Our Anniversary Study, Part I: Reflections on the Past
“….we have been beset on all sides by dangers and temptations – manifold and grave. Yet, the Lord has ever been with us and has remained true to His promise,”I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5).”
The Convention Essay:
OUR ANNIVERSARY STUDY
Part I.- Reflections on the Past
By the Rev. M. L. Natterer,
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This is the 25th Anniversary of our Conference. It is well that we pause at this time to meditate and reflect upon the path which we have trodden thus far. Such contemplation is in harmony with the Word of God as we note, for example, in the Psalms. “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Thy works; I muse on the work of Thy hands” (Psalm 143:5). Thus wrote David as he pondered the path he had come and the marvelous undeserved manifestations of God’s love, mercy and faithfulness revealed to him. Again in Psalm 63 David writes, “When I remember Thee upon my bed, and meditate on Thee in the night watches. Because Thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice” (vv. 6,7). May our dear heavenly Father grant us the aid of His Holy Spirit as we focus our attention on OUR ANNIVERSARY STUDY: REFLECTIONS ON THE PAST.
As the Israelites of old rejoiced in their deliverance from bondage, even so we rejoiced in our liberation from the tyranny and oppression which we experienced at the hands of Missouri Synod officials some twenty-five years ago! This was expressed in 1952 by the then president of our Conference in the opening convention sermon held at Chesterfield, Missouri, when he stated, “We are met in this, our first convention since the organizing Convention four months ago, as liberated Christians, as a great army of liberation, great not in numbers, wisdom, or strength, but great in the Captain of the host of the Lord (Joshua 5.14) Who is with us.”
We rejoiced in liberty. What kind of liberty? Were we elated because now we could teach as we please? God forbid! We rejoiced in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, in the freedom and peace which we were now privileged to enjoy in a truly Scriptural and orthodox brotherhood.
Our hearts, by God’s grace, had been bound to the covenant which we made in our Baptism and which we renewed in our Confirmation. In answer to the question “Do you hold all the books of the Bible to be the inspired Word of God and the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Bible, as you have learned to know it from Luther’s Small Catechism, to be the true and correct one?” we answered: “I do”. And when we were asked, “Do you also, as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, intend to continue steadfast in the confession of this church and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” we again answered, “I do so intend, with the help of God.
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod had been an orthodox church-body for so many years and had stood as the bulwark and champion of the three great principles of the Reformation: SCRIPTURE ALONE, GRACE ALONE, FAITH ALONE. But, alas, the first principle – SCRIPTURE ALONE – was being attacked by those who would supplant it with their so-called higher learning. This was plainly the case in the “Chicago Statement” of 1945, which had been drawn up by forty-four pastors and professors in the Missouri Synod. The Fifth Thesis of the “Chicago Statement” in particular overthrew the SCRIPTURE ALONE principle when it stated, “We affirm our conviction that sound exegetical procedure is the basis for sound Lutheran theology.” In Volume I of his Christian Dogmatics, Dr. Franz Pieper correctly emphasizes (pp. 359ff.) that all exegesis must be tested by the clearer light of Scripture and that our faith is based not upon the human interpretation of any text but upon the text itself, nuda Scriptura, without any interpretation. Dr. Pieper points out that this has been the position of all the great teachers of the Church. The “Chicago Statement” reversed this order and placed “exegetical procedure” in the place of SCRIPTURE ALONE. As we know, no proper and decisive Scriptural disciplinary action was ever taken against the signers of the “Chicago Statement.”
Then in 1950 the “Common Confession” was adopted by the Missouri Synod by a majority vote. This, of course, was contrary to the Missouri Synod’s own Constitution which required that “all matters of doctrine and of conscience shall be decided only by the Word of God” (Handbook, Article VIII, C). The “Common Confession” was supposed to be a settlement of the doctrinal differences that existed between the American Lutheran Church and the Missouri Synod. But instead of rejecting the false doctrines taught in the American Lutheran Church, the “Common Confession” simply glossed over them. It was plainly a compromising document.
The SCRIPTURE ALONE principle was being trampled upon, and those who were guilty were being tolerated by Synodical officials. Flagrant cases of rank unionism continued to increase so that the Synod’s deterioration both in doctrine and practice was perfectly obvious and could not justifiably be denied. The admonitions and protests voiced by the conservatives as required by Scripture (Matthew 7:15 and Galatians 6-1) went unheeded. Those who earnestly sought to stem the tide of such liberalism were actually taken to task by Synodical officials and, in many cases, were deposed from office because of their faithful testimony.
No wonder a spirit of joy prevailed among those who banded together in establishing our Conference. That great principle SCRIPTURE ALONE was once again held high for all to see that, by God’s grace, there were still some who truly desired to walk in the old paths. It was neither pride nor personal vindictiveness which led to the formation of our Conference, rather, as stated in the “Articles of Agreement”, adopted by our Conference at Okabena, Minnesota, September 26, 1951, “We under the compulsion of the Word of God, find it necessary to declare, that The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod has left its former orthodox position as a corporate body, destroying the former unity of doctrine and practice and separating itself from our fellowship. However, since we see no hope of cleansing the corporate body of the Missouri Synod from its leaven of false doctrine or ridding it of the presence of false teachers, and since Scripture commands us to ‘mark and avoid’ (Romans 16:17), we hereby withdraw from said Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod….”
As we look back upon the past and reflect upon the mercies which the Lord has revealed unto us, we are deeply conscious of our utter unworthiness and mindful of our sins and transgressions. With Jacob of old we must exclaim, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant” (Genesis 32:10). Therefore, “not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth’s sake” (Psalm 115-1).
One would think that with the formation of our Conference, a Conference truly upholding the SCRIPTURE ALONE principle, that all those within the Missouri Synod who sincerely desired to abide by the old Scriptural Missouri Synod teachings, would join us and work together with us in upholding the Word of Truth in these troublous times. But, unfortunately, our Conference remained small in numbers. While there were those who expressed their sympathy with our cause and some who even stated their agreement with our doctrinal position, for some reason or other, they did not join us.
Our newly-organized Conference continued to experience the truth of the Apostle’s words, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22) Our Conference has endured many trying times down through the years. We need but think of the trying times experienced in 1954 because of the defection on the part of Rev. H. Koehlinger, who espoused the devilish philosophy of a certain Walter Windler. Then the trying times endured the latter half of 1954 and the early part of 1955 when Trinity Lutheran Church of Chesterfield, Missouri, withdrew from our Conference, not because of any disagreement in doctrine, but rather in order to take care of internal disturbances within the congregation. Unfortunately, however, the congregational affairs were spread hither and yon by some of those belonging to the faction which falsely accused our whole Conference of having become heterodox.
Trying times were again endured in 1955 and 1956 with the controversy between Dr. P. E. Kretzmann and Pastor E. C. Hallstein. Unfortunately, Dr. Kretzmann’s arbitrary manner hindered any Scriptural settlement of the matter. For he refused even to meet with the officers of the Conference for the purpose of bringing the controversy to a God-pleasing conclusion. Instead, Dr. Kretzmann, together with the Minneapolis faction, terminated fellowship with us. The Minneapolis faction continued to use the name Orthodox Lutheran Conference. Obviously, there was no practical alternative but to reorganize and change the name of our Conference, even though we were the justifiable possessors of that name. Under God’s blessings, all this finally was accomplished and went into effect in 1957. The new name of our Conference was now The Concordia Lutheran Conference, but the teachings, by God’s grace, were the same as they had always been.(SeeOur Declaration)
Relative peace reigned for a few short years. But once again trying times were endured when in 1961 it became the sad duty of the Conference Convention to expel Pastor E. C. Hallstein of Clark, South Dakota, from its membership because he persistently, without valid reason, refused to be governed by the Scriptural objectives and Christian procedures outlined in the Conference Constitution, which all members had mutually agreed to follow by their subscription to the same. Regretfully, Rev. J. Shufelt and the congregation he served upheld the false position of Rev. Hallstein and severed fellowship with our Conference.
The years 1971 and 1972 proved to be very trying times once again for our little Conference. The hasty, sinfully separatistic and arbitrary mode of action on the part of our then Conference President, Rev. E. L. Mehlberg, was a source of much grief. The fanatical zeal for his extreme position as exemplified in his highhanded and papistical disdain for the proper order set forth in our Conference Constitution and for the Word of God, which forbids us to be busybodied in other men’s matters (I Peter 4:15) finally compelled our Conference to declare that we could no longer recognize him as the President of our Conference.
How grateful we should be that the Lord granted His grace in helping us to solve all these aforementioned controversies not on the basis of our reason and what we deemed to be expedient at the time, BUT RATHER ON THE BASIS OF HIS WORD! For we must confess with the Apostle, “I know that in me, (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7-18). Therefore, “not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth’s sake” (Psalm 115:1).
These have, indeed, been very trying times through which we have passed. The controversies have been many. Yet, is it not true that, under the Lord’s guidance, we have learned some very valuable lessons and have therefore in reality been blessed? How it has been impressed upon us what was often stated by our fathers in years gone by, “Der Teufel ist der Urheber aller Uneinigkeit.” (The devil is the originator of all dissension). We sing in one of our hymns, “The ancient Dragon is their foe; his envy and his wrath they know. It always is his aim and pride Thy Christian people to divide. As he of old deceived the world and into sin and death has hurled, so now he subtly lies in wait to ruin school and Church and state.” (Hymn 254). We have also learned to recognize in an increasing measure the depravity of our wicked flesh and how vitally necessary it is that we watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed, lest he fall!” (I Corinthians 10- 12).
Moreover, through such trying times the Lord has also blessed us with a deeper knowledge of His Holy Word. The controversies which have beset our Conference have caused us to delve ever deeper into the Scriptures, so that our hearts have become ever more certain that our faith rests neither upon the wisdom of man nor his interpretation of God’s Word, but alone upon nuda Scriptura, the bare words of Holy Scripture, so that we are no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, but speak the truth in love, growing up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ (Ephesians 4:14-15).
Recognizing such blessings we acknowledge, “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto Thy Name, O most High: to show forth Thy loving-kindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness every night” (Psalm 92-1-2).
Because of the numerous controversies experienced in our Conference throughout its history, many problems, particularly of a practical nature arose. For example, in 1956 when the Minneapolis faction forced a split in our Conference, we were left without a seminary. This was indeed a serious practical problem. Recognizing it to be such, the Committee on Theological Education initiated steps the very next year to deal with this matter. By 1959 two definite plans were submitted to our congregations in the form of a referendum which resulted in the Conference seminary being temporarily located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1969 our seminary was relocated in Tinley Park Illinois. Thus various practical problems in the area of providing for a future ministry were, under the Lord’s blessings, solved so that we were able to go forward in this blessed work.
The Conference was confronted with another problem because of the split in 1956. There were now no facilities to print the much needed Sunday School lessons, the Conference periodical, and other necessary material. Here again we observed how the Lord solved this problem for us. Pastor Bloedel of Seattle, Washington, had acquired some printing equipment thus making it possible for him to provide the congregations of our Conference with the necessary Christian materials. Later in 1964 a definite proposal for the organizational set-up of a Conference Publishing House was presented to our Conference. In 1970 the Conference purchased the printing equipment from Pastor Bloedel And. in 1972 a new article (Article XII) was added to our Constitution under the title “Publishing House”. The name, purpose, ownership and administration of our publishing house were clearly set forth in this article.
As we celebrate this silver anniversary of our Conference we have meditated upon the path which the Lord our God has led us. As we have seen, we have been beset on all sides by dangers and temptations – manifold and grave. Yet, the Lord has ever been with us and has remained true to His promise,”I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5). That Word which has cheered our hearts through all these years is still the sunshine which dispels the gloom within our hearts by assuring us of God’s boundless love in Christ Jesus, who has redeemed us with His holy, precious blood, so that we, miserable sinners that we are, might continue to serve Him in His kingdom here on earth, until He takes us into His kingdom of glory where we shall praise Him world without end. As we then ponder upon the unmerited blessings which the Lord has bestowed upon us, we must surely exclaim:
O, that I had a thousand voices
To praise my God with thousand tongues!
My heart, which in the Lord rejoices,
Would then proclaim in grateful songs
To all, wherever I might be,
What great things God hath done for me.
(L. H. 30)Home