ESTEEMED MEMBERS AND FRIENDS OF OUR EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN SYNOD: GRACE AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR FATHER AND FROM THE LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST. AMEN.
With this convention we enter into a new decade, the decade of the 1990’s. What will the next ten years bring in the history of the world? What challenges, what opportunities, what trials shall our beloved synod face as we proceed towards the turn of the century and as we approach our 75th anniversary as a church body? What kind of vision do we have as we look to the future? A church body needs to define its goals and purposes. so that it proceeds in the best manner possible to carry out the great commission that the Lord gave it. The theme for this convention could well serve as our banner, our flag, as we proceed. “Serve the Lord with Gladness.” We are to serve. We are to serve the Lord. And we are to do so with gladness. Our convention essay will define very clearly how we can do this. Our convention devotions will uplift our spirits by reminding us that we are to do this with GLADNESS.
We live in a rapidly changing world. On the first weekend in October this past fall we were walking down the street of the city of Chemnitz in East Germany (formerly called Karl-Marx-Stadt) and we saw a huge demonstration taking place. Police were everywhere. At the same time in Berlin and Leipzig much greater crowds were gathering to protest the oppression under which they had been living for forty years, the terrible oppression of that evil system called communism. Little did we realize that in another four weeks that dreadful wall separating east and west would come down, that the borders would be opened up, that countries in the eastern bloc would be demanding free elections, that the cold war would begin to thaw, and that a whole new arrangement would affect the entire world. And even less did we realize that in less than a year we would be sending missionaries to, of all places, Czechoslovakia.
As we enter then into the decade of the 90’s, permit me again to hold up before you those goals and aims which must be the VISION OF THE ELS IN THE 1990’S.
First of all, let us consider this matter: Can a little group, totally insignificant in the eyes of the world and to worldwide Lutheranism be so presumptuous as to talk about visions, plans and goals as if we were going to make a powerful impact upon the world? My answer is, we of all people must so plan, must so gird ourselves for action, must so reach out with the Gospel, as if the salvation of the whole world depended upon us. Why? Because we are among the very few who still hold fast to the pure teaching of God’s Word. And besides that the Lord can do great things with small groups. When Gideon of old went out to march against the Midianites the Lord narrowed down his group of fighting men to a mere three hundred. But the Lord was with them and they won the victory! When the Lord Jesus chose disciples to go and preach the Gospel, He chose only twelve and gave them the great assignment of making disciples of all nations. When our forefathers met in Lime Creek, they talked about the hurricane which had swept away all the old familiar surroundings, but they did not stand for long lamenting their losses. They got busy laying out the future. Their small size did not cause them to run and hide. Their spirit was summed up by one of the participants when he wrote about that early beginning. He put it in these words, “One with God is always a majority.” (Lutheran Sentinel, April 27, 19431
Our first goal for the 90’s must always be that we retain the pure teaching of God’s Word. If we begin to barter this away, we will soon be no different than the large bodies that have openly departed from the Lord’s clear teachings.
Sometimes people may think that our differences with liberal church bodies are only matters which ivory tower theologians enjoy debating. This is not the case. The modernist theories are right in the pew for every man, woman, and child to believe and confess.
On May 27th at an ELCA church in Minneapolis, the people confessed their faith in the words of a revised version of the Apostle’s Creed which reads as follows:
I believe in God, maker of an unfinished world, who calls us to participate in bringing about the fullness of creation; God, who created abundant resources to provide for all; God, who has not divided people into rich and poor, owners and slaves, not pitted us against each other because of race, color, social class or sex.
I believe in Jesus Christ who was ridiculed, tortured and executed for the sins of humankind. He has overthrown the rule of evil and injustice and continues to judge and redeem the hatred and arrogance of human beings.
I believe in the spirit of God whose flame comforts us with divine presence and causes our hearts to burn for righteousness and justice. I believe in the reconciling power of God in my life and in the world. I believe that God, through people, can bring peace and hope, justice and equality, the relief of suffering and pain, and the final triumph of love and grace. Amen.
It doesn’t take much critical analysis to see that the entire biblical, doctrinal content of what the Christian Church confesses about the Trinity and the Christian Faith is subverted into a recitation of social justice aims. God is not even called the Father. The deity, virgin birth, resurrection and redemptive work of Christ is totally omitted. Their third article has nothing to say about the Holy Ghost, the Holy Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. It speaks only of peace and equality and relief of suffering in this world. Their so-called “Creed” is decidedly not a Christian or Apostolic Creed. And this was recited in a Lutheran church.
Permit me to cite one more so-called “Creed” which was part of the service at another church, not Lutheran, the Rev. Kandice C. Joyce, pastor. The service took place on April 29, 1990. Their confession of faith was as follows:
I believe in a color-blind God, maker of technicolor people, who created the universe and provided abundant resources for equitable distribution among all people.
I believe in Jesus Christ, born of a common woman, who was ridiculed, disfigured and executed; Who on the third day rose and fought back; He storms the highest councils where he overturns any rule of injustice. From henceforth he shall continue to judge hatred and arrogance.
I believe in the spirit of reconciliation, the united body of the dispossessed, the communion of the suffering, the power that overcomes the dehumanizing forces of humiliation, betrayal and economic injustice; and in the final triumph of the community of believers.
You can readily see that this is anything but a confession of the Christian Faith.
Now this type of theology is what the people in the pew are confessing on Sundays. This is a dramatic denial of the very faith that is revealed by God to us in the Bible. Do we then not need to preach, proclaim, write, witness in every way possible, with fervent zeal to rescue precious blood-bought souls, who, if they believe what they are confessing, will lose their soul’s salvation.
This is only a sample of the departures from Christian doctrine that are so rampant in churches today.
How essential then that the ELS continue to faithfully preach and teach the pure Word of God in the decades which lie ahead. The Apostle Paul exhorts us again and again to continue in sound doctrine. “Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.” (II Tim. 3,16) “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (II Tim. 4,2) “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” (Titus 1,9)
By the grace of God our synod believes, teaches and confesses the true Christian faith. We hold fast to those two great principles: The Bible is the verbally inspired Word of God, inerrant and infallible, a sure and complete guide to eternal salvation. And that man, a lost and condemned creature by nature, is justified and saved by grace alone through faith in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, Who suffered and died to take away the sin of the world. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” (II Cor. 5,19) “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast,” (Eph. 2,8.9) The Lord has graciously preserved us from error and false teaching. He has prevented us from splintering and destroying the unity which we have. He has enabled us to continue to confess the faith of our forefathers from the Reformation to Lime Creek to the present. All glory and thanks be to Him alone!
In the second place, let us set forth as our VISION FOR THE 90’S a continued strong endeavor to open new missions here at home and to reach out where we can to those abroad with the message of salvation. The Rev. George O. Lillegard addressed a letter to the synod convention in 1924. He said, “The history of the Christian Church shows that Christians have all too often not succeeded in keeping up their zeal both for pure doctrine and for preaching of the gospel throughout the world, the one suffering where the other was emphasized. And yet the real work of Christ on earth has been done by that “very small remnant,” “den lille hob”—that was able to fulfill both parts of Christ’s command: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations,—teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” (Synod Report, 1924) It is a continuing challenge to church bodies to retain the proper balance between holding fast to the pure Word and at the same time to have a burning missionary zeal to spread it.
Let us dwell for a moment on the missionary zeal of some of our forefathers. The Rev. J.A. Ottesen was one of the keenest theologians of the early days of our synod. But consider his strong determination to spread- the gospel. We quote from Faith of Our Fathers: “Then came the cry for pastors to shepherd the scattered flocks recently emigrated to America. With his young bride, he set out on the long and hazardous journey to his parish in Wisconsin, consisting of three organized congregations in and around Manitowoc and eight or ten mission stations along Lake Michigan from Green Bay to Sheboygan. This was pioneer work of the most trying kind, labor which called for some of the spirit of an Apostle Paul, motivated by a burning zeal for the cause of Christ’s kingdom and unfeigned love for fellow-redeemed sinners. The young pastor’s missionary journeys mostly on horseback, sometimes on foot, consumed a great deal of his time and energy. Ottesen traveled a distance of 30.50 miles a day on horseback, in summer heat and winter storm. As a result of these strenuous journeys, Ottesen contracted chronic rheumatism which worked havoc with the nerves in his legs, so that it was difficult for him to walk or stand long. Because of this, Ottesen was often forced to sit in the pulpit when delivering his sermons.” (Faith of Our Fathers, pp. 19-20) Ulrik Vilhelm Koren labored under similar circumstances on Washington Prairie, helping to found and serve a great number of congregations in the Decorah area.
It will be interesting also to take note of the missionary zeal of a John Wesley, founder of Methodism. He wrote to his missionaries, “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work.” Another early Methodist missionary by the name of Freeborn Garrettson gave this report to a New York Conference early in the 19th century: “I traversed the mountains and valleys, frequently on foot, with my knapsack on my back, guided by Indian paths in the wilderness, when it was not expedient to take a horse. I had often to ride through morasses, half deep in mud and water; frequently satisfying my hunger with a piece of bread and pork from my knapsack, quenching my thirst from a brook, and resting my weary limbs on the leaves of trees. Thanks be to God! He compensated me for my toil; for many precious souls were awakened and converted to God.” (from Nothing To Do But To Save Souls, by Robert E. Coleman, p. 16–17)
The decade which lies ahead should be one that is marked by such missionary zeal and by steady and determined mission expansion both at home and abroad. We do not have to ride horseback. We do not have to wade through swamps with our knapsack on our back. Should we not be able to get into our air-conditioned cars and drive smoothly down paved roads and streets to seek out the lost. Yes, we agree with John Wesley when he says, “You have nothing to do but save souls.”
In the past ten years at least eleven new mission congregations have been started and a number of smaller groups have received assistance through our Board for Home Missions. How we should rejoice over these new congregations! The Apostle Paul, in writing to the mission churches of his day, begins almost every letter with words of thanks and praise to God for their faith. To the Colossians he writes, “We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints.” (Col. 1,3–4) To the Philippians “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in, the gospel from the first day until now.” (Phil. 1,3–4) To the Romans, the Corinthians, the Thessalonians the message is the same. I thank God for you and for your faith in Jesus Christ.
Surely as we survey the progress that our synod has made over the past twenty years, we ought to have the spirit of Paul We need to utter our praise and thanksgiving to God for all the new congregations and new missions that have joined us. In 1970 we had a total of 86 congregations. In 1990 we are over 125. In 1970 we had 53 pastors on our clergy roster. In 1990 we will have approximately 140. In 1970 we counted 16,017 souls. In 1990 we should number more than 22,000. The Lord is thus granting us steady progress in reaching out to more and more souls. Twenty-two years ago we had no foreign mission of our own. Now the Lord has so blessed us that more than 600 belong to our daughter church in Peru. Our seminary in Lima is training pastors and plans are to ordain at least two men for work amongst their fellow Peruvians. Our fifth missionary has been called to join our staff and expansion into Chile, or another South American country, is a possibility for the future. And what would our forefathers who gathered at Lime Creek say if they could be present at the commissioning service tomorrow evening. Two men will be commissioned as missionaries to Czechoslovakia under the auspices of the Thoughts of Faith organization and one to work as director of Christian literature. And our home missionary to Kissimmee, Florida, will also be commissioned. Is this not another occasion for which we should offer up praise and thanks to the Lord?
Now does all of this sound as though we are getting too concerned about numbers? Are we trying to make an impression on the world? Are we boasting of our own accomplishments? There is not much danger for a body our size to think we are impressing anyone or making an impact on the world. Nor are we boasting that we have done such wonderful things ourselves. The Lord warns us in His Word that we have nothing to boast or glory in of ourselves. It is purely by His grace alone that anything has been accomplished. We say with the Apostle Paul “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Gal. 6,14) And again, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” (I Cor. 1,31) But we would be ungrateful servants if we did not acknowledge our blessings and give glory to the Lord for what He has done in our midst.
During the coming decade, let us continue to labor with renewed dedication, tireless service, and boundless energy. The Lord has given us the means whereby we may reach out into the world and bring the message of salvation to others. The blessed means of grace, the pure Word and Sacraments, are the effective agents by which faith is worked in the heart and souls are gathered into the church.
The fields are indeed white unto harvest. The number of unchurched in our country is increasing. In 1978, 41% of all American adults (18 or older) were unchurched. In 1988, that figure rose to 44%. The percentage of unchurched adults, based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics population estimate, projected to 61 million in 1978 and 78 million in 1988. The mainline churches have continued to lose members at an alarming rate and are resorting to all kinds of means to win people back. Headlines in the Detroit Free Press of June 9, 1990, tells about a church that wants to “Sweeten church membership.” The article begins, “Visit a church next year and get a free pie. That’s one of many strategies for recruiting members that church leaders approved Friday at the annual Detroit conference.” But one of the pastors hit the nail on the head when he said, “In this sophisticated Church. . . we too often let people struggle their whole lives through and maybe find Christ themselves, but we don’t tell them ourselves because we think we might be infringing on their rights.”
Before we laugh and pat ourselves on the back, let us examine our own efforts at evangelism. Do we also neglect to tell people about Christ because it doesn’t seem sophisticated or we do not want to infringe on their rights? Do we hide our light under a bushel because of a false sense of modesty or lack of conviction that the person we are talking to might be on the way to hell? We definitely need to intensify our programs of invitation and evangelization if we are to bring blood-bought souls into the kingdom. Our Lord has given us direct orders to do this in the great commission. Everyone of us here today is here as a Christian because someone long ago told someone else about the Saviour. The message spread from Palestine to Asia Minor to Rome to Germany to England to Scandinavia, all over Europe, and finally over here to us in America. Someone preached and taught and baptized and spread the Word so that it finally reached us. All praise and thanks to God! May we now consider it our great mission in life to see to it that it is passed on to succeeding generations and to the world around us.
Our VISION FOR THE 90’S would not be complete unless we included an exhortation to carry out the rest of the Saviour’s command to “go and teach” all nations. The teaching function of our church body is not to be neglected. We are not only to make disciples but to retain disciples. This will only be done by giving the Holy Spirit the opportunity to work in their hearts through thorough training in the Word of God.
The history of our ELS shows that our forefathers were convinced from the very beginning of the importance of Christian Day Schools. At the very next convention after the organization, held in 1919 at Our Saviour’s congregation in Albert Lea, Minnesota, the synod adopted the following: “A Christian Day School Fund shall be established, from which needy congregations may get support for Christian Day Schools which provide for the whole education of the child, and this fund shall be administered by the School Committee.” (Synod Report, 1919, p. 32) Essays were given at practically every convention concerning the need for Christian Day Schools. In 1922 the following action is reported, “Since the preservation of the coming generations for God’s true Church on earth is a matter which concerns the very survival of our Lutheran Church in this country, therefore it is our Christian duty (not only in word but also in deed) to obey God also in those things which He demands of us regarding the bringing up of our children in true godliness. The synod, therefore, recommends that everything possible be done for the establishment of Christian Day Schools in the various congregations.” (Synod Report, 1922. p, 86–87)
As we approach our 75th anniversary and the decade of the 1990’s, the need for Christian education is no less important than it was in the 1920’s. Secular education is becoming more and more a means whereby our youth are influenced towards the evolutionary view of the world and away from the Christian world view. Let it be part of the endeavor of our synod in the years ahead that we urge our congregations, wherever possible, to earnestly consider the establishment of Christian Day Schools and that the synod provide leadership and, if possible, financial help to those who are contemplating such steps.
Together with such endeavors we need to heed the cry of our synodical youth leaders that greater measures be taken to reach out to the youth of our synod, and all whom we can reach, to nurture them through those difficult teenage years. The world is not getting to be an easier place in which to live. The description of the last days that Paul describes in his letter to Timothy is surely coming true. Yes, “In the last days perilous times shall come… evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.” (II Tim. 3:1–13) But Paul has the answer to the situation: “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou has learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (II Tim. 3:14–17)
No greater example of VISION FOR THE FUTURE can be found in the history of our synod than the step our forefathers took when they decided to purchase and operate Bethany Lutheran College. They looked into the future and came to the conclusion that without a school for the training of our youth in higher education the very future of the synod was in doubt. At the 1927 convention the question was debated, “Should the Norwegian Synod have its own school?” The Association (a group of pastors and laymen of the synod which owned the school) made this memorable statement to the synod: “Once we are convinced that the school is a necessity, we will also discover that we can afford it. We can do a lot of things that we think are absolutely impossible once they have become a matter of life or death to us.” And again, “Without its own school the synod simply cannot hope to continue as the Norwegian Synod. If we will therefore continue … nothing is worth standing in the way, but to support Bethany Lutheran College with love and right Christian zeal.” (Synod Report, 1927, p. 81)
Those words spoken in 1927 are just as true today as they were then. TRUE VISION FOR THE 90’S must include prayerful support and the conviction that without Bethany Lutheran College we would be in grave danger of losing our identity as a synod. We would also lose the opportunity of training up our young people in the way that they should go and a further opportunity for evangelism amongst the many who attend Bethany who need to learn the way of God more perfectly.
The same thing can be said of Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary. It has often been said, “A synod without a seminary doesn’t have to worry about the future. It has no future.” The vast majority of pastors serving in our synod have graduated from Bethany Lutheran Seminary. What kind of a synod would we be if 44 years ago our forefathers had not had the vision to say “we need our own school of the prophets?” The character, the spirit, the unity of our church body is greatly affected by the training that our young men get in our school. What we need to do in the 90’s is to recruit more young men who will enroll in the seminary and become candidates for the ministry. All seminaries are faced with a shortage of students and we are no exception. This past spring we were able to fill three of our vacancies with our graduates and one with a graduate from the WELS seminary in Mequon. We also sent out four vicars to serve in various places. How wonderful to be able to supply the needs of those congregations. But we still have five congregations that are vacant. A fifth missionary to Peru is needed. And our Board for Home Missions is planning to open several new missions. We could use at least eight new pastors right now. Let us pray the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into the harvest. True vision for the 90’s includes a full-fledged effort to support our seminary.
We bring this message to a conclusion by quoting from a sermon preached by the Rev. G. A. GulIixson at the 1919 convention. He spoke on the basis of Exodus 14,15. The theme of his sermon was “Go Forward.” He spoke of the children of Israel standing at the Red Sea. Everything seemed to be against them. In front of them was the sea, mountains on either side and Pharaoh and his mighty host behind them. In the midst of these difficulties, when everything seemed hopeless, the Lord spoke to Moses and said to the Children of Israel, “Go Forward.” Thus also Gullixson’s message to the synod was the same as that given to Moses. “Go Forward! Forward in faith. Forward in love. Forward in God’s grace and providence. Let our decisions at this meeting be that we give our heavenly Saviour the firm answer: With you will we go forward; with you and in the power of your grace will we work in faith and love. For you will we offer our whole lives. Upon that power of your grace and the leading of your Holy Spirit will we stand. Amen.” With that kind of spirit our VISION FOR THE 90’S will come true!
Soli Deo Gloria.
George M. Orvick