Esteemed brethren in the ministry, official delegates from the congregations and honored guests from at home and abroad: Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It is with some emotion that I undertake to present my final message to our beloved Synod, please, therefore pardon me if what I write is more personal. This will be the 29th time that I have stood before you to express my hopes and prayers, my fears and concerns for our little church body. It was as a young boy in Richland Lutheran Church down in Thornton, Iowa, that I first learned about the synod. I know that from the beginning the teaching of objective justification became very precious to me. In almost every sermon it was made plain that God had declared the whole world to be righteous on account of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ upon the cross. In addition to this, the importance of maintaining pure doctrine was impressed upon me by the sainted Rev. Arthur Ranzau and later the Rev. Ferdinand Weyland. They supplied me with ample materials to show the difference between the churches of the Synodical Conference and other Lutheran Churches. Rev. Ranzau presented me with a gift upon my graduation from Bethany in 1948. It was a copy of Walther’s “The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.” Inside the cover he had written the following, “Next to your Bible, Luther, and Lutheran Confessions, study this book for a successful ministry.” The faithful support of my parents and the encouragement of my pastors were very instrumental in convincing me to prepare for service in the office of the holy ministry. The greatest help and support has come from my wife, Ruth, who has stood by me for over 50 years and has made our home a warm and comfortable place for me, our children and grandchildren and our guests.
But now, after 49 years in the ministry, which includes 33 years as a parish pastor and 28 years as president (12 part time, 16 full time), the time for my retirement has come. The little flocks at Our Savior’s Lutheran at Amherst Junction, WI, and Grace Lutheran Church at Manitowoc, WI, which I served for one year are dear to my heart. The Lord then led me to The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Cross in Madison, WI, where for 32 years it was my privilege to proclaim the blessed Gospel of our Savior. Serving our ELS has likewise been a great experience. Working with you, dear pastors and delegates, as well as with the congregations of the synod and also the other church bodies with whom we are in fellowship has been very rewarding. I want to express my heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you for your support and cooperation.
My love for the ELS has grown year by year. I love her for her sound doctrine, for her evangelical approach to ministry, and for her gentleness and patience in dealing with precious souls. I admire greatly the determination of her early fathers who set out in l918 to rebuild the synod on the old foundations. Likewise, I stand in awe of those stout-hearted men who decided in l927 that the Synod must have a college if she was going to survive. They wanted to preserve the “One Thing Needful.” What an example those early leaders such as Bjug Harstad, G.A. Gullixson, J.A. Moldstad, Christian Anderson, S.C. Ylvisaker, N. A. Madson, G.O. Lillegard, and Justin Petersen and others set for those who should follow in their footsteps. I also think of the self-sacrificing lay men and women who willingly served their Lord for the cause of the Gospel. They truly had the spirit of the Apostle Paul, as stated in our convention theme, “If God be for us, who can be against us!” Rom, 8,31. These were men and women who were willing to gather, sometimes with small remnants of their former congregations, in humble quarters, in order to preserve the “rene laere,” that is, the pure doctrine of God’s inspired and infallible Word. These were the ones who were responsible for the reorganization of the Norwegian Synod in 1918, now the ELS, of which we are members today.
The theme of this convention is meant to encourage us in our synodical work and to comfort and strengthen us as we face the dangers of living in a troubled world.
We are assembled here for the 85th Annual Convention of our church. It is my hope and prayer that the Lord will lead us to accomplish much during these days. But first of all we need to CELEBRATE. We are not gathered here to quarrel. Let us rather praise the Lord for guiding us through 85 years as a church body that has come through troubled times. We started out in l918 as a mere handful, a “plucked chicken,” a despised minority. But we did not lose the Gospel. The blessed message of salvation by grace alone through faith in our Redeemer Jesus Christ has not been lost, or compromised, or diminished. The blessed truth that our conversion and election was not due to any cooperation on our part but solely due to the working of the Holy Spirit has not been lost. The revelation in God’s Word that the Lord created the heavens and the earth by His almighty power has not given way to the destructive theory of evolution. To all the other truths given to us by inspiration our Synod still holds fast. Praise God for preserving us! CELEBRATE His gracious providence!
We are gathered on the beautiful campus of Bethany Lutheran College. Seventy five years ago our fathers decided that our synod could not really become a viable church body without its own school. Bethany began on a fiscal shoestring. But God provided the way. He opened the hearts of the members and friends of our synod to support the school so that the “One Thing Needful” would be preserved. He blessed the work of the “paint and varnish club” from Minneapolis and their efforts to beautify the building. He made the potatoes grow in North Dakota and Minnesota to help feed the students. He gave us gifted professors who were willing to work at great sacrifice. He brought about growth, expansion, and academic excellence by the efforts of many faithful workers. We now have a recognized four-year college which will educate many young people without destroying their faith. It will prepare pastors and teachers for the work of the church as well as dedicated men and women who will serve the Lord in other capacities. Let us CELEBRATE what God has done for us. Look around and praise the Lord!
Our Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary has been preparing men for the ministry since 1946. No longer do the men have to be sent away to other institutions. Our seminary has an international flavor. It has prepared young men to be pastors who came from Norway, Germany, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Korea and Latvia. It has the facilities which are a joy for our students and faculty. The Lord gave us excellent scholars to instruct our future shepherds. Let us CELEBRATE what God has done!
In Florida, where we had no congregations 25 years ago, we will open our tenth congregation in July. In the Chicago area, a new mission will open this summer in Plainfield. At this convention three new mission congregations will be received into membership. One is called “Asian Mission Church,” of Irvine, CA, because its membership is Korean. Yesterday (June 16th) ground was broken for Peace Lutheran, a new mission church right here in Mankato. During this past year two new Christian day schools were opened in Peru. The church in Peru is reaching out to the mountain and jungle villages. The Lima seminary is producing qualified pastors. A Korean pastor is being supported in the Tacoma, WA, area. In Korea itself a door has been opened for mission work. Three of our men explored possibilities in China. Through Thoughts of Faith, a church-related organization of our ELS, the Ukrainian Lutheran Church was organized. It now has 24 congregations, 16 pastors, 12 seminary students and 3000 members. The Church in the Czech Republic is likewise organized and is doing its own mission work in nearby towns. The Confessional Lutheran Church of Latvia is in operation, partially supported by Thoughts of Faith. These three church bodies were received this year into the world-wide fellowship of the CELC. Here I want to commend the Thoughts of Faith organization for the fine work it has done in spreading the Gospel. Therefore, COME AND LET US CELEBRATE! We spend too much time in argument and not enough time CELEBRATING. Make this convention an opportunity to praise the Lord and REJOICE OVER what He has done for us. Is not this what the Psalmist had in mind when he exhorts us in Psalm 107, “Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! Let them exalt him also in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.” Psalm 107:31–32.
In addition to celebrating, the fact remains that we have work to do. Each one of our boards and committees has submitted an annual report to this convention. It is now time to examine those reports to ascertain whether or not the work assigned to them is being carried out in accordance with the purpose, aim and goal of our synod. Let each one of the convention review committees take the time and effort to study their assignments and to bring back to this floor recommendations which will further our work as a synod.
With the help of many brethren it is my privilege to lay before you a VISION FOR THE FUTURE. My Vision for the Future as I leave this office is that of a church body that is well organized and smoothly functioning so that it can CARRY OUT THE GREAT COMMISSION to the greatest extent possible. This calls for a study of our present organization and ascertaining if there are areas where an improvement could be effected. At a conference of 40 pastors and 40 laymen, held last August, many suggestions to improve our method of operation were set forth. These, in turn, were then digested by a small committee into 7 issues which need to be addressed. Objectives spelled out and strategies for achieving them were also set forth. The seven issues identified were as follows: 1) Engaging synod membership in the life and work of the synod, 2) Establishing greater harmony in our midst, 3) Creating a more visible identity, 4) Meeting spiritual life needs in congregations, 5) Creating opportunities for professional development, 6) More instruction and organization in the area of stewardship and 7) Making better use of technology and communication.
It is my conviction that an organization needs to engage in a “Self Study” program every so often. Bethany Lutheran College has done several self studies which resulted in positive steps forward. We should not dismiss the matter with the simple answer that “we have never done it that way before.” But should employ our best judgment, always under the guidance of God’s Word, to see how we can best serve the Lord. The new president should be directed to see that such a self study is carried out and changes put into effect that would improve our operation. As the President’s Report shows, there have been many adjustments in our synodical procedures through the years. This is an on going process. But a total review, reflecting the needs as identified by the representative group, would be a wholesome undertaking for our synod.
It is sad to read in the report of the Board of Trustees the following: “Budget contributions from the congregations of the synod have not met the adopted synod budget for the past six years.” At this point in time we are significantly behind the contribution level of last year. Something is not right! I sometime wonder if the controversy over the doctrine of the ministry is interfering with the work of spreading the Gospel? I certainly hope not. This would not be pleasing to our God nor in accordance with His Word. How many souls are being lost because we are having to curtail our work? I also wonder about this: Is the idea taking hold that since we are so blessed with special support from the Schwan Foundation that we do not need support from our congregations? This would be a tragedy! We gave more for the synod’s work seven years ago, in 1991, than we did last year! It is true that Bethany Lutheran College gets grants for its building programs, but that doesn’t mean that the synod gets the same kind of support for its work. The synod gets a block grant of one million dollars plus several smaller grants each year but that is not increasing. In fact it is decreasing and we have been cautioned not to expect those gifts to grow. Those outside gifts ought to be an incentive to give more so that we could do more. We have an opportunity to do work never before thought possible by our synod. We therefore need to maximize our giving while the opportunity is still there. Likewise we need to examine how we have done for the 2000 Years of Grace Offering for the celebration of the 2000th anniversary of our Savior’s birth. We are getting close to $500,000 but this is only half of what we had hoped for. Think of the home missions that we are not able to start because the funds were not there to carry out the work. I pray that you will take a look at your congregation’s record and see in what direction you are going both for the anniversary offering and the regular budget. It is a matter of the salvation of souls. The souls that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death are lost unless they hear the message of salvation through Christ.
There has been a great deal of publicity lately about the problems in the Roman Catholic Church regarding the terrible offense caused by their priests in molesting mostly young boys. I want to reassure the synod that our ELS has a policy in place, and has had since l997, for dealing with such situations. It was approved by the synod’s lawyer and the Board of Trustees before being mailed to our pastors and congregations. It is in compliance with “Minnesota Statute 148A, Action for Sexual Exploitation: Psychotherapists.” We have asked each congregation to file a Letter of Certification with the synod certifying that there have been no incidents or allegations involving their pastor(s). Almost all the congregations of our synod have complied and have letters on file in the synod office. After a pastor accepts a call to a new congregation, that congregation should request a letter of certification from the congregation previously served.
Of utmost interest to all of us is the report of the Doctrine Committee. Once again the subject of the ministry has occupied most of the time of the Doctrine Committee. As you certainly are aware there has been disagreement in our midst on this matter for many years. Various attempts have been made to arrive at a consensus in this area. This past year was no exception. The Doctrine Committee has made every effort to secure input from all the pastors and others. In my 49 years in the ministry this is the closest that we have come to a consensus on the matter. The General Pastoral Conference which is attended by nearly all of our pastors devoted almost its entire three days to a discussion of this subject. A special attempt to achieve unity was undertaken by the appointment of a “Conciliation Committee.” The Program Committee of the conference selected six men to serve on this committee. They are: Rev. Mark Bartels, Rev. Charles Keeler, Rev. Donald Moldstad, Mr. Allen Quist, Rev. Alexander Ring and Rev. Michael Smith. The Rev. Edward Bryant was chosen as facilitator. The Conciliation Committee then proceeded to take the existing set of Theses of the Doctrine Committee and to amend those statements so as to address various points of concern. The report of that committee is quite encouraging. Consider the following quote from its report, “Considering the makeup of the committee and the differing views represented, it was acknowledged that it might not be possible to achieve consensus either in the Conciliation Committee or in the conference, but it turned out that consensus was, in fact, achieved on the committee.” This was quite remarkable and we commend the committee for reaching, in its midst, such agreement. It was then decided to see what kind of consensus there was amongst the pastors themselves. Here we can report, as we did in the President’s Report to the synod, printed in the Handbook, that substantial agreement was found in relation to the majority of the document. In 11 out of the 14 points considered, 87% agreed that these points were substantially in harmony with Scripture. (It is interesting to note that in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod when it was asked recently to vote on reaffirming Walther’s Theses on this matter only 73% agreed that this was the correct view.) On the three disputed points, 60% claimed that they were “substantially in harmony with Scripture and the Confessions,” while only about 20% felt that on these three points the position was contrary to Scripture. Another 20% indicated that they couldn’t say one way or the other. Someone might ask if this is “doing theology by poll.” The answer is that it was simply an attempt to find out how our pastors felt about the subject. Let me make this very clear, there is only one place where doctrine is established and that is in the Holy Scriptures. What we are doing at this convention is to define how this doctrine of Holy Scripture is understood and confessed by the ELS.
Perhaps it might be helpful for me to allay some fears and misunderstandings about what the Doctrine Committee’s Theses teach and what they do not teach. They in no way open the door to having women serve in the pastoral ministry. The synod made this abundantly clear when it adopted, in 1990, a statement on the “Roles of Men and Women In The Church” in which it is clearly stated that “The Lord has restricted the pastoral office to men.” In that statement it also restricted the right of suffrage to men only. However, our Christian Day School teachers serve in the broad category of the public ministry, as do our professors and synod administrators. The synod president, missions counselor and deferred giving counselor are not in the pastoral ministry either, but they are in the public ministry because they are called to preach and teach the Word of God on behalf of the synod. Our synod has categorically stated again and again that women may not have authority over men and hence cannot be in the pastoral ministry. But they are called by the congregations to teach the children, to feed the lambs of Christ’s flock. This has always been our position that the church has this responsibility. Our practice has been to issue divine calls to teachers and to regard them as being in the public ministry in order to feed the lambs.
In 1968 the synod printed a sample constitution for our congregations to use. Under Chapter 6.01. Ministers, Qualification. It reads, “Pastors and teachers in the church who are called into the Ministry of the word shall be such only as are in full accord with the Confessional Standard and Purpose of our church and corporation, and as have been prepared for their work and are qualified for it.” As early as l926 Western Koshkonong Congregation, Stoughton, WI, issued a divine call for a Christian Day School teacher. The Rev. A.J. Torgerson presented an essay to the Synod Convention in l921 in which he wrote, “To feed Christ’s lambs is to care for them, watch, nourish and cherish them. Note here, it is not the bodily care that is urged, but the care, the “feed” that these children must needs have in order to be retained in the fold, Christ’s fold. When the little children through baptism are admitted to Christ’s fold He places them within the pale of His congregation as its property, its charge, and says to the congregation: Feed them! Care for them! Nourish them with the unadulterated milk of God’s word! Teach them to keep all things that I have commanded you! This is the duty of the whole congregation, the joint duty of all the individual members. Here all have the same responsibility regardless of parenthood.” Beretning, (Synod Report) 1921, p.66. We see from this that congregations have the responsibility to care for the children, and therefore may call teachers for that purpose. The Theses hold that Christian Day School teachers are in the public ministry. The congregations have the right to call a person to help with the important task of feeding the Lambs. We have recently established a degree program at Bethany for the training of elementary teachers who can serve in our Christian Day Schools. It surely would not be in keeping with God’s word to tell our teachers that they were only “hired help” to assist the parents in the work instructing the children.
Part of the difficulty arises from confusing the terms “Public Ministry” and “Pastoral Ministry.” In the category of Public Ministry are included all who are called to use the means of grace in the name and in the stead of Christ on behalf of the church. In the category of the Pastoral Ministry are only those who are called to be pastors of a congregation. This is what the Theses of the Doctrine Committee teach. If this distinction were agreed upon our problem would be solved.
It is my fervent hope and prayer as I leave this office that we could adopt the theses and at last lay this argument to rest. The theses are true and scriptural. They reflect the way that we have always practiced. Nothing new is being introduced. In no way is the pastoral office being denigrated. We have been calling women into the office of school teacher since the early days of our synod. Nothing will change if we adopt the theses. We will simply be defining our position on the office of the ministry, making a careful distinction between the pastoral ministry and the teaching ministry, recognizing both as being in the broader office of the public ministry.
Let us heed the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you: but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” I Corinthians 1:10. And I conclude with these words from the second letter to the same Corinthians, “Finally , brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” II Corinthians 13:11.
In Jesus’ Name,
George M. Orvick, president