Dear Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod:
How does it go with the Synod? This is a question which faithful members of our congregations are apt to ask their pastor on any given day of the year, and especially now at convention time. They ask about the Synod because they love its walls, and are truly concerned for its welfare, eager to help in its preservation.
Others also ask: How does it go with the Synod? They are the brethren from other church bodies who share our confession of faith, and as brethren are genuinely interested in, and concerned for, our welfare.
The interest in our Synod, however, does not cease with the brethren. There are others, especially in Lutheran circles, not acknowledged by us as brethren, who also ask in all seriousness: How does it go with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod? Whence their interest in us? They are not primarily interested in us as a group of some fourteen thousand people, although they have no particular disinterest in us either. I am sure they wish us well. Their real concern, however, is with our Synod as a confessional Lutheran Church body. They do not share tile doctrine of our Synod, but they cannot shake off the fact that the ELS stands for the old Lutheran doctrine, and as such holds forth the Gospel of Christ as restored by Luther in the Reformation, confessed by Lutherans in Europe in the Formula of Concord, and clearly proclaimed by the repristination theologians in America, notably of the Missouri Synod, in the 19th and part of the 20th centuries. What is more, of all the Lutherans in America of Scandinavian descent, it is only the “Little Synod,” as we often are called, which as a church has continued to hold forth without qualification or omission the old Lutheran doctrine. Hence the great interest in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
It is now forty-five years since tile reorganization of our Synod on the foundations of the old Norwegian Synod, which had been left a shambles by the shameful compromises of the Madison Settlement and the Austin Agreement, which resulted in the formation of the “Norwegian Lutheran Church in America,” later called the “Evangelical Lutheran Church,” and today a part of the “American Lutheran Church.” Do we fully realize what a glorious heritage and, at the same time, heavy responsibility rests upon us in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod? Seldom has so small a group been so highly favored, and seldom have so few people been given such great responsibility.
We can, in the fear of hardship and trial, and in the desire for soft and comfortable living, shut ourselves off from concern for the place which God has given us among Lutherans and think only of ourselves, neither daring nor desiring to continue to wrestle with the problems that afflict the Lutheran church in general. Likewise we can fail to show the necessary foresight and sacrifice to ensure that future generations of our Synod, that is, your children and mine, will continue to proclaim the unconditioned Gospel. We do this by our sometimes whining and whimpering about how impossible it is for our children to be taught in Christian day schools, Christian high schools, and Christian colleges, and by our oft-times niggardly contributions as individuals and congregations for the work of our Synod.
We are not in convention assembled to grumble and complain about our sad lot in life, our small numbers, our seemingly impossible problems. We are here to praise and glorify God for His wondrous grace in making us His own and in bestowing upon us the high privilege of proclaiming His grace to lost mankind. We are here to do as the psalmist bids:
I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.
They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.
O fear the Lord, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him. Ps. 34:1–8.
To this end we are here to pass resolutions on doctrine which in their sum total announce clearly to the whole world, and not least the Lutheran world, that we stand foursquare on the old Lutheran doctrines of Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, and Faith Alone, and that these words mean to us just what they say. Our declarations must be such that we show clearly that we will have none of the neo-orthodox views on Scripture which swindle the Christian out of the assurance of the doctrine of Scripture Alone which declares: ‘Thus saith the Lord.” Our decisions must be such that the world knows that the Evangelical Lutheran Synod will have no part in the false doctrine of the synergists, expressed in such terms as good attitude, feeling of responsibility, lack of willful resistance, and the like, which have been and continue to be a plague on Lutheran churches in the country and rob God of His glory and honor, and the sinner of the consolation God wants him to have. We must so resolve Synodical Conference matters before us that friend and foe alike know that although others may no longer desire to keep their distance in spiritual matters from those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which we have learned, we still intend to obey the Lord’s injunction to avoid them. By such resolutions we will be answering for all the question: How does it go with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod?
But it is not alone in resolutions on doctrine that we answer the question: How does it go with the Synod? Every resolution passed during this convention has a bearing on the question. What we resolve regarding missions, Christian education, finances, and all other phases of the Synod’s work will reveal, and sometimes more than we realize, just how well or how poorly it goes with the Synod. You cannot truly lay your heart on the doctrinal side of the Synod without also laying your pocketbook on the financial side and saying: “There it is, Lord, help Yourself.” Nor can you truly contend for purity of doctrine without zealously seeking to spread that doctrine to lost mankind at home and abroad. A church cannot mark time in its mission work and expect to keep the Gospel. The same holds true in regard to Christian education. The work is all one, and must be regarded as such.
By this time we perhaps are ready to ask with Paul: “And who is sufficient for these things?” 2 Cor. 2:16b. Such a feeling of weakness, even helplessness is most beneficial. We are nothing — either as individuals or as a synod — but it is in just such people that God can carry out His mighty purposes through His Holy Spirit. To us, also as a convention, God’s promise holds true: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12:9. May He pour out His Spirit upon us that being filled with all spiritual wisdom, courage, boldness, and zeal, we surprise even ourselves by what we do in Jesus’ name.
The question: How does it go with the Synod? is, however, a haunting one that is not answered alone in the hall of this convention. Rather, the question goes home with us and seeks its answer from each of us as individuals in our daily life. The question: How does it go with the Synod? becomes: How does it go with you as a Christian?
The finest resolutions of this convention become empty and meaningless, yes, even “sounding brass” and “a tinkling cymbal,” and all the more so because of our contention for purity of doctrine, unless we as members of our Synod back up our resolves with holy living.
Woe unto us if Jesus’ words regarding the Scribes and Pharisees find application in us: “The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do. not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” Matthew 23:2–4.
Each member of the Synod, beginning with the pastor, professor and teacher, ought to take earnest stock of himself, his thoughts, words, and deeds, and compare what he is to what he has been called to be. Let each measure himself by the apostolic standard recorded by Paul: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them and rose again.” 2 Cor. 5:14–15. Let each look at himself in the light of Peter’s declaration: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9. Having thus examined ourselves, there can be no room for sinful pride, dead orthodoxy, or evil boasting. The order of the day for all of us must rather be that of repentance. Then out from the ashes of repentance, chastened, but cleansed by the blood of Christ, we seek to live a godly life, freely and joyfully. When this truly characterizes the life of each of us, the question: How does it go with the Synod? can be answered in the affirmative: “Yes, it goes well with the Synod.”
God grant that we in this convention, following in the footsteps of those who have so nobly constituted earlier conventions of our Synod, wave high the banner of genuine Lutheranism — the pure Gospel of God’s free grace to lost mankind! God grant that we who hold high that banner be those who can say with Paul: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Galatians 6:14.
God bless our convention! Amen.
Theodore A. Aaberg