DEAR MEMBERS AND FRIENDS OF OUR EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN SYNOD: GRACE AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR FATHER AND FROM THE LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. AMEN.
It is very encouraging to hear someone say, “I like the ELS because it is ‘evangelical.’ It lets the Gospel of free salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ be at the center of its preaching and teaching. It does not make laws where God has not made them. It flies under the flag of ‘justification by grace alone.’ It has a flavor that tastes good because it proclaims a gracious God of whom it is written, ‘O Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that trusteth in him.’” (Ps. 34,8)
It is also pleasing to hear someone say “I like the ELS because it holds fast to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. It has not allowed modernism, historical criticism, or liberalism to erode the principles on which it was founded. It still confesses that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired and infallible Word of God as the Apostle Paul has written, ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.’” (II Tim. 3,16)
I hope that such descriptions will always characterize our dear church body. It is due to God’s grace alone that we have been preserved as a truly evangelical Lutheran church body and that we have remained true to God’s holy Word. We ourselves would have gone astray long ago or destroyed ourselves by “biting and devouring one another” (Gal. 5,15) if it had not been that the Lord in His mercy has preserved us. It is our fervent prayer that He will continue to do so in the future.
There is something else, however, that I would like to emphasize this year as I deliver my 22nd annual message to our dear synod. It would surely be in accordance with God’s will and in keeping with the very reason for which our synod was founded if we seek to remain a truly MISSION-MINDED SYNOD. I would like therefore to entitle this message with the words: A GOD-PLEASING DIRECTIVE FOR OUR SYNOD: HAVE A MISSION-MINDED SPIRIT
In its constitution the synod has, after stating its name, confession and membership, proclaimed its purpose in unmistakable language. We quote Chapter III. “The synod exists to carry out the command of Jesus Christ to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19–20), to contend for the faith (Jude 3), and to promote the development of Christian life (Galatians 5:22–25) within its membership.”
The synod certainly has tried valiantly to carry out this purpose. Especially has it contended for the faith. It was organized in order to preserve the doctrines of conversion and election in their truth and purity, thus preserving also the doctrine of salvation by grace alone. It fought for the correct teaching concerning church fellowship. Each year we continue to speak out on our doctrinal issues. It is good that we discuss doctrine. We exist to contend for the faith. The fact that we could unanimously in 1992 adopt a doctrinal statement entitled “We Believe, Teach and Confess” is truly remarkable for a church body living in this age of diversity and indifference.
Our church body has likewise endeavored to promote the development of Christian life within its membership. The passage referred to here in the constitution is Galatians 5,22–25: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Now being miserable sinners we have not individually always fulfilled this admonition and must turn to Christ for forgiveness. But the synod has tried to teach this humble Christian attitude in its writings and proclamations.
But it is the first stated purpose to which we would like to address our attention in this message, namely that “the synod exists to carry out the command of Jesus Christ to preach the gospel to every creature.”
It is abundantly clear from Holy Scripture that the Lord Jesus issued definite marching orders to his church. The New Testament contains a wealth of texts referring to the obligation and purpose of Christian mission work. The Old Testament likewise is not silent on this subject. It is foretold in the Old Testament that the Gospel was meant not just for the people of Israel but for all nations. The Lord said to Abraham, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 22,18) The Psalmist tells us, “Declare His glory among the heathen, His wonders among all, people… Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth.” (Ps. 96,2 & 10) The .prophet Isaiah exhorted the people of Israel that the day would come when the Gentiles would enter into the kingdom, for example, “Enlarge the place or thy tent and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations; spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes, for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left, and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.” (Is. 54,2.3.)
In the New Testament, of course, we have a missionary treasure house of inexhaustible wealth. Our Lord’s encouragement and command concerning the spreading of the Gospel can be traced from the beginning of His earthly ministry until its close on the Mount of Olives. Previously He had given to His disciples and to the church of all time, until His return, this wonderful commission: “All power is given unto Me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28,18–20)
Before giving this Great Commission the Lord had to finish His saving work. It was necessary for Him to completely fulfill the Law on our behalf and then to go to the cross of Calvary to make propitiation for the sins of the whole world. Now God through this tremendous sacrifice is reconciled to the world. The penalty for sin has been paid. Forgiveness has been won for all people. The way to heaven was opened. All things were now ready for the “drawing of all men” to Christ. Now the Great Commission was in place, timely and ready to be carried out. Thus it was that just before his departure to the right hand of the Father He gathered His apostles and gave them that command which has been the impelling motive of all mission endeavor for Christ in the last twenty centuries: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
The work of missions is the very lifeblood of the church. A certain writer named William Adams Brown has summarized this truth in the following eight statements:
1. Every book in the New Testament was written by a foreign missionary.
2. The only authoritative history of the early Christian church is a foreign mission journal.
3. The disciples were called Christians first in a foreign mission community.
4. The way of the early Christian world is the tracing of journeys of the first missionaries.
5. Of the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus all but one became missionaries.
6. The only man among the apostles who did not become a missionary became a traitor.
7. Every Epistle in the New Testament that was written to a church was written to a foreign mission church.
8. According to the apostles, missionary service is the highest expression of Christian life.
The great work of spreading the gospel which began with the apostles and which has been carried on throughout the centuries down to our present age, has been likened to the relay race of the ancient Greek stadium. Men bearing torches stood in line at the starting point. Each man belonged to a separate team. Away in the distance stood another row of men waiting, and further on row upon row. At the word “Go” the men at the starting point leaped forward—their torches burning. They ran at top speed towards the men waiting in the next row. They, in turn seized the flaming torch, and again raced on to pass it on to the next in line. The Greeks, who were very fond of this race, coined the phrase from it, “Let the torch bearers hand on the flame to the others,” or “Let those who have the light pass it on.”
Throughout the history of the Christian church there has been a wonderful relay race of torch bearers who through trials and obstacles and dangers of all sorts have carried the light across the continents and oceans of the world. After the courageous beginning made by the apostles the gospel was carried by traveling merchants and soldiers of the Roman army until practically every city and every town in the Mediterranean world came to have a group of men and women in its midst who had been won for Christ. Hundreds of thousands of the early Christians suffered martyrdom because during the first two hundred years of Christendom it was a crime, punishable by death, to be a Christian. But this did not stop the advance of the church. A common saying was that “the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church.”
Let us take a moment to consider the march of the Gospel throughout the centuries until it finally came down to us. We begin with the early Christian writer Tertullian (A.D. 160–240). Addressing the Roman potentates he wrote concerning the Christians: “We are but of yesterday, and yet we already fill your cities, islands, your camps, your palace, senate, and forum. We have left you only your temples.” Let us remember Ulfilas (Little Wolf, 310–383) the apostle to the west Goths, a Germanic tribe which had migrated southward to the shore of the Black Sea. Not only did he preach but he translated the Bible into their language. We should go on to mention Martin of Tours (St. Martin, 316–400) the early missionary to France. He labored faithfully and recruited a group of monks to help him, forming a kind of “salvation army” to wage war against the idols and superstitions of the people. His famous motto Non recuso laborem (I will not withdraw from the work) was the watchword for missionaries in all Western Europe. We could go on and on. Partricius (St. Patrick, 380-460) the apostle to Ireland, not only emphasized preaching but also the establishment of schools for the training of a native ministry. Augustine of Canterbury (died C. 607) brought the gospel to Anglo Saxon England at the end of the sixth century. Boniface (680-755) was the so-called Apostle of the Germans. There is an interesting story about Boniface, how that at Geismar in Hesse, in the presence of the amazed and awestruck natives, he chopped down an ancient oak which had been consecrated to the God of Thunder and out of its timbers he built a Christian church. Going on we come to St. Ansgar (801–865) who brought the gospel to Sweden and Denmark.
It is of special interest to us that this year the nation of Norway is observing the 1000th anniversary of Christianity in that country. Special celebrations were held June 2–5. It was in the year 995 A.D. that Olaf Trygvesen returned from his Viking expeditions and landed in Norway. While away from Norway he had been converted to Christianity, was baptized and confirmed. He brought bishops and priests from England to bring Christianity to Norway and sought to do this by persuasion where possible and by force where necessary. In the same year he became ruler of Norway and became the sole king of the Norwegians. The year 1995 also marks the 1000th anniversary of the birth of St. Olaf. His name was Olaf Haraldsson and he became king of Norway from 1016–1030. He carried on the work of completing the conversion of Norway to Christianity. Many of the old stave churches were built during his reign.
Some who have not understood the great Lutheran Reformation have criticized both Luther and the Reformation as being uninvolved in spreading the Gospel. They fail to grasp the fact that Luther had so much mission work to do right at home in order to teach the Gospel to souls that had long been in the darkness of the false teachings of the papacy that he could scarcely become involved in foreign mission work. Even the apostles were to begin “at Jerusalem” with the Jew first before they went to other lands. And so with Luther and his co-workers. With his writing and preaching and translation of the Bible the entire Lutheran Reformation however became a missionary movement. Indeed from Wittenberg the Gospel was spread in many directions and to many lands.
It is sad to read how Satan is constantly at work opposing and trying to destroy all efforts at spreading the Gospel. As a dramatic example of this we refer to a story printed in the Sunday, June 4, 1995, issue of the Wisconsin State Journal. The headlines read “Norwegian Satanists suspected in church fires.” We quote, “For many Norwegians, this weekend’s 1000th year anniversary of Christianity here has been overshadowed by a series of deliberately set fires that over the past three years has destroyed or severely damaged more than two dozen churches, including a wooden church built in the 12th century. In most of these fires satanic symbols were left in the church yard. The authorities say, “We’re quite sure there are Satanists standing behind these criminal acts.” Many churches around the country have been under 24-hour guard during the weekend of the celebration. Police say that hundreds of people in Oslo, Bergen and Stavanger are involved in Satan worship. Chief public prosecutor Bjoern Soknes said most are young men infatuated by a Norwegian strain of heavy metal music and by the writings of an American Satanist, Anton LaVey. Twelve people have been convicted of various charges in the church fires.
Our own Evangelical Lutheran Synod has from its origin in the 1840s and 50s been a missionary church. It was started by pastors or missionaries who came from Norway to do work amongst the immigrants and to organize churches and schools. Preus, Otteson and Koren were young men in their late 20s who left their homeland and ventured forth to bring the Gospel to their fellow countrymen who had immigrated to America. The church body they organized became very involved in mission activity around the world. Our ELS from the days of its reorganization in 1918 had a mission-minded spirit. It joined with the synodical conference in sending missionaries to China, India and Africa. It attempted mission work in Cornwall, England for several years and had pastors serving in Nigeria, West Africa for some time.
In the 77 years of our history the ELS has for a small body made heroic efforts at spreading the Gospel by doing home and foreign mission work. In going over our congregational roster it is evident that about 45–50 of our churches were started as missions. This is about one-third of our membership. Where would we be today if it were not for the dedicated efforts of our members and our mission boards who, with limited resources, boldly took steps to organize mission churches.
It was in 1968 that our synod embarked upon its own concentrated foreign mission outreach. This resulted in the establishment of our mission in Peru. Many missionaries and lay workers gave years of their lives in order to bring the Gospel to the souls there. House churches were established and then larger gathering places. The work spread from Lima to the mountain villages and other cities. A seminary was organized. National pastors were instructed for many years before they could be ordained and assume the office of the ministry. Now four national pastors and two Americans carry on what was begun there in 1968. Like the early missionaries they were determined to carry on despite dangers that arose from Communist uprisings in the land. And God continues to bless their labors.
Soon the decision was made to move on to Chile. Another door was opened. The people there are hearing and learning the Word of God and the Holy Spirit is working through the Means of Grace to bring many into God’s Church.
More doors were soon opened in Ukraine and the Czech Republic. Under the auspices of the Thoughts of Faith organization precious souls are being brought to Christ and delivered from the bondage of atheistic Communism.
When mentioning these endeavors we by no means wish to exclude other phases of our synodical work which are directly tied to the Great Commission. Did not our Lord say “Go ye therefore and teach all nations.” The teaching function is also a mission function. Is it not part of the Great Commission, therefore, that we teach at our Bethany College and Day Schools and Sunday Schools and that we prepare more workers in our Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary. Surely it is mission work when 350–400 youth enrolled at our college sit at the feet of Christian teachers and learn the way of God more perfectly.
At this present time we are living in what, humanly speaking, we might call a “golden age” of mission opportunity in our ELS. The Lord has seen fit to provide resources that we have not had before. We therefore ought to make the fullest use of these opportunities. Every gift we give for our synod’s work is being doubled by the matching program. How we ought to maximize this outpouring of the Lord’s blessings upon us.
As we meet together for the 78th convention of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod it is my hope and prayer that a proper missionary zeal for bringing souls into the kingdom might be fostered. There are certain facts that would make it appear that we could be doing much better than we are in our outreach program. For example: In 1986 our budgeted amount for foreign missions was $110,000. For home missions it was $120,000. Now ten years later, our proposed budget for 1996 for foreign work is $108,000 and for home $118,000. For ten years we have made no progress in what we have allocated for mission outreach. Our income each year from 1984 to 1994 remained between $718,222 in 1984 and $672,319 in 1993. In 1994, however, we reached an all time high of $795,441. Thus far in 1995 we have again fallen behind about $40,000 in our giving as compared to last year. The only thing that has helped us expand in both home and foreign work is the special “Partners in the Gospel” offering that brought in about $1,000,000 a few years ago and also the generous special gifts and estates that have been such a blessing in recent years.
In reporting these statistics we do not wish to lay blame upon our congregations. Many are small and are barely able to pay the pastor’s salary and keep up with home expenses. But it is our conviction that we could all be more “mission-minded” and realize that we are a part of a long chain of mission endeavors that have been the focus of the church ever since the Lord gave the command to “go and preach.” If we lose this focus, if we turn inward and live in such fear of losing the Gospel that we are reluctant to share it with souls on the way to perdition, then we are indeed hiding our light under a bushel and losing sight of the very reason for our existence as a church body.
Pastors show their mission mindedness by a vigorous program of calling on those who are going astray and pursuing prospects who have moved into the neighborhood or visited the church. They also show such a spirit by referring to the importance of mission work in their sermons, keeping the work of the synod before the people and by regular, steadfast prayer for missions and our missionaries in the public worship services.
Congregations show their mission mindedness by having regular mission festivals, by discussing the work of the synod in their meetings and by establishing a system whereby generous giving for the Lord’s work away from home is fostered. Our women’s missionary societies have played an important role in this regard.
In order that we might increase in our devotion to mission outreach perhaps we should consider the following proposals:
1. A series of synod-wide mission conferences throughout the synod under the leadership of the Boards for Home and Foreign Missions.
2. A series of fiscal conferences where pastors and lay people together discuss the matter of how budgeting and planning takes place in the local congregations under the direction of the Board for Stewardship.
3. A study of and implementation of a more effective means of communicating the missionary message carried out by our present Committee on Communications in consultation with the mission boards.
Through such programs held in the various circuits we would hope that the objectives of providing INSPIRATION, INFORMATION AND SYSTEM would be met, resulting in greater commitment to the cause of spreading the Gospel, and the fostering of a mission-mindedness in our dear synod.
As we go forward let the motto of the missionary Martin of Tours be our also, “Non recuso laborem,” I “will not withdraw from the work.” Better yet let us heed the words of the Apostle Paul, “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)
SOLI DEO GLORIA
George M. Orvick