ESTEEMED MEMBERS AND FRIENDS OF OUR EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN SYNOD, GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR FATHER AND FROM THE LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. AMEN.
As we proceed into the 68th year of our existence as the Evangelical Lutheran Synod we need to have a rich measure of vision and foresight as to the future. Constantly keeping in mind aims and goals which we seek to attain in the service of our Lord is an important part of the life of any church body. We need to come together in conventions like this to examine our course to see if we have a clear vision of what the purpose of our Synod is all about, and to see if we are doing what the Lord wants us to do to the best of our ability.
I would like, therefore, to set before you what seems to me to be our goals according to the great commission of our Lord and according to the direction He sets for us in His holy Word.
I. We need to be a church body that remains faithful to the Word and gives a strong witness of our faith before the world.
How many troubled hearts and aching consciences there are throughout Lutheranism on the part of those who have to contend with liberalism and Christ denying modernism wherever they may be. I have been corresponding with a State Church pastor in Sweden who inquired about our Synod. When he read the volume City Set on a Hill which I sent to him, he writes, “I should like to thank you from the depths of my heart.” He goes on to say, “I especially found solace in the chapter called ‘Hearts of Oak’; for me these are trying times, and it is indeed good to read about people who have gone through the same spiritual struggles.” He goes on to describe the sad conditions in the State Church of Sweden. He says, “There is much talk of the Virgin Mary and the necessity of giving her ‘more space’ with the church.” He says that the church is “heavily infiltrated by crypto-Romanists.” He writes, “The material such as I have received from you … has made a deep impression on me.” He plans to leave the State Church in the near future.
In Lutheran bodies in the USA there are liberal church men who are going so far as to say that Christ is not the only way to heaven but that all religions lead to God. This universalism is rapidly gaining ground amongst some who call themselves Lutheran. One prominent ALC theologian writes: “There should be for us no gods before God, higher than God, or equal to God, as Moses taught, as Jesus taught, and as Mohammed taught, and as indicated clearly in the Jewish Scriptures, the Christian Scriptures, and the Islamic Scriptures. We should emphasize our belief … that there is only one God and that it is the same God whom individually and corporately Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship from their own perspectives.”
This type of “theology” is tolerated in the three groups that are about to merge into one new church body and it is taught in the church colleges and church periodicals so that it is effecting the beliefs of the average parishioner.
In the face of such rampant liberalism which is spreading like a prairie fire over the Lutheran world I believe that the time is crucial for us of the ELS to bear faithful witness and testimony to the world with all the means God has given us. To this end I believe that our proposal for a Lutheran Forum for Confessional Consultation is a valid means by which we can confess our scriptural faith. We have no other vehicle by which we can let our voice be heard in wider circles outside of our Lutheran Sentinel. We have no other avenue by which we can confront other Lutheran church bodies and ask them to consider what we have to confess. We therefore ought to take the matter of promoting the LFCC with all serious. ness and vigor. Surely the Lord’s injunction applies: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” Matt. 5:14-15.
II. In the second place we need to be a church body that is firmly committed to the salvation of souls by winning them and serving them.
We must keep everything in the right order. The word “organization” should never come before or supercede the word “salvation.” In other words, the central purpose of our existence must always be to bring people to Christ and lead them to eternal life. “Saving souls” must be our motto, our battle cry, our continual goal. Of course, the better the organization the more effective we will be at bringing souls to Christ.
The establishment of new home mission congregations must be a high priority matter with our ELS. Here there are created new oases in this worldly desert. Here the streams of living water flow to thirsty souls. Here the Bread of Life is fed to the hungry. The winning and caring for precious, blood bought souls is surely what the Lord wants us to do. He says that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Luke 24:47. To the Apostle Peter He commanded, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:16.
Careful planning, vigorous support, and faithful stewardship will enable us to open new mission stations. Great opportunities have surely been set before us in many areas of the country. The calling of an Area Mission Developer is a wise step which will result in a concentrated effort to open new missions. Our prayers and support for Dr. Kessel and this new endeavor ought to be on our lips before the throne.
The convention will have to give careful and prayerful consideration to the proposed special mission offering. We need the funds very badly if we are to open the missions. The times are improved and it seems that our Synod should soon be ready for such an undertaking.
And who cannot rejoice over the work in Peru! We now have a daughter church! A church of some 425 souls which is the direct result of our work there. Three men are needed on the field to carry on the work. We shall have to find the ways and means to support them. We pray for the Peruvian nationals that are studying in our seminary in Lima. Before too many years we will ordain the first Peruvian pastor. What a day that will be and what a blessed fruit of our labor! We need the prayers and support of all of our members and friends to see to it that we do not lose heart but keep our blessed work in progress.
And not only are we to win souls, but the conservation and feeding of the flock of God at home in our established congregations dare not be neglected. Every pastor needs to heed the words of the Apostle Peter to “feed the flock of God which is among you.” II Peter 5:2. A conscientious pastor that has the welfare of each soul on his heart is a precious gift of God to His church. May the Lord bless our pastors and give them strength for their challenging task in this complex society.
III. In the third place we need to be a church body that is dedicated to the cause of Christian education at all levels.
This past weekend we have been celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. S.C. Ylvisaker. This noted Christian educator and scholar made such an enormous contribution to our Synod by his leadership and example at Bethany Lutheran College. How determined he was that the institution should succeed. How convinced he was that Bethany was essential for the guidance of our youth. He reported to the 1939 convention of the Synod in these words: “The campaign of education, and we say deliberately education of pastors, teachers, parents, officers of our church, and of the young, must go on. Satan never grows weary of educating men away from the Gospel, and his efforts are reaching into our congregations with telling force. Our efforts must therefore be the more deliberate, the more serious, the more accompanied by praying and giving, that our school may take its proper place as an agent for the preservation of the precious truth of God.” He strongly encouraged the congregations and pastors to recruit students for Bethany. In his 1947 report he wrote, “We still wonder if our Synod is doing its full duty in the matter of the Christian training of our young people. We feel confident that more of our Synod’s young men and women could and would attend Bethany if proper efforts were made to encourage them in the various local congregations. Let this be a word both to pastors and parents and our people generally, that they do not consider the work done when they hear that the overall attendance at Bethany is growing. If the attendance does not grow regularly among the young people of our own Synod, then something is not as it should be.” He urged the members of the Synod to pray fervently for the school as he wrote, “Let the members of our Synod continue to pray, even to lift this school of ours aloft on the wings of prayer, for the blessing is to be found in His hands alone Who can hear and has promised to hear our prayer.”
The Board of Regents in its report of 1948 summed up well what should be our attitude towards Bethany: “We beseech all members of the Synod always to remember their mission at Bethany, both with their prayers and with their work and gifts. For, surely, at Bethany the Lord has set before us an ‘open door.’ Here the Word is taught in a most thorough going fashion; here, certainly a sincere effort is being made so to teach the Gospel of Christ that those who study here may know what this means; ‘The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me’ Gal. 2:20. When we use the word ‘mission’ we ask you to remember that Bethany’s work reaches far, far beyond the borders of our own Synod; this is the ‘open door’ which the Lord has set before us. Such work invites us to devote to it the best that we have. May God, for Jesus’ sake, move us to such devotion!”
And so we say to the Synod today, let there be no disunity among us where some say, “I am for Bethany,” and others, “I am for missions.” Everything we do is our mission. All the work of the Synod has been commanded by the same Lord. With calm and reasonable judgment, as good stewards of what the Lord has given us, we must make decisions as to how our synodical budget must be divided. And it is natural that we should debate and feel strongly about our opinions. But let us all be united in this that all our work is essential and must go on and we must work for every phase of our program because it is not our work, it is the Lord’s.
We would also like to emphasize that Bible study should be an integral part of the life of every congregation. We rejoice over the fact that our Synod resolved to produce a Bible study program and that this project has now been brought to completion and is ready for use by the congregations. Let us have a massive campaign this summer to recruit as many members as possible for enrollment in the new Bible study. How fitting is the title, “Christ the Cornerstone.” It is well written, attractively printed, and will present to the student a wonderful study of the life of Christ. The author, Dr. William Kessel, and the committee is to be commended for their diligent work.
We plan to have the committee continue its work and produce more studies on the same order for use in our Synod and elsewhere. What a blessing will result for us in growth, in faith, and dedication to our Lord and His Word.
IV. Finally, our Evangelical Lutheran Synod needs to be a church body that is faithful in its use of every gift which the Lord has given.
Here we are referring in particular to the stewardship of time, talents, and treasures. The Lord has commanded us to be faithful stewards of all that we possess. He has given clear instructions about how the Christian should manage all that he has for the glory of God. Our bodies are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and they belong to the Lord. “It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves. We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” Ps. 100:3. We are to present our “bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Rom. 12:1. Our time is also the Lord’s and we are to “redeem the time because the days are evil.” Eph. 5:16. We are to make use of our time so that all our work, both our temporal occupations and the work of our church is done. And our treasures also belong to the Lord. “The silver is mine and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts.” Haggai 2:8. “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” I Tim. 6:7.
It is therefore clear that everything we have is the Lord’s and we are His stewards or managers.
As faithful stewards we are to give from our blessings to the work of the Lord on a regular, proportionate basis.
In 1983 we took a step backwards in our giving for synodical purposes and our income was less than for 1982. This year, however, we are off to a very good start. As of June 1st we were $46,000 ahead of our giving in 1983 and were even with our budgetary needs, according to the revised budget of $720,000. We hope that this is a sign that times have improved and that we are becoming better stewards for the Lord.
The synod-wide stewardship conferences that were held for all pastors were indeed a blessing. We are deeply grateful for the generous gift that made this possible and for the diligent effort that went into the organization of the conferences and the effective presentations. We hope that a series of laypeople conferences held throughout the Synod will soon be organized.
As the needs of our Synod grow, as we have opportunity to go forward and expand on many fronts, may the Lord inspire the members and pastors of our church body to rededicate themselves once again to the great cause that the Lord has committed into our hands.
Thus we see the aims and goals of our ELS as we look into the future. It is our prayer that the Lord may continue to bless our Synod. May He preserve us from error and dissension, and cause His work to prosper among us that souls may be saved and that His Name may be glorified here on earth as it is in heaven.
Let us pray with Martin Luther in one of his fine Pentecost hymns, “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord!”
“Thou holy Fire, Comfort true,
Grant us the will Thy work to do
And in Thy service to abide;
Let trials turn us not aside.
Lord, by Thy pow’r prepare each heart
And to our weakness strength impart
That bravely here we may contend,
Thro’ life and death to Thee, our Lord, ascend.
In Jesus Name, Amen.
George M. Orvick, President