In Christ beloved brethren, pastors, representatives of our congregations and visitors:
Twenty-five years ago, in the convention of 1918, we were struggling against all odds to reestablish the Norwegian Synod which was wrecked in 1917. Against strong protests by a minority, the former Synod had merged with other Norwegian bodies on a unionistic, syncretistic, and liberalistic basis. Every precaution was taken to prevent the Minority from continuing the Synod. The corporate structure of the Synod was merged with other bodies; but the real essence, the time-honored conservative doctrinal stand and practice, of the old Synod could not be denied to the Minority by legal measures. Parenthetically, it might be stated that most of the property and the institutions of the old Synod have been discarded or wrecked by this time.
Let no one be surprised that the last quarter of a century under such conditions has offered many problems. But by the grace of God, we have preserved the faith of the fathers. The year 1918, with the world in a desperate war, ushered in a new order of things generally. With this new order there has also been a tendency to change that which cannot be changed — revealed truth. “Heaven and earth shall pass way, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). And again, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16:17).
We shall, without a doubt, have more vexing problems to contend with in years to come. Truth, saving truth in Christ, however, is ours if we treasure it and in faith hold on to it.
The conditions in the world today, as we are opening our twenty-fifth annual convention, urge each and everyone of us to repentance, watchfulness and prayer. The conditions in a war-torn world are again inviting the minds of men to follow bypaths leading away from “the old paths, where is the good way, where rest is found for the soul.” Jeremiah 6:16. We are now in the midst of the maddest and most destructive world-conflict known in the history of mankind. World-efforts have one thing in view — to produce the deadliest weapons possible for destruction of human life and property. Vicious dictatorships are reaching out their bloody hands to destroy all freedom, both civil and religious.
War as well as all other ills of this life are the consequence of sin. It brings just punishment upon the ungodly, while it serves as a chastisement upon the believers. Conditions such as we have them today could not exist unless God permitted it. He who has all power in heaven and on earth could, as with one breath, strike aggressors to the ground, if it so pleased Him. The Lord God is not helpless nor powerless. He has a definite purpose in view also when aggressors are given free hands. The purpose of God is always here in time to bring man to repentance and saving faith. Come what may, those who are under the Lord’s protecting and sustaining care will in the end prevail and hold the victory.
In this message to the members of our Synod, we are not, first of all, concerned about victory over earthly enemies. Our concern is, above all, about victory over the prowling enemies of our immortal souls. A timely warning against present-day dangers for our spiritual welfare can best be stated in the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 24:15–16: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, whoso readeth, let him understand. “
These words contain both warning and exhortation to Christians of all times. They, however, contain a special warning and exhortation to the Christians of the last evil days before the coming of Christ to judgment. Many signs are mentioned in the 24th chapter according to St. Matthew. We shall limit our remarks principally to the sign mentioned in verse 15. The statement in verse 15 plainly refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman legions under Emperor Titus in year 70 A.D. In this chapter Jesus, however, in a prophetic vision sees both the destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction of the world as in one picture. The believers in Judea were warned of the destruction to come and were exhorted to “flee into the mountains.” The abomination of desolation referred to by the prophet Daniel has reference, according to reliable commentators, so far as the destruction of Jerusalem is concerned, to the presence of the Roman legions outside of the walls of Jerusalem as well as within the walls of the city. It has reference also to the temple which was desecrated by the idol-worship of the Romans.
The destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman conquerors symbolizes the final destruction of the world. This becomes clear when we read St. Matthew 24:15 in its context. When Jesus (according to verse two) tells of the destruction of the Temple, the disciples ask: “Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and the end of the world?” Jesus in His answer in the following verses clearly has reference to the end of the world. It is well to note here that the first sign of the last days shall be “deceptions.” “Many shall come in my name, saying I am Christ.” Kretzmann’s Commentary says in connection with verse five: “The first sign would be the coming of false teachers, of false Christs. They would come in His name, they would claim identity with Him. By the very boldness of their manner, they would make an impression. Many would be deceived, many would listen to their lies and put their trust in them.” This was the case before the destruction of Jerusalem. It is equally true today. In our day, with sects well, nigh innumerable, it behooves us first of all to give heed to this warning voice of our Lord. The world conditions in our day are ideal for deceptions. Wars and rumors of wars, which should — and let us say, which will — bring the true children of the Kingdom to repentance and renewed trust in God and His promises will invariably make false prophets and deceivers ten thousand times more wild in their fantastic dreams, more zealous in their efforts to spread their deceptions, and more brazen and bold in dissembling the truth.
In the greatest struggle of all times, when all forces of the kingdom of darkness were arrayed against the truth and Him who is the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus said: “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.” Luke 22:53. These words can surely be applied to the last evil days when even the elect should be deceived if it were possible; and we believe that they also apply to our times. The powers of darkness are at work. The main objective of the prince of darkness is not merely to destroy the physical lives of men, as it would seem to the natural eye; but to destroy both body and soul in hell. Let us, therefore, more than ever beware of deceptions. Deceptions which come from the so-called “Jehovah Witnesses” and similar perverters of the truth are so wild and ugly that informed Lutherans should have no difficulty in ear-marking them. Not all perversions of the truth, however, are so easily detected. Those who try to observe the trend of the times and the thoughts prevailing in the minds of men in war-torn nations and countries cannot fail to notice how well-established truths and practices in the church easily are set aside and fall into disfavor. Indifference to God’s holy Word and its twin brother unionism made deep inroads into the Lutheran Church of our country during the first World War. The Lord only knows what this present war will bring. Any divergence from the revealed truths, any substituting of man’s wisdom and man’s ways for the revealed truth, is a by-path leading to the abomination of desolation of which we are warned in St. Matthew 24. Wherever the Word of God has been accepted in its truth and purity, without any admixture of the thoughts of man’s mind, and where the Sacraments are administered according to the institution of the Lord, there is a. holy place of refuge; for there is Christ our fortress and strength. Even then we must have a watchful eye; for according to the warnings of our Lord not only shall false prophets and deceivers COME to us; but they shall ARISE from our own midst. Acts 20:29–30.
It has not been made known to us when the last evil days shall come; but we have been given signs and reminders. Judging by the signs and conditions of our present day, the appearance of Christ as the great Judge may be near at hand. His appearance in the clouds will fill the hearts and the minds of the unbelievers with fear arid despair, because they have failed to heed His warnings; they have: rejected the offer of God’s free grace in Christ; and they have spent their life and strength in the service of the enemy of God and of the souls of men. The believer, on the other hand, although he also must suffer under the trials that shall come upon the world in those days, will welcome the hour of Christ’s coming in glory because it brings a final and complete deliverance from all ills and evils of this life and a full participation in the salvation to which he was bought by the holy and precious blood of his Savior. As a follower of Christ, the believer dare not, as is common with sectarians, give himself over to fanatical thoughts and dreams concerning those days. He will simply cling to God’s word and promise, patiently awaiting the Lord’s hour of deliverance. When the voices of free lancers, zealots and emotionalists cry out: “Lo, here is Christ, or there,” he calmly follows the warning of Christ: “Believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and they shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold I have told you before” (Matthew 24:23–24). We quote Dr. Johan Ylvisaker’s “Harmony of the Gospels”, p. 611: “The exhortation which Jesus directs to those which be in Judea was literally observed by the Christians in Judea when the horrors of the Jewish wars broke upon the holy city. They fled to Pella, which lay beyond the Jordan, on an elevation 600 feet above the surface of the stream, construing the term mountains, as of v. 16, to apply to the plateau of Gilead (Eusebius h. e. III 5. 3). But this word has its figurative significance also in connection with the period before the end of the world. There is a spiritual flight to the mountains, which offer a better shelter by far than the heights of Judah, viz., the hills of salvation (Psalm 121:1), the Pella in the spirit, our Lord Jesus Christ. There shelter may be found, thither one must flee from the abominations in the world, part with them, even as the first Christians in their flight to Pella separated themselves from all connection with Jewry; and it is important that no time be wasted, but that everyone hurry away from destruction. We shall not expose ourselves to peril by returning. to our homes and clothing, but with a heart detached from the world, albeit not despising it, flee as did Lot and his daughters from the desolation behind (Genesis 19:17ff). But there are numbers who will flee with difficulty, they who are with child and those with babes in their arms. All such will then be in deplorable straits. Therefore Jesus utters His woe upon them. The Saviour’s words in this passage would be seen to be the basis for the declaration of Paul in I Corinthians 7, that it were better, on account of the afflictions to come, to remain unmarried.”
Let no one think that it is too early to take a definite stand today. We are definitely separated from the land of our forefathers who in the past have enjoyed a good measure of both civil and religious freedom but who probably now will have to retreat to caves and mountain passes in order to worship God according to His word and the dictates of their conscience. We are likewise separated from the homeland of Dr. Martin Luther, which it seems now is turning back to paganism. Let us not forget, however, that we have the roots of that pagan religion planted in the lives of millions in our own country, in the religion of lodges and of many kinds of cults and philosophic systems. A compromise could easily be made between these different insidious pagan organizations, and pressure be brought to bear to destroy our sacred privilege of freedom of religion and worship in this our beloved land. Today is the proper time to, begin building a protective wall for such privileges as citizens of our country and first and foremost, today is the proper time by God’s grace to build up a protective wall for the saving truth which God has entrusted to His Zion here on earth, giving heed always to the words of the apostle; “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Phil. 2:12. The believers in Judea heeded the warning words of the Lord. They did not allow themselves to be deceived by wishful thinking or wait for a more opportune time. They acted promptly on the word of warning, and thus they escaped the horrors of the siege of the city by the Roman legions. The conditions of our times are a warning to us. Let us heed the warning, guard against deceptions, and seek the shelter and protection which God’s holy Word gives. Through the guidance and the strength which the Word gives, we shall find the Pella of safety — “The hills of salvation (Psalm 122:1), the Pella in the spirit, Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
H. Ingebritson, President