Beloved Members and Friends of Our Norwegian Synod:
An inventory of our situation as a Synod shows that while we have brethren that stand at our side in the confession that we make, we find ourselves separated from the great majority of those that call themselves by the name of Christ, Christian. And not only so, but our position doctrinally meets with indifference and even opposition on the part or many in the visible Christian church. And this in spite of the fact that our doctrine is Scriptural and right. Our position has not been overthrown from the Scriptures, nor can it be; for it is rounded on the prophetic and apostolic Word. Also in those points wherein we differ from others in doctrine, we confess the full truth. For example, we confess that the Church is not bound to some external form of church government as that of the church of Rome nor to the so-called apostolic succession. But we confess that the church consists of those who from the heart believe in Jesus. We confess that the essence of Christianity does not consist in outward morality, but in faith in the vicarious atonement of the crucified Son of God; that conversion does not take place because of the will of man or because of any less guilt, any better conduct, any abstaining from willful resistance on the part of those converted, but that conversion takes place alone by the grace of God, who creates faith in us by the working of His mighty power through the means of grace; that election is not due to anything in man, any foreseen faith, but that it is truly an election of grace; that Scripture is from beginning to end the verbally inspired Word of God, and that it therefore is the Word of God also when it speaks of historical and scientific matters.
Our standing separate is not due to a love of strife and discord on our part, or because of an unsocial spirit in us. No, we, too, love peace and would gladly forego strife, if we could. We, too are social creatures who delight in friendship and companionship. Our standing separate comes not from the Old Adam, who is given to strife, but from the New Man that God created in us and that has the spirit of obedience to the Word. For, alongside of the exhortations of Scripture to live at peace with all men, if it be possible, there is the exhortation to stand separate from those who teach otherwise than the Word teaches.
And this separation is the only safe course to follow; for, unionism, besides being a sin in itself, could only have the effect of weakening and nullifying our confession and leading eventually to the loss of the truth.
Our possessing the truth is not due to any superior quality in us of any kind whatsoever. We are no better than others. We, too, are by nature lost and condemned creatures. But God’s grace has granted us the truth and the confession of the same. Let us not be proud, but humble. Let us not boast, but fear and stand in awe of the God of grace. And let us always be mindful of the danger of losing the truth through ungratefulness.
But would you not expect to find it so, that the truth which we confess would find general acceptance in the Christian church, that is, in the outward community of those who profess the name of Christ? And is it not strange that this is not the case? Friends, we will not consider this to be strange when we are acquainted with the facts in this matter as we learn them from the Word and from history. For the full truth has always been a stranger, not only to the world, but also to the external church. Scripture shows us this. The Jewish nation was the visible church of the Old Testament. And yet the commandments of God fared ill, and the Word of God received hostile treatment from this nation. Did not Jerusalem kill the prophets and stone them which were sent unto her? Matt. 23,37. Did not Stephen say to the Jews, “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?” Acts 7,52. Jesus came to this nation. But He met with opposition and rejection on the part of most. “He came unto His own and His own received Him not.” Neither could the apostles obtain a testimony of orthodoxy from the Jewish Church. And the Jews at Rome said to Paul, before they had heard the doctrine that he had to present: “As concerning this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” Acts 28,22.
In the time before the Reformation when the church of Rome held sway, the faithful witnesses were persecuted by the church of Rome. This church made itself “drunken with the blood of the saints and of the martyrs (witnesses) of Jesus.” Rev. 17,6.
In Luther’s day the truth was greatly spread ill the church, but it did not by an means find general acceptance by all. The greater part of so-called Christendom persecuted and rejected the truth, and Luther had to exclaim again and again: “We have to be counted the heretics.” (Quoted by Dr. F. Pieper in 1902 Synodalbericht, p. 18). Considering these things we need not think it strange that the truth is rejected by the great mass of the visible church today.
But, someone may object, does not the Church come into existence by means of the truth? How, then, can it be that the greater part of the Church rejects the truth and fights against it? Answer: The great mass that calls itself the church is not the Christian Church. The true Church consists of those who from the heart believe in Christ’s merits and have received the Holy Ghost. Those who are the true members of the Church are with us at heart, even if they are found among our opponents as regards their outward fellowship. No Christian from the heart trusts in his adherence to some outward form of church government; no Christian at heart believes that he converts himself or is converted because of some better conduct on his part. No Christian from the heart trusts in his morality to save him.
However, we find our doctrine opposed not only by outward Christianity in general, but also by such as bear the Lutheran name. Is that not most strange? No, it is not strange, for thus we find ourselves in the same position as Christ and the Apostles. The Jewish Church was in name the orthodox Church ill that day. But the name did not protect it from rejection bf right doctrine. While the name “Lutheran” is today the name of the orthodox church, yet not all which calls itself by that name is orthodox and Lutheran. A person who lays down no greater demands than that a church be called by the Lutheran name and accepts that as a guarantee that all doctrine is right there may find himself greatly deceived. It goes with the Lutheran public today as it went with the Jewish public in Jesus’ day. The Jews wanted earnestly to be Jews and fairly cried themselves hoarse after the Messiah. But when the Messiah came, they did not want Him. So, men may pride themselves on being Lutheran, but when confronted with the Lutheran doctrine, they reject it and call it false doctrine.
So we must learn not to be dismayed when we find ourselves opposed by such as call themselves Lutheran. Luther in his day complained that the Gospel was a mystery and a hidden thing not only to the papists, but also to such as called themselves evangelical. As all that went by the name of Jewish in Jesus’ day was not Jewish and by the name evangelical in Luther’s day was not evangelical, so not all that goes by the Lutheran name today is Lutheran.
The Lord has not made it our business to gather a large fellowship about us, but He has made it our business to testify unto the truth. The fruits of the testimony we leave in His hands. If our testimony finds acceptance-and God grants this, too — then we rejoice and thank God. If our testimony meets with contradiction, then we do not count that strange, but praise God because He grants unto us to acknowledge the saving truth, and because He counts us worthy to be witnesses unto the truth in the world.
When we strive for the truth, let us see to it that we have the right motive: Love to God, to the truth and to our fellow men. And let us use the right means, namely, the Word itself.
And, brethren in office, let us see to it that our flocks are fed with the sincere milk of the Word, that we preach the Word with all boldness; in love for the Savior and for our hearers. May the Word of the Lord have free course among us and be glorified to the salvation of many. God grant it through Jesus Christ! Amen.
A. M. Harstad