The ELS republished this essay for synod-wide distribution.
It will be necessary to consider briefly the doctrines for which the Norwegian Synod contended during these years. The first conflict arose among the Norwegian immigrants concerning lay preaching. Before the arrival of the first regularly ordained pastors from Norway, Elling Eielsen and other lay preachers had conducted religious meetings in various settlements. This fact in itself is not to be censured. On the contrary, it was very desirable that the word of God might be preached among the scattered pioneers, who, in some instances for a long time, lacked the established office of the ministry. But these lay preachers had not from the homeland acquired a clear conception of the truth of the Gospel, and they became still more confused by coming in contact with the Reformed churches in this country. These lay preachers assumed a hostile attitude toward the ordained pastors when these attempted to bring about order in the church work. They wished to continue their activity throughout the settlements even after regularly organized congregations had been established.
There arose a bitter conflict in many localities. The organizers of the Norwegian Synod endeavored to inculcate the true Scriptural doctrines of the Church and of the office of the ministry. They held that everything is to be done “decently and in order” in the church of God. The local church is a divine institution. God has entrusted to it the office of the keys, which functions through the preaching of the Word and the administering of the sacraments. The local church alone has the right and the duty to appoint pastors and teachers. Only such teachers are to he appointed who have been tried and found competent according to the requirements that are very clearly defined in the word of God. No individual has the right to usurp the authority which rests with the local congregation alone, on the plea that he has received a direct call from the Lord. Only in cases of special need are others then properly tried and appointed teachers warranted in preaching the word of God publicly; and even in such instances those who are ministered to should extend a call to these workers, if they are at all capable of doing it. This position of the Synod does not militate against the Scriptural doctrine of the spiritual priesthood of all believers. This spiritual priesthood may and ought to function to its fullest extent without conflicting with the divinely instituted office of the ministry.
For many years this position of the Norwegian Synod was assailed not only by these pioneer lay preachers themselves, but also by all the other Lutheran bodies that were later established in opposition to it. These synods have continued to defend lay preaching, more or less, up to the union of 1917.
Relation of the Local Congregation to Synod
In the course of these controversies concerning the Church and the Ministry, the view held by the Norwegian Synod regarding the true relation between the local congregation and the synod, as such, gradually became well defined. God has instituted the local congregation. He has entrusted to it the Office of the Keys. No individual, or any group of individuals, has the right to exercise authority over the local congregation. God has not instituted the synods as such. We find in the Scriptures no trace of such an organization. Synods have come into existence because the congregations have voluntarily agreed to enter into such mutual relation. The congregations are thereby enabled more easily to work together for the training of pastors and teachers, for carrying on missionary activity at home and abroad, for Christian benevolences, etc. The synod thereby becomes only a medium which makes it possible for congregations of the same faith to function more energetically and efficiently in matters of common interest.
That this was the position of the Norwegian Synod is brought out very clearly in the revised constitution of 1866, which stipulates that the Synod may only exercise advisory authority with respect to the individual congregations; Synod has no right to dictate policies or rule over the congregations. The following quotation from President Preus' synodical address for the year 1865 shows how carefully our fathers sought to protect the rights of the local congregations: “The congregations joining to form a church body, and adopting a constitution, should be very guarding indeed, in freely relinquishing, in part, their liberty and independence, doing so out of kindly solicitude for their own and the common welfare, lest they delegate to the Synod or general body any rights and powers which the Lord solely has entrusted to the congregations themselves, and which, when exercised by them, offer the best guarantee as to the preservation of the true faith. To such rights and powers belong, for instance, the appointment and dismissal of teachers, exercise of church discipline, the adoption of hymnals and text books for the schools. Much less ought the congregations assign to the general church body or its officers any power and authority by virtue of which their resolutions — even when not in conflict with God's word — could be construed as laws binding upon the congregations by virtue of divine authority, vested in them as superiors according to the fourth commandment. Such concession on the part of the congregations would make of the synod a papacy which might become just as anti-Christian as that of Rome. It would subject the congregations to human authority and place a yoke upon them much more intolerable and more difficult to remove than that which state churches impose on their congregations.” Among the Norwegian Lutheran church bodies, the Synod alone held this position. The Lutheran Free Church has, in spite of much talk about the independence of the congregations, by the absence of order in its organization, given the authority into the. hands of influential individuals and groups instead of guarding the liberty of the congregations.