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.
It is indeed a privilege to address a convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and to offer some words of encouragement to the pastors and delegates. We are assembled in convention for the 68th time. From a very small and humble beginning the Lord has granted us a little strength whereby we are given the privilege of serving Him as a church body united about the pure means of grace.
At last year’s convention we pointed out what the goals and aims of our church body should be, namely, “to be a church body that remains faithful to the Word of God and gives a strong witness to our faith before the world”; secondly, “to be a church body that is firmly committed to the salvation of souls by winning and serving them”; thirdly, “to be a church body that is dedicated to the cause of Christian education at all levels”; and finally, “to be a church body that is faithful in its use of every gift which the Lord has given.”
This year we should like to emphasize the spirit that we should have as we go about the Lord’s work. The Holy Scriptures teach us that the believers should experience real joy in their hearts as they contemplate their own salvation and as they labor to bring that salvation to others.
It was such a message that the angels exclaimed on the plains of Bethlehem, “Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10). The reason for that joy is summarized in those familiar words, “For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). How can we as Christians have any other response when we consider how we have been rescued from the just condemnation which we have earned on account of our sins. We were indeed lost and condemned creatures who deserve nothing but God’s wrath and displeasure, eternal death and punishment. We were by nature “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). We were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). But God looked down upon us in His great mercy. He had compassion upon us. It was not His will that a single one of us should perish. And thus in His great love He planned our salvation. There was only one way that our salvation could be accomplished. The Bible says, “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). And whose blood could be so effective, so all atoning as to pay one sacrifice for the sins of the whole world? Only the blood of the very Son of God Himself. And so He came to Bethlehem for us on a mission to redeem the whole world. He assumed our nature in order to take our place under the Law. And finally He went to the cross, bearing all our sins, our guilt, our condemnation, and there paid the penalty. “Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation: … But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Peter 1:18–19). Now we poor sinners have not only been redeemed from sin and rescued from hell itself, but we have been declared righteous by God the Father so that He now looks upon us as though we had never sinned. And, wonder of wonders, He gives us this salvation as a free gift which is made our own by faith alone.
Is it any wonder then that we should experience real joy and gladness as we consider how we personally have been given the gift of eternal salvation. The Apostle Paul prayed for the Roman Christians, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that we may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 15:13). Peter writes, “Though now ye see him not (Christ), yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Peter 1:8). The Old Testament likewise exhorts believers to rejoice in the Lord. “My soul shall be joyful in the Lord; it shall rejoice in his salvation” (Ps. 30:5). Luther writes, “You should be joyful in Christ, your gracious Lord and Redeemer. Let Him take care of you, For he assuredly does take care of you. … He still lives. Expect the best from Him. This pleases Him as the best of sacrifices. For there is no sacrifice lovelier and more pleasing than a cheerful heart, joyful in the Lord” (What Luther Says, Vol. II, p. 690)
It should therefore be counted a great privilege to serve our Lord. Christ, the greatest Servant of all, found joy in His task and this strengthened Him as He suffered for us. We read in Hebrews 12:2, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne pf God.” Likewise the angels rejoice in heaven as Jesus says, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:10). And the Psalmist exhorts us, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing” (Ps. 100:1-2).
As we pastors, professors, teachers and laypeople go about our tasks of preaching, teaching and witnessing, it should be with hearts overflowing with gratitude for what Christ has done for us. The pastor should be glad when he finds the lost sheep as Jesus tells us in the parable “and when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing,” and he says to his neighbors, “rejoice with me: for I have found my sheep which was lost” (Luke 15:5–6). When the teacher or professor sees the mind of the pupil light up because of a new truth that has been discovered and appreciated there should be a real sense of satisfaction. When the layperson sees some neighbor come to church because of his invitation, or when he or she is able to help accomplish some goal of the congregation or Synod, or to help someone in need there should likewise be gladness, remembering that Jesus says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
The spirit that we demonstrate at this convention should be one that reflects our joy in the Lord. The story is told about a man who was driving his car down the highway on a journey one night. The night was beautiful. The stars lit up the sky. The moon shone brightly. The evidence of God’s creation was everywhere. But a tiny bug splashed on his windshield. This little spot so attracted the man’s attention. He so focused his eyes on this tiny blemish, that he missed the starry heavens and the grandeur of the Milky Way and the full glow of the moon. Let us not be so blinded by some small problems that we miss the joyful experience of working together to spread the greatest message in the world.
Oh, rejoice, ye Christians, loudly,
For our joy hath now begun:
Wondrous things our God hath done.
Tell abroad his goodness proudly
Who our race hath honored thus
That He deigns to dwell with us.
Joy, O joy, beyond all gladness,
Christ hath done away with sadness!
Hence, all sorrow and repining,
For the sun of grace is shining!
(Lutheran Hymnal 96)
The Christian life, however, is a paradox. Not only are we saints and sinners at the same time but we are also “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” at the same time. The reason that we suffer in this life is because of the temptation of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, and the trials and sorrows of living in a fallen world. We labor in the church militant where we will surely face difficulties as we go about carrying on the Lord’s work. The Holy Scriptures bring out the fact that God’s people are often called upon to suffer for their faith. Moses chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Heb. 11:25). The Apostle Paul was no stranger to suffering and affliction. He was often in “stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings” (II Cor. 6:5). And the Lord often permits us to suffer in order to strengthen us thereby. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb. 12:6). Luther writes, “Our joy cannot become full until we see God’s name fully hallowed, all false doctrines and sects extirpated, all tyrants and persecutors of His kingdom suppressed, all the godless and the will and schemes of the devil checked, and God’s will alone done; until the cares of life, or hunger and thirst no longer assail us, no sin any longer oppresses us; no temptation any longer wearies the heart, and no death any longer holds us captive. But these things will happen in yonder life; there our cup will be full of joy and not a drop of sorrow will be in it any more” (What Luther Says, Vol. II, p. 691),
The Christian, however, knows that the sufferings and trials of this world will be used by God to turn out for our good as Paul tells us, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). He summarizes his courage and faith in these words, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (II Cor. 4:8–10)” And again we are “As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing and yet possessing all things” (II Cor. 6:9–10). He even says, “We glory in tribulations also; knowing 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).
As we go about the work in our congregations and in our beloved Synod we should then accept the fact that while out hearts are filled with joy at the opportunity to apply the blessed Gospel to ourselves, and to bring it to others, we will also at the same time experience trials, sorrows, and disappointments. But Luther again says, “One Christian who has been tried is worth a hundred who have not been tried, for the blessing of God grows in trials” (What Luther Says, Vol. III, p. 381). And so we sing with the hymnwriter,
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take:
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessing on your head.
(Lutheran Hymnary 421)
Let us then undertake the important business of our convention in the right spirit. We have serious matters to consider. Our constitution needs revision and updating. We are a church body that has grown a great deal since our constitution was adopted and our operation is becoming more complex. The newly proposed document from the Self Study Committee is a vast improvement. There may be valid suggestions and ideas for changes and improvements and that is fine. But let us finally take the step and approve a document that will serve us better. I am continually getting requests from congregations outside our church body for copies of our constitution and one that is better organized and complete would represent us much more adequately.
In closing I would like to plead once again for a spirit of unity, trust and cooperation in our working together as a Synod. We need doctrinal unity above all. I hope that the report of the Doctrine Committee will be accepted so that our position may be clear before the world. But in addition to this we need to be united in our agreed upon work program or mission. A Synod exists in order to “carry out the command of Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel to every creature, to contend for the faith, and to promote the development of Christian life within its membership.” After thorough discussion and debate over what we want to do as a Synod we then need to unite behind the whole program and work together for the entire cause which we have adopted. The Rev. Christian A. Moldstad said in his message to the Synod in 1937, “We are often tempted to despair because of the work, the expense, and the opposition encountered in the work of the church. But, my friends, the Lord has called us and sent us to carry out His orders, and promised to be with us and carry us through to victory, even though we must die in battle. Let us ever remember that to be a co-worker with Christ is the greatest privilege and the greatest blessing, and the more we do the more the Lord of Harvest will give us to do. The fields are white for harvest, the opportunities are unlimited. We cannot therefore do too much. We need men and money, but above all we need faith and love, because without faith it is impossible to please God” (SR 1937).
Our dear brother, the Rev. H. A. Theiste, whom the Lord has called to his eternal home. encouraged the Synod in 1960 with these words, “And think what a joy it will be to see men and women and children in heaven who were brought there by our efforts, and who will eternally thank us that we told them about Jesus and invited them to hear His Word. Then, as we feel the thrill of having brought a soul to the ‘pleasures forevermore,’ no prayer, work, money, or blood that we spend for others here on earth will seem too much. ‘He that wins souls is wise.’”
When I enter that beautiful city,
And the saved all around me appear,
I want to hear somebody tell me,
“It was you who invited me here.”
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
George M. Orvick, president