Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Crying Need of Our Beloved Conference

The Reverend Professor Norman A. Madson

Excerpt from his address to the 75th Anniversary of the Synodical Conference held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 10, 1948

Fellow redeemed, grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Though it be not the same text with which the beloved Walther greeted our sainted fathers when our Synodical Conference first convened in this very city three-score and sixteen years ago, we have no other aim nor holier desire than had that fearless confessor of the faith, when he is his ex corde prayer pleaded with the Father: "Forsake us not, but grant us now and evermore, as oft as we foregather, Thy gracious presence, and sustain us, for without Thee we can do nothing but err, sin and destroy Thy work."

Well might we have chosen the selfsame text: "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and then that hear thee, 1 Timothy 4:16, stressing, as he did, the fact that "the holy apostle does not say: "Take heed unto the chief doctrines,' but: "Take heed unto the doctrine,' - everything which is taught in God's word." But while the text be different, the tenor of our anniversary address will be the same. In fact, were we not to stress the absolute need of purity of doctrine, all doctrines, and the unequivocal acceptance of the same within our brotherhood, our very existence as a Synodical Conference would no longer be justified. For our founding fathers made that clear, from the very day of its inception, that the Conference desired to retain unsullied and inviolate as its highest good and most precious pearl, doctrine pure, as found in God's verbally inspired word and our treasured Confessions based thereon. And they pledged one another their sacred word of honor that they would fight shoulder to shoulder in contending for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints, be their enemy "Rationalism, Unionism, Indifferentism, or Sentimentalism."

This will involve us in stark realism, to be sure. But there is no higher realism that of our Christian religion. It must ever be frank as it is fearless. It has little room for diplomatic double-talk as it s Founder had patience with the hypocritical church leaders of His day. And we would most certainly violate a rule of all true Lutheran preaching, were we to address you as though nothing had happened during these three quarters of a century to disturb our sacred alliance.

We must as Lutheran Christians face facts, no matter how unpleasant the task may become. For God wants us to be honest with Him, with ourselves, as well as with our fellowmen. Wishful thinking and unsubstantiated claims are not going to solve our problem any more than will the delusion that salvation may be had by believing a lie. It is as true today as it was on yon day when Paul first penned it: "We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth." 2 Corinthians 13:8.

What then is our problem? In brief, it is this: Shall we continue in the paths our fathers trod, calling all manner of Unionism a sin, which robs the inviolate word of its majesty and saving grace, leaving ultimately all who practice it in the Slough of Despond? Or shall ours be a new course? Have we erred in marking and avoiding those who are indifferent to the love of pure doctrine, and who have placed in its stead a would-be love of men which is as shallow as it is powerless to save? Are we guilty of "spiritual standpatism" when we refuse to go forward at men's behest, or is there such a thing as pleasing God by refusing to go up hence if God's gracious presence go not with us? Well, our text gives the answer. It is on the basis of this more sure word of prophecy and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit that we shall briefly discuss:

The Crying Need of Our Beloved Conference

1. First of all, it needs to realize anew, in these days of rampant Unionism, that not all forward movement means progress.

There are times when "they also serve who only stand and wait." And what is the occasion for their waiting? Isaiah answers: "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." Isaiah 40:31. There is a man-made busyness which is as far removed from the youthful Nazarene's being about His Father's business as utter frustration is removed from Jehovah's quiet command, "Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

Now, we can sympathize with those who are anxious to stave off the threats of a mighty Assyria by making alliances with that bruised reed Egypt, even as our hearts went our is commiseration for a Chamberlain at Munich. But the policy of appeasement with those who have , to begin with, broken faith with God is as futile as it is wicked. To lean upon such a bruised reed will be as sure to pierce the hand today as in the days of an Hezekiah.

There is a feverish anxiety among pseudo-Lutherans to join hands with all who bear the Lutheran name, regardless of what their attitude toward doctrine may be, which borders on ecclesiastical hysteria. In order to make an impact on a distraught and jittery world, an imposing "Lutheran World Federation" was set up in Lund, Sweden, last year which was to be the mightiest voice which has been heard since the days of Martin Luther. But what was it which sounded forth from Anders Nygren's committee on doctrine at that Lund assembly?

"The Gospel is so exceedingly rich that no one section of the Church can claim to have fully and exhaustively comprehended all its wealth. One church has grasped more of it, another less. One has penetrated to the heart of it, while another has remained more on the circumference. One has grasped one aspect and another another. In this respect the churches can learn from each other and help each other to reach a simpler, richer and deeper understanding of the Gospel."

At first blush that may seem to be a most humble confession. But let us analyze it. If no church can claim to have fully and exhaustively comprehended all of the Gospel, where does that leave Paul, who declares to the Ephesian elders that he had "not shunned to declare unto them all the counsel of God"? Acts 20:27 It would not leave him in the Ananias Club, would it not? And since the various churches are to render reciprocal help in arriving at a simpler, richer and deeper understanding of the Gospel, can y you tell me how one who is still out in the periphery is going to help the person who already is at the heart and center of the Gospel to a deeper understanding of it? If no one can lay claim to having all of the Gospel, how then could Paul pronounce his "anathema sit" upon anyone who preached unto the Galatians? Supposed that the other person proclaimed that bit of the Gospel which Paul had failed to preach, since he could not, according to Nygren, possibly have all of it, should he then have as his reward for his labors: "Let him be accursed"? Galatians 1:8.

But there is more to that doctrinal statement at Lund which had as its superscription: Confessing the Truth in a confused World." "Christ's Church on earth is divided into a multiplicity of separate churches. The reason for this is not to be found simply in the superabundant riches of the Gospel, but also in human sin. " That is the first time we have ever heard the Gospel of Christ blamed, in part at least, for the disunity of the Church.

But the Lundsians go on:

"Consequently, the prayer of our Lord, 'Ut omnes unum sint' (that they all may be one), constitutes a call to repentance for all churches, that puts them under a vital obligation to strive for the realization of unity."

You will here note that they fail, as the Unionist is wont to do, to quote the complete utterance of our Lord in this matter. He does not merely say, "Ut omnes unum sint," but immediately adds: "Sicut tu Pater in me, et ego in te" (even as Thou Father, in me, and I in Thee). We must not make Christ out to be a Unionist. His desire and prayer is, that there may be perfect unity, as that which existed between Him and the Father.

And as for repentance, are we to repent of the fact that we have (as have our true fathers in Christ before us) claimed that we did have the full truth of the Gospel? There are many sins which all of us shall have to repent of, yes, every day of our life. But God forbid that we should have to offer the fifth petition after we have been obedient to the apostolic admonition: "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God." 1 Peter 4:11

But then comes the closing statement of that Lundensian paragraph:

"No church, however, must let itself be led by its concern for unity to surrender anything of the truth that has been entrusted to it."

If the Lund theologians had taken that statement seriously they would not be wending their way to that Babel of clerical confusion convening at Amsterdam this very month. They would then, rather than chant the modernist's battle-cry, "Vorwarts nach Amsterdam," take to heart Jeremiah's serious admonition: "Stand ye in the ways, and see," praying with Eberhard Fischer in one of your treasured German hymns:

"Bewahr' vor Ketzerei, vor Menschenlehr' and Dunkel!
Lehr' uns nach deiner Art im Tempel, nicht im Winkel!
Behut' vor Aergernis, vor Spaltung, die uns trennt;
Erhalte rein und ganz dein Wort and Sakrament!"

Which might be rendered freely:

"Guard us from heresy,
Hypocrisy e'er shunning,
Teach us to speak as Christ,
Who spurned all human cunning.
O keep us from offense,
Which falsehood e'er has sent,
Preserve unto us pure
Thy word and sacrament!"

Points two and three to follow.

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