Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
As a people who have been redeemed, dearly purchased and bought by the holy precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of Jesus we are gathered here in solemn convention to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the first Norwegian Synod and the thirty-fifth anniversary of the reorganized synod. It is with mixed feelings of emotion that we enter upon this celebration. As we look back on the one hundred years passed since the six pastors and the delegates from the seventeen pioneer congregations met in Luther Valley to found the old Norwegian Synod, we are filled with a deep feeling of humility to think that in spite of our many failings, weaknesses, and shortcomings, we are privileged to gather with the assurance that we are confessing the same truths forever established in the heavens as were confessed by the founding fathers a century ago. There have been temptations, trials, and tribulations. There have been sore afflictions, pain, sorrow, grief, and crosses to bear. There have been mockings, scoffings, and railings to face on many sides. There has been our own old Adam with its sins and evil lusts. Had we stood alone in our own might in the field of battle, then with Luther we would have to say, “Our striving would be losing”. When we look at ourselves, our sins, our weaknesses, and our guilt, then we must ask how it can be that we are privileged today to be confessing the same eternal truths that sustained and supported the faithful in the days of old? The only answer is that it is all due to the marvelous grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord and Redeemer.
We are most unworthy and had it depended on our own strength, wisdom, and striving, then we would have been deceived and led into misbelief and despair and into all manner of false doctrine and ungodly life. We have come to this day which the Lord hath made as an answer to the prayer of pious pioneer fathers and mothers whose lips have long been closed: “Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Surely boasting must all be gone. As often as words of sinful pride come to our lips and thoughts of self-exaltation arise in our hearts, these must by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die. Only when we thus in deep humility, repentance, and faith approach this festive occasion can we observe it aright. Then indeed will our hearts be truly lifted up with a godly joy and be filled with a true appreciation of the undeserved heritage which has been passed down to us. Then indeed will our praises ascend unto God with a sweet smelling savor.
With the privilege that is ours today goes also a great responsibility; if we do not recognize it and willingly shoulder it and carry it, we shall lose our joy as well as our heritage. “Unto whom much is given, of him shall be much required,” says our Lord and God. In connection with our responsibility over against the heritage which by God’s grace shall be ours forever, we do well at the turn of this century of grace to consider the spirit of the times in which we have been called upon to do our work and then to gird our loins for the pilgrimage through that part of the wilderness of this life which lies before us. Here one is reminded of Charles Dickens’ evaluation of the spirit of the times prevailing in the period of the French Revolution. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredibility, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us. …” In studying and evaluating the spirit of our times we can do no better than to do so through the eyes of Holy Scripture. In the Bible the words of which are given by inspiration of God and are therefore infallible and inerrant, we have the true picture of the times in which we are living. If we would be faithful and true to our responsibility, we must turn aside from all the vain philosophizing fantasies and deluding dreams of men which confuse, divert, and make men’s minds and hearts like-fashioned with the world. On the other hand we must scrutinize in detail the clear and unretouched picture that God gives us in his Holy Word and so evaluate the times in which we are called upon to do our work that we may do our work as true Israelites on the walls of Zion, watchful and sober with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other.
God through His mouthpiece Peter says, “The end of all things is at hand. Be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer.” Our Savior in setting forth the signs preceding His coming for judgment says, “When ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors.” These signs that have been given us in the Holy Scripture, which are to serve as a warning that the end of the world is approaching, have been fulfilled and are being repeatedly fulfilled before our very eyes. Therefore we are to know that what the Bible says of the last times is said of our times. These things are said in order that we may take cognizance of them, considering the conditions of these last times as a warning for ourselves and in connection with our work as a church. When the Word of God tells us that in the last days there will be perilous times, a widespread apostasy from the faith, damnable heresies, lying signs and wonders, false prophets coming in sheep’s clothing with insidious and misleading doctrines, Antichrist sitting in the temple of God showing himself that he is God, people with itching ears turning to fables and away from the truth and from teachers who speak the truth, then we must not screen our eyes and act as if we were approaching a great chiliastic flowering period in the world’s history, or as if a great Pentecostal wave of conversion and turning to the truth were upon us. Rather we shall scrutinize the Scriptural description of the times in which we are living: — “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.” (II Tim. 3,1–9).
It is a time when men are selfish, boastful, and proud. It is an age in which men break their promises, engage in Jesuitic falsehoods to serve their own ends, make false charges and defend false principles, intimidate those whom they wish to overcome, and despise those who are ready to stand up for the truth and be counted with that minority which faithfully marks and avoids those who cause divisions rand offenses contrary to the doctrine which has been learned. It is a time when a pretentious show and form of godliness is paraded with promise of impacts on world powers and mass conversions of Jews and Gentiles, while truth is put upon the scaffold and compromised in order that imposing councils, federations, and mergers composed of varying faiths and confessions may be gathered.
It is a time when great allegiance to the Word is declared, while its clarity is undermined and its doctrines either denied or declared to be non-divisive. It is a period in which Protestantism wants to make a show of might in its opposition to the political ambitions of the Pope at Rome, while it shows its weakness in this that most of the Reformed, and even many “Lutherans”, refuse to say that Scripture teaches that the Pope is the Antichrist and will be so to the end. These are days when fellowship and cooperation in church work with errorists, liberals, and modernists is excused on the basis of expediency or war emergency or is explained as though we could look into the hearts of men to see their faith and so practice fellowship with the whole invisible church on earth. These are days when those who oppose unionism, the great bane of our age, are squelched by cries accusing them of lovelessness, separatism, isolationism, lack of faith in the power of the Word, lack of mission-mindedness and vision. This is a period when men are speaking about testimony to the erring but have no conception of what fearless testimony and clear denunciation and specific rejection of error demands in word and in deed according to the clear instruction of Scripture. These are times in which true, faithful and forthright confessors of the Word are pilloried, isolated, ignored and when those who have testified are becoming weary, tired, and tempted to mark time, to sit back and become inarticulate spectators of the passing scene. This is a time when the changing of the stole and the colors of the altar, the observing of days and passing of seasons is in many places given more attention than steadfastness to the Word which must ever remain the main and central part of the service. This is an age in which the individual sinner and his personal needs are often lost sight of in the present day mania for reaching large masses by radio and television. These are days when many are guided by a subjective and therefore confusing, beclouded, and ever changing approach to Scripture, while the presentation of the objective truths of the Bible is termed dead dogmatism.
The precious doctrine of the justification of the sinner through Jesus Christ is on many sides either perverted and changed or spoken of less and less while the works of men are spoken of more and more; the righteousness of the law which condemns is emphasized rather than the righteousness of Christ which avails for us before God.
Men speak a great deal about the Bible and the Confessions in our day but spend very little time in reading and studying them. And what is the result? It is seen in the life of the nation as well as in the midst of the church. Men deplore the increasing divorce rate, the wild life of youth, the orgies of the tavern, immorality, and the loose moral standards of our day, but wink at immodest, revealing dress, the sex-stimulating dance, the filthy novel and magazines, and the glamorizing of shame and vice set forth by the radio, television, and the movie. People are discussing the importance of the home, deploring the disrespect and disobedience of children to parents, elders, and superiors. Meanwhile they are neglecting family devotions and home instruction in the Word of God and are turning over their children to day-long and night-long babysitters, to the Alpine dance Attic attendants and to scoutmasters with a handbook of pharisaic selfrighteousness. There is much discussion of juvenile delinquency and the infiltration of Communistic influence in the public schools of our land, while Christian Day Schools and Christian high schools and colleges go abegging for pupils and students even among our own people. There is more leisure and free time than ever before, and yet it is harder and harder to get people to attend services, Bible classes, and congregational meetings. There is much talk about the small buying power of the dollar while the church must often operate as though the dollar could reach today as far as it reached before. It is a time when people payout large sums of money in taxes and insurances of all kinds for things pertaining to the corruptible, with no real security, but bring in approximately small sums for the support of the work of the church which deals in things incorruptible and eternal and which give promise of safety and security backed by God Himself. It is a day in which people are eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building, marrying, and giving in marriage, and giving as little heed to the things spiritual as did the people in the days of Noah and Lot.
This then is the spirit of the times in which we are living and in which we are called upon to do our work as a church. Now this all may seem to be an exceedingly dark and dismal picture, and indeed it is. It conforms to the picture that Scripture itself gives of these last times when the abomination of desolation sitteth in the holy place and when the infernal powers of Gog and Magog are arrayed against the spiritual temple of God seeking to batter it down and leave it in a rubble of destruction. These are the perilous times of which Paul by inspiration wrote to his co-worker Timothy. While it may seem out of order to dwell upon these things at a centennial celebration, we do not find it to be out of order anymore than Paul found it to be out of order to speak of these things in his letters. If we are to enter the century before us with soberness, watchfulness, and consecration that God asks of us, then we must first of all give heed to the words that he directs to us. Warnings concerning the perilous times of the end are given in the Holy Scripture in order to emphasize to the church its task and responsibility for the times in which we live.
The Apostle Paul after having warned Timothy of the perilous times in which he was called upon to perform his labors, writes: “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long suffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (II Tim. 3,10–17).
In the midst of the perplexing and often confusing scene of these last dark days there is a beacon light shining with a clear ray of direction and guidance. Through the dark and stormy night, over the turbulent and wind-tossed waves, there shines the light of the Word to keep the ship of the Church from being dashed to pieces on the rock-ribbed shore and to guide it safely past the shoals of destruction. In the Word we have the compass that points the way to the harbor of calm and peaceful waters. In the Word we have the heaven-sent manna that feeds our souls, comforts us in tribulation and strengthens us on the way. It is not by mere chance that the Apostle Paul in setting forth and describing the perilous times of the end goes on to raise before the mind and heart of Timothy and ours, the precious and fundamental doctrine of the plenary inspiration of the Bible. It is indeed for such a times as this that we are entreated to continue in the things we have learned from old, yes, to hold fast the verbal inspiration of the Bible upon which rests our certainty of the truth of all doctrines of Holy Writ, For when this foundation begins to crumble, when the verbal inspiration of the Bible is thrown open to question or doubt, whether for historical, geographical or other reasons, then the whole structure of orthodoxy and of truth will finally collapse. If you begin to question the truth and authority of one word of the Bible then the way is open to question all of its words.
The ultimate result will be the disintegration of the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ which has brought joy, hope, and comfort to sinners through the years. We must earnestly contend for the faith and man the walls in defense of the verbal inspiration of the Bible, looking for the least little opening in the dike which would bring a deluge of error upon us. When we have the assurance that every word of the Bible is given by inspiration of God, then we can go about our work also in this second century of grace, convinced that we may know the truth and are prepared to spread the pure Word of the Gospel of grace through all the world. When we have the assurance that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, then we know that we have that which is profitable and reliable in all its words and parts. We know that we have a Word that may safely be used in every circumstance of life for the purpose of doctrine, reproof, instruction, and righteousness. And, as we look upon this precious Book Divine, we shall find in its every part the final purpose, namely that we shall become wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus and that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. With the breath of God, Scripture wafts out to us this saving truth: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his own blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” (Romans 5, 8-11). If full assurance of this truth is to remain to us, we must uphold the verbal inspiration of the Bible and contend for the pure doctrine in its every detail.
But now it will not do for us to speak of orthodoxy and pure doctrine as though this were just an academic thing which we contend for, and which means little more to us than a worthy cause for men to espouse. Real orthodoxy must be and is a living thing which adorns the leading of a truly pious and a Christian life. Real orthodoxy embraced with the heart will carry with it the sincere desire of bringing it to others, of bringing the blessed tidings of salvation in Jesus Christ to those who are walking in the death and darkness of unbelief. And so controversy must not be carried on for the love of polemical victory but for the purpose of preserving God’s Word inviolate for the salvation of souls,—yes, that mission work may be carried on without the least leaven error which leads away from God, but that it may be carried on with the pure truth, in order that men may unerringly be led to Christ and His vicarious atonement. The knowledge that we are living in the last time should be a signal that we must bestir ourselves, shake off all laziness and indolence, and use our time profitably for the preaching of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to bend every effort in our congregations and in our institutions that we may truly serve the Lord and be of real spiritual service to this generation and to those generations which may follow. For this work we need to lay aside every weight that hinders and the affairs of this life which entangle us. For this work all those who believe and teach the same in all details of doctrine should close the ranks, putting aside factiousness and pettiness. Irritable and contentious spirits must be calmed lest the heathen find cause to blaspheme the truth for which we stand, and which we wish to propagate and disseminate into this world of sin. Patience must be practiced without giving way to false tolerance. We must be on our guard lest we seek by the law to accomplish what alone the Gospel can produce. The dignity and majesty of the gospel truth must be preserved without showmanship or spectacular display. We must labor and work not to further our own personal honor and gain or to win the acclaim of the masses, but to hallow the name of God and to serve with the Word that the kingdom of God may come.
It is indeed a difficult and a treacherous time in which to live and to work and yet it is a privilege and a favor to be living in times such as these. For we are experiencing how the Lord Jesus can preserve and keep his own in the midst of the severest afflictions, as He carries out His promise which assures us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church. You are experiencing the truth of these words of your God: “But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior.” (Isaiah 43,1–3a). Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword shall not separate God’s elect from the love of Christ. “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is. in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It is a privilege and a favor to live in these times, even as it was for Noah and his family to live at the time of the flood and see how gloriously the Lord could and did preserve His own, when destruction came upon the whole earth. It is a privilege and an honor to live in these last days and be instruments in the hands of God in preaching Christ and Him crucified and in saying to Jerusalem your warfare is accomplished, your iniquity is pardoned, you have received of the Lord’s hand double for all your sins. It is a privilege to live in this time of disintegration and be able to speak this word of assurance: “The grass withereth; the flower fadeth, but the word of our God shall stand forever.” And so: “O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up onto the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringeth good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40,9–11).
Even as the Lord says to us in these days of desolation, “Be still and know that I am God”, so shall we in this coming century of grace get up into the high mountains with tile glad tidings of salvation and say: “Behold your God.” “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”