeting at which Pastor Paul Anderson led the discussions was fateful. In an address delivered at the annual meeting of the Augustana Synod in Rushford, Minnesota in 1879, Pastor Paul Anderson says that at that meeting, “Many things were also discussed concerning the grievance against Eielsen, and the upshot of it was that the meeting declared that we could have no confidence in Eielsen before he cleared himself of the charges made by Christian settlers and straightened out those concerned. But instead of coming to rights afterward and seeking to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace on the ground of truth, he pulled away and from that time on began to work for himself … The fact is that he separated from us because he did not tolerate the least reprimand for his error” (p. 47).
R.O. Moerstad reports, according to Paul Anderson’s statement, the following as one of the resolutions at the meeting, p. 144: “In order to bring about brotherly love and for the furtherance of religion among us, we have decided to accept the church-government and the discipline of the Franckean Evangelical Lutheran Synod of New York and to join the same.“ Consequently there were now two factions against orderly Lutheran activity among the settlers. Rasmussen testifies about the opposition in this way: “That which the Norwegian Franckeans” (later, members of the Northern Illinois Synod, most recently, the Norwegian portion of the Augustana Synod) “took the field against us in those days, was the Lutheran doctrine of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the use of the Confessions of faith and the renunciation of the devil, the sign of the cross and sponsors at Baptism; it was the Lutheran formula of distribution in the Lord’s Supper: ‘This is the true body of Jesus’; it was confirmation according to Lutheran custom; it was absolution; it was the usages of the Norwegian church: the clergyman’s gown, mass, etc.
“Professor Weenaas did not, however, really want to have called for the abandonment of all these things as papistical remnants, designated as ‘legitimate demands,’ and because the Norwegian Synod did not anticipate these demands, therefore the blame poured onto it for the split in the church which took place then and which is kept up to this day.
“And now, what about Elling Eielsen? Certainly he also used Grundtvigianism as a pretext for his position toward the Norwegian Synod, but his chief complaint against it was and is: 1) that the pastors are un-converted, 2) that the congregations constitute ‘the great multitude,’ and 3) that the pastors absolve the great multitude, and that, even with the laying on of hands. These three points also used to comprise the main theme in all his sermons and confessional addressees. Since at a conference in 1855 between Pastors A.C. Preus and H.A. Preus on the one side and E. Eielsen and myself on the other, I had attacked them for false doctrine on the basis of that essay of A.C. Preus on ‘The Church,’ and on the basis of the use of the word ‘universal‘ in the Third Article in Baptism, the following morning E. Eielsen wanted to go to them, as he said to me, in order to tell them the real reason for the split between us which had not been told them the day before, and which was, that they were unconverted people. I had all I could do to keep him from going on that errand. I remember well how as soon as I came over here, he pictured it as something presumptuous and terrible that Pastor Clausen, following Luther’s Small Catechism, asked the guests at the Lord’s Supper at their confession: ‘Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?’ A person can well be a friend of E. Eielsen whether one is Grundtvigian or Methodist or Baptist if he just agrees with him on the great main matter of condemning ‘the Norwegian clergy‘“ (Letter to the Luthersk Kirketidende in Norway, 1870. Cf. Kirkelig Maanedstidende, 1870).
In the same letter Rasmussen testifies about E. Eielsen who snatched himself from the reprimand of his church body’s brethren at the meeting in LaSalle County, Illinois in 1848 in this way: “From now on E. Eielsen turned against these former brethren with much greater bitterness than against the few Norwegian pastors who were here then, and by showing their differences, namely, in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and by writing to Claus Nielsen in Fredrikshald and getting them designated in his newspaper as “’devils in the form of men,’ as apostates for whom a person dared not pray,“ etc.
President V. Koren says in his “Answer to Mr. M. Ulvestad,“ page 8: “I remember well from my first year here in this country (1853), how I was met with suspicion and ill-will by many people just because I was a Norwegian pastor. I was not and have never been a Grundtvigian, but I was met with suspicion by those who followed Eielsen and the so-called Franckeans who already then had established themselves.“
From a letter dated Rock County, August 4, 1845, which Moerstad has reproduced in his book, the following words are given which give a little insight into the facts at that time: “Once when Elling was on Koshkonong Prairie with some others of his friends to conduct divine services, he (Pastor Dietrichson) finally put in an appearance at a gathering, where, after Elling had delivered his sermon, he (Pastor Dietrichson) declared to the entire assembly that it was very well spoken, simple and straight-forward according to the Word of God concerning ‘the foolishness of the preaching of the cross,’ ‘and,’ he added, ‘you have prayed beautifully that the power of Christ’s resurrection might take hold powerfully in all our hearts, and that is also my prayer, but,“ he then began to ask immediately “who has called you here to conduct services and to administer the Sacraments, or where do you have your Call? Why do you not stay there?“ Elling answered that Christ says: “‘Go into all the world!’ and concerning the Sacraments, I have only performed Baptism for some since they complained that they couldn’t get you to do it even for money, without being forced to pay customs and tithes, not only could I do it but I considered it my duty as a legitimate Lutheran pastor to give the little ones Baptism and Christianity.“
“Then he (Pastor Dietrichson) became angry and began to explode, whereupon Elling answered that he would not answer him if he could not answer in a more mild tone; ‘because you are not coming as a pastor but as a procurator or officer’” (page 132).
The same complaints are brought against Clausen. In a letter dated Spring Prairie, September 5, 1847, it is said of him, since he warned against them who worked against common Lutheran ordinances: “then the Savior’s word about ‘the wolf who comes to the lamb‘ was fulfilled. He took a fancy to the world, did not want to have any fellowship with the awakened and believing persons, but cried out against them as erring and wretched men; Dietrichson also did the same because they were agreed and alike in their way of thinking; they establish fellowship with all the godless and unbelieving, and they call them God’s dear children” (p.136).
As one understands from this, there was a deep rift between the two pastors who formed congregations according to the Norwegian Lutheran Church Ritual and E. Eielsen and several of his co-workers. They saw only unconverted pastors of the state church in the pastors who came from Norway. For the common people, concerned, that can be understood and partially excused when one remembers that in Norway during Hauge’s time and long afterward there were many worthless pastors who as servants of the king treated the common people with unconscionable arbitrariness, or, as Dr. V. Koren says: “a large share of the pastors were anything but shepherds of their flocks, and the old, notorious sins of pastors: covetousness, laziness and imperiousness besides, only gave altogether too much material to attack“; [De kirkelige partier blandt vore folk I Amerika, 1877, p. 10] [The Factions of the Church among Our People in America in 1877].
But from them who honestly wanted to bring the settlers the Word of God for their edification, one does, however, really have a right to expect as a rule of thumb, that these Norwegian pastors would only bring the people the ministry of the Word and that no true Lutheran therefore ought to set up opposition altars. H.N. Hauge, whose name Elling and others adorned themselves with, did not act like that. If they had really had Hauge’s mind then they would have acted as he did. With reference to A.C. Bang’s book on Hauge, Dr. Koren says: “He did not want to hinder the prescribed class of teachers” and “never delivered edifying talks for edification while the pastor was in the pulpit, even where he clearly was a rationalist” (ibid. p. 6). If our first pastors had been rationalists or sectarians then there would have been a sacred duty to testify against them. But they were Lutherans. It is therefore painful to reflect on the fact that Eielsen, who worked so long, also before Clausen came, considered it as something terrible that on God’s behalf Clausen proclaimed absolution as God’s own forgiveness of sins. What kind of message did Elling and his friends have to bring to poor sinners when they did not have the good news from God to sinners about grace and the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake? They only preached Law, and conditions, which the Catholics call evangelical imperatives, and according to our Confessions they produced either proud Pharisees or doubting Jews.
Anyone who will examine the church’s work among the settlers prior to 1853 in a fairly unprejudiced kind of way will certainly find that the few, young, inexperienced Norwegian pastors who grew up in the state church were groping somewhat, and that there was a little unclarity in some individuals concerning the establishment of a church body, and a couple of points of doctrine, but they shall then also find that the Grundtvigian leaven was immediately cleansed and the teaching of the possibility of conversion for the heathen after death received a strong statement at the three Synod meetings after 1851. Also some unclear thoughts and expressions about believing in the church were also immediately recognized and corrected. One must sooner marvel that they were as successful as they were. The continual opposition had obviously forced them to take heed to the Word, and, undaunted, to act according to it.
That there was bitter opposition from our countrymen, but also recognition from others, is seen from an article in Maanedstidende for Sep-tember 1852. Among other things it says the following: “While our Synod and its actions have been the target of the most bitter attacks in general from various quarters among our countrymen in general as well as in particular cases it will no doubt interest the readers of Maanedstidende to learn how the Synod’s method of operation is judged from other quarters.“ After it has pointed out how the Lutheran Standard, the Ohio Synod’s organ, especially has chastised “paragraphs about our doctrine, our church ritual, our church discipline, together with the determination about religious schools, as praiseworthy and worthy of imitation,“ the Standard also says: “While our Norwegian brethren go forward with un-common reflection through the drafting of their church’s constitution and the development of their religious system, we have also gotten an especially favorable impression of the ability which they display for self-government and business in general. We admit that the reason for this is not solely in the intelligence of their pastors but also in the political situation and the character of the Norwegian people, since they have rightly been called ‘the Yankees of the North’ and have the freest government and the most democratic spirit of all the people in Europe. With all this, it is, however, noteworthy that the system of church government which they are now about to set up is the most democratic and gives the people, as separate from the clergy, a greater share of power than in any other part of the American church community. We are especially gratified by their plan for the propagation of Christian life within the congregations. Most of these proposals could profitably be able to be applied to every portion of the church.“ So far the Lutheran Standard, July 28, 1852.
Pastor H. Halvorson certainly has good reason for his words in his Festskrift when he says on page 66: “We have seen in the foregoing how cautiously and ‘with what deliberation‘ the fathers and founders of our church body proceeded in all their church work. How carefully did they not, however, watch over the local congregation’s God-given right of call! They guarded well against violating it when they established congregations, or pastors should be placed. … In this they also distinguished themselves from their ecclesiastical opponents.“
Under such conditions the Synod grew both spiritually and materially. Strong unity prevailed between pastors and congregations. The unity became the object for mockery from opponents. They called it “spiritually uniform.“
The Confessions were read, and very early there was talk about the desirability of getting all the symbols of the Lutheran Church adopted by the church body. Family devotion was certainly more generally in use at that time than now. There was concern for the training of pastors too. Two delegates from the Synod, namely, J.A. Ottesen and V. Koren, attended the Missouri Synod’s convention in Fort Wayne in 1857. Pastor Koren writes about this in this way: “Already in 1857 it (the Synod) had therefore, after careful investigation, entered into association with the Missouri Synod which was founded ten years previously and which had seminaries in St. Louis and Fort Wayne. The terms were that our Synod should, by placing and supporting a professor at the Missouri Synod’s school in St. Louis, have access to getting its students admitted there.
“What we found in them, and which in those unforgettable days in Fort Wayne made a deep impression on me, was that we found here a large gathering of pastors and laymen, a multitude of people, who ‘with one heart and one soul‘ (Ac. 4:32), full of burning enthusiasm for the divine truth in the Holy Scriptures, full of the most heartfelt love for the kingdom of God and for each other, willing to make the greatest sacrifice for the cause of the kingdom of God, disinterested and content, willing to work untiringly, unspeakably happy in their Christian faith because they were certain of the forgiveness of their sins for the sake of Christ — and for all that, were also willing to suffer ignominy and mockery which were then roundly conferred on them. They were also at the time still in the glow of their ‘first love.’
“We learned nothing new from you, I said, … but what we already had learned by precept in Norway — the two great fundamental principles of the Lutheran Reformation, these we saw exemplified openly and victoriously here for the first time in the life of an entire church body. We saw them exemplified in all seriousness and in childlike joyousness without a trace of pious pretense, but with a power which came into evidence under the conditions obtaining in a free-church, in a way which would not have been possible in a state-church without a complete turn around of the situation which exists there. We saw what we have learned by precept to confess, the well-known glory of our Lutheran symbols, such as we had never seen it before” (De kirkelige partier blandt vort folk i Amerika, 1877, p. 23.24).
Many pastors were trained by these brethren in the faith. Our synod thrived in unity.
The doctrines of the Word of God were discussed diligently and earnestly at the Synod meetings and other meetings. At the synod meeting in 1855 the Third Article, Confession and the Lord’s Supper were discussed, in 1859 the proper activity of laymen. At the synod meeting in 1861 the glorious doctrine of absolution and its blessing were set forth. That was the year the Civil War broke out and one of the lay delegates brought up the question about what the pastors were teaching about slavery. A brief statement concerning the fact that slavery was not sin under all circumstances was agreed to by all the pastors, but it produced discernible strife and distress in the then turbulent times. However, everyone who will examine it according to the Word of God will say that in spite of the pressures of the time people did not waver from the teaching of the Word. And everyone who believes that the great Chief Shepherd leads and protects His church and has said: All the hairs of your head are numbered and not one of them falls to the ground without His knowing it, must now, however, well understand that in this manner He taught, and directed our fathers to stand fast on the firm ground of the Word in spite of the tempests of the times. In their inquiry into the Word of God and the Confessions they also learned better to understand the glory and freedom of the Gospel since Christ is Lord also over the Sabbath and has freed us from all commandments about holy days, the new moon or the Sabbath which the Holy Ghost through Paul declares to be a shadow of Christ (Co. 2:16.17). To let the Word of God dwell richly among us is the requirement of the Third Commandment.
To stand fast also on this doctrine of the Gospel in spite of people’s opinions and puritanical legalism also belonged properly with the proper proclamation of the Gospel. To this end it was well also that Professor Walther, together with two other delegates from the Missouri Synod, said these words among others in parting, at the synod meeting in Perry (WI) in 1864: “We have here had the joy of seeing a genuine Lutheran synod. … Your Synod is not satisfied merely with the Lutheran name and with merely enlarging itself outwardly; but as a genuine Lutheran church body you place pure doctrine above everything and make it your task to bring it forth from the Word’s rich mine. With joy, we have been witnesses to the earnestness with which you all, teachers as well as listeners, bow beneath the Word of God and do not ask about what the world and the spirit of the time demand, but only say: ‘Speak, O Lord! Thy servant heareth.’ Thus we have also seen that your burning zeal for doctrine also bears fruit in a burning love and that you wish to offer your whole life to God” (Festskrift, p. 131.132).
The Synod and the congregations grew in their understanding and in the work that they did. For instruction and edification important things were discussed at the Synod meetings, such as brotherly admonition, the use of the Word of God, and prayer, or the kind of lay activity which the Lord has commanded. The Scripture Principle, or how every Christian is to read the Word of God and take every thought captive under the obedience of faith, since Scripture is to interpret Scripture, was discussed thoroughly.
The importance of Christian schools was discussed, which also bore fruit. At one time there were parochial schools in Chicago, Spring Prairie, Eau Claire and Decorah.
Pastor C.L. Clausen and his congregations withdrew from the Synod in 1869 and a few other congregations were divided. After that the Norwegian-Danish Conference was founded.
Koren writes: Partly before the Conference’s founding in 1870, partly after it, divisive doctrinal controversies were carried on between the various church bodies on the one side and the Synod on the other, namely, about Sunday, lay-preaching, the Gospel, justification and absolution. In these controversies the Synod was always the party being attacked. The attempt which was made to arrive at unity through discussions in free conferences did not succeed. It is my conviction that in these controversies the Synod has held strictly to what the Lutheran Church has taught in its Confessions (the Book of Concord). A study of the Synod’s publications will prove this.
The opponents of the Synod did not, however, shun asserting that the Synod’s pastors had done away with the Third Commandment, that they taught that everyone who hears the Gospel is saved, that a person can be saved without faith, that he who has received absolution has forgiveness of his sins, and more such things’ (De kirkelige partier …, p. 19).
But the Synod was to receive worse adversity and shock.
Dr. Koren writes: The first serious clamor was heard through the disagreement between the two theological professors, O. Asperheim and F.A. Schmidt which broke out during a pastoral conference in Milwaukee in February of 1878. Professor Asperheim found divisive things to complain about in the Missouri Synod and Professor Schmidt did not tolerate that. He feared, he said, “that there would be a false tendency within Norwegian dogmatics, Norwegian pastoral theology, etc., this everlasting harping on Norwegian was disgusting to him.“ The relationship between the German professor Schmidt and the Norwegian professor Asperheim soon became untenable, and Professor Asperheim resigned.
One year afterward Professor Schmidt was himself a bitter enemy of the Missourians and came forward vehemently first against the Missouri Synod and later against the Norwegian Synod. With this the election controversy was thrown into the Synod” (De kirkelige partier …p. 21).
Then totally unbelievable things happened in the Synod to which people also in these regions in Wisconsin were witnesses. Through misrepresentations and the influences of the passions, people got the staid and level-headed Norwegians to go berserk toward their pastors. Even two of the oldest and most deserving venerable men who had sacrificed everything for the congregations, were deposed, and in Minnesota one of our first pastors trained here was taken with violence and force and carried out of the church while his confirmands sat behind and cried.
Those were strange times in the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America. He who will accurately examine and tell the truth about the exploits of those days will get strange things to report.
During a visitation which the undersigned conducted in a congregation served by a very young pastor in Minnesota, he was asked if the congregation contributed something to the support of the Synod’s schools; then the pastor answered no. He had believed that the Missourian teachers ought to be removed from office. Since he could not allow himself to act in any other way, he had thought that one must starve them out. Now, however, he did not think so, he added.
In Red Wing, Minnesota the Anti-Missourian Brotherhood held a meeting which resolved the deposition of individual pastors of the Synod, the removal of others from the ministry, and that the doctrine of the Missourians in their “Accounting” was “damaging to the soul.“
In 1871 F.A. Schmidt came as the professor of the Norwegians from Decorah to St. Louis as theological teacher. We Norwegian students who were there then had had him as a teacher in Decorah and thought a great deal of him. In St. Louis he became co-editor of the theological journal Lehre und Wehre. In it he provided clear and powerful testimony against the synergistic doctrine about freedom in election, self-determination, the position of election, the middle-state, and similar things which the Iowa Synod defended. But later, since he was not called by the Missouri Synod from our Seminary in Madison back to St. Louis, he attacked their doctrine as Calvinistic and damaging to the soul because they did not teach a good attitude in man as the basic explanation for conversion. And now he used the very same expressions for his doctrine for which he had attacked the Iowa Synod so strongly. Add to this the sad and terrible thing, that bold-facedly without blushing, he insisted that he stood on the old, but that the Missourians had fallen from the truth. Is it so that error about a good attitude makes a man blind and deprives him of all self-respect so that he does not even understand his own words?
For the synods concerned this controversy ended with a large portion, namely, 54 pastors and 108 congregations withdrawing and existing for a while under the name of the Anti-Missourian Brotherhood. This now constituted the fifth party, which with Elling’s synod, Hauge’s Synod, the Augustana Synod and the Norwegian-Danish Conference, stood against our synod.
But in 1890 the Antis went along in a new merger with the Augustana Synod and the Conference. It said that doctrinal controversies were buried twenty feet under the ground. They certainly have not troubled them-selves with doctrine since, but they have, however, had enough of controversy. Now the German professor had earned their loyalty and respect, and the other pastors in his fellowship were now, after some years, attempting to destroy the Synod in which they had been welcomed as brothers in the faith. The Conference’s professors, Weenaas and Oftedal, had given the Synod a violent blow with the notorious “Open Declaration.“ Among other similar things it says: “By the Norwegian Synod, or Wisconsinism, we understand an antichristian tendency, and a dangerous organization which borne by a papistic principle works toward dissolving Christianity into universalism and hierarchy; the offshoot of Grundtvigianism’s most catholicizing tendency,“ etc. Neither this nor what Oftedal wrote in Skandinaven, March 30, 1875 seems to have caused any offense. He said in it: “I knew that the Norwegian pastors in America, infested with the worms of Romanism, bleached out by the state-church and frozen stiff by orthodoxy, driven by a ministry of poverty and sick with thoughts of home, had been swallowed up by Missouri, and held on to lay the yoke of slavery and papal darkness upon a people whom the Lord had selected to be champions of Christianity and freedom.“
But in spite of such opposition in word and deed, the Synod did however make progress. Thus Pastor A. Bredeson spoke in this manner at the 50th Jubilee celebration in Luther Valley, Wisconsin, in 1903: “Fifty years ago when the Synod was founded, it had seven pastors. Now 300 pastors are working within the synod. Then the Synod did not have a single academy, not a single charitable institution. Everything was in its infancy. We have great reason to rejoice when we consider how the Synod has grown in number of members, how many academies and charitable institutions it now has. But it is not all these things we ought first and foremost to be happy over. Mere growth does not make the kingdom of God, but also the synagogue of Satan. If we shall be happy over the Synod’s growth, it depends upon whether we as Christians hold fast to the truth like the congregation in Philadelphia. Because the ungodly fellowship of the Mormons has also grown and can boast buildings which make our institutions appear poor. The Roman Church, with its false and soul-destroying doctrine, has also grown and is still growing rapidly. The fact that our church body has grown with regard to buildings and academies is therefore not our greatest reason for joy. But that which we are to rejoice over above everything else is that God directed it in such a way that our synod was built on the foundation of God’s Word, on the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. And we rejoice that God has preserved our body’s old house on that rock so that it did not fall when the storm beat upon the house.“
We have not heeded this admonition as we should. After all, for these fifty years, people have continually held meetings in order to be united with opponents, they only seem to become more zealous for differing doctrines, splits and organization of opposition — congregations and church bodies. Then the Word of God ought to be followed: “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).
There were not now, as before, only the usual public discussions about differences in doctrine from which every Christian could see and judge the positions, but union committees were elected which did not even always report the result of the meetings, or if someone did give his report it became the cause of wrangling over it. In some years there were discussions only between the committees. And in time, the news came that people had agreed on several controverted points, and finally said that there was only one thing left to agree on, namely, election.
Many of us thought that if people really did agree that a man’s conversion and salvation depend on God’s free works of grace alone, then people would immediately agree in the doctrine of election. But it didn’t go like that. In 1908 Professor H.G. Stub wrote “Theses on Election, Produced by the Committee Elected by the Norwegian Synod,“ etc. There were often theses which set forth in a brief summary the teaching of Scripture and the Lutheran Church.
At a joint meeting of the committees from the 10th to the 13th of November, 1908, people began discussions of them. The Theses were distributed, printed by our Committee. After these Theses there are these words which really are our Committee’s report: “Of these Theses the first six were taken up for discussion at three meetings — each lasting four days. Since no agreement could be reached on these Theses, the Theses below were produced in a meeting of a sub-committee, which have not been discussed. They are of course basically the same as the former,“ etc.
At two annual meetings of the United Church its president repeated that the Synod’s Theses contained a doctrine of election which the committee of the United Church could not agree with with a clear conscience, as being biblical and Lutheran teaching. At a committee meeting on the 13th of December 1910, the Norwegian Synod’s committee then stated “as an imperative for future discussions with the representatives of the United Church … that they point out in which theses the unbiblical and un-Lutheran teaching is contained, provide proof of it, and that this first form the basis for our discussions” (p. 28 in Stub’s Hvad staar imellem … [What Stands Between]).
In this article Dr. Stub asserts: “It was so far from being the case that the committee of the United Church would disavow the opinion of the December 13th meeting, that much rather several of its members repeated it in even stronger words. The old charges were described as loopholes for Calvinism. … The Synod’s sin could not be branded in strong enough expressions. One speaker even thanked God twice because he had gotten the opportunity to brand our foundation as unchristian.“ Stub also testifies that Kildahl declared that all that they were asking for was nothing other than that which they had tried to do in those 12 days. He answered further: “Is this the first time that people in the Synod have heard that it has been said from our side that the Norwegian Synod teaches false doctrine on election?“ Dr. Schmidt also asked: “Have I not accused the Synod people of false doctrine and Calvinism, and have they not, for all that, discussed it with me?“(Hvad staar imellem, p. 30.31).
The Norwegian Synod’s committee left the meeting and reported as the reason, that it did not see any prospect for agreement. But in spite of the 12 days of discussion and arguments against repeated charges and judgments, both committees, and afterwards the Kirketidende still asked for more proof. This was a strange demand, however, as though people thought that during all those days and years they had not had the opportunity to come with all their proofs. Or I wonder if people began to get a taste for repeated rational arguments against the foolishness of the Gospel. At any rate, they did not show disgust toward them. But the United Church’s committee was indulgent enough to comply with that demand for proofs; nor did it take them very long.
Already in June of the next year the proofs were printed and ready for free distribution at the Synod convention in St. Paul, entitled: “Election by Grace and the Union Matter. Published by the United Church’s Union Committee.“ In it the biblical, Lutheran doctrine was definitely rejected. The proofs were essentially the same as we had heard from Schmidt, Boeckmann, Kildahl and others so many times for several years. Consequently nothing is heard either of the demand for more proofs, or from our Committee any refutation of the wretched rational arguments and perversion of the teaching of the Scriptures and the Confessions of which that document is full. In several ways synergism appears. It is seen that in a way they have grasped our teaching, which, at any rate, they have indicated in one place as somewhat correct, but they immediately plainly set forth their belief that the unregenerate is able to convert himself, that people conduct themselves differently, and that this is the cause for the different outcome of God’s saving work. Because this is what it says on page 17 of the article I mentioned: “According to the Synod’s teaching there is no difference in God in His universal desire to save man and His saving work over toward them, not any difference in man either, whether originally or during God’s work toward saving them. Still, some are converted and saved in this way, others not. What the cause for this differing result is, the Synod does not know; it only knows that the cause does not lie in God nor in men. According to our teaching there is no difference in God nor any difference in man originally. But when through His grace God works equally upon men in order to convert and save them, some let themselves be converted by God’s grace, others do not let themselves be converted, although they were able to do it in the power of the calling-grace, as the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, XI, 25.27; the Epitome, XI,8, and Question 478 in Pontoppidan say. According to our teaching God therefore certainly acts the same toward men, but men behave differently toward His work of grace. This is the cause of the different result of God’s equally converting and saving work.“ So far the committee’s words. But even this best statement of theirs about our teaching is false and confusing. When it is said here: “What the cause for this differing result is, the Synod does not know. It only knows that the cause does not lie in God nor in men,“ then this is not true, because the Synod knows definitely that when God calls a person, then not only one cause is at work, but two, namely, God’s and man’s will. The Synod knows, God be praised, absolutely for sure, that the cause of the believer’s good attitude does not lie in man but in God alone who works both to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Likewise it knows unfailingly for sure that the cause of the unbeliever’s attitude by no means lies in God, but in man alone, Hosea 13:9. It also knows that it is extremely dangerous to add anything to God’s Word which is not revealed, together with our wanting to hear and obey this command of God: “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness: otherwise you also shall be cut off” (Ro. 11:22). The Pharisees were under the influence of the power of His grace, but the Lord says to them that they could not, i.e. were not able to speak as good things or to hear His word, Mt. 12:34; Jo. 8:43. We will rely upon Him.
At the Synod meeting in 1911 where people first got to see the document from the United Church’s committee, a new committee was elected to continue discussions with the committees of the other two church bodies. Within eight months people were able in a couple of brief meetings to put together an Opgjør (a “settlement”) which they said they agreed on. Many people rejoiced over this as if it was a matter of course that everyone might now come to a God-pleasing unity on the question which the leading men in the three church bodies could not agree on in spite of weeklong discussions, and within four months it was adopted by the Synod, since we in the Pacific District at any rate were solemnly assured that the Synod’s teaching was now adopted in Stub’s theses and all the loopholes for synergism plugged up.
Several strange explanations, especially of the first paragraph, were given from time to time. However, no one hit upon the meaning as the authors themselves had, pursuant to Pastor Malmin’s testimony under oath which among other things says this: (With reference to the Synod’s 1910 resolution he says): “Therefore our first paragraph must in one way or another say that both these forms … had a place within the Lutheran Church. … But at the same time we could not say that every individual subscribed to the first form because it would exclude the adherents of the second form. We could not say that every individual held to the second form because it would exclude these people who held to the first form. We could not say that we confused both forms because people would think that it would be, as Dr. Stub said in 1912, a psychological impossibility. We could say nothing of these three things.
“How should we then express it, as we had tried to express it pursuant to the resolution of the Synod in 1910? … We used an expression which is not a theological term, namely, ‘acknowledge.’ When we in the church wish to adopt any teaching whatever, then we always say We believe, teach, confess or testify. We rejected all these and instead of them chose the term ‘acknowledge.’ … We said we acknowledged the teaching in the first form, we acknowledged the content of the teaching in the second form, signifying that neither of them was heretical, that both could have a place within the Lutheran Church.
According to this, paragraph one does not mean that the committee believes, teaches or confesses either of the parts, neither form nor the teaching in the “two forms,” as they are called, but only that neither of the forms is heretical.
But not long after Opgjør was adopted the United Church stated clearly that Opgjør agrees exactly with what Schmidt had fought for. But reading his articles on the controversy a person will soon find Opgjør’s assertions; for that reason one of Schmidt’s most capable fellow-combatants, Dr. Stellhorn, immediately expressed his satisfaction with Opgjør and his joy over the fruit of Schmidt’s testimony. Dr. Stub has also testified under oath that none of the contesting parties had changed its doctrinal position, but he follows along in Schmidt’s foot-steps with the charge against the Missouri Synod as a whole of a falling away, while he himself claims that he stands firmly on the old.
If a person will consider all the discussions and the repeated transmigration of souls from the one destroyed-church body into a new, which every time is advanced with strengthened attacks on the Synod’s doctrine and congregations, and a person looks at the cheating and unreliability which manifestly have come to pass, then we must ask how we, as honorable church people, could go along with all that?
People enticed by saying that the merger would bring big savings, that schools and other church work should be urged with greater strength. People told us that they agreed on absolution or the Gospel, on laymen’s activity, on conversion and promised not to want to nurture church work in cooperation with the heterodox. But we must ask whether they were accustomed to as much of that kind of church work before 1917 as they have been since then? I sometimes wonder whether among Norwegians people have urged a more unbridled laymen’s activity, even of women, in those areas where the Lord has forbidden her to step forward publicly, than is practiced there now. And the conditioned absolution has certainly never before been so officially acknowledged as now. How many schools and academies have not discontinued since the merger, and people scarcely know the number of churches which have been closed. Which missions are being urged now which were not being carried on before, with the exception of the mission of accommodating oneself to the world through life insurance?
Now then dear brethren! Let us rejoice that we have been preserved from the turbulent dissolution of the times and the vain spirit of merger. Let us with fear and trembling for our own weakness and sin stand guard as Peter says: “You therefore, beloved, seeing you know these things before, beware lest you also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (2 Pe. 3:17.18).
Let us humble ourselves under the chastisement of God which allowed our old house to be swept off, and us to remain standing on a bare hill. We know that we had deserved the chastisement because we did not treasure the Lord’s gifts. Let us lay the following words of Dr. V. Koren on our hearts. He says: But although after this gracious leading of the Lord, and (the connection with the Missouri Synod) both Law and Gospel rang both purer and stronger in the public testimony, although the comprehension of the hearers grew, in many places to a surprising degree, and although joyous fruits in an earnest Christian life showed themselves round about in the congregations — not only in the older people but perhaps even more in the younger, the first generation growing up here in this country — yet however the congregations of the Synod continued to a large extent to bear the sorrowful marks of the mass- and false-Christianity of the state church [Kirkelige partier, p.17].
We must rid ourselves of these marks. Since the opposing parties merged, the Synod is tempted to be in competition with them in size and strength. I wonder whether the Lord has now been able to cure us of this illness. In any case, we ought all, pastors and congregations, know that we are called not to be great and powerful before the world but only to everyone knowing for himself the power of grace to save souls. Then we must work against mass- and false-Christianity in our congregations.
But how is it going to happen? Let me point to two things which help:
1) We must not only know about and talk piously as the oracles of God about what brotherly admonition and congregational discipline are, but we must not rest before it is also practiced in the congregations. But the pastor cannot do this alone. That is why the congregations have assistants or a church council which in concert with the pastor watches over and diligently works for the congregation’s spiritual health and progress. The congregations which do not have such a council ought ultimately establish this biblical, Lutheran arrangement (see Walther, The Church Independent of the State, paragraphs 14 and 27). Good guidance is to be found there both from Scripture and the church’s practice. Through these assistants, along with the pastor, the congregation can see to it that no one is received into it before the party concerned has become familiar with the Lutheran confession and has given evidence that he will make use of the church’s goods as a Christian who will not pull in tandem with unbelief. This is a part of the layman’s activity which God has commanded and which cannot be neglected without great harm and penalty. Do not let it all rest on the pastor. Besides his teaching office he does not have the powers to do this alone. Moses followed such advice in Exodus 18:17–22.
2) Concerning the other matter which we must take hold of in a different manner, we must listen to these earnest words at the Synod’s Jubilee convention in 1903 from one of the Synod’s founders, H.A. Stub :
And thus at last the greatest matter of all for which you have to work: Join together, all you dear congregations — join together into a mighty power in working for the Christian parochial school! Feed the Lord’s many thousand lambs! Oh, that this Word of God might become a driving force in all the congregation’s hearts, this word from the Lord: ‘Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them everything, everything, everything about the Lord who has taken them into His covenant! Teach them the way to the heavenly home! This is a life and death matter for the congregations and the synod. If things do not get better with the Christian parochial school among us, then the building (the Synod) over which we rejoice so greatly today, will, for them who are living fifty years from today, if the world stands that long, be a mere tale.
This prophecy has all come to fulfillment, to our earnest warning.
May the Lord give us all grace to bless these earnest words and the judgment of God in this manner to our hearts, so that we repent. Amen.
Bjug Aanondson Harstad
Translated by J. Herbert Larson, 2004