Originally posted Feb 14, 2007 on diatheke.blogspot.com:
[The following is from a paper by Pr. Christian Anderson found in The Clergy Bulletin September 1953, Vol. 13 entitled “Underlying Causes of the Deterioration and Breakdown of the Old Norwegian Synod” which he Delivered at the General Pastoral Conference of the Norwegian Synod held July 27th to July 31st, 1953 at Bethany College, Mankato, Minnesota.
His paper closes with these words:
“Our purpose in considering these things is not chiefly to satisfy our curiosity and to evaluate the weaknesses of our fathers and former brethren. But it should serve as a lesson for us, who are still exposed to the same dangers as they were. And it will help us also to understand the problems of other synods; for, as The Preacher says “There is nothing new under the sun.” History is sure to repeat itself in so many ways. The arch-enemy of the saving truth will use pretty much the same tactics at all times, to rob us of this truth, though they may appear in somewhat different form as the occasion demands. The Lord protect us against his machinations.”
Presented here are his third and fourth pints on the reasons for the deterioration and breakdown of the old synod. They are relevant today, just as he said they would be. -Joe]
“3) In the period following the withdrawal of the Anti-Missourians there arose a number of very able leaders within our Synod. For a long time they were thoroughly sound doctrinally, and they worked diligently for the true welfare of the church. While this no doubt was a blessing, it however tended to encourage a greater part, at least of the clergy, to be satisfied to follow the leaders without seeking diligently to inform themselves on the issues, so that they would be prepared to hold back in case those leaders should go wrong. A spirit of indifference developed both among the clergy and the laity. New elements gradually entered the ranks of ministers, which did not fully appreciate the historical position of the Synod. Those needed only the right kind of opportunity to cause mischief. And as a large part of the laity had been seriously affected by the constant cry for a union of all Norwegian Lutherans, it is no wonder that any demagogue who might arise would find a fertile field of operation. And when some of the leaders who long had been looked up to were ready to make compromises, it is not strange that they would gain a following. We need only remember how the multitudes were ready to follow Dr. F. A. Schmidt for the same reason. I remember from the time of my youth and on, that I repeatedly heard such expressions as this: “When the old war horses are gone, we shall have no difficulty to effect a union.” And this was heard even from some of whom you would not have expected it. When the last of the leaders of the old staunch defenders of the truth lay down to rest, it was not long before a new spirit gained the ascendancy. We see before our eyes this very day how quickly such a sweeping change can take place.
“4) The custom of continuing the same men in office for a long time helped to centralize power and influence in a few. It is no doubt an advantage to let those who have proven their ability continue at the head of the organization, rather than have frequent changes. Experience surely counts for much in carrying out the duties of the office. But on the other hand there is the grave danger that the prestige connected with holding office a long time may be abused when a crisis arises. After all, even the best among us are only human. Because of the experience we had in the formation of the late merger, there was a gentlemen’s agreement among us, when we re-organized the Synod, that the term of office of the President was to be only two years, and that no one was to be re-elected more than once. We have hereby no doubt lost some of the valuable service of experienced men, but this loss has been offset by the safeguard against anyone wrongfully usurping power which this arrangement has given us.
“An institution in the Old Synod often mentioned was the so-called Church Council (Kirkeraad). It is sometimes spoken of as the root of all evil in the Synod. We have virtually the same thing in many of our congregations today. At first the members of this Council were elected directly to this office by the convention. It was composed of three pastors and three laymen; but after the Synod was divided into districts it was composed of the general and district presidents, a layman elected from each district and one lay member at large. The duty of this council was chiefly to look after the interests of the Synod between the conventions. Many matters which required investigation and special study were usually referred to it. This Council no doubt became an important factor in promoting the best interests of the Synod. Especially in the controversy in the eighties did it perform yeoman work in defending the truth against the propagandist of error.
“For a long time, reports of the meetings of the Church Council were published in the official organ of the church. This kept the membership informed on its work, gave them an opportunity to offer criticism, and in general helped to stimulate their interest in the work of the Synod. It is unfortunate that this practice gradually died out after the presidents became the leading element in the Council, so that their deliberations were carried on more or less in secret. While there was frequent rotation among the lay members, the office of the president practically became one held by the incumbent for the rest of his life. Dr. Koren was a member of the Church Council from 1861 to his death in 1910. Through his long tenure in office he gained a great deal of influence, which was freely made use of also in practical matters. This caused growing resentment in many quarters. And this dissatisfaction gave strength to the more liberal element which was developing. At the time of Koren’s death most of the older conservative presidents were gone too. Koren’s successor in office, who had always been a champion of the cause of union, found little difficulty in lining up the majority of the Council for this cause. One district president who opposed a union on the basis of “Opgjør” as easily defeated in the next election. And the reputation of another was so vulnerable that his opposition to the program of the head man was easily silenced.
“Since the Church Council had gradually become such a strong influence in the Synod, when its power was taken into service of the liberal element, it was something which was not easy to resist. Woe to the poor pastor who dared to oppose this Council and come into its disfavor! And because this institution had so long been highly respected by the majority of the members of the Synod, the culprit could not count on much support.
“We see this same danger asserting itself in other synods, even if the vehicles of power may be called by different names.”