Esteemed Members and Friends of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
Dear Fellow Redeemed and Fellow Workers in God’s Kingdom, Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
A few years ago the well-known writer, Bruce Barton, wrote a treatise about the Bible which he called THE BOOK NOBODY KNOWS. This title seems completely out of place in a day when the Bible is translated into almost every language and is the best-seller among all books. There is hardly a person who has not at least heard about the Bible and had some access to it. Among our people, the greatest stress is laid upon the Bible. The motto of our Church Body is: “Sola Scriptura — Sola Gratia — Sola Fidei.” Translated, this means that we are saved through the Scriptures alone, by Grace alone, through Faith alone. The Scriptures, that is the Bible, occupies the first place because it is the source of all articles of faith. Our Confessions state: “The Word of God shall establish articles of faith and no one else, not even an angel.” (S.A. Part II, Art. 15, Triglott, p. 467). It is the source of our salvation, the basis of our faith. The Scriptures bring us the Grace of God unto salvation and create faith in Christ in our hearts and sustain us in the faith. Therefore, we see the exceedingly great importance of the Bible for our faith, life, and salvation.
Since the Bible is so basic to our salvation, we can see at once why the devil seeks with all his might to destroy its authority. It has always been under attack in one way or another. There is at present a great deal of discussion about the nature and character of the Bible. The questions of the authority of the Bible, the inspiration of the Bible, and the inerrancy of the Bible are the subjects of much discussion and lengthy essays not only in Reformed churches, but also in the Lutheran Church.
All the debate about the Bible and what is meant when men say that it is inspired or infallible in all its statements or that it is without error really gets down to another question, namely — Is it the Word of God? Or to put it another way: In what sense is it the Word of God? What has our Synod taught on this matter? Is our teaching really the teaching of Holy Scripture?
In our Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism we declare that the Bible is God’s own Word written by Prophets, Evangelists, and Apostles. We state that the Word of these men is the Word of God, because the Spirit of God in miraculous manner gave to them what they should speak and write and the very words which they should use. As proof, we quote the texts: II Tim. 3:16. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” II Peter 1:21. “The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” II Corinth. 2:13. “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”
The doctrine of Inspiration, which really tells us both how we got the Bible and why it is in fact the very Word of God is basic and important. I am quoting a longer section on the Origin and Inspiration of the Bible from the book A SUMMARY OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE by Edward W.A. Koebler, D.D., who was a member of the faculty of Concordia Teachers College, River Forest, Illinois.
“1. Different human writers, but one divine Author. – The Bible is a collection of books, written at different times and by different men. Moses and the prophets wrote the canonical books of the Old Testament in the Hebrew and Aramaic languages; the evangelists and the apostles wrote the canonical books of the New Testament in the Greek language. Still, there is but ONE Author of the entire Bible, and this Author is God. The Bible is God’s own Book, which not merely contains the Word of God intermingled with many human additions and interpolations, but which in all its parts IS the Word of God.
“Of the Old Testament writers we read: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16). Also: ‘God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son’ (Hebr. 1:1.2). And of the New Testament writers Paul says: ‘When ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God’ (1 Thess. 2: 13 ).
“Not all God ever said and did is recorded in the Bible (John 21:25) nor have we in the Bible a complete revelation of God in the sense that all we should like to know of His essence, judgments, and purposes is made known to us (Rom. 11:33-36); but all that is necessary and profitable for us to know, God has made known; hence ‘we know in part’ (I Cor. 13:9).
“2. The divine inspiration of the Bible may be considered under the following three headings: (a) When the holy men were to write; (b) What they were to write; (c) How they were to write.
“(a) The divine impulse. — The men whom God employed as His penmen, no doubt, spoke and wrote also other things during their lifetime; but only then did they speak and write the Word of God, when there was a divine impulse and command, when they were moved by the Holy Ghost. ‘The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost’ (2 Pet. 1: 21). Inspiration, therefore, includes the antecedent divine instigation or peculiar impulse of the will to engage in writing.
“(b) The divine thought content. — The Holy Ghost not only moved these men when to write, but He also suggested, inspired, and controlled what they wrote. The thought content of the Bible, the facts recorded, the truth revealed, the doctrines taught, are in all parts and particulars what God wanted them to write, and in no instance did they write anything God did not want them to write. This is true not only of the things which pertain to our salvation, but also of historical events, of happenings in nature, of personal experiences, and the like.
“Peter writes (1 Pet. 1:10–12): ‘Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the Gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven: Very definitely Peter here speaks of the content of the prophecy, and tells us that the Spirit of Christ was in the prophets and testified beforehand of His redemptive work, and that its fulfillment was now preached through the Holy Ghost in the Gospel.
“Paul writes (2 Tim. 3:16): ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.’ From this text it is evident that the men of God were not merely moved by the Holy Ghost to speak, but that also what they spoke and wrote, ‘all Scripture,’ was God-inspired, God-inbreathed. Inspiration, therefore, had for its object not the writers themselves, who were only the instruments of the Holy Ghost and were soon to pass away, but the writings, the books, the Holy Scriptures, which were to continue in the Church unto the end of time. What Paul says of the Old Testament is true also of the New Testament. Jesus had promised His disciples the Holy Ghost, of whom He said: ‘He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you’ (John 14:26); and again: ‘He will guide you into all truth’ (John 16:13). This was fulfilled, for Paul. writes (1 milesor its own edification and to bring them to all who do not yet belong to the kingdom of God.” We cannot stress each of the three parts of the answer too much. Indeed the first part is of utmost importance since the second and third parts depend upon it. God help us and guide us and bless us so that we may at all times preserve His Word and Sacraments pure and unadulterated.
But it is surely important that we use our Bible faithfully. The truths of the Scriptures are our very life. Yet there is a great ignorance of what the Bible teaches. This can only come from the fact that the sacred pages are not read and studied regularly. Somehow we must find a way to show all our people the stark necessity of faithful, regular Bible reading and Bible study. This is true also of the need for regular church attendance since “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” In looking over the statistics of our congregations for the past few years, we find that on an average 40–42 percent of our people are in church at the regular services. When we take into account that some of those counted are not members, it becomes even less. Not only is there room for improvement in this area, but it is necessary to stress the need for regular and faithful attendance at services and communion. We hope that every pastor and every congregation and every member will strive for more regular and prayerful use of the Bible in the homes and be encouraged to attend services and communion faithfully and regularly.
In this connection, we must call attention to the Christian training of the children in our midst. Without in any way belittling the Sunday School or Saturday School, or other agencies, we dare to say that the best means to accomplish the Christian training of our children is the truly Christian school. This is true both of elementary and secondary schools. Surely we should not be satisfied with less than the best in the training of our children. It is interesting to note that the same matter had been stressed throughout the history of the old Norwegian Synod as well as among us of the present reorganized Synod. Incidentally, this year marks the 35th anniversary of Bethany as a school of our Synod. Would that we could have all our young people studying at our Christian school so that they might be under the influence of the Word of Truth at all times which for all of them “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.” 2 Tim. 3:16–17. There is grave danger whenever God is separated from the education and training of anyone. Such an education is called a secular education. It is not easy to put God into a mind that has been trained to think of things apart from Him and as if God does not care or have a part in all events of history. It is extremely dangerous, to say the least, to spend 4 to 5 hours, 5 days a week being trained to think and act leaving God out of consideration and then try to fill it in with an hour or so of religious training once a week. Much rather ought it be said of our children as Jesus states in John 6: “It is written in the prophets, and they shall be taught of God, Every man, therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto Me.”
It is interesting to note that the 3d section of the duty of the church says we are to bring the Word and Sacrament to all who do not yet belong to the Kingdom of God. To all, mark well, not just to others. This is in agreement with Holy Scriptures which says, “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Truly this is a great assignment and one which is far from accomplished or completed. So we ought to be the more eager and zealous in carrying these out as we see the night approaching when no man can work. May we also in this area of our Christian life be encouraged to increase our efforts. Let there be more praying the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest. Let us be ever more diligent and faithful in doing personal mission work and giving generously of our money for this most blessed work. If we have seen the real greatness of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us, we will not consider it just a duty to give some of our money to the church. Nay, we will become cheerful givers who give out of love to God who first loved us. Let each of us stand before the cross of Jesus as we bring our gifts of love and gratitude.
In summing up, I repeat the aims I stated at the close of my first presidential message.
With this love of Christ constraining us let us set as our aim to provide more fully for the following goals of accomplishment in the days, weeks, and months ahead:
1. To preserve purity of doctrine and practice within our congregations.
2. To strengthen the bonds of faith and the unity of confession which unites us as a Synod.
3. To increase our Mission work so that we reach an even wider field with the saving Gospel.
4. To start more elementary schools within our congregations; to enlarge and strengthen our Bethany High School, College and Seminary so that the generations to come may reap of the rich blessings we have received.
5. To increase our Christian giving until it becomes a true reflection of love to our Savior for His boundless love to us.
May God visit us with His blessing and give us grace to receive it in believing hearts.
SOLI DEO GLORIA