Dear Brethren, Grace be unto you, and peace, from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ!
This is the 40th Regular Convention of our Synod. When we look about us at the place where we are gathered and at the number of pastors and delegates here assembled, we must admit that it is a picture far different from the one that prevailed when a dozen independent pastors and about two hundred equally “synod-less” laymen, men and women, organized our Synod in the Lime Creek congregation near Lake Mills, Iowa, in June, 1918. Those two hundred courageous souls, bereft of their spiritual house, together with that small band of determined pastors, elected to re-build a synod on the ruins of the one that had been destroyed for them by a unionistic merger. That humble, frail, and at the time apparently insignificant, little synod has in the span of years since increased an hundred-fold several times over, so that we today number about thirteen thousand souls in our communion.
With so much history behind us, it is very much in order to ask ourselves, What is the purpose of our existence? The answer to why we exist as a Church, and as a separate Lutheran Church, is to be found in the last will and testament of the Lord and Head of the Church of believers, who enjoins us, “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28,19) There we have the whole story in one short sentence.
If we are to be true to our divine charter we shall ever want to keep in mind that our first and foremost assignment is to “make disciples” of men, to make followers of Jesus out of them. Those already His followers are to gain others for Him. That is the sole business of the Church, to save souls, to bring men to Jesus and to keep them with Him. Whatever we Christians as a Church do must in one way or other contribute to that one end and aim if we are to have any right to exist as a Church. And how are we to do that, “make disciples of all nations”?
Our Savior-Lord answers, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” (Mt. 20,19) Through Baptism. in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost men are brought into fellowship with the Triune God; they are adopted as the children of God, united with Christ and His sin-atoning blood and saving righteousness, and are made temples of the Holy Ghost, Who further enlightens and keeps them in their faith.
At the same time we are to teach men. The heart and center of what we are to teach them is, of course, the good tidings that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” (II Cor. 5,19) This Gospel is the only thing that can give men any hope for favor with God while they live, and it likewise is the only thing which can give them a salvation in glory when they die. Throughout its history the orthodox Lutheran Church has therefore been a teaching church, and so is ours, a Church that is concerned with helping men to learn as much as they can about God’s saving grace in Christ, so that they with the inspired Apostle may be led to believe and say, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (I Tim. 1,15)
We are not only to teach men about Jesus but also that they observe all that He has taught or commanded us. In other words, our Church, after the clearly expressed will of its Head, strives for a fully informed membership. A thorough indoctrination in what Jesus in His Word has to tell us will make for happy and hopeful Christians, for well-grounded believers, who will not be “tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” (Eph. 4,14) If there is one place where ignorance can never be bliss it is in the matter of knowing what our Lord and Savior would have us to believe and do.
One thing we must not overlook in this, our Church’s assignment from on High, is that we are to make such well-indoctrinated disciples of all men. Our task will never be completed so long as there remains even one person who has not heard that Jesus, the Savior of sinners, has won forgiveness and salvation for him. That then means that we should be a mission-minded Church, a Church that is on the aggressive, and ready to seize upon every opportunity that arises for acquainting men with Him Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (Jn. 14,6)
In these days of world-wide ecumenical movements, that feverish yearning after and striving for large and impressive church organizations, we may at times be inclined to become faint-hearted in our to-the-world humble and somewhat lowly position as a Church that expends so much effort in teaching, teaching, and more teaching. We may come to feel sort of left out and conclude that what we can do is not of very great significance.
But, brethren, for all the publicity that attends such far-flung cooperative endeavors, as the Lutheran World Federation’s meeting in Minneapolis this summer, for all the oratory that may prevail there, all the commendable resolutions adopted, and for all the impact that it may appear to make on the average man in the street, we must remember that these are not the criteria by which to determine whether what a church, or a group of churches, is doing is well-pleasing in the eyes of the Lord of the Church; here the sole question is, Are they who sponsor, and join in, such movements as the solution to the Church’s problems faithful in their use and proclamation of our Lord’s Word? The reason our Synod cannot take part in a meeting like that of the aforementioned assembly of Lutherans is the fact that we are not in agreement with those who make up that convention as to what that Word teaches, whereas the Scripture enjoins us, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all 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)
We seriously question whether such large attention-attracting conventions are actually doing the work the Lard has assigned to His Church. We must furthermore remember that people are normally not won in groups, but as individuals. And here is where the local Church comes in—whether it be large or small is of no real importance. It is through individual contact with individual people by mission-minded pastors and members that we make disciples, one here and one there, through the telling of the story of God’s redeeming love in His Savior-Son. To be sure, a certain amount of organization an the part of like-believing Christians is necessary, but, in the end that, too, is to enable and assist the Christians in a given locality to carry out Jesus last will and testament.
We as individual congregations which comprise the Synod and which wish to be loyal to the Head of the Church have our work clearly defined for us, “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations.” It is not a question of where can we do this, but how—from whence are we to get the men and where are we to find the necessary funds? We have ample opportunity for expanding the borders of God’s Kingdom; we have the unconditioned Gospel, which “is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth;” (Rom. 1,16) what we lack is the wherewithal to bring this Gospel to our still benighted fellowmen who have no hope and are without God in the world. (Eph. 2,12 ) We therefore have work to do, and as the world’s day of grace draws to its close ever more rapidly, it is even more incumbent upon us to pursue our task with all the resources at our command.
In a sense this is a critical convention for us. The opportunities to make disciples of our fellowmen in new areas and to expound the way of God more perfectly unto others calls for a budget that is fifty percent higher than what we contributed for current operating expenses during the past fiscal year. We have two alternatives—either curtail our work, or, increase our contributions. But, how can we justify ourselves before the Lord of the Church if we were to cut our work? The Gospel of God’s wondrously free and saving grace in Christ should mean so much to us that we will feel constrained and compelled to bring it to others wherever we may find them, and, our Lord’s final commission to make disciples of all nations should be such a conscience-matter with us that we with Paul will one and all say, “Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel.” (I Cor. 9,16)
Therefore, should we not want to pursue the latter course — earnestly endeavor to increase our gifts for the Lord’s work to such an extent that this work of rescuing souls from the abyss of superstition and unbelief, and of more fully instructing those who are already Jesus’ disciples, will not have to be curtailed? Is there anyone here who. would honestly say, I cannot do any more than what I have been doing for the work of the Lord? This, too, is a matter of faith, in obedience to the Lord’s command carrying out the work before us and trusting that we shall not suffer when we liberally support the same. Just remember what the Lord tells the liberal giver, how that he shall suffer no lack but rather be enabled to give even more generously, as the Apostle Paul tells us when writing to the Corinthians, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye always, having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” (II Cor. 9,8) It is not our Mission Board, our College or our Seminary, but the Lord who hath need of our gifts. Can we, dare we, say Him Nay? His last will and testament still stands “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations.”
It cannot be denied that we in recent years have had to spend no little time and effort in contending for the preservation of an unconditioned Gospel, a matter that has brought on some added complications on the local as well as on the synodical level; and, the end is not yet. Nor must we let that heritage be taken from us for which our stout-hearted fathers and brethren so valiantly strove forty years ago. However, this word of Jesus applies here, too, “These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matt. 23,23)
The thing we are not to leave undone is our commission to make disciples of all nations. With a pure and unsullied Gospel as our possession we and our like-minded brethren in other Synods should of all men be most zealous in exerting ourselves to the utmost to share this precious heritage with our fellowmen. Yes, our Synod should not only be known as one which wants to be faithful to the Word, as Scripture requires, but also as one which is most zealous in teaching that Word to our fellowmen, as Scripture also requires.
In this connection it is not out of order to remind ourselves to be on guard against assuming a negative complex in which we emphasize everything we are against instead of letting the glorious comforting and soul-saving Gospel, which we have and are contending for, be the hallmark for which we wish to be known. No Church can grow or expect to attract many people to its standard if it does not have something positive to offer men, something to give them which they, perhaps unknown to themselves, are longing for and which can make them happier and more blessed for this life, to say nothing of the life still to come. What better reputation could we have than to be known as a Church which has an anxious passion and an earnest zeal for sharing the precious Gospel-heritage we have with everyone who is still without it?
As we during the days of this convention deliberate on the various matters before us, let us not lose sight of the one objective that must pervade all our thinking and doing, the commission of our Lord to win disciples for Him. If we really are in earnest about doing the work the Lord has given us to do we shall find ways and means for taking advantage of every opportunity to baptize and to teach men all things He has commanded us. Nay, we must do that, or forfeit the right to have His soul-saving Word ourselves. Besides, why else does the Lord let his disciples remain in this world, but to gain other followers for Him? There is not much time left, “we must work while it is day before the night cometh when no man can work.” (John 9,4)
May we, then, ask the Lord, Who of His mercy has enlisted us undeserving sinners to carry on His work of recruiting other followers for Him, to be with us in that noble work and also rely on Him to supply us with the necessary grace to do it.
May God bestow on us His grace,
With blessings rich provide us,
And may the brightness of His face
To life eternal guide us;
That we His gracious work may know,
And what is His good pleasure,
And also to the heathen show
Christ’s riches without measure
And unto God convert them.
SOLI DEO GLORIA!