Greetings to you in the name of our crucified and risen Redeemer, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Since the last time we gathered in convention momentous national and world events have captured our attention. In August and September of 2004 members of our Floridian congregations were rocked with serial hurricanes. The rest of us watched the live footage helplessly as one storm after another pounded the Sunshine State. Who will forget the Christmas-time tsunami in Southeast Asia? Research now appearing in the journal Nature informs us that the Indian Ocean earthquake that caused the devastating December tsunami was much more intense than first thought. It is now regarded as the second-largest quake in recorded history. The staggering tsunami death toll of 174,000 dwarfed the 8.7 earthquake that struck the same Indonesian region only three months later and killed 1,000 people. More recently, we have observed the death of a popular pope and the secretive process of electing his successor. The news media appeared fixated on not letting us escape the cardinal importance of such an event.
These items here mentioned, not least of which included a step in the perpetual succession of the Antichrist, reinforce for us how our Lord’s signs of the End Times in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, are coming to fruition. We could also add that the subtle and not-so subtle persecution endured by today’s Christians who contend for morality in a decadent world and who proclaim Christ exclusively as the way to eternal life provides further evidence of the accuracy of Jesus’ predictions. When our Lord told his first-century disciples, and by Matthew’s record tells all of us today, “See, I have told you ahead of time” (verse 25), he wants us not to be frightened but to be alert. He has given us his holy Word that will abide forever, though all else is ephemeral (verse 35).
We have chosen for our convention theme this year: Abide in My Word. We think of Jesus’ words in John 8:31, 32: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Only the Word of God, which clearly sets forth the way of salvation by faith in Christ, conveys the truth for our spiritual lives that frees us from our natural bondage to sin, Satan and damnation. It tells of our eternal redemption through the atoning sacrifice of God’s Son. Fully redeemed by the death of the substitute lamb, the holy Lamb, in the place of all of us strays who have more than simply wandered from the sheep pen, we by faith are now free to live our lives for the supreme goal that Luther summarized when he wrote: “[I]n order that I might be his own, live under him in his kingdom and serve him with everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness” (Third Article, meaning).
Abide In My Word serves to remind us that our Lutheran confessors took a stand on all of the doctrines in Holy Writ, but especially trumpeting a clear sound on the teaching of how sinners are justified. Our prayer is that we would do the same in our and every succeeding generation. Our synod truly has been blessed to have pastors, teachers, lay leaders, congregations, institutions of higher learning and conventions that are committed to making the study of God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions a priority in all that we do.
This year marks the 475th anniversary of the signing of the Augsburg Confession. Twenty-five years ago when our synod took note of the 450th anniversary of the same, our essayist drew attention to this foremost confession of the Lutheran Church. Referring primarily to its clear attestation to the scriptural teaching of justification by grace through faith in Christ, Rev. Harold Vetter wrote: “Such a beautiful reflection of the Truth of Scripture is the Augsburg Confession. It teaches not only the form of Scriptural doctrine (and, indeed, reflects this doctrine purely and accurately), but breathes the very spirit and beauty of the Gospel” (Synod Report, 1980, page 46). In a letter dated shortly after the signing of the Augsburg Confession, Dr. Luther wrote to his co-worker and dear friend Justus Jonas: “The greatest thing at this Council has been that Christ has been proclaimed in a public and glorious Confession; he has been confessed in the light and to their [the Romanists’] face, so that they cannot boast that we fled, or that we feared, or concealed our faith” (cited in The Conservation Reformation and Its Theology by C.P. Krauth, Augsburg Pub. House reprint, 1963, p. 236).
So staunchly does the Augsburg Confession refute Rome’s work-righteous teaching of salvation in its faith + works paradigm, that a prominent Reformation scholar of early American Lutheranism boldly contended: “If there be those who would forgive Rome her unrepented sins, they must do it in the face of the Augsburg Confession” (Krauth, p. 259). Whether it is the system of Rome and a new pope or whether it is the prevalent decision theology of the Arminian/Reformed and a methodology disparaging sacramental forgiveness, the Augsburg Confession especially stands as a timeless rampart for the Scriptural doctrine of justification.
In honor of its anniversary we cite here its familiar Article IV of the Augsburg Confession as we find it translated on page 9 in the front of our Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary:
We teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God accounts as righteousness in his sight. Rom. 3 and 4.
But our theme, Abide In My Word, also means taking seriously the way God’s Word is transmitted to future generations. To this end, one of the avenues we are pursuing aggressively is the Lutheran Schools Initiative (LSI). Last year we decided as a synod to encourage and authorize what we may soon identify as the “Lutheran Schools of America” (LSA). The vision behind this new endeavor is to establish a substantial fund/foundation that will empower our synod to target, motivate and assist established congregations in developing Lutheran elementary schools; to encourage the start of preschools simultaneously with exploratory missions; and to select demographically communities around our country to erect synod-run schools where churches will be formed. The Board for Education and Youth, the Board for Stewardship and the ad hoc committee for LSI, are bringing a number of recommendations to this year’s convention. A two-year synodwide offering is being proposed, beginning in 2006. There will also be the need to do some restructuring. A new board no doubt will have to be formed whose duties would encompass but greatly expand what currently is assigned to a subcommittee of the Board for Education and Youth.
Think of what this vision and project is all about. We are committing ourselves to the great task of training young souls for eternity. We want them not only to have a dose of God’s Word here and there, but to be immersed in the Word, to abide in Christ’s Word for their constant refuge and strength. The Rev. Justin Petersen in 1926 concluded an essay on the value of Lutheran elementary schools by stating:
Oh, the glory of it! To minister in true love to Christ’s lambs, our own children, to feed their souls with ‘the bread of life come down from heaven,’ to guide them on the perilous way to the promised land, to train them in the skillful use of the ‘sword of the Spirit,’ that they might vanquish all their dread enemies with the victorious watchword, ‘It is written;’ and then, at last, to meet with them at the golden gates of the heavenly fold, where we can joyfully deliver them over into the loving hands of the Chief Shepherd with the exclamation of triumph, ‘Here am I, and the lambs which thou givest me to feed!’ What a meeting that will be! [1926 Beretning (Synod Report), page 68]
The convention theme this year, Abide In My Word, also reminds us to be stalwart confessors of Christian doctrine. We are to stay only with the Word of God and profess and teach its truth in every point of doctrine. To this end, it is our sincere prayer for this 2005 convention that we find ourselves to be in agreement on the long-debated subject of the Public Ministry and be able to adopt a statement for our synod to use in its profession of faith before our own membership, before our wider fellowship, before other Lutherans and before Christianity in general.
Together as a synod we have been studying and discussing the doctrine of the Public Ministry for a good many years. Maybe it would be helpful to recall some of the more recent history of this discussion in our synod. Eleven years ago the following resolution was adopted: “Whereas, The Doctrine Committee is studying the matter of ordination and the public ministry, be it resolved, that the synod encourages the Doctrine Committee to continue its study and report to the synod when its report is complete” (Synod Report, 1994, page 85). In 1999 the Doctrine Committee announced that it had distributed to the members of the clergy the results of its study and then in 2001 asked for adoption of its seven theses. The theses were not adopted; the convention instructed that antithetical statements be added to the study document. Following the 2001 convention, a number of revisions were made to the Doctrine Committee’s seven theses, as various suggestions were entertained from individual pastors and especially from an appointed “Conciliation Committee” at that year’s General Pastoral Conference.
As most will recall, the 2002 convention was filled with some tension. The Doctrine Committee’s theses now containing antithetical statements and some revisions were brought in once again for adoption. After hearing a speech or two from the floor on how certain delegates did not want to vote for or against the theses but desired to continue the discussion, the question was called. When the question was called late on Wednesday afternoon, the theses failed to be adopted. Despite the divided vote and despite the deep emotions, bitterness did not appear evident, even as a new president now had to wrestle with how to lead the synod in further study on the office of the Public Ministry.
The president, in consultation with the vice president, appointed a special committee to work toward the development of a ministry document that could unify us while still confessing clearly the teaching of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Members who served on the committee were: the Rev. Erwin Ekhoff and Prof. Erling Teigen as co-chairs, the Rev. Karl Anderson, the Rev. Mark Bartels, the Rev. Jerome Gernander, and the Rev. Alex Ring. The Presidium’s Committee on Ministry (PCM) received encouragement to leave behind much of the past verbiage on both sides of the debate and to go back to the Scriptures and the Confessions to determine what can and cannot be said on the basis of those sources. The committee is to be commended for having conscientiously adhered to this course of action.
On February 2, 2004, the PCM turned over its initial draft to the president. At that time it was decided, after conferring with the committee, that a joint meeting be arranged between the PCM and our synod’s officially elected Doctrine Committee. A cordial and fraternal meeting occurred between these two groups on March 22, 2004. The day was dedicated to a point-by-point discussion of the PCM’s statement. Following the joint meeting, the PCM was asked to hone and edit its February 2 draft and prepare it for general distribution to our synod’s pastors and their congregations.
The first edition of this document appeared in May of 2004. On October 6–8, 2004, the ELS General Pastoral Conference met at the Marvin M. Schwan Retreat and Conference Center, where a major item on the agenda was the PCM’s document entitled “The Public Ministry of the Word.” While a number of concerns were voiced, it appeared that a large majority of our pastors were pleased with the statement. The synod president and vice president then worked together in editing the original document, consulting with the special committee, as well as our synod’s standing Doctrine Committee. This edited version, which is now presented for adoption at this year’s convention, is dated February 10, 2005.
As president, I have listed a number of reasons why the document entitled “The Public Ministry of the Word” should be adopted at this year’s convention and not delayed or postponed indefinitely. You can find these reasons enumerated in an expanded format in this year’s Convention Workbook, but permit me to restate them here for emphasis:
- For the sake of confessional integrity toward the Word of God.
- For the sake of unity among ourselves.
- For the sake of letting the church bodies of our fellowship (CELC) know where we stand.
- For the sake of letting pastors and congregations outside of our fellowship know where we stand.
- For the sake of conducting future colloquies.
- For the sake of instructing our seminarians.
A distinguishing mark of Lutheranism, as well as of our own synod, has been that confession of the truth is essential to determine where we stand on the doctrines of God’s unchanging, inspired and inerrant Word. We do not wish to be like church bodies today who refuse to take a stand when confronted with doctrinal challenges simply because they wish to appeal to a wider audience. In our synod’s We Believe, Teach and Confess (adopted in 1992) we find this important remark: “We confess that it is possible both to know the truth of God’s Word and to profess it, and that God requires us to do both. Taking one’s stand on the Word in matters of doctrine, after diligent study of Scriptures, is an act not of human pride but of humble submission to God’s authority.” Have we not as a synod already put a considerable amount of time and energy into the study of the doctrine of the Public Ministry? Can we not say that what the PCM has produced would well serve our synod in making a sound confession for our church body? The statement is in keeping with God’s Word as it provides copious references to show that a presiding office is indispensable for the church while at the same time showing from Scripture that the Public Ministry exists in a wider sense than simply that of a presiding office. Is it not time then to adopt this scriptural and confessional document this year even as we devote attention to our theme Abide In My Word? The Bible says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Such unity is always and only found in and based upon God’s holy Word.
Another aspect to Abide in My Word is zeal for missions—the determination to share the Word with others so they too can dwell in its safety. More souls still need to hear of Christ the Redeemer. At this year’s convention we are proposing that Lutheran Mission of Salvation–India (LMSI) be a new mission field for our synod. Extra-budgetary funding already has been committed for the support of LMSI.
Over 1 billion people live in the country of India. There are 31 cities in India that have populations over 1 million. Bombay is the largest, around 18 million. It is my understanding that about 80% of India’s population is Hindu, 12% Muslim, while only 2% register as Christian. Here is a field patently ripe unto harvest. We urge our members to give prayerful support and encouragement to the preaching of the Gospel taking place in the regions of Hyderabad and Rajahmundry and Jabalpur. We hope all of you will be able to attend the special presentation on the mission work in India scheduled for Tuesday evening. We are excited to extend a warm welcome to the Indian delegation that is visiting our convention.
None of us knows the amount of time God gives for the continuance of life in this world. There are world events that stream in almost daily unwittingly giving testimony to our Lord’s description of the Last Days. Many souls surround us still in need of knowing the pure Gospel as it was presented so plainly by the Lutheran confessors at Augsburg. We live on earth for no other purpose than to direct sinners to Christ, the crucified and risen Redeemer. But as we go about our task, may we do so with great joy, for we have the blessed Word of God to guide and direct us. “Abiding in the Word” means to have a joy beyond all measure! We conclude with this fitting assessment by Dr. Luther: “There is no solid joy in this world except the joy which the Word affords the man who believes it” (E. Plass, What Luther Says, #2142).
John A. Moldstad, president