I’ve written two articles that danced around the topic of the 2016 Christ Hold Fast Conference in February. I’ve dealt with my anxiety over meeting people and feelings of whether I belong and I’ve written about the drive there. I’ve also done one podcast that gave an overview of what went on. I was recently challenged by a friend who felt that I was implying a sense of exclusivity or elitism when I spoke of the Lutheran doctrines that were taught at the conference. While it really wasn’t the case, I’m also not going to shy away from the truth that these doctrines find themselves most comfortable resting within the Lutheran faith.
Despite that truth, I actually caught myself making that continued reference to Lutheran thought, ideas theology, etc., and made a specific effort to change the language to something that wouldn’t put non-Lutherans off. I mentioned specifically how in many of these things that were taught at the conference, there is a sense of “Christ for you” weaved throughout, whether being washed by God in your baptism, fed Christ in communion, gathered with other saints in church, or hearing the words, “I forgive you”. Along with the Law/Gospel distinction, vocation and most importantly the imputation of Christ, these things combine to remind us in one way or another to trust something done for us and trust something outside of us more than our feelings, emotions and other senses and the extreme highs and lows that they can sometimes bring.
Christ Hold Fast did not shy away from the Lutheran label and even poked a little fun at it at times. But, what they also did was give people an opportunity to look at many of these doctrines with fresh eyes. They gave people a chance to see Christ in these things and not Martin Luther or “an old dusty religion”. They brought BIBLICAL truths not often heard inside the walls of many churches to people who had their “skepticism antennas” lowered for a weekend. It was like that because grace was taught from podium, brokenness was shared by many speakers and the Gospel was presented within every message, and it was shared across denominations, from Lutheran, to Presbyterian, Episcopalian, to Charismatic and more!
During the podcast I did, I relayed a conversation I had with Dr. Rod Rosenbladt about the idea that some think conferences like this water down Lutheran beliefs. Because of poor sound quality (and maybe my accent), it appeared that I indicated that he said, “Yes.” This is not what he said. While I won’t the use exact wording, he essentially said, “That’s BS!” He talked about Christ Hold Fast opening doors for people to examine some of these truths that seemed to be kept locked away and primarily taught in the Lutheran Church. Dr. Rosenbladt noted that the ministry he is involved with, 1517: The Legacy Project has seen benefits from combining with Christ Hold Fast. Let me be clear, what this is doing is opening doors that need to be open.
Considering those doors, prior to my experience with Lutheran teachings, I had never thought to consider my baptism as God’s act upon me, and the doctrine of vocation was eye-opening when so many other denominations make an issue of how well or how much are you serving God. The phrase, “Simul Justus et Peculator” (simultaneously saint and sinner) may get a bad rap nowadays because of “overuse,” but it freed me from the guilt of trying to and then failing to measure up to impossible standards.
I understand why people think that at conferences like this, it seems like the Lutheran faith is being “watered down,” but considering the constant barrage of “do more, measure up and check your fruit” sermons that many people tend to hear on a regular basis, have you ever considered that maybe we “spiked the water,” with 200% proof grace? Maybe, some at the conference finally heard the Gospel with no additives? Maybe someone heard the words, “I forgive you” spoken by worship leader, Blake Flattley, on behalf of God for us in absolution, and for the first time found true comfort and rest. Maybe someone walked away remembering their baptism and the promise of God every time they wash their face now.
If people walked away from this conference and thought more deeply on these doctrines and truths of God, do I have to specifically remind them that they’re Lutheran thoughts? Can I let the truths learned there, do their job to encourage and strengthen the people that were in attendance? Please, hear this with the humor it’s intended to convey; can I let them be secret little “stealth Lutherans”, bringing these Christian truths to their churches, bible studies, communities and families? Many of us who aren’t cradle-Lutherans started the same way. Some people are still in their old churches and may never use the word Lutheran to describe themselves, but now have new thoughts and ideas about God and the Gospel that they never had before.
There is a truth in the fact that, for whatever reason, many of these things spoken of tend to be exclusive to Lutheran theology, with maybe “the simul” and the law/gospel distinction seeming to be the now increasing exception. But as a dear new friend stated to me recently, these truths, all of them, are a part of scripture and belong to all of Christianity. This is what Christ Hold Fast did right and to be perfectly honest, did it to my surprise. I expected, grace, law/gospel, maybe even the simul, but we got it all. Even Christ for us in communion was taught, even though it wasn’t administered. It was all taught in a way that allowed people to ask questions and think through them. I’m pretty sure every speaker made himself or herself available to individuals to delve deeper into some of what was taught.
In conclusion, every speaker, from Steve Brown and Elyse Fitzpatrick to Chris Roseborough and Matt Popovits, whether you agree with them or not on every theological minutiae, wanted you to know, even in our worst, most sinful, apathetic, throw our hands up in frustration, ready to walk away kind of days, Christ is still for us and he still loves us and he gave himself for us.
And still does…
And you don’t have to be Lutheran to know that!