Esteemed brothers in the ministry and brethren in the faith!
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Our chief task when we assemble again at a synod meeting is to be to defend and uphold purity and unity in the teaching and proclaiming of the Word of God according to the apostolic model and the example of the Lutheran fathers.
When “the first synod meeting” met in Jerusalem we see from Acts 15:6 and Galatians 2 that the chief topic for the discussions was purity and unity of doctrine. The apostles and elders exercised all diligence to prove that the correct teaching of the Word of God was proclaimed and confessed in all the congregations.
They discussed doctrine. They wrote precise formulations of doctrine in the meeting and sent them with men chosen there, to the congregations far away in Asia Minor in order to secure the congregations against errors in doctrine. They listened to the apostle Paul’s preaching and only after having heard him did they extend to him the hand of fellowship. Luther, the father of our church, has also expressed himself about the proper purpose of synod meetings when he writes about the councils (the synod meetings of that time): “that learned and God-fearing men, both clergy and laymen, come together in order to subscribe to the correct and pure doctrine and in order to work toward the church being swept and cleansed from new errors and heresy.” He also says in another place: “A council has nothing new to set forth, either in faith or good works; but it is to assert the old faith and the old good works, according to Scripture.”
The old faith and the old good works according to Scripture. This is our program. This is what the Norwegian Synod has wanted and still wants!
Agreement on this program with a common desire to preserve it, and a common fear of losing it, have gathered us into a church body. God has given us this desire. This fear is a fruit of faith — the fruit of sons and daughters of God. What is it which has brought us the rich blessing and the great joy which we have enjoyed in these years in spite of our loss, except the fact that we have been able to work with a clear conscience, with glad expectations and with certainty of faith about salvation and eternal blessedness in the clear light of God’s Word?
If we want to preserve this blessing of God for ourselves and our children then our aim and main object must be to stand under the warm rays of the spring sun which God has given us in His Word.
We do that when we inquire into it, search the Scriptures and bring to light its answer to all the puzzles of life and all the important problems which press hard upon us in our church life as well as in our personal lives.
We are to ask God for His holy enlightenment in this because herein is to be found the proper key to progress in our personal as well as in our personal Christian lives.
We can say that we are beginners. Even though our church body springs from a work of many years, it now has, in a special way, the responsibility for seeing that everything is founded properly according to the will of God. God has given us an opportunity to do this. We are never to forget it. If we do not use it, then no one can calculate what harm we cause. How important it is therefore that we hold to the Word of God. In Isaiah 8:20.21 it says: “To the law and to the testimony: if they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. And they shall pass through it, hardly pressed and hungry.”
If we want to secure the dawn for our people — therefore, the awakening, refreshing, life-giving spiritual morning sun — then we must hasten to the Word and to the testimony. The Word of God is the testimony of God. People who seek it elsewhere have no morning sun.
That’s why we want to let doctrinal discussions always occupy the most important place during our synod meetings. We also have encouragement for this from the example of our faithful fathers.
The purpose of this is to work so that the light of the Word of God might shine even more clearly wherever our church body works, and comes to work.
Dr. Koren writes about this in the meaty article: “What the Norwegian Synod Has Wanted and Still Wants”:
Our heart’s desire is to preserve the old doctrine in which our fathers found their peace, for we have learned to see that this doctrine and this alone is founded on God’s Word. We therefore wish very much to awaken in our people zeal to preserve their glorious heritage. We do not want to make them fanatical, but we do very much want to help them to become “grounded and settled,” so that they do not let themselves be “moved away from the hope of the Gospel” (Co. 3:23), but will be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Co. 15:58). From all directions, also from our dear fatherland, come reports of falling away from the old faith and of bitter attacks upon the Biblical truths.
If we are to be enabled to retain them, we must in the first place let it become a matter of holy earnestness to preserve God’s word pure and unadulterated as the only clear light in this world’s darkness, and we must be willing to endure being scoffed at and mocked because of this firm adherence to the word. Further-more, we must let it become a matter of just as great concern to lead holy lives according to the Word of God. If we fail to do this, then God Himself has said: “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matt. 21:43). This we will try to remember every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer. [Faith of Our Fathers, p. 112.]
With this same goal in mind, we want this year to discuss an essay by the synod’s oldest active pastor, Pastor B. Harstad, on the theme: “Judgment Day and the Signs Preceding It.”
Just as we always want by God’s grace upon our synod meetings to apply ourselves to striving after maintaining the pure doctrine over to-ward the errors and departures in our time both through theses and anti-theses, discussions and resolutions, so do we, however, want to remember that God demands of us that the proper fruits of the pure doctrine (the true faith) — namely the old, good works according to Scripture – are not to be omitted.
True Christianity does indeed consist in faith and love. Jesus says: “If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed” (Jo. 8:31). To continue in the Word of Christ means that we let it be the rule and guide both for our faith and our life. If we are His disciples indeed, then we will, by God’s grace, be zealous about being His kinsmen and being known as His children who love everything which Christ loves and who oppose everything which is opposed to Him.
If we continue in Christ’s word — let His Word dwell among us richly, then we will be known for a Christian behavior, a Christian character, for steadfastness and determination in our life’s principles which will be grounded in love to God and men.
One who continues in Christ’s Word and lets His Word dwell in his heart will receive grace to stand in all trials and temptations. When the world entices to sin he will receive grace and wisdom to say with Joseph: “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Ge. 39:9). He will learn of Jesus, knowing that Satan must still yield to a word of God.
To the Word and to the testimony! says the Lord to us in our Christian conflict. He who does it will have his eyes opened to temptations and dangers and will receive grace and wisdom to judge rightly and to act rightly in love. Here, he will receive grace to shun leaning toward both sides when it comes to confessing Christ’s love in deed as well as in word.
For example: The person who believes that the blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God cleanses from all sin will never think of letting himself be enticed to follow along with the so-called Christian Science which denies Christ’s death for the sin of the world and scoffs at the doctrine that the blood of Jesus which flowed from His wounds on the tree of the cross, cleanses from all sin. He will flee from all such blasphemy. Whoever really believes Jesus’ word: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Mt. 4:10), will never let himself be induced to follow the papists in their abominable worship of Mary and the saints.
Whoever really and truly believes the Second Article in our confess-ion of faith, that Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of Mary, died on the cross for all the world’s sin and rose on the third day for our justification, will never silently tolerate that a pastor, who in speech and writing has denied this article of faith, be elevated to the office of bishop and continue as such an overseer in the church, in peace and quiet.
That the Norwegian State Church has made itself guilty of a sin cannot be denied. We cannot do other than to keep our distance from that which is now in vogue between other Norwegian Lutheran church bodies over here, of cultivating fraternal and religious fellowship with missionaries from the Norwegian State Church where such an unbiblical and un-Lutheran behavior is tolerated in doctrine and life.
Faithfulness toward our Savior demands that His disciples take a completely different position toward such phenomena in the churches than to treat those who make themselves guilty of such a thing, as brethren in the faith.
Whoever really believes Jesus’ words: “Whoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whoever will deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 10:32) — will never join with those who deny or omit Jesus’ name in prayer and confession, whether they call themselves Free Masons or modern theologians.
Love for God and men forbids it.
On the other hand, whoever believes Christ’s words: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature,” will take this word to heart. He will ask himself: Am I now obedient to my Savior in this matter, or am I standing before him as a deaf and disobedient disciple?
Where the word of Christ dwells richly in the heart, there no one who makes himself guilty of neglect will have any peace. No, a feeling of responsibility for the salvation of others is laid upon such a Christian’s heart by the Holy Ghost. He asks with Paul: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” In this prayer Paul has shown the proper mind of a disciple. Love for Christ and thankfulness to him make him a soul who is willing to serve. He prays, whatever you wish is what I am going to do. A personal willingness to serve was one of the fruits of his conversion.
We are not going to expect less of ourselves at this time. God desires the salvation of souls. He wants the boundaries of his kingdom to be extended. His will is that the pure doctrine be spread and constantly capture more souls for him. He expects this fruit from his faithful disciples that they should go and preach the Gospel. We shall pray God to preserve us from dead orthodoxy. No, a genuine conviction that in the Gospel we have the power of God unto salvation, will drive us to a genuine interest in the spread of the kingdom of God. Consequently every true Christian will be a missionary. He will show this in his personal associations with his fellowmen and in a Christian willingness to sacrifice. If he cannot himself enter the ministry, then if it is possible he will see to it that others do. If he is a family-man he will gladly offer his sons and daughters to service in the work of teaching. He will gladly assist financially with their training for this work if he can.
The Lord expects progress from our Synod. He expects that more and more people come to our services and to the Lord’s Table. If that does not happen, then we have reason to fear that we are not gaining interest on the pound God has entrusted to us. If our children and youth do not come with us to the Lord’s Table, then we must truly examine ourselves as to what the cause of that is. Then something is lacking in our schools or our Sunday Schools, or it is because family devotion is being neglected, or because our personal lives as Christians are weak and sluggish.
We have the joy of being able to report that our synod is debt-free at the close of the fiscal year. We shall thank God for that. But even if we can say that we are debt-free, yet we are far, far behind when it comes to our pledges in love to God and men — if the question is: Have we done everything we have been able to do to further the kingdom of Christ?
I recently attended a meeting of our home mission committee. It struck me then, how difficult it is for this committee to have to say to missionaries and pastors, who have presented reasonable requests for support for this and that mission or pastoral-call: Because of lack of funds the committee can do nothing for you. I felt that this situation is an accusation against me and my congregation and against most of our pastors and congregations. No, dear brethren, we are hardly debt-free over toward the Lord and the many souls who rightly can make demands on our service. We are not debt-free until every single soul in our synod who has means, has done what they can for this matter – have really sacrificed for our church’s affairs, so that it is felt.
It occurs to me that we are lacking well-planned and regular contributions. I will therefore permit myself to remind the synod of an apostolic plan which was introduced in congregations in Asia Minor and Greece by the apostle Paul. This plan is set forth in 1 Corinthians 16:1.2: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do you. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.”
The apostle says that he himself has given orders for this plan in the Galatian congregations, and recommends it to the Christians in Corinth. It is certainly in the Word of God so that it may do us good.
He says: “Everyone, not just the better off, but every man and woman, boy and girl, is to lay aside and to gather a portion of their weekly income or other means, as God has prospered them, at an appropriate time. The apostle has selected a particularly appropriate time, every week, for this good work, the first day in the week, Sunday. The day when children of God gather for worship in order that during the preaching of the Gospel God’s children consider God’s great love and grace in Christ toward poor sinners. On that day when Christians consider all the benefits of God in creation, redemption and sanctification, then they should bring their gifts as a thank offering to him. On every Sunday when God’s command about love to God and men admonish to true deeds of love, they should bring their contributions. When God reminds us of the account for our stewardship of the gifts he entrusts to us, we are to consider what we ought to give, and give it with a cheerful heart.
We have of course made use of this plan in all the congregations for special Sunday offerings for certain occasions. But the steady weekly use of this plan is not in place in most congregations. Those of us who have followed this plan can testify to the great advantages which follow from its introduction.
This matter will be discussed further during a second essay which will be delivered in English on the theme: “True Christian Progress.”
In closing let me refer to the apostle Paul’s words in his second epistle to the Corinthians, chapters 8 and 9: “But if you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that you abound in this grace also” (namely, in Sunday offerings for the poor).
2 Corinthians 9:6.7 say: “But this I say, He who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully. Every man according as he purposes in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Let us take the apostle’s words to heart and learn from them a well thought-out willingness to give in self-sacrificing love.
May the Lord our God, then, make us rich in all things: in the word, in confessing it, in faith, in acts of mercy and true love! May he grant in grace that zeal for the orthodox faith and doctrine, and care for a Christian life, well pleasing to God, in self-sacrificing love, may go hand in hand among us. May he grant it for the sake of Jesus Christ! Amen.
George Albert Gullixson
Translated by J. Herbert Larson, 2004