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 begin this 71st annual convention of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod, we do well to look to the Apostle Paul for a keynote expression which will set the tone for our deliberations. We believe, therefore, that his stirring words to the Corinthians in the fifteenth chapter of his first letter tell us just what we need to hear. There we read, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” I Cor. 15,58.
This marvelous exhortation can well be applied to each and everyone of us and also to every phase of our work. It can be applied to our doctrinal position as well as the various endeavors which we seek to carry out.
What are the reasons for which the Apostle speaks these words of encouragement to the Corinthians? We can see from the word, “Therefore,” that his statement does not stand alone but is connected with something which he has said previously. Apparently there were some amongst the Corinthians that had doubts about the resurrection of the body. In verse twelve we read, “How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” Who these people were we do not know for certain, but they were in serious danger of losing their faith and leading others astray.
The Apostle, therefore, writes this extraordinary 15th chapter of his first letter. It is called the “resurrection chapter,” and contains a marvelous exposition of Christ’s resurrection and what it means for the truth of the entire Christian Gospel and for our own bodies which shall some day return to dust.
In verses 1-11 he states the facts of the Christian faith, namely that, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” He then points out how the risen Saviour was seen a number of times after he arose. He goes on to demonstrate convincingly that the whole Christian faith depends upon Christ’s resurrection. “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”
He proceeds in this marvelous chapter to answer questions concerning the resurrection of the body, how it is “sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory.” All of this will take place suddenly, “Behold I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” And then he breaks into that triumphant song of victory, concluding with the stirring words, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? … Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
After he has given this most glorious exposition of the centrality of Christ’s resurrection to the whole Gospel, after he has assured the believers that they too shall arise with glorified bodies and shall triumph over death and the grave; after he has shown them that death has lost its sting so that they may face it with confidence and assurance; it is then that he comes with the exhortation, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
His exhortation is based completely upon the beautiful Gospel. The Gospel is the motivating force. No threats of the Law. No scare tactics. No Madison Avenue public relations pitch. No. Only the simple message Christ died for your sins and rose again. Now you are redeemed from your sin and shall also be raised from the dead so that your corruptible body shall be made incorruptible and your mortal flesh shall be given immortality.
The message of Paul to the Corinthians applies to us as well. We too are the recipients of the blessed Gospel. Jesus died. and was buried and rose again the third day also for us. We, too, come under the blessed promise, “As in Adam all die. even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” We wait, along with the saints of old, that great day when the trumpet shall sound and we shall be raised incorruptible. We sing with the hymnwriter:
When he shall come with trumpet sound
O may I then in him be found
Clothed in his righteousness alone
Faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
Since we have, by God’s free grace alone, through the working of the Holy Spirit been called to such an exalted position as heirs of his wondrous salvation. so also the exhortation of the Apostle Paul applies to us as well: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
First of all we are to “be steadfast.” We are to be fixed, settled, firm and solid in our own inner faith and conviction. We are to grasp the fact that the great victory which Christ has won for us and the glorious promises that he has given us apply personally to us. We have so great a salvation, so great a future. The victory is ours personally. We are to abide in this conviction with happy and thankful souls.
We are also to be “unmovable,” This word refers to outwards solicitation and attack. “Be not shifted from your position.” When attacks come upon our faith or our doctrinal position, some with open denial, and some with subtle error that leads us to compromise our confession, some with temptation to immorality, we are to remain unmovable. As the writer to the Hebrews states, “be not carried away by diverse and strange teachings: for it is good that the heart be established by grace.” Heb. 13,9.
Down through the ages there have been countless Christians who have thus stood steadfast and unmovable. The holy apostles of the Lord are prime examples. But let me call attention to the laymen and women who stood fast in the face of extreme danger. The Lutheran Reformation has been called the greatest laymen’s movement of all time. The men who submitted the Augsburg Confession to the National Convention at Augsburg were not the theologians, but the laymen. A layman read the document. They risked their lives and fortunes in adopting this confession as their own. The first three laymen who risked their necks for the cause of Lutheranism were John Ehinger, burgomaster of Memingen; Michael Caden, a citizen of Nuremberg; and Alexis Fraentraut of Brandenburg. Wolfgang of Anhalt, who stood at Luther’s deathbed and recorded his last words, was declared an outlaw and had to flee for his life. Women also were steadfast and unmovable. Maria of Hungary, widow of the King, was a devoted follower and student of Luther.
Countless pastors and laymen throughout the ages have likewise stood steadfastly in the faith. We have only to think of Luther and the many brave men that worked with him and followed him, As we look back in our own synod we see that people were willing to give up everything in order to preserve the precious truths of Scripture. As they gathered at Lime Creek in June of 1918 and surveyed the devastation that had come upon their church, it took a substantial measure of steadfastness and immovableness in order to carry on,
Both pastors and laypeople need to be reminded of the Apostle’s exhortation today as much as in the days of the Corinthians. False teachers abound today as they did at the time of the Apostle. Paul warns us that the time will come “when they will not endure sound doctrine.” II Tim. 4,3. And John warns us. “Beloved. believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” I John 4,1.
The new church body which was formed on January 1,1988. and which claims the title of “The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,” openly denies that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God. “Gay Lutherans” are accepted into the public life of the church. They have their own magazine called “Concord.” One issue reports that “The St. Olaf Lesbian and Gay Alumni Association was formed in December 1985 to bring together gay grads of the Lutheran liberal arts college.” On January 1, 1988, three gay candidates were recommended for ordination in the new church.
The TV Evangelists are prime examples of casting aside morality and conviction for personal satisfaction in one form or another. The credibility of sincere pastors who labor tirelessly for Christ is not enhanced by those who preach repentance on Sunday but consort with women of ill repute during the week.
There is a different spirit abroad in our times. It is a spirit of restlessness, of discontentment, and a seeking for advancement that is detrimental to a church. Pastors and lay people disregard doctrinal differences if the “grass looks greener on the other side of the fence.” The old loyalty and willingness to sacrifice in order to belong to an orthodox church body are not as prevalent as in days gone by. Success, advancement, personal gain. numbers, and self-fulfillment often, in our day, militate against the apostles pleading to be “steadfast and unmovable.” Our synod, being made up of sinful human beings. is not immune from such temptations any more than others. We live in this world and are affected by its siren voices.
Pastors, are you serving a small congregation in an obscure place? Let that not discourage you. Whether you have 50 members or 500 the mission is still the same. In fact, there is joy amongst the angels of heaven over one sinner that repenteth. Your task is to feed those souls with the bread of life so that they may someday enter the halls of heaven. What a glorious task the Lord has given you! You have been called to proclaim the everlasting Gospel! Jesus has given you your assignment when he said, “Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs.” Peter tells you “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind: Neither as being Lord over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” I Peter 5, 2–4.
Laypeople, does the neighboring church have more elaborate programs and freedom to believe whatever one pleases? Do not feel hampered or restricted because you belong to a confessional church body. Jesus tells you, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed, and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” John 8, 31–32, The Apostle Paul enjoins. “Continue thou in the things which thou has learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou has learned them.” II Tim. 3, 14. To sacrifice any of God’s truth for the sake of outward popularity is a dangerous matter and weakens our testimony in this world.
All of us who are members of the ELS will do well, then, to hear and to heed the Apostle’s admonition to be steadfast, unmovable and to hold fast to the clear truths of God’s Word.
We do well to consider also the last portion of Paul’s exhortation, “Always abounding in the work of the Lord.” During the past two years it has been my privilege to visit more than half of the congregations of our Synod. I have been greatly impressed by the dedication and determination on the part of the laypeople and the pastors who make up our church body. There exists a great love for the Lord and for the work of the Lord which we are doing in our Synod. People are interested in our mission program, our Bethany College and Seminary, and all our Synod’s undertakings. They want more information about the progress we are making.
A good motto for our Synod. in addition, of course, to the irreplaceable “It is written,” would well be these words of Paul, “Always abounding in the work of the Lord.” If it were simply some program that we wanted to accomplish for our own self-satisfaction or self-glorification we would be on the wrong track. But it is the “work of the Lord.” When we preach the Gospel, call on prospects, visit the sick, attend meetings, encourage the pastor and promote unity and harmony in the congregation, it is the “work of the Lord” we are doing. When we build a church, paint the parsonage and mow the lawn it is the “work of the Lord” because it serves to show our love for him. When we give according to our means for this work we are doing his will, In fact, as soon as Paul finishes this resurrection chapter he immediately begins talking about the special collection which was being gathered for the poor in Jerusalem.
This year we are celebrating the 20th. anniversary of our work in Peru. How many souls will be in heaven because the saving message of Jesus Christ and him crucified has been taught there. We should abound in our efforts to expand our program in that area. What faithful servants have represented us in Peru these 20 years! Truly the “Fields are White to Harvest.”
Reaching out here at home is also in keeping with the work that the Lord wants us to do. There are expanding areas of our country that are without a confessional Lutheran Church, The growth of our new home mission stations is a great joy to us. Our home missionaries are to be commended for their tireless efforts in seeking to bring people to the Lord.
“Abounding in the work of the Lord” applies also to our college and seminary. Our college is gaining more and more recognition as a quality school and one which has not sacrificed its principles. The “one thing needful” is as clearly taught today at Bethany as in the days of its founding. Our seminary is producing faithful pastors who will go out and cause the Lord’s work to abound even more.
Another area where we must make a sincere effort to abound in the work of the Lord is to preserve unity in our midst. This, too, takes effort, prayer and work. When Dr. C.F.W. Walther was on a visit in Europe in 1860 to regain his health, he wrote a letter in which he described the unity he perceived in the Missouri Synod. To Walther unity was a precious gift. He wrote, “United under this great principle (namely the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions) we are knit together by a cordial, fraternal confidence. … Oh, how I rejoice. therefore, that God has given me the great grace to participate in the fellowship of our Synod! May the gracious and merciful God, from whom this unity is a pure gift of grace, continue to preserve it among us. May he make us faithful that also on our part we may preserve this precious Jewel. May he make us constantly stronger and more faithful through our unity. “ We need to abound in working to preserve that unity in our midst also as the Apostle enjoins upon us, “Endeavor to keep the unity in the bond of peace.” Eph. 4,3. We need to give heed to his words to the Colossians, “Therefore, as the elect of God. holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness. humbleness of mind. meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you do also. And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.” Col. 3, 12–17.
And when we abound in such work what will be the result? “Ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord,” Such faithful service to the Lord will not go unrewarded. To the pastors Peter writes, “When the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” I Peter 5,4. And all those who have served him in faithfulness and love, out of faith in the crucified Saviour. will someday hear the glorious words. “Come, ye blessed of my Father. inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Matt. 25,34.
Let us go forward then with confidence and joy, heeding the words of the Apostle, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
George M. Orvick, president