Friday, February 23, 2007

The Old Norwegian Synod's Doctrine on Synod Offices

[The following is from the 7th Regular Convention of the Norwegian Synod held at Highland Prairie Lutheran Church, Fillmore County, Minnesota; on June 14-22, 1865. The address is from President H.A. Preus. I put this quotation here so those who claim to be the inheritors of the Old Norwegian Synod's Doctrine can see what was actually believed and taught by the Old Norwegian Synod. The address concerns the adoption of the synod's constitution. For the sake of the congregations the President carefully distinguishes between what is divinely instituted and commanded in contrast with what is done in human freedom and instituted by human freedom.

Does a Synodical President have a divinely instituted and called office simply by virtue of being a Synodical President? The ELS adopted statement in Part II A says that the President of a Synod is one form of the Pastoral Office:
"Missionary, assistant pastor, professor of theology, synod president (who supervises doctrine in the church), and chaplain are some examples of this."
Compare what was believed and held by the Old Norwegian Synod concerning the nature of Synod and its authority in the quotations below. The full document can be found at the ELS website. --Joe]


[S]ince God is a God of order, so will his people also adopt their own ordinances or constitution carefully so that all things can be done in decency and order during their outward course here in the world. Now where the Word of God is proclaimed purely and where its proper authority is acknowledged both as a Means of Grace and as the highest rule and guide for faith and life, there, the above work will all have as its object that the order set down by God himself in his Word is not disturbed or interfered with and that the rules and regulations which are adopted do not conflict with the doctrines of faith revealed in the Word of God, and finally, that neither the use of the Lord’s Means of Grace is restrained and restricted , but is promoted, and neither that the rights which God has given the congregations as well as their pastors in the Word are denied them, because that would also make the carrying out of the duties assigned them difficult, yes, perhaps made impossible.

Naturally this applies where believers unite in a congregation and adopt a constitution for it, but to an even greater degree, where several congregations join together to form what we call a church body, and accept a constitution for it. I say that it applies “to an even greater degree” in this latter instance because the forming of congregations is ordered and commanded by God himself in his Word, and therefore in the proper understanding of the word are an institution of the Lord, a work of the Lord, while the coming together of individual congregations into a larger church body, be it a state church or synods, is not commanded by God. Therefore the necessity of such joining together taking place, as well as also the form, constitution and expansion of such a church body must be dependent upon many external and internal circumstances, and above all, on what may be considered useful and helpful for the individual congregations as well as for the church of God on the whole.

The communion of God, the Christian Church, is, of course, properly speaking, invisible, since it consists of believers in whom the Holy Spirit has worked faith, which is invisible, through the Word. But it is, however, recognizable by the Word of God and the Sacraments which he has commanded are to be proclaimed and administered publicly. And just as God creates believers through these Means of Grace, so he gathers these believers around the public preaching ministry in an external congregation for mutual strengthening in the one saving faith and in the mutual confession of that faith. And just as it would be sin on the part of believers if they would not seek to establish and support the public preaching ministry among themselves, so it would also be sin if someone would not stay with this preaching ministry and the orthodox congregation which gathered around it. Because the Lord says, “He that hears you hears me; and he that despises you despises me,” (Lk. 10:16) and again, “Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is,” (He. 10:25). I well dare suppose that most people among us agree on these things. But it is another matter with respect to the merging of several congregations into a larger church body, a synod, or the like. And it isn’t merely with respect to what can be the best form and constitution for such an organization that more or less different opinions show up. No, it is with respect to the nature and essence of the organization as well of the meaning of the ordinances and regulations adopted by such an organization that views go in opposite extremes.


Now where the rights and the power which God has given his church in his Word, for example, the power of the keys, and with it the right to install and remove pastors, practice church discipline, stipulate ceremonies and the like, have been transferred to the prince and exercised by him down through the centuries partly through worldly advisors, partly through pastors and bishops as royal functionaries, as has readily been the case in the state churches; furthermore, where the prince, so far from recognizing his right to exercise only such authority as has been turned over to him by the congregations, which therefore must always have the right to take it back and to exercise it themselves, much rather, claims it as something which is due him according to divine right (iure divino) whether as the supreme bishop (summus episcopus) or as ruler; where now to this a legislative assembly, parliament or the like, which does not once need to confess the faith or belong to the congregations, has the power to give all kinds of laws and edicts for the congregations which also should be obeyed by them for God’s sake pursuant to the Fourth Commandment, there it is very natural that the concepts of congregation, church and church government become confused, yes, entirely false.

Then when people break from the ties of the state church so that the life of the congregation can take shape and develop freely, the old notions will, however, assert themselves, and people will try as best they can to carry them over into the new, freer situation. Thus we find the error very widely spread that the church which is talked about in Scripture, the church which the Lord of the church calls his bride and to whom he gives the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the power and the rights which are connected with them, is not and cannot be the individual congregation but only a group and combination of them, be it now as a state church, people’s church, or synod, which therefore alone is due the name “church.” These churches of “the church,” as they readily are called everywhere, are regarded then also as an institution and work of the Lord, commanded by the Lord as superior to the individual congregations, with a power and authority over them which is supposed to be given by the Lord himself. A congregation’s refusal to accommodate itself to “the church,” or its disobedience to the Word of God, is thought to be a breach of the Word commanded by God, yes, even as a defection from the orthodox church and the orthodox faith.

Over against this error it is of the highest importance to recognize that every congregation which has the Word of God and the Sacraments, even if it is ever so small, yes, even if there are only two or three believers, true children of God, to be found in it, that it is, however, for their sake who lie concealed in it as the true, invisible church, a church of God and the lawful holder of all the power and authority which Christ has earned for and has given to his church. This is altogether evident from Matthew 18:17-20.

Here the Lord says, “Tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto you as a heathen and a publican.” How significant he thinks that is is evident from verses 19 and 20 where the Lord says , “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” But when he also says now in verse 18, “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,” then, with that, he is giving every visible congregation the power of the keys.

In the next place, while as I said before, we must acknowledge that the forming of congregations is God’s command and God’s work, and voluntary submission to and joining an orthodox congregation, everyone’s absolute duty, thus on the other hand the individual congregation’s joining a so-called church body is nowhere commanded or required in the Word of God. Not doing it would therefore not be a sin for the individual congregations which are involved, when circumstances and the needs of a congregation might persuade it not to join. Even less would it entail their exclusion from the Church of Christ. On the contrary, such congregations would each for themselves possess and properly be able to use the authority of the church which Christ has acquired for his entire church.

But at the same time as we assert the right and the authority of the individual congregation which is given it by Christ over against the false conception of the church,


However, even if we agree that a joining together of our individual congregations is useful, yes, necessary, and that failing to do it would expose the individual congregations to great danger and be a great hindrance and would harm the building up of God’s kingdom in and outside our circle, yet it is, however, not said that we agree about the form which such a joining together ought to take, nor about the provisions and the regulations, or the constitution, as it is generally called, which ought to be adopted as regulatory for the church body. Here the widest range is revealed for the most opposite opinions and views. Although now the greatest freedom must be preserved here for the congregations to give their joining together the form with which they might find themselves best served, yet it is, however, as I said before, their duty through the arrangements to follow such principles as agree thoroughly with the rule of the Word of God, and in their application see to it above all, first, that the pure faith and doctrine can find their expression and be preserved and furthered thereby, as well as in the next place that love can find its greatest possible exercise as a fruit of faith. History surely shows us the joining together of congregations in the most varying forms, all the way from the church-state, or papal church, and the various forms of state churches, to alliances and synods. These last also have the most diverse arrangements and constitutions.

We take it for granted that the joining together of congregations ought only take place by orthodox - we do not say those of identical belief - congregations. A merger like that American-Lutheran General Synod is a babel, just another organization of many disunited churches. But orthodox congregations also have to watch with the most extreme diligence that through their joining together and through their adopting a constitution for it, that while they do relinquish a portion of their freedom and independence voluntarily in love and with concern for their own as well as the common good, that they do not, however, transfer to the synod or to the joint-church such rights or such power which the Lord has not only entrusted to the congregations themselves, but whose exercise by themselves is the best guarantee for the preservation of the pure faith, for example, installing and removing pastors, practicing church discipline, and adopting hymnbooks and school books. But even less must congregations give to the joint-church or its officers such a power and authority that their decisions should be binding law for the congregations by virtue of a divine authority which should be due them as those who are over them according to the Fourth Commandment - even if their decisions do not conflict with the Word of God. Such a concession on the part of the congregations would make the synod a papacy which would be just as unchristian as the one which reigns in Rome. It would make the congregations slaves of men and would place a yoke upon them which would be heavier to bear and more difficult to remove than that which imprisons and oppresses them in the state churches.

The history of the church past and present shouts its warning! There is the papacy where the congregations, as is well known, are as good as deprived of all their rights. The church, as it is called, that is, the clergy, with the pope at the head, possesses them. As a worldly authority it demands unconditional obedience according to the Fourth Commandment.

The yoke of bondage which laid upon the congregations under the papacy, the Lord lifted through Luther, when as an angel of God this man brought the pure Gospel to light and taught believers to know the Christian liberty which Christ earned for them with his death, and the church learned to know the rights which the Lord of the church had given it in the power of the keys. And even where he agreed that certain of these rights were exercised by the worldly princes because of the congregations’ plight, there, with all the rest of the reformers, Luther is untiring in reminding both them and the congregations of the fact that they did not exercise this power as rulers but only because it was transferred to them by the congregations who possessed it as they who were looked upon as the congregations’ first and leading members because of their power and position. The power which they possessed as rulers only gave them occasion and right to serve the congregations so much more as members of the congregation.


Insofar as the congregations transfer to the synod and through it to its officers some right and authority to direct, then they do not have this office by divine right (iure divino) but by human right (iure humano); nor does their power reach further than the Word reaches, as it must always be exercised without outward force. In everything else its activity is essentially only advisory.