Steadfast ELS — It is written.

It is written

Gegraptai, “it is written.”  This was the motto found on the seal of the old Norwegian Synod.  It has served as the byline for the Lutheran Sentinel, the official monthly publication for the laity of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, for many decades. The predecessor publication of the Lutheran Sentinel, the Evangelisk Luthersk Kirketidende was begun as a weekly paper in 1874.  Following the reorganization of the synod, an editorial committee consisting of Pastors G.A. Gullixson, J.A. Moldstad, and H.A. Preus was elected in 1919. (Today the grandson of G.A. Gullixson, Ted Gullixson, is the Sentinel editor and J.A. Moldstad the third is the ELS president.)   It was decided to issue the paper alternately every other week in English and Norwegian.  Eventually these became two publications, Evangelisk Luthersk Tidende and the Lutheran Sentinel.  Over time, the Norwegian edition was dropped and the Sentinel became a monthly.

Arguably, the monthly publications of the various synods are the main link between the synod and the individual members of congregations.  Many laity, as well as pastors, look forward to arrival of the Lutheran Witness (LCMS), Forward in Christ (WELS), and the Lutheran Sentinel (ELS), each month.  These periodicals keep the laity and pastors informed on what’s going on throughout the synod. Doctrinal and biblical articles not only are edifying and provide spiritual food, but also assure the laity that what is being taught in their church by their pastor is what is what is taught throughout the synod.  (Hopefully, in an orthodox synod this will be the case!)

These things being said, I found it disappointing to receive a notice from the ELS president this past month that during 2012 only seven issues of the Lutheran Sentinel will be printed and mailed.  Starting in 2013 and beyond, six issues will be sent will be printed and mailed.  For the other months of the year, an online “collection of articles” edition will appear called “Lutheran Sentinel Online.”  The articles will be put into a format where each can be downloaded separately.  The rationale given for these changes is twofold: 1) “By directing readership to the electronic version, our hope is that more of our current readers will pass on the link to others as a way of increasing readership of our synod’s periodical, as well as our webpage” 2) considerable cost savings to the synod.

It is acknowledged in the president’s memo that this approach will be a “challenging change for some.”  The decisions have come about “in light of our changing times (more use of social media, less of print).”  I would agree that these are changing times and that less print media is the trend.  As the Dunder-Mifflin ad on TV’s The Office states, “Limitless Paper in a Paperless World.” I am still trying to resist social media. I don’t know how to text message.  I’m not on Facebook, but do have a Wittenberg Trail account that I rarely check.  I do appreciate when our synod goes more “paperless,” sending the president’s newsletter, financial reports, convention forms, and parochial report forms online.  It has greatly reduced the amount of waste paper and clutter around my office.

But as a parish pastor, one of my concerns is for my aging membership, a large percentage of which is in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s.  Many people do not have computers and have no desire to learn how to use them at this point in their lives. Also, while you may “share” links to the Sentinel with other computer users, whether they actually click on them or not is another issue. I’ve seen the printed edition of the Sentinel and other devotional materials shared in waiting rooms and nursing homes.  Limiting certain editions of the Sentinel to online editions also excludes those whose financial situation doesn’t allow them to own a computer or to have internet access.

I laud the efforts of communications committee and the synod president to make the Lutheran Sentinel available in an online format.   I can understand offering both an online edition and a print edition and cutting down on the number of issues printed each month, but to cut in half the number of print issues seems to be going a bit too far.  Call me a relic from the past, but I long for the days when “it is written” meant in a format you could hold in your hand, touching the binding, and turning the pages.

Associate Editor’s note: The Lutheran Sentinel can be viewed here.  You may want to check out the March 2012 copy on page 3 for another article by Pastor Stafford.




Steadfast ELS — It is written. — 17 Comments

  1. I, too, have mixed feelings about the move to an online format. But there are many possible ways that the limitations you note could be overcome.

    If more publications, web sites, and blogs would consider following the example of Acts 2:44 and offering their content according to a licence which permits congregations to print articles or even an entire collection of articles for members, it would be the best of both worlds and could lead to an economy of effort.

    I appreciate, for example, CPH’s releasing certain resources like Luther’s Small Catechism under permission that allows individuals and congregations to use it with very reasonable restrictions.

    At the same time, I wish more resources were available in this manner.

    Organizations, especially congregations and other ministries, who create publications as a BYPRODUCT of their work (not as the main product, like the publishing houses do) could greatly contribute to the ministries of others by sharing their resources under a license like one of the Creative Commons licenses (

    To facilitate ongoing collaborative efforts, it would be nice to have some sort of “Theological Free Documentation License” modelled after the GNU Free Documentation License ( My vision would be something that would restrict changing the “theological perspective” of a work but would leave others free to alter the original as long as they stayed true to the confession of the original.

  2. I have researched the history of Norwegian Bibles, and I have found that it is not quite as straightforward as the English or German Bible history. What was the translation used by the Norwegians in America before they switched to English?

  3. @Rev. M. Dent #1

    Strongly agree on copyright. Copyright is a reservation of legal right to control usage of creative material. It has no place in the church, except to prevent others from profiting on the works. It should not be used to prevent churches from using materials for study, worship, or teaching.

    If I write a beautiful prayer or hymn or sermon about Jesus, how is it not sin for me to go around saying, you can’t use these beautiful words about Jesus unless you pay me what I want, or I will sue you for using my words about Jesus. As it is, many of our great works are locked up in copyright and extremely expensive editions. With the internet, publishing is becoming much cheaper, and copyright isn’t needed to incentivize more works. Christians will translate, write hymns, compose music, etc without copyright.

  4. @boaz #3
    While one may voluntarily forgo compensation, 1 Corinthians 9:14 contradicts your thesis that “It should not be used to prevent churches from using materials for study, worship, or teaching [without compensation].”

    The problem I see is that the current copyright law bottles up creative works EVEN IF THE CREATOR WISHES THE WORK TO BE USED BY OTHERS. There is no generally accepted way to “disclaim” copyright in a work or bequeath it into the Public Domain. As soon as the pen has finished putting it on the page, a work is copyrighted material – and it is (literally) a federal crime to copy it without a license until 70 years after the author dies – unless you are the creator. That’s the law, and we are required to live according to the laws of the state. If you don’t like it – call your congress critter and tell them to fix it. Until they do, that’s the rules we have to live by.

    It is a foolish and stupid law as it is, but it is the law. That’s why I want content creators to be aware of the situation and consider making their material available under less restrictive terms than the default copyright law by using something like CreativeCommons or something else.

  5. I’m saying if you write a hymn or sermon, or translate great works, you should not threaten to sue people who use those works to learn about Jesus. That’s the only reason and motivation to do such things. Copyright should be voluntarily waived except for those who seek to profit, eg, zondervan.

    Of course, it’s a great thing for churches to pay artists and writers. Churches should hire musicians and writers and artists on staff, if able. Commissions are great. So are offerings and donations. Those forms of payment do not restrict distribution. Copyright works by restricting distribution on threat of punishment. It’s simply wrong to use such laws to restrict distribution of the Gospel. For some reason, most of our great works were created before copyright law existed.

  6. Another thought. We could charge admission to church, but we dont. Admitting only those with paid tickets is exactly like enforcing copyright on church materials.

  7. @boaz #6


    Presumably, the sermon was written for a congregation. Under copyright law, this is a work for hire. The congregation, not the pastor, has the right to control copying. If the pastor claims a copyright in a property of his congregation, he is misappropriating property belonging to others.


    I am presently reading Johann Gerdhard’s Meditations on Divine Mercy, translated by Matthew c. Harrison. I see the copyright notice: Copyright (c) 1992, 2003 M. C. Harrison. Since I want to learn about Jesus, are you saying I should have been able to get this for free? How, then, would CPH ever have created it and delivered it to me? Copyright is precisely what got me this translation.


    If they would violate Matt 18 and 1 Cor 6, then why would you want to use their hymn or sermon anyway? Aren’t you concerned about the leaven in their sermon or hymn? Mark them and have nothing further to do with them.

    restrict distribution of the Gospel

    Jesus will not leave himself short of hymns and sermons. To suggest that copyright restricts the distribution of the Gospel is calls for more credulity than I can muster.

    Admitting only those with paid tickets is exactly like enforcing copyright on church materials.

    How so? When they leave the service, how are they copying it or elements of it? If you want an analogy to copyright, it will need to involved copying.

    Christians will translate, write hymns, compose music, etc without copyright.

    If that’s true, then what’s the problem?

    In General

    “The Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” 1 Cor 9:14. Claims to the contrary arise from an unidentified Enthusiasm as though God worked without means, or from an unidentified Gnosticism, as if means were evil.

    Compose ten hymns, and give them away. Translate a book length work, and give it away. Then decry copyright as the restrictor of the Gospel.

    Maybe you and I should run boot legged copies of Treasury of Daily Prayer. Let’s drive its price down to a holy level. That’s the way to make sure people are not restricted from learning about Jesus.

  8. Exactly how is it that a church body takes it upon itself to decide which of its members are worthy of receiving that which it publishes, when that what it publishes was once available to all?

  9. @Jack K #9
    Good question! At last summer’s convention, we voted to eliminate the elected board for publications and the parts of the board for parish education and youth that did publishing and replace them with a communications committee, half the members of which will be chosen by the president. A survey was sent out to the congregations of the synod, which was also available online, regarding the Lutheran Sentinel. The results were not released. And then it was announced that the Sentinel would be arriving in print form less times per year than before.

  10. @Anonymous #2
    While I cannot give you a blanket answer, the copy that I was able to get, probably at an auction in Northern MN, was published by Grøndahl & Søns Bogtryfferi of Kristiania in 1912 and distributed from Det norske Bibelselskabs Forlag by Lutheran Publishing House in Decorah, Iowa. The title page says Bibelen eller Den hellige Skrift indeholdende det gamle og det nye testamente kanoniske Bøger.

    I would suggest contacting Professor Rev. Mark DeGarmeaux of Bethany Lutheran College or Professor Emerita Faythe Thureen of University of North Dakota for futher answers.

  11. Rev. Stafford,

    And that is serving the sheep and lambs of the ELS, how?

    Why should the sheep and lambs have to blow whistles and jump through hoops in order to receive that which they are are in the first place entitled?

  12. When other departments here at the University “go paperless” the practical effect is that the cost of printing out necessary documents is moved from their department to the unit receiving the material, to the extent that employees need printed copies.
    [There is a saving in the reduction of mail handled, of course.]

    A synodical newsletter should carry permission to copy for distribution if they want to put it on line. The local congregation will then be obligated to pay for paper and copying, but perhaps fewer issues will be needed. [Having lived for awhile in cataract country, I’ll suggest that you might be able to tailor the print size to the older folks with vision problems.]

    It is possible to donate original or translated material to an on-line entity. Project Wittenberg publishes Lutheran materials in the public domain, and sometimes new translations are made and donated if the existing ones are copyrighted and no arrangement can be made with the owner.

  13. @Rev. Steven Bohler #14
    One thing I miss about NW MN is the great camaraderie and theological discussions among the pastors. Now it seems as of late on Steadfast Lutherans that the old gang is back together!

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