Dear Brethren: “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ!”
By the grace of God it is again given us to assemble for the annual convention of our Synod. Such conventions serve a very good purpose, too. They give us an opportunity to hear reports on the progress of, the various phases of our synodical endeavors and to consider the general health of our Synod and of the Church at large. They enable us to consult together on the problems that are ours, on ways and means for improving and expanding our work, and for determining the policies we wish to pursue in days to come. Above all, such conventions as this afford us an occasion for arriving at a mutual understanding of, and strengthening in, just those parts of God’s holy Word which need special emphasis in our day and in our particular sphere of God’s Kingdom on earth.
In our synodical Explanation we under the Third Article find this question: “What is, accordingly, the mission of the Church?” (Q. 216). The answer given is: “It is the mission of the Church faithfully to preserve the Means of Grace pure and unadulterated, to use them diligently for its own edification, and to bring them to all who do not yet belong to the Kingdom of God.” In these three simple sentences we have the work of the Church clearly defined for us. It is not only very much in order but quite necessary that we occasionally return to these basic principles, lest we forget what our tasks as congregations and as a synod of the true visible Church are.
It is necessary that we keep the Means of Grace pure in order that we and those with whom we share them may have a certain and saving hope for our life here and hereafter. The moment we begin tampering with the Word, to circumscribe it so as to make it say less than it actually does, or, to generalize it so that it will come to say more than God intended, we have already shirked our first and foremost duty. It is especially important in our day when men are said to be becoming more interested in religion, but when there is a hopeless confusion and a babel of tongues concerning what Christianity itself is, that we be a trumpet that rings true. We dare never forget that the Word is not our creation with which we may do as we please, but that it is God’s verbally inspired Word of which the Apostle says, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” (I Pet. 4,11). Unfortunately, this striving to uphold the truth of the Word is not a battle which we have to wage but once, after which we can lay down our arms; it is a never-ending war which the Church will be forced to wage until that day when time ceases and eternity begins. We firmly believe that we in our Synod have been contending for the truth the Lord has entrusted to us, and that He has not withheld His blessing from our efforts, at least not as far as our own communion is concerned.
But it will not be of any benefit to keep the Means of Grace pure and unadulterated unless we also use them. There is the ever-present danger that we may become very adept at defending the purity and sanctity of the Word and then neglect to use it for the purpose for which God gave it. It is not a course from which we, after much prolonged study, can say we have graduated. If we would know the truth and be preserved in it so that we may be truly free spiritually, we must, as Jesus enjoins us, continue in His Word. (John 8,31f). Satan is ever ready to suggest to us that so long as we have retained the Word in its God-given purity we cannot be accused of having neglected it, and we may thus be lulled to sleep with a false sense of security. In these critical days it is more necessary than ever that the Family Altar be restored and a more regular private study of the Word be pursued in our homes, so that, as one of our sainted pastors frequently reminded us, our people may know something, and, knowing something, may be able to stand for something.
Even then, we have not carried out our assignment from Above unless we also share the glorious Gospel we have with others. Mission work is the very life’s blood of the Church. If we are to remain a healthy church and to continue to possess a soul-winning, soul-preserving, soul-saving faith, we must constantly exercise it through the enlarging of our tents by means of Mission work. No doctrinal warfare must be permitted to curtail it or to suspend its operation for a season. If we do little more than hold our own, we shall be like the man in the parable who buried his talent. Convinced that we have the Word in its God-given purity, we, of all people, should be a most aggressive missionary church. We not only have something to give our spiritually starving and dying fellow-men; we are the very ones who should bring it to them, since we have it in its pristine glory. The marching order given us has never been recalled, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16,15) “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in that my house may be filled,” (Luke 14,23) says the Lord of the Church.
Someone might say that during days of doctrinal disturbance we do not have the time to pursue an aggressive mission policy, that so long as we maintain purity of doctrine we cannot be faulted with having neglected our duty. Jesus’ final commission allows no such halting of operations. He says, “Go ye — teach — all nations — all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28,20) If the times are unsettled we shall have to carry on our work as did the Israelites during the days of Nehemiah, a building trowel in one hand and a sword in the other as they were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 4,18), in our case the trowel and the sword being the same, the sacred Word of Holy Writ. We must keep on building and expanding, or forfeit the right to be called a faithful Church of Jesus Christ.
All three of these obligations are so interwoven that one cannot long be carried out without the other. Only the constant use of the Word for our own edification will enable us to keep it pure and inspire us to share the grace and salvation there revealed with others. Only by keeping the word pure can we have an unconditioned hope for ourselves and be able to give a Gospel which can really enlighten to souls still dwelling in the darkness of unbelief. Only through the giving out to others of the glorious saving hope we have received can we retain a living hope for ourselves.
When we review the activities within our Synod for the past year we must confess that the Lord has, true to the promise where His Word is proclaimed, not let our labors in the Word be in vain. For example, our soul membership was increased by almost 8% in 1954, though our communicant membership lags slightly behind. What is encouraging is the accessions to our congregations by way of work with the adults. This past year there was an increase of 33% in adult baptisms and of 28% in adult Confirmations. Also our attendance at the Lord’s Supper is about 10% better than in the previous year, evidence that our members are using the Means of Grace for their own edification. Further, when we consider what has been accomplished and what is further planned in our Mission endeavors, we see that it is not in keeping with the facts to call ours a “do nothing synod.”
There is another department where we should be expected to improve in proportion to our numerical growth — in the stewardship of our means. While our congregations in the last calendar year increased their giving for Home Purposes by at least 15% over the previous year, there was a considerably smaller increase in giving for our synodical work. The budgeted funds for the present fiscal year of Synod alone will need almost as much as the Treasurer received for all purposes from our congregations last year. In the final analysis, also our means are devoted to our one main end and task, the keeping and spreading of the Word. In that connection let us not be unmindful of our obligation to provide our pastors and teachers with a respectable standard of living, for they cannot be efficient laborers if they must be burdened with the problem of how to obtain the necessities of life. Such a burden will in the end curtail the work we have asked them to do in our name. We should therefore make an honest endeavor to be good stewards of the manifold grace of God also with respect to the means which the Lord has in abundant measure bestowed upon us individually.
At this convention we have several matters to consider which are directed towards increasing our efficiency as a synod. The Committee of Committees, which was established at the last convention, has given much time and effort to a review of several phases of our work; the task was too monumental to complete in time for this convention. After much thought and careful study this committee has, on the basis of previous resolutions and policies of the Synod, compiled “Guidelines” for the Board of Missions and for the Board for Youth Work, as well as a proposal for securing funds for our expanding mission program. In addition, a change of name is proposed for our Synod, for brevity’s sake, and especially to facilitate the extending of our borders in areas where the expression “Norwegian” has no historical significance and where it tends to be more of a hindrance than an asset. Then, there are problems connected with our Bethany College which are deserving of our earnest and whole-hearted consideration, since the Church must constantly be supplied with new laborers. In brief, all of the work reported on at this meeting should be weighed in terms of helping us to keep, to use, and to spread the Means of Grace.
However, there are also other serious matters confronting us. There is no denying that the state of affairs in our beloved Synodical Conference is not at all what we would like to have them be. All things considered, our relations with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod have not really improved over the past year. And so the question arises, What should our course of action be if we are to preserve our heritage of an unconditional Gospel and to be faithful to it?
Because there is a different spirit or attitude prevailing in our sister-synod it is impossible for them and us to arrive at a mutually agreeable approach to the problems under consideration, whereas the Apostle inspired of God says, “I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (I Cor. 1,10).
The action our Synod takes in these matters that have to do with our relations with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod must be one which will be consistent with our previous testimony and in conformity with the Word of God. Those who have not been faithful to the Means of Grace should know that they have forfeited the right to be called brethren by those who have kept them pure. Those who in spirit are our brethren should know that we are not retreating from the position we have taken in order to preserve those inviolate. Those who want to be our brethren, but who have not troubled themselves to become informed on what the issues are or what all is involved, must be alerted to the fact that, to use a colloquial expression, it “is later than they think” and that they must therefore without delay bestir themselves if they are to retain a pure and unadulterated Gospel for themselves and their Church.
Meanwhile, let there be no cause for anyone, least of all the Lord of the Church; to charge us with neglect of duty in our three-fold obligation as a Christian Church. The confessional banner we hold aloft must be true to the Scriptures, as well as to our history and to our name. To that end we must preserve the Means of Grace pure and unadulterated; use them for our own edification, for our growth in grace and knowledge, for regulating our conduct in all respects; and proclaim them as far and wide as our resources will permit. Then we may have the good hope that the divine approval expressed over the church in Philadelphia in Asia Minor can also be spoken over us, “Thou hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.” (Rev. 3, 8) If we can have that said of us, all shall be well within our synodical Zion.
SOLI DEO GLORIA!