Esteemed and beloved members of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod:
“Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Ps. 146,5). Truly a spirit of joy and happiness permeates the heart of the child of God, “whose hope is in the Lord his God”; also our hearts as we assemble again for our annual Synod Convention. A certain sameness, is extant as far as the external organization of the convention is concerned. May sameness ever be extant as far as our noble aims and sacred purposes are concerned, to glorify Him, “who according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you”. (1 Pet. 1,3–4).
The theme chosen for this convention, “For we are saved by hope” does not contradict the assertion of the Apostle: “We walk by faith and not by sight”. (2 Cor. 5,7). Faith always carries hope with it. Already we are saved by faith and share in the wonder of salvation. Already we are “heirs according to the hope of eternal life”. (Titus 3,7). We are heirs, but not yet in hope. It lies prepared for us in the future. Obviously, then, the Apostle reasons: “But hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” (Rom. 8,24b), When seeing begins, hope comes to an end. We are dependent upon hope and so upon waiting. Our spiritual posture is one of “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ”. (Titus 2,13). Christian hope is a certain hope, for “our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace”, (2 Thess. 2,16). Christian hope then is not a blind leap into empty space, not an aimless walk into the dark and starless night, not wishful thinking, but a God-given conviction, a child-like trust in the sure promises of God.
The world’s panacea for the woes of the world lies in more and more education. Truth is merely a relative thing; man must search more and more for the truth. The world also depends upon science to deliver mankind from the throes of hopelessness and to translate it into the utopian realm of hope. Many religionists believe that the hope of the world lies in the church, but, to carry out its missions, the church must come out of its snug shell, must understand better the secular world and its problems, must more skillfully reach the heart of the modern scientific-orientated thinking man. Far be it from the child of God to cast aspersions on the value of education, of acquiring more knowledge, as long as that knowledge does not militate against the wisdom of God and the revealed Gospel of Grace; nor does the child of God object to the words ‘confrontation and relevance,’ when used according to Scriptural meaning and application. Certainly man needs to be confronted with his sins and total unworthiness before God. And what book other than the Holy Scriptures is relevant to man’s desperate needs? Only the Gospel can deliver from the state of hopelessness and despair. Nor are we opposed to Biblical scholarship per se, but let him who interprets “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4,11). However, when the charge of dead orthodoxy or lack of Biblical scholarship or even provincialism is leveled against us, let us not be too quick to dismiss them in anger or with a shrug of the shoulders without first a thorough self-examination. After all, there may be some truth in the charges.
The Evangelical Lutheran Synod believes in true knowledge, science and education, but only in that kind which “brings into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10,5). This spirit or attitude may be called anti-intellectualism or dead orthodoxy, but it does offer and impart a solid hope. Bethany College is an institution of hope. The inscription over its portals, which greets the young hopefuls, could well be, “For we are saved by hope”, not the one which could well be placed over the portals of most modern halls of learning: “All hope abandon ye who enter here”. (Dante). Souls shall not be disillusioned, “who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us, which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast”. (Heb. 6,18–19).
The period of waiting for faith to give way to sight is a most glorious time, but it is also a time of testing and proving. ,The Apostle exhorts us to hope with patience, a steady and brave perseverance amid our groaning and painful conditions. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And. not only they, but ourselves, also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption to wit, the redemption of our body”. (Rom. 8,22–23). Until the time of final deliverance and redemption, how easy it is for us to grow impatient! What a tangled web the church weaves for itself when it becomes impatient: with the quiet working of the Spirit through the means of grace! How often we are tempted to build the Kingdom of God through means other than the Lord has given us! In our busy efforts at times we fail or forget “to give an answer to every man that asketh, a reason of the hope that is in us, with meekness and fear”. (1 Pet. 3,15). Amid our fears, perplexities and groaning, how often we need to be reminded that “tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us”, (Rom, 5,3–5). In our feverish impatience at times to be of service, we do well to hear again John Milton’s bit of theology in his Ode to Blindness: “they also serve who only stand and wait”.
Brethren, as pilgrims of hope — and that we are — let us hopefully fix our eyes of faith intently on the gracious promises of Scripture, Then we can run our race cheerfully and confidently. As we hopefully look for the Lord’s gracious guidance and merciful help in the years ahead, may this loving benediction rest upon all of us as individuals, as congregations, and as a synod. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost”. (Rom. 15,13).