On the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod…
Last year we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. This year we celebrate another significant anniversary. 2018 marks the 100th Anniversary of the formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
In 1917, the Norwegian Synod had 351 pastors, 986 congregations, and 150,552 souls. It operated several colleges, a couple hospitals, some homes for children and seniors, and numerous publications. Imagine, losing almost all of that. The United Norwegian Lutheran Church in America, formed in 1890, were in talks with the Norwegian Synod about the possibility of merging together in order to unite the Norwegian Lutherans in America. The problem was that these two church bodies were not united in doctrine. The chief doctrine of contention was the doctrine of election. The United Church’s teachings place the cause of our salvation in us rather than in the grace of God. Many in the Norwegian Synod rightfully opposed this. But the desire for unity sadly won out over faithfulness to God’s Word, and they compromised. Even many who didn’t want to enter the Merger gave in to the pressure.
The large majority of the Norwegian Synod entered into the Merger. And what was left was about a couple dozen pastors and congregations that chose to be faithful to God’s word. Christian Anderson wrote in “Grace for Grace” of their situation: “They were branded as unreasonable and narrow-minded, as fanatics and cranks, who did not understand what was for their own good. Even many who were in sympathy with the stand they had taken toward the union deplored the fact that they wanted to undertake the hopeless task of trying, with so few and humble workers and such small resources, to build again on the ruins of the old Synod. But the little group faced all these difficulties with undaunted courage, not because they confided in their own strength and resourcefulness, but because they were convinced that it is God’s will that Hiss witness shall continue to stand firmly on the truth in opposition to all error and continue to bear witness unto this truth in the face of all perils, no matter how hopeless their task might seem to be. They firmly believed that, if they faithfully went God’s errands, using diligently the talents entrusted to them, they could safely leave the future success or failure in God’s hands whether they were many or few.”
On June 14th, 1918, thirteen pastors and many laymen gathered at Lime Creek Lutheran Church near Lake Mills, Iowa to continue in the old paths of the Norwegian Synod, and they reorganized the Norwegian Synod, later renamed the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS). At this first convening of the reorganized Synod, the president, Rev. B Harstad, stirred up the courage of His brother pastors with a speech that rivals Vince Lombardi’s, “We are gathered here, dear friends, on the strength of the liberty which we enjoy in Christ Jesus. We are, as it were, clustering around the old building site which is storm-swept and waste. A destructive hurricane has swept away the dear old mansion, even taking with it most of those who dwelt in it. Looking anxiously about us, we discover only the bare ground with wreckage and questionable cross-roads. However, let us not be dismayed and discouraged. Just as great calamities have befallen the Church of God in the past, and yet it has not been destroyed. Let us remember and follow these words of Jeremiah, the prophet: ‘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).”
The ELS still strives to stand faithfully upon God’s Word, not willing to compromise on any doctrine of Scripture. And as a congregation of the ELS, we strive to do the same. Certainly, the pressure is on! The Church militant must never cease its fighting. Every single one of us is at war, whether we want to be or not. There are challenges to our doctrines that come from other churches. There are challenges pressuring us to be lax on our doctrine, and to not take it so seriously. The culture pressures us to abandon biblical morality as though the god we should obey is “pop culture 2018”. Culture wants to prevent us from living according to our biblically-shaped conscience. The culture wants us to keep our faith to ourselves and within these four walls. The culture pressures us to keep quiet our confession of Christ, to quiet our proclamation of repentance and our message of the cross.
These demands are not directed to Christian pastors only. These demands are directed at each one of you! You are being attacked. The pressures of the Merger of 1917 were not only on the pastors, but each layperson that sat in the pews. Will you give in to the devilish demands of the false teachers and the culture? Will you take a firm stand for the purity of God’s Word, and be a beacon of truth and God’s love to your loved ones and to the world? Will you stand up and give an answer for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15)?
As our forefathers did 100 years ago and as faithful Christians have done for 2000 years, so we also do now, we fight. We contend for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints (Jude 3). We fight, not by our own strength, but in the strength of our Lord’s grace, by which we are redeemed, sanctified, and preserved! And how blessed it is for us to stand side-by-side in this battle. Are you not encouraged when you see each other here in the Lord’s outpost, being fed and nourished by the gospel of Christ in Word and Sacrament? Furthermore, our foundation upon which we stand is not our own ideas, but the solid ground of God’s Word, which endures forever (1 Peter 1:25). May God ground us in His Word, increase in us knowledge of His Word, give us courage to speak, defend, and live out our faith, and grant us endurance to remain in the old paths until we enter the blessed rest for our souls. God grant it! Amen.