As I write this, my wife and I are sitting on an airplane, heading back from the Brothers of John the Steadfast (BJS) Conference at Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, Illinois. My overall reaction to the conference can be summed up in two words, Pax Domini. In a world beset by threats from without and threats from within, this was a welcome break from the maelstrom.
The hospitality of the members of Bethany Lutheran Church was once again greatly appreciated. The worship services included the Office of Evening Prayer on Friday and the Divine Service on Saturday, complete with choirs, instruments, and their wonderful pipe organ, all led by Cantor Phil Magness. Pastors David Kind of University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis and Thomas Messer of Peace Lutheran Church in Alma, Michigan shared with us God's healing Word. With dinner, breakfast, and lunch provided, you couldn't go away without your fill of food and fellowship, plus ample opportunity to rub elbows with fellow confessional Lutherans at three different off-campus No-Pietists Allowed parties.
|Pastor Jonathan Fisk|
The theme of this year's conference was new media and the Lutheran diaspora. Leading off the pack of speakers was Pastor Jonathan Fisk, who was called last year as Pastor of Witness, Inquiry, and Youth at Bethany, and is the author of the video blog sensation Worldview Everlasting. The writer's-cramping title of his presentation was "Made a Different [sic?]: What the Ecology of New Media Means for Lutheran Congregations, Synods, and the catholic Church (provided the US Government Doesn't Make It All Illegal with SOPA - 'Cause that Raises Countless Other Gnarly Questions)." To summarize, Pastor Fisk illustrated how the 2008 cancellation of the talk radio show Issues, Etc. catapulted the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod into the new media. All of a sudden there were a flood of battle-born blogs, websites, and internet talk radio shows. He believes that these First Article tools make institutions as we have known them in the past, including "LCMS Inc.," obsolete. This new open source community has allowed confessional members of the LCMS to walk together without us even knowing it (in a sense like Wikipedia, in which the world's largest encyclopedia has been created without the involvement of a big company). This delocalization of effort, according to Fisk, has eliminated the need for much of what our Synod now does - the challenge will be in recognizing this and leveraging it to advance the Gospel. Yet there will always be a need for the local institution, in the form of the congregation, and thus a need for the Synod to continue to train pastors and send forth these ambassadors of grace into the world, something the open source community cannot do on its own. Peering into the future in this way seems a bit daunting, taking us out of our comfort zone. But hope reigns supreme - as Pastor Fisk points out, "The movement is not going to die... because Jesus is alive."
|Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller|
Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller of Hope Lutheran Church in Aurora, Colorado, and Co-Host of Table Talk Radio, explained some of the theological thought underlying the development of Table Talk Radio. He explained that the devil wants to attack our theological habitus, first by convincing us that theology is boring. We see this in pastors who abandon the teaching of our confession in favor of "unboring," and un-Lutheran, materials. On the contrary, Pastor Wolfmueller points out that discerning truth from error is a joy.
Secondly, the devil wants us to believe that theology is hard, and since you'll never finish such a daunting task, you should never start.
|PBW looking especially Christ-like|
Finally, the devil embellishes our sense of self-pride, tempting us to believe that we already know enough. If you listen to Table Talk Radio, you'll immediately be able to see how they plan the show with a preemptive strike against the devil's three-pronged strategy in mind, making theology fun and easy, so that you'll want to come back for more. The payback for their efforts comes in the form of email, in which their listeners relate how they've been rescued from the misery of false doctrine and ushered into the liberating truth of Lutheran theology. Pastor Wolfmueller shared some of these emails with us. He closed with a quote from the end of the Large Catechism, a portion of which reads: "Therefore let every father of a family know that it is his duty, by the injunction and command of God, to teach these things to his children, or have them learn what they ought to know. For since they are baptized and received into the Christian Church, they should also enjoy this communion of the Sacrament, in order that they may serve us and be useful to us; for they must all indeed help us to believe, love, pray, and fight against the devil." Oh that we all would enjoy theology and fight against the devil in this same way!
|Pastor Joshua Scheer|
Our final speaker, Pastor Joshua Scheer, Associate Pastor at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, and BJS Assistant Editor, spoke on "Spending Time on the Internet, Good Idea or Bad?" He explored some of the goods and bads of internet usage as it applies to our life together, including a helpful list of tips for both pastors and laymen. Luther certainly used the new media in the form of the printing press, and C.F.W. Walther published Der Lutheraner. He also pointed out how Luther defended his outreach beyond his own congregation because he was a Doctor of the Church. On the flip side, Pastor Scheer noted that Luther never used the new media in the church service, and that today's "e-pastor" can't Baptize or offer Communion.
The presentations of these three "young bucks," as Pastor Rossow calls them, and the conference as a whole, certainly offered us all hope for the future, as we walk together, finding new ways to promulgate the unchanging Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Once again, in the interest of full disclosure, I accepted a position on the Board of Director's of BJS. There are some good looking plans on the BJS drawing board. Now we need to roll up our sleeves and implement them. I hope you'll consider joining us in our efforts in the future.