Dear fathers and brothers!
When we meet again now in the name of God as the Norwegian Synod of the American Evangelical Lutheran Church in order to deliberate on our common goal and the common concerns which we have to take care of as a church body, then it is of the greatest possible importance for us that with prayer to God we strive earnestly after our all becoming clear and certain about what our goal as a church body is and what our most important business ought to be.
According to Chapter V, paragraph 4 of our Synod’s Constitution we ought also to remember that this meeting is only advisory over toward the individual congregations.
With regard to the Synod’s aim and its mutual concerns we ought always remember our Constitution’s provisions according to the Word of God: Ephesians 4:1–16; 1 Corinthians 1:10. The Synod is to watch over purity and unity of doctrine as well as over the development of Christian life (Chapter IV).
This aim of course also is inherent in the name of our church body. The Synod’s name ought to be a banner which we follow faithfully in both controversy and peace. But it is up to us to see that the Synod’s name is also understood and is rightly borne by us. We have adopted the name: The Norwegian Synod of the American Evangelical Lutheran Church.
There are those among our adversaries who again and again hurl the charge that we bear this name wrongly. We ought to weigh carefully whether this is so.
We maintain that we have a right to bear the name “The Norwegian Synod” because those words express our descent from the Synod of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We are children of the church body which previously was named “The Norwegian Synod.” No one can deny it before God or men.
We belonged to this church body as long as it existed as an independent, effective church body and followed the doctrine which it confessed and had adopted according to the Word of God. By God’s grace we have not wavered from the teaching which was maintained by the old Norwegian Synod up until the time when Opgjør was adopted.
But when it decided through the power of the majority to cease its activity as an independent, sovereign church body and to enter the merger which was formed in 1917, without really having attained unity on the basis of the Word of God with those with whom they merged, and thus violated the Synod’s adopted constitution in spite of our protests and prayers not to do that, then we could not go along with a clear conscience. We remained standing, when the great majority forsook the old house and its foundation and was incorporated into the large Norwegian Lutheran Church which is built upon another foundation than that which was laid by our fathers in the old “Norwegian Synod.”
Because we wanted by the grace of God to continue building on the old foundation which was known and precious to us because it was based solely on the Word of God, we got to our feet again and adopted the name “The Norwegian Synod of the American Evangelical Lutheran Church.” We maintain that we also bear that name rightly because we have been faithful to the doctrine and the principles for which that name stood. It is surely the proper touchstone in the judgment of the right to that name.
We demand this right also because we are in dead earnest in professing the Word of God alone as the rule and guide for faith, doctrine and life, and each and all of the Confessions of the Lutheran Church as a correct exposition of the Word of God, in conformity with our fathers in the old Norwegian Synod. Moreover, we demand this right because through God’s gracious help we will defend these truths against all errors and in conformity with the founders of the Norwegian Synod will not go along with any false doctrine.
We thoroughly disagree with those who are now saying that our fathers placed too much weight on pure doctrine and often were guilty of insisting on trifles in questions of doctrine. Precisely in this do we recognize their faithfulness as evangelical Lutheran Christians. We rejoice over and we confess ourselves heartily agreed in the following observations of the sainted Dr. Koren:
This is what the Norwegian Synod has contended for, and still contends for: Unwavering obedience to that “which is written” and a frank confession in accordance with it … He who really believes, i.e. is convinced that the Bible is the Word of God according to which we are to be judged, cannot want to take issue with God and presume to pass judgment on His Word, to accept some and to reject some of it. He will not allow his own thought or reason, or “considered opinion,” or “conscience” or the thoughts, learning, or “scientific knowledge” of other men to sit in judgment on the Word of God and accept some and reject some of it. He will recognize that it is necessary for us to “bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ,” [2 Co. 10:5] and to “learn not to think of men above that which is written.” [1 Co. 4:6]. He who really believes that the Bible is God’s Word, that which “God has spoken,” cannot want to deny any part of this word. He will realize that if he sits in judgment upon a part of the Word of God, he has rejected all of it; for he has then made himself lord over the Word. If he has a right to judge and reject one part of that which “God has spoken,” why should he not have a right to reject another part? Luther says: “He that believes, does not judge, but lets himself be judged, and surrenders to another’s judgment, and says in fact: ‘In this I am a fool and do not understand it; for I have not seen or heard nor experienced any of it. But since god says so, I will believe it, and follow the word and let my own thoughts and reason count for nothing’ … ‘He who does not do this, has nothing of faith or of God and what belongs to God, but proceeds like a blind person who wants to judge the color or the light of the sun, of which he has never seen or perceived anything.’ And just as one who believes the Word of God does not himself dare to reject any truth or doctrine of God’s Word, so he cannot make common cause with those who reject any doctrine or truth of the Word of God. Nor does he dare to say: It is all the same; I do not believe, I.e. I am indeed convinced that God has said it, but it is all the same; it is not so dangerous; it does not depend so precisely on this, just so we are spiritual and pious.” [“What the Norwegian Synod Has Wanted and Still Wants,” Faith of Our Fathers, pages 54–56.]
In these observations we recognize Koren again and remember him as the great Lutheran teacher, who with Luther, let both heart and mind be taken captive by the Word of God.
We have adopted the name Evangelical Lutheran Church, because with our fathers we consider it our God-given aim to preserve, strengthen and further in this country the true Evangelical Lutheran Church. The words Evangelical Lutheran stand for biblical Christianity.
Just as our church-father Luther was taken hold of by the Spirit and grace of God, and taken captive by the Word of God in soul and mind so that he could not yield either to pope or emperor or devil in the faith of the heart and confession of the mouth, so do we gather with joy and thanks to God who in spite of our great weakness has taught us to treasure God’s pure Word as the infallible rule and guide for faith, doctrine and life, and given us, with all true Lutherans, to acknowledge the divine authority of the Word in matters of faith so that we will not and do not risk departing from it in any point. This we believe it is which gives us authority to be a church body and to work as an Evangelical Lutheran church body. It was this position the Synod’s founders took, and this it was which gave them both courage and wisdom to fight against all departures from the truth, and courage and strength to bring forth the greatest of all sacrifices in order to preserve this source of salvation pure among us.
Are we now following in their footsteps as evangelical Christians, as true Lutherans? I can answer that question from my own observations, without boasting, that it is very obvious how by the grace of God both our pastors and our congregations zealously and diligently, and, some of them, with great sacrifices, are applying themselves to standing fast in that track of the confession of the Lutheran Church; confessing and proclaiming the whole counsel of God for man’s salvation without fear of men and self-seeking considerations.
This is the greatest of all blessings which God can give a church body. For it we shall thank God and pray that He, in grace, will always keep us in the Word and in the faith. Then His will is being done, and then neither devil nor the world nor our own flesh can hinder His kingdom from coming to us and many other lost sinners, because then His name is being hallowed among us.
In this holding fast to the biblical truth lies our hope of success in our work as congregations and as a church body. Let us remember that just this position, on God’s Word alone, gave Luther success as the one great reformer of the church. The ‘little speck’ he stood on was the Word of God. For that reason he was also unassailable, invincible from all the powers which sought to overthrow him. May God give us wisdom and courage not to let ourselves be tempted by the many accusations of “Pharisaism” and “self-importance” which are rampant. People are asking how these few people can be right and the vast majority wrong.
To these objections which were also made against the Synod’s founders, I will quote from Dr. Koren’s powerful plea about “What the Norwegian Synod Has Wanted and Still Wants.”
He who believes that the Bible is the Word of God also believes that the Holy Scripture, and that alone, is to be the judge of all doctrine and in all doctrinal controversies. He is not affected by the objection which is so often raised: How can you know that just your own interpretation of Scripture is the correct one? Do you claim to be infallible and that your interpretation is infallible? The objection is raised because they do not acknowledge the clarity and sufficiency of Scripture, and because they, for that reason, have lost confidence in it, as if it required the human science of interpretation in order to be understood. Those who bring this objection do not realize that they themselves show that they have no firm faith and conviction regarding what Scripture says. If they did, they would themselves have to make the same claim which they criticize in us. They show that in place of faith, i.e. a firm conviction, they have only an ‘opinion,’ a ‘view,’ and in that case it cannot be of much consequence whether they are right or wrong. It is the old contention of doubt and indifference that ‘the Word of God can be explained in so many ways.’ We do not believe this. We believe what Scripture itself in many ways requires us to acknowledge, namely, that in all articles of faith Scripture in itself is clear and plain, and that it cannot, therefore, ‘be explained in many ways’; but it is true that it is often obscured and misinterpreted in many ways by those who do not use it rightly. We believe that the right use of the Word of God, as we teach our children, is to ‘pray God for the enlightenment of His Spirit, read and hear it devoutly and diligently and earnestly purpose to live according to the Word.’ He who does this uses the Word as a rule and guide to satisfy the hunger of his soul and not his carnal curiosity, and he will not ‘prejudge the meaning of the words in accordance with his own desire, but he will without bias seek in it the truth which is unto godliness and try his heart accord-ing to it. Nor does he who really believes that the Holy Scripture is the Word of God let himself be confused when he is accused of pride because he is convinced he has the truth and the true doctrine of God’s Word in all points. It was not pride in Luther and our Lutheran fathers when they confessed this concerning them-selves and neither is it pride when we make this claim, since we teach the very same doctrines as they taught, namely, those which are set forth in the Confessions in the Book of Concord. We do not want to be “puffed up” because we have the pure doctrine. If we were, then we would not have the pure doctrine; for we know from God’s Word that if things had gone as we deserved, we would have erred in all points. Nor do we want to make our hearers puffed up.
But we would like very much for them to be happy because of this great and glorious grace of God that they have certainty of faith, since they know that what they believe is what God Himself has said. If we can lead them to cling with sincerity of heart to that “which is written” so that they judge themselves according to it in doctrine and life, then our testimony has borne its fruit. Therefore we wish very much to impress upon our hearers and our-selves both the great joy and the grave responsibility which are ours through having the solid and unfailing truth clearly revealed to us in Holy Scripture, so that when we adhere to it we can be certain that we will not go astray. God did not taunt us when He gave His Word and said: “If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed.“ [Ibid., pages 57–58,59.]
Dr. Koren sums up what the Norwegian Synod has wanted with regard to the Lutheran Scripture Principle in the following words:
In the preceding, I have spoken about our Synod’s position with regard to the Lutheran Scripture Principle, viz., “That the Holy Scripture is to be the sole source, rule and guide of our faith and our life.“ From this it follows that we do not recognize “reason” nor any individual teacher in the church, nor any pastoral conference, nor any congregation, nor any synod, nor any majority, but only “that which is written.” The fact is, we have the confident conviction that “in all things necessary to know in order to be saved, the Holy Scriptures are clear enough to him who uses them aright,” whether he be lay or learned. For our faith “should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” [Ibid., p. 60.]
This is what we who are now standing on our feet again can say with thanks to God, is what the Synod still wants over toward the old Lutheran Scripture Principle, namely, to hold fast to it. That is why we stand as we do. That is why the so-called “Opgjør” authored in 1912 and adopted as the basis for the merger of the Norwegian Lutherans who joined together in 1917, is an abomination for us, because in its very first paragraph it openly makes a teaching which is not grounded in the Holy Scriptures, equal with the teaching of the Word of God on election.
The so-called “intuitu fidei” doctrine, openly presented as an answer to the question: What do the Scriptures teach on election? is a doctrine of reason which is and has been a loophole for synergism, and expresses a lack of confidence in the great grace of God in Christ Jesus, which we will not and cannot tolerate, much less make it equal with the Lutheran Confessions grounded in the Word of God. In this way we have proven that we have a right to bear our church body’s name.
But when we have been witnesses to how our fathers have confessed the truth and defended it faithfully for so many years, and in spite of that, so many people let themselves be confused in the intoxication of the merger and did not stand firm on the old foundation, we must ask: What could really be the cause for that? Wherein does the mistake lie on their part and ours for that? The answer must be that we have not used the truth as we should. We have not built to a certainty with the God-given means, the Means of Grace. Here we come involuntarily to thinking about the bringing up of children as the founding work also in the church.
I want to beg leave to remind ourselves of what the sainted Dr. Koren expressed at the Synod’s 50th Jubilee in his report to the Synod of this matter.
If there is any matter of importance for us, a matter which the Synod ought to take up now with strength and enthusiasm at the be-ginning of a new era, then it is our children’s schools. Surely the farther we get from the traditions of our fatherland the more important this matter is. For a long time it was my comfort that the mothers especially were taking care of their children learning their Catechism. I am afraid that this heartfelt need, with its blessed results, is being pushed more and more into the back-ground. When it is present, there there is an excellent basis for the work of the congregational school. Because mothers with the mind to do so are the most zealous for getting the children’s instruction continued in the parochial school. In the Festskrift which has just been published, President Halvorson has pointed to the general neglect of the children’s thorough and constant instruction in Christianity as the Synod’s greatest need. Allow me to repeat again what I reproved the Synod for last year: “When the Christian instruction [of children] is neglected or limited to a totally inexcusable minimum, and where father and mother even set aside the old, richly blessed, traditional custom of being their children’s first teachers in the Catechism, and where schools of Christianity are either not established at all or are limited to the fewest possible, there I cannot see that those have blame for it, parents and other adult Christians, can have any real living Christian faith.”
We will make this matter a main topic at this meeting and with the Word of God seek to clear away all the obstacles which it is possible for us to clear away so that our congregations can take courage to deal with this matter of vital importance with authority and zeal.
May the Lord bless our discussions of this matter so that we make the proper use of the Word, there, where it can accomplish the greatest blessing, namely in the children’s hearts so that that which we teach them to pray about in a nice little prayer: “May God bow my young heart to a true fear and knowledge of God,” might be realized through daily instruction in the years of childhood and youth in the truth which alone makes “wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”
An old proverb says, “Once bitten, a person becomes wise.” That is true also in the kingdom of God. When a Christian has sinned, even if in weakness, then he is led by God’s Spirit to acknowledge his sin and to repent and confess his sin, and in true sorrow over sin he does not go and commit the same sin knowingly and willfully. He avoids it and prays for grace never more to make himself guilty of it.
It is this wisdom we must ask God for at this meeting over toward the vitally important matter we are going to discuss during these days when we make the children’s school the chief topic for our discussions. We need also to be cautioned against “talking this subject to death,” as certainly often was the case in the “old Norwegian Synod.” Many of our fathers complained that in the school-matter people were building the roof first, namely, the higher institutions of learning, and were let-ting the foundation take care of itself. Now the Lord has made it possible for us to change that method since He has taken from us all our institutions of higher learning, and certainly in that way given us a reason to think of how we can build up our schools more securely. If we get the plan carried through of getting parochial schools established in our congregations then we have solved many difficulties.
A prominent layman in Madison, Wisconsin, wrote to me recently: “If we do not get a more thorough instruction for our children in Christianity initiated then we cannot expect to keep them as true Lutherans in our church.” That is true and if we are all convinced of the same thing then we have won great things for the preservation of the kingdom of God among us.
Confidence in the power of the Word of God to create children for the kingdom of God and to preserve them for His kingdom requires that we show greater faithfulness in this matter. If we want to preserve purity and unity of doctrine, if we want to foster the deeds of true Christianity among us, then this is the safest way by which we can achieve our goal.
When we consider what our brethren in the Missouri and Wisconsin synods have lived to see in this regard, then it can do nothing other than both shame and encourage us. Shame us, when we look at what we are and have in the Norwegian Synod, but encourage us when we look to the future with the firm determination of wanting to follow their example in the matter of schools. What is the secret of their great progress both with regard to the preservation of purity of doctrine, and their unity of faith? Is it because they have had more diplomatic leaders or so much clearer a grasp of the truths of God’s Word, or so much more learned theologians than we? No! but just because God has given both laymen and pastors wisdom and faithfulness and courage and a desire to work toward proceeding with the slow, laborious work of instructing their children thoroughly in the Word of God in parochial schools. If we want to secure our future as the Norwegian Synod, if we want to live as an evangelical Lutheran church body, then we must take courage and ask God for grace to begin immediately with this simple daily work of bringing up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It is not done by our turning them over to the state’s schools! Sad experience has shown us that.
The Means of Grace which strengthen and nourish the life of faith and bind hearts together in the most tender fraternal spirit — the Sacrament of the Altar — are being neglected and laid aside by all too many people in our congregations. We will also make it the topic for our discussions at this meeting. May God, through His Word, clear the way of the many false ideas and the great apathy which hinders us from enjoying the full blessing of this precious means of grace.
Rationalism’s crass denial of the deity of Christ, as well as the truth of a sinner’s justification through faith in Christ as the Son of God and the Son of man, which has come out so strongly in the Reformed churches and which has been trumpeted abroad for young and old through the country’s press as well as in religious newspapers, demands, that for our strengthening in our Christian faith we hear again the teaching and the mighty testimony of God’s Word concerning our Savior’s eternal deity. And because we owe it to people who are misled by these false voices to set them straight as far as possible, we have requested one of our brethren at Concordia College, Prof. Wm. Moenkemoeller, to lead the discussions in this important matter. May God, then, bless our mutual discussions, for Jesus’ sake!
George Albert Gullixson
Translated by J. Herbert Larson, 2004