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.
“LET THE CELEBRATION BEGIN!” With these words we extend an invitation to every member, every congregation and every agency of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod to begin a one-year celebration of the 75th anniversary of our reorganization as our present church body. We not only invite you to celebrate, we also urge and exhort you to enter into the proper spirit of thanksgiving and joy which this occasion calls for. The psalmist has captured that spirit in our anniversary Psalm: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.” (Ps. 100)
But how shall we go about engaging in such a celebration? We want to do so in a way that will be pleasing to God and edifying to our souls. From the words of the psalmist we can see that we should express our thanksgiving with festive worship, with the singing of psalms and hymns making a joyful noise unto the Lord. This has been the custom of God’s people throughout history. Consider the great celebration led by Moses after the children of Israel had been miraculously delivered from the Red Sea. We read. “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously… The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him … Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.” (Exodus 15, 1–2. 13)
Our year of celebration ought also to be marked by such an outpouring of praise and thanksgiving. Let us do this at festival services in our congregations. A special observance is planned for June 6,1993, at Lime Creek Lutheran Church, Lake Mills, Iowa, the place where our synod was organized. And of course at our next synod convention we will want to plan for a joyous celebration.
But let us do more. We ought to do that which will have a lasting effect upon each and every participant. And here we have several recommendations to make to the congregations. pastors and people.
In the first place, then, we recommend that individuals and congregations engage in a renewed study of God’s holy Word. It is through the Word of God that the Lord speaks to us and instructs us in all that we need to know for this life and for salvation. The Apostle Paul writes, “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, 15–17) This Word is like milk for newborn babes. It is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. It is by this Word that we are led to believe in Jesus as our Saviour, “But these are written. that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through His name.” (John 20,31) In our ELS explanation of the Catechism we confess, “We use the Word of God rightly when we read and hear it thoughtfully and regularly, and when we ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us so that we believe it and live according to it.” (ELS Explanation p. 37) The Lord has promised, “Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.” (Luke 11, 28)
What better way to celebrate than to engage in daily Bible reading. We suggest, as one way to begin organized personal Bible reading, that you examine the “One Year Bible.” It has a short selection of Old Testament, New Testament, Psalm and Proverb readings for each day of the year. If one spends as little as 15 minutes each day the entire Bible will be read in one year. Would not this be in keeping with what God commands, namely that “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein.” (Joshua 1, 8) The Lord Jesus exhorts us to search the scriptures, and he promises, “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) At this convention our emphasis is upon our youth. What better way for our youth to continue in faith than to read God’s Word. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.” (Ps. 119,9)
Over a 20 year span, from 1970 to 1990, Bible class enrollment in our congregations has greatly increased. Bible study in the congregation should have a high priority, The opportunities are there. The so-called “baby boomers” are those who were born between 1946 and 1964. They are now 26 to 46 years of age and account for nearly half of the U.S. population. Historically, people of this age usually become very active in the affairs of the church. We therefore need to provide this group, as well as for all our members, with ample opportunities to study God’s Word. Bible class attendance and Bible reading should be one of the features of our anniversary celebration.
In the By-Laws of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod there is a list of activities which are to guide us in our work together. The first one listed is this: “Promote an ongoing study of the Holy Scriptures.” (Chap. III, a) What better undertaking can there be, then, for our anniversary year than to urge each and every member to become immersed in the study of God’s Word.
In the second place we recommend that we seek to deepen our knowledge of and appreciation for our heritage. We need to see where our forefathers stood. What was their theology? How steadfast were their convictions? What sacrifices were they willing to make? It is certainly in keeping with Holy Scripture when we do this. The Prophet Jeremiah writes, “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” (Jer. 6, 16) There is a little poem by a Norwegian poet Ivar Aasen, which is quoted by the Rev. Herbert Larson in the forthcoming anniversary book, Built On The Rock, which reads as follows:
Lat os inkje forfederne gløyma … ; Let us not forget our forefathers … ;
for dei gav us ein arv til a gjøma, they gave us an heritage to treasure.
han er større, enn mange vil tru. It’s greater than many would believe.
Larson continues as follows: “We have spiritual forefathers. They spoke of the heritage left to them by previous generations. It is a heritage whose “truth endures to all generations.” Our spiritual forefathers were sensitive to their God-given privilege in possessing such a heritage. They labored under a sense of God-given responsibility to preserve that heritage for succeeding generations. When they studied Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, they learned to value their heritage the greater, as evidence of God’s grace upon them… It is an heritage to guide us in doctrine and practice as we continue to receive grace from our Lord to serve Him as Christians. It is an heritage to pass on to succeeding generations as we seek to preach His Gospel to every creature.” (Built On The Rock, p. 2)
Dr. U.V. Koren gave expression to this desire to preserve the old truths in an article entitled, “What the Norwegian Synod Has Wanted and Still Wants.”
“Our heart’s desire is to preserve the old doctrine in which our fathers found their peace, for we have learned to see that this doctrine and this alone is founded on God’s Word. We therefore wish very much to awaken in our people zeal to preserve their glorious heritage. We do not want to make them fanatical, but we do very much want to help them to become “grounded and settled,” so that they do not let themselves be “moved away from the hope of the Gospel” (Col. 1:23), but will be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58)
As we study our heritage we will see that there is something special about our Evangelical Lutheran Synod. I like to call it a “flavor.” Things do have a flavor. The psalmist writes, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that trusts in Him.” Ps. 34, 8. Larson describes this in the anniversary book, soon to be published. He writes, “Stated as simply as possible, the flavor of the Norwegian Synod was evangelical in contrast to legalistic; The Gospel of God rather than the Law of God was the dominant theme in its work. There was conscious effort always to make a proper distinction between Law and Gospel so that sinners would seek their salvation in Christ and not in the deeds of the Law.” Larson then quotes from Dr. C.F.W. Walther’s address to the 1864 convention of the old Norwegian Synod, “We have here had the joy of seeing a genuine Lutheran Synod, and this was also what we expected to find in you. But after we have seen you with our own eyes, we must confess that God has done more among you than we expected. Your Synod is not satisfied with merely the Lutheran name and with enlarging itself outwardly; but as a genuine Lutheran Church body you place pure doctrine above everything and you make it your task to bring if forth from the Word’s rich mine.… We have also seen that your burning zeal for doctrine likewise bears fruit in a burning love, and that you wish to offer your whole life to God.” (Built On The Rock, p. 34)
There were others who did not like the flavor of the old synod; One person writing in a secular newspaper puts it rather bluntly: “I knew that the Norwegian pastors in America, infested with the worms of Romanism, bleached out by the state church and frozen stiff by orthodoxy, driven by a ministry of poverty and sick with thoughts of home, had been swallowed up by Missouri, and held on to lay the yoke of slavery and papal darkness upon a people whom the Lord had chosen to be champions of Christianity and freedom.” (op. cit. p. 34)
We thus see that for some the insistence upon purity of doctrine will not have a pleasant flavor at all.
The heritage of love for the Word of God and for the spreading of the blessed message of salvation, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ was passed on from the forefathers of the old Synod to the forefathers of our reorganized synod whose anniversary we are celebrating.
How did the forefathers of our present synod determine that they would preserve and pass on that heritage to future generations. First and foremost they steadfastly refused to compromise the doctrines of Holy Scripture. The last convention of the old Norwegian Synod was held in June of 1917. The United Church and the Hauge Synod held their conventions at the same time. After brief sessions these three church bodies adjourned their meetings and marched in jubilant procession to the auditorium where the Union exercises were held. This marked the end of the old Norwegian Synod. At the same time a small minority group, encouraged by a committee from the Synodical Conference, met at the Aberdeen Hotel in St. Paul. They all agreed that they could not, for conscience sake, join the merger. The doctrinal compromise which brought about the Merger was called Opgjør, or settlement. It allowed two contradictory teachings to stand, namely, that the sinner was converted due to God’s grace alone, or that his conversion was due to something within man, a better attitude or less resistance to the Holy Spirit. This compromise was unacceptable to the minority. They confessed the truth that it was only by God’s grace alone that the sinner could be converted. They therefore agreed unanimously upon the following declaration:
1. We cannot for conscience’s sake join the new church body on the present basis.
2. We continue to stand on the old confession and organization, which we as Christians have the liberty to defend and under which we may work from now on as heretofore.
It was almost a year later, April 1, 1918, that the invitation went out in their new paper Luthersk Tidende as follows: “Pastors and members of the congregations who desire to continue in the old doctrine and practice of the Norwegian Synod will, God willing, hold their annual meeting in the Lime Creek congregation, Pastor H. Ingebritson’s charge, June 14, and following days.” (See Grace for Grace, p. 115 ff.)
It was thus that our forefathers preserved the truth and determined to pass it on to future generations. One of those forefathers, the Rev. John Moldstad, summarizes the feelings of that little group as he wrote about it 25 years later. “We were free, we were unafraid, and we were happy. We felt that the Lord was with us and that His grace was abundant… It was a small beginning and without temporal means, but God’s blessings have been showered upon us. One with God is always a majority. May we remain faithful stewards to the end of time! God help us for Jesus’ sake!” (Lutheran Sentinel April 27, 1943)
Besides defending the truth and proclaiming it from their pulpits our forefathers passed on that heritage by their continuing insistence upon providing Christian education for the young. At almost every convention they urged the formation of Christian day schools. At the 1927 synod convention they undertook the enormous obligation of purchasing and beginning to operate Bethany Lutheran College. At great sacrifice they supported the institution so that we continue to reap the blessings of Christian higher education down to this day. In 1946 our own Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary was organized. The synod was determined to have its own school of the prophets so that its theology, heritage and flavor could be handed down to its future pastors.
Now as to our celebration what better thing can we do, next to our study of the Holy Scriptures, than to re-discover our roots and to learn to treasure our heritage. In order to assist each individual and each congregation in such a quest your anniversary committee has produced a fine booklet entitled, “In Remembrance of His Mercy.” It contains nine beautiful paintings together with an historical explanation of each one. They represent the theology and heritage of our church body. We highly recommend that each individual or family have a copy. We also urge that a nine-week course be held in each congregation this fall based upon the booklet. Supplementary material will be provided to the pastor or teacher so that the lessons may be enlarged upon. Our Christian day schools and youth groups would profit enormously from a study of the booklet. Thus our whole synod, young and old alike, may review our heritage and learn to appreciate it more fully.
There will also be available this fall a major volume entitled, Built On The Rock. The book is authored by the Rev. Herbert Larson and Prof. Juul B. Madson. It contains a fresh and vital approach to our history. The events of the last 25 years have never been documented in book form. The reader will truly be impressed by the way in which the doctrine, history, and flavor of our synod are conveyed to the reader. Such a book should be found in every home.
In observance of our celebration, we urge our synod to continue faithfully to believe, teach and confess the pure doctrines of God’s Word in every pulpit, in every classroom and in every publication. When false teaching abounds on every hand we who hold to the old truths must realize what an important mission we have in this world. Yes, we are a small body but even the tiny glow of a candle can light a path through the darkness. The Lord Jesus says, “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. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5, 14-16)
One of the purposes for our union as a synod is to warn against false doctrine. Our By-Laws also state that our synod is to “be watchful concerning purity and unity of doctrine (Eph. 4, 3-16); (I Cor. 1:10) by studying doctrinal questions which are in special need of study and discussion, trying the spirits (I John 4, 1), and warning against encroaching sects, as well as against errors and unchristian trends (I Tim. 4, 1-6), in accordance with the Holy Scriptures.” (Chapter III, b)
Dangerous movements or trends in the church today are many. There is the charismatic movement, the church growth movement, attacks upon the inspiration of Scripture, the influence of Reformed theology, the terrible scourge of abortion, homosexuality and promiscuity and all kinds of sects which would lead our people away from the Word of God. We need to make a clear confession of our faith. The Doctrine Committee has drawn up such a document, which has also been studied by the General Pastor Conference, which is before this convention.
In addition to warning against error we, of course, must have as our first goal to proclaim the blessed Gospel. The very purpose of our synod is stated in the constitution of our church body, “The synod exists to carry out the command of Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark, 16, 15; Matt. 28, 19-20), to contend for the faith (Jude 3), and to promote the development of Christian life (Gal. 5. 22-25) within its membership.” (Chapter III) It must ever be our aim to preach Jesus Christ as the only Saviour and Redeemer of the world. Salvation by grace alone through faith in the Lord Jesus must ever be our theme. Our synod exists because our forefathers would not compromise this teaching. They would not give credit to man for contributing anything to his conversion, his election or his justification. To proclaim the sweet peace that comes from the Gospel of Christ has ever been the trademark of our church:
Peace, to soothe our bitter woes,
God in Christ on us bestows;
Jesus bought our peace with God
With His holy, precious blood;
Peace in Him for sinners found,
Is the gospel’s joyful sound.
Any celebration of our anniversary without a strong reaffirmation of our determination to proclaim the unconditioned Gospel would be hollow indeed. We confess with the Apostle Paul “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (I Cor. 2,2)
In addition to all of this we need to labor to preserve the unity that is in our midst. What a blessing from the Lord it is to have a scripturally sound unity of doctrine and spirit, including true Christian love towards one another. On February 6, 1860, Dr. Walther embarked on a trip to Europe for the sake of his health. In his diary he wrote as he crossed the ocean these special words: “An exhortation to our Synod to maintain its present unity. There is nothing like it in our days, a miracle of God! It is a return to the days of our fathers and of Acts 2. It is a gracious visitation of God and a gift of grace. Let us be unperturbed as people everywhere strive to progress and to invent something new, to correct the orthodox church; and to take the fathers to school. No matter how much this new wisdom puffs itself up, the wind of time will blow it away like chaff, and the old truth will shine like the old sun. This unity makes us strong despite our weakness. Let us gladly accept the insult that we merely repristinate the theology of the 16th century, but do not produce it anew. Let us take a closer look at those who strive for the reputation, not to have copied the pure Lutheran Doctrine as pupils, but to have reproduced it by themselves. Ours is not a unity of stagnation, but a unity of lively action. It is a unity not only among ourselves, but also with the orthodox church of all time.” (The Life of C.F.W. Walther, Spitz, p. 94)
This was Dr. Walther’s view of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1860. How sad he would be if he could see the turmoil that reigns in that body today.
Do we take this unity too much for granted in our midst? Do we honestly endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4, 3) The unity that we have is very precious. Others in the world of Lutheranism are looking to us as a possible refuge from the theological storms that are raging throughout the church. Let us therefore labor to preserve that blessed unity, which is a gift of God and for which our forefathers labored so faithfully. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” (Ps. 133, 1)
Finally, to properly celebrate this anniversary year we need to get on with our work. By speaking of historical matters we want to draw lessons for the future so that we do not forsake the doctrine of our fathers. We do not, however, want to live in the past and forget about the future. We cannot sit in the shade of the oaks at Koshkonong or at Lime Creek and ponder what great things have been said and done by our forefathers and then go to sleep on a pillow of self satisfaction. No indeed. Instead we need to ask how we can do the Lord’s work with more vigor, more efficiency and more determination. The Apostle Paul’s injunction needs to ring in our ears, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Cor. 15, 58).
Let us go forward with such zeal to gather an anniversary offering that will really demonstrate our gratitude for 75 years of blessing. By doing this we will help to pass on to the next generation the precious heritage which we have received. The younger members of our church of today will be better prepared for the leadership they must exert tomorrow.
By giving our continued support to our Bethany Lutheran College and Seminary and to our home and foreign mission programs we will also be passing on our heritage and sharing it with others. A recent article in a church paper which is circulated across the nation praises our Bethany. Headlines on the front page read: “The Best Deal in Lutheran Education: Bethany Lutheran College.” The long article written by a parent of a pupil not from our synod goes on to point out in dramatic fashion what our college has to offer and how firmly it stands on a Christian, Lutheran foundation. Sometimes we have to hear from outsiders what blessings we have in order to appreciate them more fully.
With new mission congregations opening at home and with foreign mission work being done in Peru, Chile, Czechoslovakia and Ukraine, as well as having a worker serving our sister church in Australia, our light is not being hid under a bushel. Our doctrine and our heritage is becoming known far and wide.
For all of this we take no credit. We say with the psalmist, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.” (Ps. 115, 1) It is all by the pure mercy and grace of God that we embark upon the celebration of our 75th anniversary. We bring our message to a, close with the words of a special song of praise written especially for this celebration:
We praise You, O God, for Your care through the years,
For helping in troubles and calming our fears.
Your Word has sustained us in toil and in strife,
But dearest of all it has brought us new Life.
Your Son is our Life! Your Son is our Life!
Through Him we have hope and salvation,
We praise You with glad adoration!
All glory and honor to You, Lord, above,
Thanksgiving from hearts that have tasted Your love.
Now bless us, we pray You, with grace on our way,
To love and to serve You until that great Day.
O bless us we pray! O bless us we pray!
To You may we ever be faithful.
We praise You with hearts ever grateful!
Words by the Rev. Paul Madson
Music by Lynne Kessel
George M. Orvick