Dear Members and Friends of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod: Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father, and from the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As one approaches Mankato from several directions it is easy to focus one’s eyes on a large building standing on the brow of the hill, namely Bethany Lutheran College. And now a new building, also easily recognizable, comes into view. It is the recently completed Bethany Lutheran Theological and Synod headquarters building. In this building I have the privilege of having a spectacular view of the whole Minnesota River Valley and the city of Mankato. The view is inspiring. It offers one the opportunity to gaze upon the wildlife, the birds floating upon the currents of air, and one day seven deer coming up the path through the woods to graze right under my window.
But lest I get carried away with describing this natural beauty there is a more significant thought that often goes through my mind. It is the words of our Lord Jesus found in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 5 verses 14–16, “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 candle stick; 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.”
Both literally and figuratively the headquarters of our synod, including the college, seminary and synod office as representatives of our ELS are like a city set on a hill. We have therefore chosen to entitle this message to the synod with these words: LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE.
The first and foremost light that the ELS must hold up high is the LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. Without Him and the light of the Gospel there is nothing but darkness. Isaiah speaks of this spiritual darkness when he writes, “For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people.” Is. 60, 2. When the world fell into sin, spiritual darkness filled the hearts of all people. We, too, were in such a condition because we were born in sin and unbelief. Paul is referring to this spiritual darkness when he writes to the Ephesians, “Ye were at one time darkness.” Eph. 5, 8.
But into this dark world the Lord let the light of the gospel shine. It began to shine in the Garden of Eden when He made the first promise that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent. Gradually the light grew brighter as the Lord sent prophets to proclaim that a great light was about to appear. Isaiah writes, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come.” Is. 66, 1. And again “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Is. 9,2. And finally that light burst forth in all of its brilliance when the Child of Bethlehem was born into the world. Jesus is the light of the world. He said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 8, 12. And what does that light reveal to us? It shows us the way of salvation. Paul writes, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Cor. 4, 6. The Holy Spirit of God came into our hearts through Holy Baptism and called us out of darkness. Our Explanation of the Catechism has this answer: “When the Holy Ghost called me by the Gospel he enlightened me with his gifts, that is, He caused the light of the Word to shine into my heart, and thereby has given me a true knowledge of sin, and true faith in Jesus Christ,” Now Peter tells us, “But you are a chosen generation, a loyal Priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” I Peter 2, 9.
Oh, how wonderful this is! How blessed we are that God in His mercy has called us out of darkness into the light of the Gospel. Now we know Christ as our Savior. Now we have the knowledge of our sins and true faith in Jesus. Now we are certain that He won the forgiveness of sins for us by His perfect life and His innocent suffering and death upon the cross. And we are assured that when our final hour shall come we shall be delivered from this world of darkness and trouble and received into that eternal city of which we read, “And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign forever and ever.” Rev. 22, 5.
Now that we have personally been delivered out of darkness by the wonderful working of the Holy Spirit we certainly, out of hearts filled with gratitude, will want to make every effort to spread the light of the Gospel to people far and near. It is only the gospel which brings people to the knowledge of the truth. But this gospel must be preached if it is to fall upon the ears of those who are still in darkness. Paul writes to the Romans, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach except they be sent?” Rom. 10, 13–15.
The motivation for sending out preachers must come from the gospel which produces a certain mind-set, a certain attitude towards the work of the church. Until we take it to heart that the vast majority of the world is on the road to hell we won’t be so serious about mission endeavors. But Jesus said, “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.” Matt. 7, 13. Unless we really care about the souls that are on that broad road we will not be burning with zeal for sending out pastors and for doing personal witnessing.
At the present time our synod has been blessed with resources that make it possible to reach out more than ever before. We are a mission-minded synod. Proportionately we have missionaries in more places in the world than synods many times our size. However, there are always dangers and threats which impede our efforts. One is the lack of man power. We need more men in our seminary who see the desperate need to rescue lost souls. There is also a danger to congregations. How easy it is to concentrate on our needs and problems at home and to forget about the work of missions. This is a great challenge to our lay people. Talk about missions in your congregation. Survey your own area for those who do not know the Savior. Make certain that your worship services are such that strangers feel welcome.
Another detriment to the work of the church is our propensity for getting into endless theological debate that gets placed on the “front burner” instead of dedication to spreading the gospel. Now, of course, it is necessary for a synod to define its doctrinal position. We have always debated and struggled to uphold the truth. But there is also a real danger that we divide ourselves into certain camps, and that our work as a synod suffers because we spend too much time in needless debate rather than in winning souls for Christ. The Lord warns us against a quarrelsome spirit. The apostle Paul writes, “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” Gal. 5, 15. To the Colossians he writes, “Then, as holy people whom God has chosen and loved, be tenderhearted, kind, humble, gentle, patient: bear with one another and forgive one another if you have a complaint against anyone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. With all this have love, which binds it all together to make it perfect.” Col. 3, 12–14.
For the past twenty years there has been much study and discussion in our ELS about the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Many papers have been written and there has been debate as to how exactly to express the doctrine in clear and unmistakable language. In order to make its position clear the ELS adopted a set of theses which set forth our position on the subject. In these theses we reaffirm what Holy Scripture teaches and what the Lutheran Confessions set forth on the Holy Sacrament. Dr. Martin Luther in his Small Catechism has nicely summarized it under the question, “What is the Sacrament of the Altar? The Sacrament of the Altar is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself, for us Christians to eat and to drink.” This is what sets Lutherans apart from Reformed churches which teach that the bread and wine only represent Christ’s body and blood. It also makes clear the distinction between Lutheran and Roman Catholic teaching which holds that the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood so the bread and wine are no longer present. The changed bread and wine are then offered up as a sacrifice for sin. This we reject. The only sacrifice for sins was offered by Christ once and for all when he suffered and died on the cross. That was the one, all-atoning sacrifice.
Another matter that has been set forth very clearly by our synod is the fact that it is the words of consecration spoken by Christ in the first supper and repeated by the minister in our supper that are the effective means by which the real presence of Christ’s body and blood is brought into being. It is not our worthiness, our faith, or our eating and drinking that bring this about but only the all-powerful Word of Christ which causes the body and blood of Christ to be present with the bread and wine. But when does this happen? When are the body and blood present for us? Our Lutheran Confessions consistently use the expression that they are “present, distributed and received” in the sacrament. We therefore do not try to fix the precise moment when the presence begins but we know that what is present, distributed and received together with the bread and wine is the true body and blood of our Savior.
There is much about the Holy Supper that remains a deep mystery which we can only accept by faith. But what is important for us is that it brings to us the great blessing of the forgiveness of sins which Christ won for us on the cross.
One question which may arise for members of the congregations is this: Pastors, elders, altar guilds and ushers, etc., may wonder about the question of what to do with the elements that are left over when the supper is finished. Although the remaining elements are only bread and wine sincere Christians will want to treat such things with the utmost respect and reverence. Throughout history the church has had various methods of disposing of the elements, some of which exist today, It is reported that the early church actually burned the left over bread and poured the wine on the ground. In later times other customs were adopted such as: pouring the wine back into the bottle and putting the bread back in the box and thus preserving them for future use. This is probably the most common method. In some churches the elders and the pastor may consume the elements after the service. Other pastors carefully try to consecrate the exact number of wafers and measure the wine so that there are no left over elements. Whatever the practice is in our church we should treat these things reverently.
The Holy Scriptures do not specify what must be done with the remaining elements. We therefore go too far if we insist upon consuming all the bread and wine and make it a matter of doctrine. Such practices are called adiaphora because they are not clearly spelled out in the Scriptures but are left to Christian judgment. We do better to spend more time on the great blessing the Supper offers to us rather than on matters which are not essential to the sacrament. And that great blessing is nothing other than the forgiveness of sins. Luther writes in the Small Catechism, “The benefit which we receive from such eating and drinking is shown us by these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the remission of sins;’ namely, that in the sacrament forgiveness of sins, life and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”
Our gracious Savior won forgiveness of sins for us when He suffered and died on the cross. He did not, however, distribute it there. He distributes this blessed forgiveness through the Means of Grace, the Word of God, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Let us therefore go to the Holy Supper with joy and confidence knowing that through this blessed means we have the forgiveness of all our sins. Perhaps the time has come to stop debating about matters which are part of the great mystery of the Supper, and rather to celebrate, enjoy and be nourished by the forgiveness which we receive in the Supper!
Returning to the theme of this message we quote our Lord Jesus who said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matt. 5, 16. This is also in keeping with the theme of our convention and of the convention essay, “Walk in newness of’ life.” Rom. 6, 4.
We are not only to believe the gospel and thereby have eternal salvation but a true faith in Christ motivates us to live a life of good works. Dr. U. V. Koren wrote an address entitled “The Requirements Which the Present Condition of Our Church Body Demand of Our Clergy.” (Truth Unchanged, Unchanging, p. 226) He quotes Dr. Walther as saying that sermons are lacking “when a pastor insistently and continuously preaches about repentance and faith, but does not preach about the necessity of good works and sanctification, or does not give any thorough instruction about good works, Christian virtues, and sanctification. A thorough, graphic and quiet description of a truly Christian life and attitude will accomplish more than merely threatening and warning assertions of its necessity.” We also sing in one of our hymns:
“Tis all in vain that you profess
The doctrines of the Church, unless
You live according to your creed,
And show your faith by word and deed.
Observe the rule: to others do
As you would have them do to you.”
We are pleased that Professor Adolph Harstad will present the convention essay and lead us in a discussion of our life of faith. It was 90 years ago in 1917 that his grandfather and others began to gather the faithful together so that our synod could be formed in June of 1918.
Oh, how our light is needed in this present day. We need to bear witness to a world where a gross denial of biblical truth rules the day. Consider the following examples: This summer the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will meet in Philadelphia and will vote on the “Concordat of Agreement.” This document proposes full communion between the Episcopal Church and the ELCA. The ELCA would agree to “make constitutional and liturgical provision that only bishops shall ordain an clergy.” This would make future ELCA pastors part of the historic episcopacy so that there would be a visible unity between the traditions of the two churches. Several Episcopal bishops would have to consecrate several ELCA bishops so that there would be full apostolic succession in ELCA. It is also being proposed in the ELCA to declare full communion with a group of Reformed Church denominations. Other issues have to do with clergy support for gay and lesbian rights. In the May 13, 1997, issue of the Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Wisconsin, it is reported that “more than 60 Madison clergy issued a statement Monday promising support of gay men and lesbians.” The list included an ELCA clergyman. Another social issue has to do with the matter of life and death. The Wisconsin State Journal for May 25,1997, reports that, “A recent poll in Wisconsin reported that 55 percent of adults think physician-assisted suicide should be legal.”
These are only a few of the social issues and theological issues that confront our society. We have not even mentioned the breakdown of the family, the startling increase in gambling, the immorality displayed on prime time TV, and similar social ills. Surely we as Christians need to live holy lives as a testimony again to such evils and when and where we have opportunity testify against them. Jesus says, “Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted. It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. … let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven.” Matt. 5, 13-16.
May this convention, with its theme and essay entitled “walk in newness of life,” serve to remind us all that we are to live sanctified Christian lives so that our light may shine brightly in this dark world. May this convention also serve to bind us together in the unity of Christ’s holy love so that this also may serve as a light to a world that is walking in darkness. We do well to remember the words of the psalmist David, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” (Psalm 133,1)
In Jesus’ Name
George M. Orvick, president