“Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord.”
It is the most glorious and most important business in the world which has again brought us together, the business of our Savior, Who is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. We are the humble instruments through whom He carries on His work in our midst, a work that has to do with the gaining and preserving of immortal souls which He has redeemed with His precious blood. That fact should lend a sacredness and earnestness of purpose to all we say and do here this week; but, it should also fill us with a warm enthusiasm as we go about our work. Think of it — He has chosen us frail, faltering, and altogether insufficient creatures to be His servants, to bring other sinners to know Him as their all-sufficient Savior. In a way, our task is simple, for the Lord has given us the Means with which to carry out that noble calling — His Holy Word and Sacraments. On the other hand, it is also a difficult task in that we must constantly be on the alert to avoid using these Means improperly. It is then in order to be efficient laborers in the Kingdom of our gracious Lord and Savior that we shall devote our attention to the place and use of these Means in our work.
In this second Epistle to Timothy the Apostle Paul writes: “Preach the Word.” That injunction is directed also to us and is no different from the commission the Lord of Lords gave His Church just before His triumphant ascension into heaven. Yes, those three words tell us both what we as a Church are to do and what means we should employ in doing that work — “Preach — the Word.” We are not given the liberty to modify or alter that Word, to add to or subtract from it, as it suits our own fancies—we are to preach or proclaim the whole body of Truth as contained therein.
Though we sincerely and humbly maintain that we by the mercies of God have the full Truth of His Word in our midst, it is not always such a simple thing to preach and teach it as it stands. There is our Old Adam who is ever at our side tempting us not to be quite so exact in every little point. After all, he argues, our people will not like it if we follow the Scriptures too closely; besides, we cannot afford to offend the many who have found it more convenient to adapt their use of the Word to the temper of our day and age. However, we must not forget whose Word it is which we are to proclaim unto the ends of the earth. Our King and Lord calls it “My Word” and through His prophet declares, “He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully.” (Jer. 23,28)
Granted that we have the Word of our Lord and Savior in its full Truth and purity; granted also that it is our aim as a Synod and as individual congregations faithfully to proclaim it, we have not yet fulfilled our obligation unless we do this in the manner further outlined by the Apostle, “Preach the word; be instant in season and out of season.”
The occasion will arise when we feel it is perhaps the wiser course not to put such emphasis on what the Scripture says—it just is not the appropriate time. That is the temptation especially when dealing with those with whom we have had a long and treasured fellowship, or, with such whom we would like to have join our ranks. We might easily come to feel that it were better to be silent now and then rather than constantly to pluck the same string. But the inspired Apostle recognizes no season when the Word should be muzzled; he asks us to preach it even when men consider it unseasonable. Only, let us ever make certain that it is our concern for the King’s business and the preservation of His Word and not fleshly zeal which motivates our proclaiming the Truth of His Word, that we subordinate ourselves to the Word, so that it may sound forth in its full God-given force.
Here is where we come to the nub of the matter. The Apostle continues, “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.” We cannot deny that the Church is today reproving, rebuking and exhorting; in fact, it is doing a great deal of it. Unfortunately, such reproof and exhortation is not always carried out with long-suffering and doctrine, so that it gets to be man’s and not God’s will which is being set forth. As a result people do not get the information, do not learn the basic principles, which they can then apply to the various situations that will arise in their life. But a conscientious preacher of the Word is a steward of God and a public servant of the Church as the same Apostle elsewhere enjoined to “hold fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” (Tit. 1,9).
That it is important that sound doctrine be proclaimed in every phase of our activity as a Church is quite forcefully impressed upon us when the Apostle says, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” That time is already here. Having been deprived of sound doctrinal preaching for some time, people in some areas are no longer able to digest it when they do hear it and therefore prefer to hear what is less disturbing to them. Yes, being far wiser in their own conceits than the Word is, they in the end come to accept and believe fables. That is God’s terrible retribution towards those who misuse or fail to use His infallible Word.
In our day of increasing liberalism it is no easy task at all times to give full expression to the whole counsel of God. When we see how even Lutheran Churches seem to prosper by compromising here, by remaining silent there; when we note how some are, shall we say hesitant, to let the Word speak with the divine authority that resides in it; when we detect what might be called signs of uncertainty and indecision all around us and perhaps even in our own midst, then, we must all the more earnestly arid prayerfully study this Word in order to be certain that the position we take and the course we pursue is a Scriptural one.
What we at the same time must be careful to avoid, no matter what the issue, is that we without a sound doctrinal basis press a point so far in one direction that it will cause some to rebound to the opposite extreme. To that end we should fervently plead with our heavenly Father to give us the right judgment, a proper sense of balance, on all issues concerning which the Scriptures have something to say.
The one problem that still lies on our hearts and which we feel quite keenly is the situation that obtains in the Synodical Conference. Last year our Synod suspended fraternal relations with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod until the matters to which we had objection had been properly adjusted by them. That body had its convention about six weeks ago in St. Paul, Minnesota, and on these matters passed a number of resolutions which we find embodied in the report of our Union Committee. In view of what transpired at that St. Paul meeting we must during the next few days conclude whether the situation has changed from a year ago and then determine either to continue our stand of a year ago or to modify our position.
Hence the problem before us is, how can we best serve the cause of the Truth, the preaching of the Word—by continuing the course that we adopted a year ago or by joining in a common endeavor, as proposed by the Missouri Synod to have all the synods of the Synodical Conference work together towards a solution of the differences that have all but completely severed the close fellowship that once prevailed between the member synods.
There is reason to believe that our suspension of relations with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has had a sobering effect on many of her members, both pastors and lay people, as seemed to be indicated in her recent convention. Neither can we deny that very likely many, if not most, of the congregations in that body teach and practice as we aim to do in our Synod.
Accordingly, how can we, in the action we take, on the one hand be longsuffering without sacrificing doctrine, and on the other be faithful to the doctrines of Holy Writ without violating its injunction to be longsuffering? How can we best help not only the Missouri Synod as a Synod but also our own Synod in its educational, mission and charitable endeavors on both congregational and synodical levels — how can we best promote the true welfare of our King’s business and His Kingdom — by resuming some measure of fellowship with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, or by maintaining the present status quo?
Bearing in mind the Apostle’s directive in his divinely inspired counsel to Timothy, our convention committee on Doctrinal Matters will have to study the entire situation most prayerfully and carefully, so that on the basis of its recommendations we can act in a way that will enable us to preach the Word faithfully, in season and out of season, to reprove, rebuke and exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.
May we as individual delegates and as a Synod during the days of our convention and in our work at home ever strive to keep before us this divine assignment as so clearly expressed by the inspired Apostle to the same pastor Timothy, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee,” (1 Tim. 4,16) God grant us this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA!