Thick Skin, by Jonathan Townsend

(Editor’s Note: Jonathan is on our BJS steering committee. He is the author, producer and voice of our fine promotional spots on Issues, Etc. We also introduce him here as one of our regular columnists. His column is titled  “I Desire Mercy, Not Sarcasm – But a Little Satire is Good for the Soul.” You can read a description of the column on our Regular Columns page.)


Online Lutheran discussion forums….. A friend related to me some bad experiences at one or two of them. My response was, “You need thick skin to take part in those things.”  


My friend responded, “I’ll be honest, my skin is not that thick.”


I’d like to think my skin is thick, but it isn’t as thick as I would like and things are written in haste that one regrets later on.


One of my favorite publications, the late “Motley Magpie” (, referred to my favorite online discussion group in this way: The On-going Argument known as LutherQuest.


Sometimes the comment sections of blogs tend to drift into LutherQuest territory. There are misunderstandings, half understandings, jokes that are meant well and are funny but somehow cause offense, theologically trained geniuses rubbing elbows with folks like me who only have a 12th grade Lutheran high school religious education behind them at most. It can be a recipe for disaster.  


Despite this melting pot of different strata and cross sections of Lutheranism, I still don’t think that diversity is the root cause of much of the rancor that we see.


So why then are online forums so brutal sometimes?


My theory is this: It gets brutal because of the general stress level amongst Lutherans.


Now, don’t think I am getting all “stress is your problem, not sin” on ye, gentle readers, I’m not.


Just reflect for a minute on your comfort level as a Lutheran.


I am reflecting right now and I can tell you honestly outside of the Divine Service my comfort level is not high. How could it be? What comfort is there for your soul outside of Word and Sacrament? There is none. When one partakes in Word and Sacrament, not only does one receive grace and forgiveness   – additionally to this the Holy Spirit works sanctification in that person and the more alien one becomes.


So here we are a bunch of aliens in this world, first redeemed and clothed with Christ in Baptism, then hearing the Law convicting us of our sins day in and day out, then hearing the Gospel, hearing the words “You are forgiven” – not for your sake, but for Christ’s, receiving the very Body and Blood of our Lord – how can you fit in and be comfortable? We have nothing of our own to offer. We are dependent on Christ’s mercy. Is there any beggar who is comfortable?


If this is your life, if this is the life that God through His Holy Spirit has wrought in you, where is the comfort in this world? We are all like St. Paul, and there is a thorn in our flesh. No matter how thick your skin is, it gets through. It is there to remind you of exactly what you are: A beggar and a sinner.


For many that thorn is a scar left behind by a false comfort; the comfort of self-delusion that both the papists and evangelicals offer. When one escapes from false doctrine and their own righteousness, a little bit of that remains stuck in one’s side; a painful reminder of what one has been delivered from.


In the various online discussion groups things are written by people with various thorns in their sides. Throw on the added discomfort of synodical leadership that is on a steady path away from the Confessions. It is on its way to what many of us have been delivered from (American Evangelicalism)! The internet sometimes resembles a bunch of beggars fighting over what they see as the last remaining scraps from the Holy Mother Church that nursed them. Pastors, who are starved, because district presidents bow down to baal; Laity confused because their pastors are being bullied into church growth tactics – the very integrity of your own congregation and its faithfulness to the truth hanging on your pastor, who is only human.


The truth is, that although it seems like there are only scraps left for us to fight over, it is a lie. Christ will always be available to us in ample supply. Where parents bring their children to be baptized, He is there. When fathers and mothers teach their children the scriptures and catechism, He is there. Where two or three are gathered in His name He is there. Where the Word is spoken miracles happen and we are given His Body and Blood as true food and true drink.


Unfortunately, there is no promise of Christ’s presence in an on line discussion group or blog.   Individuals cannot truly “gather together” in the virtual world. There is an incarnational aspect to the community of believers that requires real presence. The virtual world cannot truly feed the needs of Christ’s sheep.   Sometimes people fight for something in cyberspace that cannot be found there: The Peace that Passes All Understanding.


There is nothing to do but learn to trust Christ in spite of these thorns and remember to deal with all as precious souls redeemed by Christ. If God has not granted you the patience yet, it is probably best to avoid such discussions, except with Jesus. Take the example of the Mother of our Lord at the wedding feast in Cana. She didn’t gossip or complain to others about the lack of wine, she just told her Son.


May our dear Lord grant us all steadfast patience to pursue dialogue that does not back down or lash out, but rather speaks truth out of the heart of mercy to those in turmoil and light to those who walk in darkness.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Thick Skin, by Jonathan Townsend — 11 Comments

  1. Hello from one of your fellow LQers!

    I do agree with what you said about participating in discussion groups. Sometimes, depending on the thread that is active, you do get everything from soup to nuts. That definitely makes for interesting reading and discussion!

    My take on discussion group/blog participation is this: The “heat,” the sharp dialogue, isn’t always a bad thing. Point-counterpoint discussion can really sharpen your thinking about the various points of doctrine that we hold to as Christians and Lutherans. Sometimes we want to pull the trigger and snap back at someone who we perceive as speaking patently false theology; but in the long run it is better to think carefully as to what is being said (and sometimes not being said) and respond carefully with a solid apologetic to the truth of Scripture and the Confessions. The point-counterpoint of discussion groups can “sharpen the sword” of what you believe, teach, and confession, teaching you to speak with greater eloquence and precision regarding your beliefs, teachings, and confessions.

    So let us carry on, and speak the truth of God’s Word in love to those we conversate with, in person and on line.

  2. I like what you say about being Christ always being there for us. The presence of Christ in Word and Sacraments available to us on a weekly basis. The discussion blogs can never replace that. Our local congregations. They are most needed, but these discussion links and groups are very valuable for teaching us, abd helping us to learn to discern good theology from bad theology. They also help to keep us informed, because many of us wouldn’t ever know there even was any conflict in our church body without these sites. Uninformed people can’t know what is at stake here. The very soul of Lutheranism. We need to figure out how to reach even more lay people. Knowledge is good, I think, as long as Christ stays front center.
    Did you know that there are chat links available for every district in the country? Most aren’t being utilized as they could be. Go to and sign up for one or more states, and begin discussions there. I’ve learned a lot through my district list. You can also stay informed of happening in your district.

  3. Kari,
    Do you know who owns these list’s? I have been trying to post a message to the Texas one and it blocks me.

  4. Kari,

    I joined the CID list years ago, and have not seen one note on the list in all those years. I’ve seen several references to them; it sounds like some of them are active?

    Well; I checked more, and find the last note I received from it (mis-filed) was from February of 2006. I joined the list is August of 2004. I just posted a note to the list and immediately got a reply from someone else on the list, so .. it’s basically very quiet. Would love to know how many are members of the list.


  5. And even if there were only scraps left…

    “He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

    “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

    Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.”

  6. Norm

    I wish all the lists were very active. I’m on MNNoFaithful list. It is very active. We have people from all over the country on it, but wish that all the different district lists would get better utilized. Keep bringing up discussion on yours. Hopefully more people in your area will sign up on it, but they need to hear these chat lists even exist first. Tell others about it. They just may join you on yours. Was your list you signed on at Or a different one? I have no idea how many are members of our list, because most people just read the stuff and never contribute. I’m sure the list moderator may know.

  7. Kari wrote:

    They just may join you on yours. Was your list you signed on at

    Just to note, the question mark was included in the original link, which will lead to a 404 page; it has been removed above and below. (Now watch me screw it up…!)

    Sam writes:

    Do you know who owns these list’s? I have been trying to post a message to the Texas one and it blocks me.

    Sam, I’ve had ‘a bit’ of experience with why things get blocked on email lists; if you’ll try to post to that list again and CC or BCC me with a copy, I can probably figure out for you what’s going wrong. Just send your copy to revski…at…alltel…dot…net

    Norm, yes, certain of those lists aren’t very active, in spite of Pr. Jarvis’s great efforts. That is a shame; it shows the depth of the malaise and/or denial present in the LCMS. Your CID guys still often think that the LCMS is okay and that CID is okay, when nothing could be farther from the truth. We tend towards relativism…and CID is less liberal (though no less evil) than the Atlantic District. (Challenge for CIDers who would deny this: name me any other district in which congregations of the district have standing Voters Assembly resolutions forbidding certain members of the district staff to enter their premises or be present on church grounds.) Part of the problem is that ‘the good guys’ don’t promote anything. Ask your pastor to promote in the bulletin and newsletter, etc., because, for example, how many members of your own parish are on those lists?

    It is truly sad for those of us on the outside of Missouri to see such excellent resources–offered for you for free–go unused whilst Confessional Missourians keep telling us that they are fighting for their synod.

    (BTW, it should be noted that is not solely for Missourians, but that for all intents and purposes it functions as if it were–the lists are roughly divided by LCMS district, including lists for the English and SELC districts and West Texas being separate from the rest of Texas, etc.)



  8. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
    [seems to work for women too, and between men and women]
    An axiom is that if one is afraid of being scratched, he’ll just remain dull. Ignorance mixes very badly with indifference/compromise.

  9. I don’t mean to extol my own virtues, but I think I am pretty sharp – and some of that sharpness comes from LQ amongst other place.

    But, my main point here is: We need to bring Lutherans out of the shadows that are confessional, but maybe are not members of the “warrior class”. They have other vocations and roles that make them less confrontational – in order to bring their support into the fight to restore Lutheran orthodoxy in all synods, we need to be civil but strong.

  10. Jon,
    You said it so well. We need to bring Lutherans out of the shadows that are confessionals, in order to get their support. The chat lists can help to do that. I know, because I am one of them that being on the list helped to bring out of the shadows. People can contact me at wittknitt .. at .. if they are interested, and might want to know more about them.

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