Dear Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod:
Since the inception of the reorganized Norwegian Synod in 1918, one of the commemorable highlights in its spiritual life and activity has been the annual Synod Convention. While there are many causes for rejoicing, when pastors and delegates from all parts of our beloved Synod assemble to renew acquaintances, to hear and to study reports from the various Boards, to consider new proposals and to make plans for the future, our real and supreme cause for rejoicing is the privilege of basking anew in the sunshine of God’s marvelous Grace, as revealed so clearly and strikingly in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Even as a child of God never grows weary of hearing the sweet news of the ages, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” John 3,16, so he never fails to be filled with awe and wonder as he contemplates the eternal and soul-satisfying riches contained in this divine evangel, of which the apostle exultingly writes, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” I Cor. 2,9.
As Lutheran Christians, we would certainly be remiss and scoundrels of the grossest ingratitude, if we did not make the Gospel of Grace the very heart and center of our spiritual life and the source of our joy, ever acknowledging that by nature we are no, better than anyone else in this world and repeating with humble hearts the confession of the patriarch Jacob, “not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant,” Gen. 32,10. The great truth “that God hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” 2 Tim. 1,9, must ever be indelibly written upon our hearts and uttered boldly with our lips. If we have little or nothing to say about our redemption, reconciliation and justification in and through Christ Jesus, it would be better to pack our bags and return home before passing a single resolution.
Not only do we want to extol and to magnify God’s Grace as an undeserved gift to us poor sinners, but also we want to make it our avowed purpose to walk and to labor in the sphere of that same Grace. That the unbelieving and scoffing world should nonchalantly and quickly discard the Gospel as sheer nonsense and not worthy of a second look or audit, does not surprise anyone, who is conversant with the ugly and hideous description of man’s natural heart, but that those who have a common name with us should succumb to the delusion that the Holy Scriptures can not be altogether relied upon, that the precious Word becomes the Word of God only when our puny and unreliable reason gives its assent thereto, and that her sacred words must first pass the courts of modern scientific theory, not only strikes us as strange, but also fills us with the deepest sadness.
In our comparatively small Synod, the danger of corrupting the doctrine of the Word is not as great, though we would never minimize that ever present danger, as the danger of losing that Word through indifference and neglect of it. While Dr. Koren had much to say about the doctrine of the Word of God and its paramount importance, he also had much to say about the use of that Word. In an address to the Norwegian Synod, “On Using the Word of God,” Dr. Koren writes: “To have the Word of God among us is the first requirement, if we are to be Christians. But that alone does not profit us. The Word of God says of the people of the Old Covenant that the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. Hebrews 4,2. This (to have a true faith), then, must be our aim, if the Word is to profit us.” (Faith of our Fathers, page 141.) Dr. Koren repeatedly points out in his writings the real danger of forgetting the value of the Word of God, with only the sound and the shell of it remaining.
No greater word of commendation can be said of the Christian that that ward which the aged apostle John spake to faithful Gaius, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth.” 3 John 4. Walking in the truth means not only contending far the purity of the Ward, but also using that same word faithfully and diligently, so that the Holy Spirit may accomplish in our hearts and lives that which pleaseth Him. Our Explanation expresses it so well: “We deem Gods Word holy, when we regard it as our greatest treasure, keep it in our hearts, and live according to it.” (Answer to question, When do we deem God’s Word holy?)
But is the admonition to walk in the truth out of order in our Synod today? Just a quick glance at the parochial report shows that there is spiritual life in our congregations, and we truly thank God for that, but it also reveals much that is undone or neglected. Someone may suggest that no one can compute or measure the quiet working of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel in the hearts of men, and with that we fully agree, but children of God can not conceal their profession and vocation any more than a zebra can hide his stripes. Just to mention one aspect of our spiritual activity: Why is it that people who call themselves protagonists of the “open Bible” find it so difficult to gather for Bible study, when social functions come so easily? In congregations where regular Bible classes are conducted, only too often they are treated like an orphan or a step-child. Some of the Reformed churches, notably the Baptist, often put us Lutherans to shame, when it comes to Biblical knowledge and interest in the eternal verities of its sacred tomes. One of the most artful devices employed by the old evil foe is to keep the ransomed away from that living and life-giving Word. If every single member in our congregation would truly become a Bible student and apply that Word as he or she should, we would not have to worry about the future of Christian education, missions or the condition of the various treasuries. Brethren, without a continuous interest in and use of the Word, we are not only fighting an uphill battle, but we are also doomed. And what a dreadful thought that is!
God has a purpose in permitting our small Synod to stand. When we but think back over her history, in 1968 we hope under God to celebrate her Jubilee Anniversary, it is nothing short of miraculous, that, surrounded by formidable foes of every sort and description and with all human odds against her, she has been graciously preserved by God, despite the oft faithlessness and lovelessness shown by us at times. Should not the fact that His Gracious Hand has been clearly extended over our Synod down through the decades inspire and move us to rededicate ourselves, body and soul, to the future program of teaching and preaching and living the Gospel of free forgiveness? While the vast majority of Christendom is dedicated to the task of saving the world through the popular ecumenical movement, let us not ask for any new programs but rather concentrate more zealously on the old program, which has stood the test of time, and which is able to save our souls. If we are dissatisfied with God’s program or grow weary of it, we shall not only lose rest for our own souls, but also dislodge ourselves from a position to help enlightened and concerned Christians in other communities, who realize that not all is well in every church communion. Of what help can we be to others, who sincerely seek it, if we ourselves “forsake our first love?” Rev. 2,4.
Clinging firmly to God’s promises, let us march ahead in His Name and as He guides. What He has in store for us as far as future relationships are concerned, we do not know. This we do know: If we continue to look to Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, we shall with God’s help, overcome all our spiritual foes and “be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand.” Eph. 6,13.
May we do so with Luther’s prayer on our lips:
Come, Holy Spirit, God and Lord!
Be all thy graces now outpoured
On each believer’s soul and heart;
Thy fervent love to them impart.
Lord, by the brightness of Thy light,
Thou in the faith dost men unite
Of every land and every tongue;
This to Thy praise, O Lord, be sung:
Thou holy Light, and Guide divine!
O cause the word of life to shine;
Teach us to know our God aright,
And call Him Father with delight!
From error, Lord, our souls defend,
That they on Christ alone attend;
In Him with living faith confide,
And in unfaltering trust abide.
Sweet Source of comfort, holy Love,
Send us Thy succor from above,
That in Thy service we may stay,
And trouble drive us not away.
Lord, with They grace our souls refresh,
Confirm our frail and feeble flesh,
That we may battle manfully,
And press through life and death to Thee.
Joseph Petersen, President