The Brothers of John the Steadfast held their second annual conference at Bethany Lutheran in Naperville, IL on Friday and Saturday, February 12-13, 2010 A.D. The name of the conference was “The Fired and The Staff.”
There were a number of notable pastors in attendance, including Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) District President Herb Mueller. Also, President Schroeder of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) sent Pastor Paul Prange to attend as an observer. Pastor Prange is the former president of Michigan Lutheran Seminary and the current administrator of the WELS Board for Ministerial Education. (About WELS Leadership).
The first speaker on Friday was Klemet Preus, the author of The Fire and the Staff: Lutheran Theology in Practice.
Klemet Preus’ presentation was entitled “Pressing Issues in Lutheran Practice Today: ‘Grace Alone.'” (Grace is what we get, works is what we do).
Are Christians defined primarily by what we do for God or by what we get from God? Do our practices reflect this fundamental distinction? Are our practices founded upon the principle of grace alone, or are they founded partly upon what we do? These are the questions we must ask when evaluating our practices in the areas of unity, worship, and the ministry of word & sacrament.
For example, true Christian unity is a gift from God that emanates from a common belief (what we get), not common goals (what we do). However, many Lutherans today act as though we achieve unity by rallying around common goals, irrespective of our worship and belief.
Likewise, true worship is not about what we do for God, but rather what we receive from God. However, many nominal Lutherans are worshiping on a non-Lutheran model that emphasizes what we do (works) as opposed to what we get (grace). This diversity of worship does not reflect true Christian unity, which can be founded upon only unity of belief.
On Saturday, Mollie Hemingway spoke about her experiences as a Lutheran journalist. Her vocation calls her, not to protect the image of the LCMS, but rather to tell the truth.
Her presentation was spirited and enjoyable.
On Friday, attendees were treated to several varieties of all-you-could-eat pizza, and later that evening there were generous parties at various locations, including the private homes of very gracious hosts. Then on Saturday there was a full breakfast followed by sandwiches in the afternoon.
A highlight of the conference was the excellent Confessional Lutheran liturgical worship. Cantor Phillip Magness of Liturgy Solutions led the music for Vespers and the Saturday Divine Service. The widget below plays the Second Psalm of the day from Friday’s Vespers entitled “As Long as I Live” by David Haas (Psalm 146). The congregation and the choir sang the antiphon in a round.
This antiphonal back-and-forth singing is especially beautiful because it allows for a “praise and worship” refrain coupled together with solid theologically true words from the cantor. Also, it is strongly suggestive of the way the Lord communicates with his bride: He sings to her, and she repeats his word back in joy.
Notice also how in the Psalm we are advised to trust not men, but rather to hope in the Lord. We merely respond to all that he does for us: He gives us food, sets us free, gives sight, lifts up, watches over, sustains, and will reign forever. The Psalms are primarily about what God does and we get.
Praise the Lord, my heart! My whole life, give praise.
Let me sing to God as long as I live!
1. Put not your trust in princes; mortal men, who cannot save.
Blessed is he whose hope is in the Lord, the God of Jacob.
2. The Lord gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free.
He gives sight to the blind and lifts up those who are bowed down.
3. The Lord watches over the outcast and sustains the widow and the orphan.
God will reign! Forever He is Lord, to all generations.
The final speaker was Pastor Todd Wilken, the host of Issues, Etc.
Todd Wilken spoke about a root problem in the LCMS: exceptionalism. Exceptionalism is the belief that a group can do no wrong and is an exception to the rule that men err. Many Lutherans believe their synod can do no wrong, therefore, they do not worry about worshiping like Pentecostals or using un-Biblical materials because they believe those anti-Lutheran materials cannot hurt them.
Exceptionalism has caused many Lutherans to stop being intentionally Lutheran in doctrine and practice, and to assume that everything the LCMS does is Lutheran just because it is the LCMS. The result of exceptionalism is the failure of Christians to be on guard, which eventually results in the loss of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
If the majority of WELS members were to read this blog post, many would think, “Yes, the LCMS is infected with exceptionalism, but that could never happen to the WELS.” Unfortunately, exceptionalism is not limited to the LCMS. In an age of living apostles, Paul said, “Be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:31). If such stern warnings were warranted in an age of living apostles, then how much more do those warnings apply to us!
Many thanks go out to the volunteers, speakers, and hosts that helped make this conference so enjoyable.
For additional articles on the conference and full recordings of all the services and presentations, check out Stand Firm and the following posts from The Brothers of John the Steadfast website: