Esteemed Members and Friends of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Fellow Redeemed in Christ: Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
“God’s Word is our great heritage
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor;
Through life it guides our way,
In death it is our stay;
Lord grant, while worlds endure
We keep its teachings pure,
Throughout all generations.” Lutheran Hymnary 137
As we come together for the 53rd Annual Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod we would like to base our message upon the words of the precious hymn which we have just quoted. We find in this hymn a statement of our glorious heritage, our purpose as a Synod and our comfort upon life’s way.
“GOD’S WORD IS OUR GREAT HERITAGE AND SHALL BE OURS FOREVER.”
The most precious possession which we have as individual pilgrims here on earth, as congregations in our various communities and as a corporate church body, is the Word of God. This is our great heritage. An heritage is something which is handed down from one’s ancestors or the past. Our great heritage, the Word of God, was handed down to mankind by God Himself. Total spiritual darkness, total depravity, enveloped man by nature. He could not know the true God and could never find the way of salvation. Therefore God in His great mercy revealed Himself to man through His Word. The Holy Prophets, Evangelists, and Apostles became God’s instruments to record for all time God’s revelation of Himself and His great plan for our salvation. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). The process by which the Lord made use of these men to record His Word we call Verbal Inspiration. By this expression we mean to confess our faith that the very words of the Bible are inspired by God and are His inerrant and infallible revelation to us.
We have chosen as the theme for this convention, “The Foundation Must Stand.” By this theme we wish to assert that the Word of God is the Foundation for our faith. Yes, we also speak of our blessed Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, as the “Church’s One Foundation.” But the two are not contradictory. Olav Valen-Sendstad assures us thus: “If we say: ‘Jesus Christ is the Foundation,’ or, ‘His Word is the foundation,’ that is one and the same thing, merely viewed from two different angles. In reality He Himself is the Foundation. In the understanding of reality His Word is the foundation.” (The Word That Can Never Die, p. 30) If, then, the foundation, the Word, is undermined every single doctrine of our faith is at once placed in a shaky position, for every article of our faith is based upon Scripture and is drawn from it. Even the most basic doctrines of our faith, as the Trinity, the Deity of Christ and the Redemption, are called into question if one gives up belief in Verbal Inspiration. And yet, this is just what is happening throughout the world and in Lutheran circles today. The undermining of the foundation is taking place day after day in theological circles in which a generation or two ago, people would have risen up in wrath against such treatment of God’s sacred Word.
It is our prayer that the essay and the devotions at this convention may inspire all of us to become more familiar with the devastating results of the use of the historical-critical approach to Scripture, that we might become more proficient in our ability to defend the faith once delivered to the saints. To contend for the faith, to be well informed in the field of Biblical interpretation, is not something that any of us dare leave to researchers and cloistered scholars. Every pastor and every layman has a duty to be aware of the attacks upon the foundation, so he may help to preserve it for himself and for coming generations.
“TO SPREAD ITS LIGHT FROM AGE TO AGE SHALL BE OUR CHIEF ENDEAVOR.”
The second line of the hymn surely states our chief purpose: To spread the light of God’s Word from age to age. We are to do this by the patient instruction of the young in our homes, Sunday Schools and Christian Day Schools. Every home shall have its Bible, catechism and hymnbook. The father and mother should bear the responsibility of teaching such truths as are found therein to their little ones. In addition to the home, which is the primary institution for the training of children, we should continue to be most concerned about the operation of education agencies in our congregations. Perhaps a self-study committee in every congregation would be, able to analyze such questions as: “Are we making the best possible use of our Sunday School and Weekday Schools?” “Are we supporting our Christian Day School as we should?” “Is there a possibility of having a Christian Day School where none exists?” The congregation should never lose sight of the fact that one of its main functions is to teach. In response to Christ’s command to “teach all nations,” we should ever regard ourselves as “teaching churches” making use of every possible means to indoctrinate young and old alike.
We spread the light of God’s Word by being personal missionaries. Day after day we come into contact with people. A good example, a kind word, a conversation about the joy that can be found in the Lord can win a soul for Christ. Andrew found Peter, saying, “Come and see.” Philip found Nathaniel, saying, “Come and see.” Surely we can say to those around us, “Come and see Jesus.” “Come and hear the Word in our church.”
To spread the light of God’s Word we should ever be a “mission-minded” church body. We rejoice in the fact that we have been able to send our second missionary to work in our foreign mission in Lima, Peru. We hope to be able to speak with our missionaries by telephone at this convention so that all may hear. May the Lord continue to bless our work there that the glorious light of His Word may shine in that darkened and tragedy-stricken land. And let us at this convention take another hard look at our mission endeavors on the home front, asking ourselves if we are doing everything possible to establish new congregations, and if we are supporting our missionaries as we should.
“THROUGH LIFE IT GUIDES OUR WAY, IN DEATH IT IS OUR STAY.”
We live in difficult days for our society, for our country and for our church. The spirit of rebelliousness and disrespect for authority that pervades the land, the growing use of narcotics, the declining moral standards all cause the earnest Christian to wonder if indeed we are not soon approaching the day of judgment. But until that day comes we need God’s Word for, as the Psalmist says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).
“Through life it guides our way.” One of the ways in which we as a Synod have been able to guide the way of many young people is through our Bethany Lutheran College. Here at this institution the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One Thing Needful, is the dominating theme, impressing upon the hearts and the minds of the young that we are to serve Him Who redeemed us with His own blood. We have much to offer to the youth of our Synod and to like-minded young people of other conservative churches. The need for funds and the need for a greater enrollment are factors that should again receive prayerful consideration at this convention.
Yes, “In death it is our stay.” Once again in this past year many faithful members of our Synod have been called to the Church triumphant. As they bade farewell to this vale of sorrow, they had a firm foundation upon which to build their hope for the life to come. They had the Word of God, and in this Word they found their dear and blessed Saviour, Jesus Christ. They learned from the Word that Calvary was real and that the blood of the Son of God which was shed there cleansed them from sin and opened the gates of paradise to them. And when they read the Words, “In my Father’s house are many mansions,” they regarded this not as some would call it, a mere “theological insight of the early church,” but rather as the very word and promise of our Lord and Saviour Himself. The Word of God shall therefore be our stay and our strength as we draw nearer to the time when we too shall be transported on “wings of angels to Abraham’s bosom.”
“LORD GRANT, WHILE WORLDS ENDURE WE KEEP ITS TEACHINGS PURE, THROUGHOUT ALL GENERATIONS.”
May this brief prayer be our prayer at this Convention and in our Synodical life. Our Synod, though small in number, has an opportunity at this present time to, be of special help and encouragement to embattled conservatives throughout the world. Many pastors and congregations are wondering where to turn as the tidal wave of liberalism engulfs their church bodies. If our Synod will retain the teachings of God’s Word in their purity and then, in a humble and evangelical manner, let this light shine before men, it can serve to help others, weary of the shifting sands of modern theology, find once again the firm foundation.
In Jesus Name. Amen.
Rev. George M. Orvick, President