This year marks the Eighty-fifth Anniversary of the former Norwegian Synod which by entering the merger of 1917 deserted its time-honored and firm stand in matters of doctrine and practice, and stripped the faithful adherents of the Synod principles of all property and institutions.
This year we may also celebrate the Twentieth Anniversary of the re-established Norwegian Synod which immediately after the union of 1917 set about building up the institutions lost in 1917.
To the handful of men of the so-called Minority, who, after the last session of the old Synod, met at the Aberdeen Hotel, St. Paul, Minnesota, the outlook did not appear very encouraging. Nevertheless, the following resolutions were passed:
1. “For vor samvittigheds skyld kan vi ikke gaa med i det nye samfund paa nærværende basis.” 2. “Vi blir staaende paa den gamle bekjendelse og organisation, som vi har kristelig frihed til at værne om, og arbeide under nu som før.” Officers were elected. It was resolved to publish “Tidende” to replace “Kirketidende” as our church organ; to launch the work of reconstruction on the basis of former Synod doctrines and Church practice; and to call a general meeting the next year, 1918.
Many of the congregations from which we could expect support were still held down by majorities who, as it seemed, wanted union at any cost. It was a time of affliction, trials, and temptation to those who for the sake of conscience could not subscribe to the compromise union-thesis. The Lord, however, was with us and gave us courage and strength to proceed. Due to the position in which Minority groups found themselves at this time, there were only a few accredited delegates from congregations at the Synod Convention of 1918.
Approaches had been made during the past year to institutions in the Missouri Synod petitioning them to take charge of students from our congregations. The doors of these institutions were generously opened to our students on the same conditions and with the same privileges as those offered the students from their own congregations. Later this arrangement for our students was officially acted on. A teacher from our Synod was added to the faculty of Concordia College, St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1919. The many favors accorded us during these years will be recalled at this convention in connection with the Centennial celebration of the Saxon immigration.
All Synod institutions with the exception of the Negro Mission had been absorbed by the merger of 1917; likewise also all Church and School property. We lost much, but we were spared from being parties to the compromise made in “Opgjør,” and from all its disastrous consequences. We have been spared from becoming partners to the unionism and un-Lutheran practice of such organizations as the National Lutheran Council and the American Lutheran Conference.
On the other hand, we are privileged in having the Word of God preached in its truth and purity from all our pulpits and the sacraments administered according to the institution of our Lord. After all, that is the great glory of the Church.
To flash a motto, “Word alone, Grace alone, and Faith alone,” and at the. same time fraternize with those whose preaching and practice are a denial of that truth is unworthy of a true Lutheran.
All too often we hear the woeful cry, “We are too few!” Should we not rather say with the singer of old: “The Lord of Hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge?” Ps. 46:7. Let others dream about a Lutheran Church that must change with time and tide. We know that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. “The Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations.” Ps. 100 :5. And this everlasting, unchanging truth “shall be the shield and buckler” of the children of God. Ps. 91:4.
Was it not to be expected, and is it not yet to be expected that the reconstruction period which we have gone through, and with which we are still struggling, should bring many difficulties and vexing problems ? We were left on a wrecked field; congregations, circuits, Synod, and all institutions had to be reorganized. Schools for our children and youth had to be provided for. “Saa mange hoveder, saa mange sind.” All this has at times brought plenty of disagreement and contention. But after twenty years of reorganization work it behooves us now to set our minds firmly on healthy growth.
The old tried veterans who were on the firing line against the “Opgjør”-compromise from 1912 to 1917 have, most of them, gone to their reward. They were in earnest. They sacrificed much for our Church. Unless the present generation follows in their footsteps we are not worthy of. the heritage which our forefathers have left us.
What is to be done?
Let us look for encouragement, strength, and sincerity in action, in the words of exhortation given Israel according to Isaiah 54 :23, “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations; spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.”
Israel had enjoyed a glorious past. Jerusalem, the city of kings, had been graced with the beautiful, magnificent temple built during the reign of King Solomon. The Lord had in so many ways made His presence felt in Israel, not only in the temple worship, but also in Israel’s contacts with the Gentile nations, by which they were surrounded. God had not only in a miraculous way brought them out from the bondage in Egypt into the promised land, but similarly also fed them, clothed them, led them, and protected them. During the year of King David’s reign, the troublesome heathen tribes had been subdued. In all His dealings with them, the Lord forcibly impressed the truth upon their minds, expressed thus by the prophet: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” Prov. 3:5. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the City, the watchman waketh but in vain.” Ps. 127:1. Israel, however, did not give themselves over whole-heartedly to the ways of the Lord. They did not keep faith. No sooner had the Lord delivered them from the hands of the heathen, than they began to mingle with the heathen, in associations and intermarriages. Finally the Lord withdrew His protecting and merciful hand from them, and thus they fell into the hands of the heathen.
It is pitiful to think of the exiled Israel paying the penalty for their faithlessness. While they were in bondage in Babylon, according to the 137th psalm, they sang these sad strains: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” But even there in Babylon, the Lord held His protecting hand over a faithful remnant. He sent His prophets to them reminding them of the gracious promise that after a lapse of seventy years they were to be privileged to return to Jerusalem.
To the human mind it may seem that the Lord dealt cruelly with His people, giving them over into the hands of the heathen, but it is not so. The prophetic words still stand, “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.” Hos. 13:9. “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep His covenant and his testimonies.” Ps. 25:10. “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children.” Ps. 103:17. “The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” Jas. 5:11. As long as the day of grace lasts, God graciously bestows His mercy and goodness upon His people.
Because Israel has been faithless, straying away from the paths chosen for them by the Lord, He let them suffer the consequences, in order that they might be humbled. Thus the people were taught to acknowledge that the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth. The hardships and privations experienced while they were in exile under the oppressive rule of heathen rulers were to serve as a means to turn their minds to the ways of the Lord.
Is it not a pity that even the people of God in His Church with an absolutely dependable compass and guide, showing the way to God’s storehouse of blessings for body and soul, time and eternity, take chances on byways and bypaths, according to their own mind, thereby bringing untold misery upon themselves?
Israel of old is not only to be an example of warning to us in our day and age, but also an evidence of God’s loving kindness and mercy toward His wayward children. New assurances and repeated experiences of God’s kindness and mercy were to bring renewed light, strength, and joy to the humbled believers in Israel. After the long dark day in far-off Babylon, according to the prophetic vision of Isaiah, there was to come a new day of promise and renewed service under the Lord. A people in exile for generations were to be told after their homecoming to widen the place of their tent and the curtains of their dwellings. “Let them stretch out; spare not (or hinder it not); lengthen thy cords, and strengthen (or make fast) thy stakes.”
But you say, what encouragement is that to us? We are evidently all willing to admit that there has been plenty of waywardness, faithlessness, and ungratefulness to a good and merciful God, evidenced in the eighty-five years of the history of the Norwegian Synod. It has repeatedly lived through dark and stormy days of doctrinal controversies, because all have not submitted to the wisdom revealed in God’s Word. It has often seemed that the fight in defense of God-given truths and principles grounded in Holy Scriptures upheld by our Synod, was in vain. In spite of efforts to indoctrinate our people, many of the clergy as well as lay people have cluttered the blessed doctrine of God’s full and free grace with man-made doctrines couched in such terms as: “Man’s good conduct;” “Valgets standpunkt” (self-determination); and “Feeling of responsibility,” etc.
We are assembled here today, a comparatively small group. Our own achievements, after twenty years of labors in the field of God’s vineyard, are nothing of which to boast. There may be, on the other hand, thoughts lingering in the minds of some among us, that our task is too great for our strength. This is very true. But we also confess that
With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye who this might be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth is. His name,
From age to age the same,—
He holds the field forever.
If the cause be ours alone, we have no right to exist. As sure, however, as we have the Word of God in its truth and purity, and the sacraments according to the institution of our Lord, making it our aim and sincere effort diligently to use these sacred means for ourselves, to bring them to others, and jealously to guard them against all errors in teaching and practice, the cause is no longer ours, but the Lord’s. We are only His humble servants guarding the heritage entrusted to us. Surely the Church which is true to this trust has nothing to fear. To that Church applies the Word of the Lord in Isaiah, 54:4–5: “Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more. For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel: The God of the whole earth shall he be called.” According to this, we must not look to our own ability or inability, our own strength, or our own weakness, our own prestige or size, great or small. There is only one thing to do, that is, gladly and cheerfully to offer our services to the Lord and go to work knowing that the Lord Himself looks after results and increase. “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations!” In these words of the Lord there is assurance of results and increase.
This, however, does not mean that we without due caution are to build and acquire property, expanding in a material way without forethought. But it does mean that when such expansion is necessary for the work of the Lord in His Church, we are to take courage, spare not, cheerfully launching also such a program.
At the present time there ought not to be a pressing need for such expansion. The acquisition of buildings and property may, at times, prove a hindrance to more important things in the Church.
Home Missions and Church Extension
In order to take care of the most needed expansion in our work, the support of the Home Mission and Church Extension treasuries must steadily increase. Our attention has been called to fields ready for the laborers; but without adequate funds and workers willing to sacrifice their all for the cause, it is not possible to begin work in these fields, especially in the cities of our day.
An essay will be read at this convention on the needs and problems of our Home Mission, by the chairman of the Mission Board, Rev, E. Hansen.
Bethany College is our High School and College. It is capable of accommodating twice the number of students which are enrolled at the present time. We need no expansion here as far as buildings and equipment are concerned; although we may well also here take the words of the prophet to heart, “Spare not thy cords, strengthen thy stakes.” In our day, with liberalizing tendencies laying siege to us on every hand, we must not allow ourselves to grow lax and liberal along with our surroundings; but drive our stakes further down, that is, “Establish and strengthen our position on the only sure and true foundation, the eternal Word of God.” The fact that so many Lutheran Colleges become, as it were, un-denominational in spirit in order to increase enrollment, must urge us all the more to make it our aim to offer and to demand of all students a thorough instruction in Evangelical Lutheran doctrine, which is the teaching of God’s Word.
Although thankful to the Missouri Synod for the service accorded our students at Concordia Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, it would be well that we as a Synod also keep in closer touch with those who are to become teachers and pastors within our Church. A step forward in this direction has been made during the past year in the appointment of a committee consisting of one member from the Bethany Board of Regents, and one member from the Home Mission Board, who together with the president of Bethany College, are to have in mind student problems in our institutions.
In the field of education, we also have the care of the children. Is it not true that many of our congregations are in danger of falling into the rut of congregations in other Lutheran bodies who are satisfied with the minimum instead of the maximum in Elementary Christian Education?
Our program is a Christian Day School for all our children. Where such a school cannot for some reason be established, it is to be hoped that our congregations, as well as our pastors, will try to maintain at least a six-week term of summer school under competent Christian teachers. To allow oneself to become indifferent concerning the question of Christian Education for the young means the very opposite of the exhortation in our text. “To strengthen (or make fast) the stakes of our tents.”
Because of the steadily increasing demands on the time, strength, and efforts of our children and youth in public grade and high-schools, it ever becomes a greater problem for the Church to do effective work among these members of our Church. Where children and youth are deprived of the very best care, instruction, guidance, and influences of a Christian home, the minds become molded and set in materialism and worldliness to such an extent that it becomes very difficult to reach the consciousness of the young in the little time allotted to the Church for Christian Education. To strengthen our position here will require of every home in our congregations, that they not only let the Word of God dwell richly among them, but also be constantly on guard, shielding the children and youth from the destructive influences peculiar to our time.
An essay on “The Modern Trend toward Secularization of Society” will be read at this convention, by the Rev. A. Harstad.
Of the sixty-five congregations and preaching places listed in our last year’s report, ten congregations conducted Christian Day Schools; twenty-six congregations maintained summer vacation schools, for periods of from ten to thirty days. Of these twenty-six congregations, only two schools had a six-week term. Thirty-nine had no school during the summer vacation; twenty-two had no week-day instruction. Thirty-one congregations conducted Sunday School and of these thirty-one, eight of them had only Sunday School. Twenty-one congregations conducted Saturday School; of these twenty-one, six of them only Saturday School. There is much room for improvement. It will be long before we reach the goal—a Christian Day School for all our children.
Our finances are not in the most desirable shape. Until we get them in better shape, it is taken for granted that rigid economy is desirable along all lines of expenditure. Yet no one would recommend economy to the extent that it would cripple efficiency. In Board Meetings which I have attended during the past year, economy has been stressed forcefully.
An action which has been criticized is the purchase of the Monich property, located within the Bethany Campus to the rear of the College building. One must in this case, however, take into consideration that this property was on the open market at the time the purchase was made. If this property can be made good use of by our .college; it should prove to be a valuable asset. But it is the humble opinion of your servant, that no more property should be purchased for the present. Our efforts should rather be bent on reducing. our indebtedness. With such an understanding, the members of our Synod would undoubtedly welcome gladly a general subscription with the object in view of paying off the debt. ,This could be made a fitting memorial of the eighty-fifth Anniversary of the former Synod, and the twentieth Anniversary of the reorganized Synod.
Regular income from our congregations to our Main Funds; Home Mission Fund, Synod Fund, and, Teachers’ Salary Fund (why not include Church Extension Fund?) would ease strained situations in our treasury, which at times occur. Just a little self-denial on the part of many who give very sparingly would nicely take care of our running expenses. The Israelites willingly gave up their golden rings, bracelets, and trinkets, in order to establish the worship of a golden calf. Surely we ought to be willing to give up amusements and luxuries, which are detrimental to spiritual welfare and often harmful to body and health, in order to strengthen and establish the worship of our Glorious Triune God.
No system of giving or of training in giving has to this time been found to be wiser or better than that advocated by the Holy Spirit in 1 Cor. 16:2: “‘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.” This shows us not only that the Lord of the Church desires our gifts, but it also shows us that support of the Church is constantly to be included on our program and to be on our minds. A large gift to the church in time of need is indeed a boon; but the regular giving, according as God has prospered one, is the giving which brings the greatest happiness, riches, and blessings to the individual. “Give and it shall be given unto you.” St. Luke 6:38. “Freely ye received, freely give.” Matth. 10:8. “God loveth a cheerful giver.” 2 Cor. 9:7.
May the Lord also in this way help us in our Norwegian Synod “To lengthen our cords and to strengthen our stakes,” to the salvation of blood-bought souls and to the glory of the Holy Name of Our God and Savior!