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.

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