Today marked the last day of the 2016 Steadfast Lutherans Conference. This year was a marked difference than previous years. Instead of braving blizzards and freezing temps to hear good theology and so forth in Naperville, the conference was held in Tomball, Texas which was having a cold spell of 60 degree highs. Instead of Bethany, we were hosted by the wonderful saints of Zion Lutheran Church. Same great theology, different region.
Here is my quick recap. There will be videos of all the presentations and hopefully some of the worship available later.
This year we had an extra day. Night one was Pr Chris Hull, BJS author and the host pastor of the conference confessing the faith once delivered to the saints in talking about Reformation Preaching, encouraging (maybe exhorting?) all of us to solid Law and Gospel preaching of Christ. A good start was had as Pr. David Vandercook preached a fine sermon using the propers for “Reformation” at our Evening Prayer service. We even managed to sing all 10 stanzas of “Salvation Unto Us Has Come” with many folks singing from memory. Good stuff.
The Second day was the marathon day (not really since many of us are not quite fit enough for a marathon). We began with a breakfast fit for Texas (the food throughout the conference was astounding and the good folks at Zion showed some excellent Texas hospitality) – about ten various kinds of breakfast burritos and beverages, rolls, other snacks and great stuff to get us going. We gathered for a reminder of the boldness that faith brings in the preaching of Pr. Henry Wied at Matins. Then I started the speaking for the day drawing attention to the theology of the Radical Reformation in comparison to the conservative nature of the Lutheran Reformation. Ever want to know the root theology of most of the mess in Lutheran churches? Enthusiasm (not the eager and hurrah hurrah type but the “I am going to listen to a word not from God” type). Pr. Hans Fiene did a masters job of teaching us all that the Reformation is not a thing. It is everything and it is nothing. His presentation will be invaluable over the coming year of “Reformation” specials. Pr. Sam Wirgau gave us the good news from the accounts of the Transfiguration and we broke for lunch.
As just a good show of the great care of the saints of Zion, they offered a full lunch even though it was not originally planned. This gave everyone some extra time to talk with each other (Confessional Lutherans are increasingly alone across this Synod and so their time together is extremely valuable for bearing the burdens and encouraging each other).
We began the afternoon hearing from Mr. Justin Benson of Wittenberg Academy teaching us boldly about Reformation Pedagogy, comparing and contrasting with modern teaching methods and encouraging all of us about the value of parochial education. After Mr. Benson came Dr. Matthew Phillips, an author here at BJS and Professor at Concordia Nebraska. He gave an excellent presentaiton on what the Reformation did for the laity, praising especially the freedom of the Gospel in relation to our everyday vocations. Pr. Warren Graff gave us some confessional thinking points about the doctrine and practice of the call according to the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope from the Book of Concord. His topic introduced some great thinking points about divine and “human” aspects of the Office of Holy Ministry, especially with attention to the local congregation. After this we joined for Vespers in the Zion sanctuary and heard some “Reformation Preaching” from Pr. Hull, reminding us all that we are beggars and the grace of Christ for us beggars.
Friday night meant brisket. The good crew of manly men of Zion had prepared since the previous night some 14 different smoked briskets and a whole bunch of smoked chicken. Put together with all of the fixins and sides and we had more food than we could handle (a common theme from the Texans at Zion). Good food often is accompanied with good entertainment as we were introduced to the Texas art of square dancing. The second night of parties also went well from what I heard.
Day three meant more good food, worship, and speakers. Breakfast was a feast of pancakes and sausages. Morning Prayer gave us the opportunity to hear the Word of God preached to us by Pr. Steven Cholak. We gathered once again in the great facility to hear Professor John Pless of Concordia Theological Seminary teach us all about Reformation Catechesis, with emphasis on the development of the Catechisms and the use of them in the parish and home (we also heard a little about the upcoming 2017 Revision of the Explanation coming out). The Powerpoint of the Presentation is available online. Next, Pr. Larry Beane gave us a great opportunity to learn more about Reformation Worship, drawing upon his great presentation from last year and specifically dealing with 6 ways in which the narrative of the worship wars today are dishonest and how to deal with these diversions from the truth of what it means to be Lutheran (the Book of Concord is what we believe, teach, and confess; it describes Lutherans at worship and what our Faith looks like). We had 8 total speakers this year, and hopefully not a one disappointed.
Several vendors came down for the conference. Several books by Concordia Publishing House and Northwestern Publishing House were available to purchase. Church Matters Solutions, a new company by often commenter Gene White also had some great resources available. Wittenberg Academy was there to share its good work over the internet. Philedelphia Lutheran Ministries was also there to give a good national flavor of missions (they were just featured in the Synod’s “Engage” magazine). Repristination Press came with their excellent translations of the works of Chemnitz, Gerahard and other great Lutherans Lastly, in steadfast fashion, Lutherans in Africa was there to show us all the faithful work being done by Pr. James May throughout Africa. Great Stuff, all around.
A couple other things were new this year, most notably the provision of child care. The good folks of Zion had folks on hand to help take care of the kids that were brought to the conference. Families ate together, worshipped together, and then while parents learned more of the faith, the little Lutherans were given the opportunity to play together and get to know each other. Imagine a theology conference where the moms were not left at home or in some hotel rooms to manage (or other various halls of the church), but could sit next to their husbands or even just talk with other Lutheran moms freely while their children were well taken care of. That was this year. It was great, and will be a part of our future conferences as well.
Another great option this year was the inclusion of a sign language interpreter. We had almost ten attendees would took advantage of this tireless and loving effort to communicate the great theology to those who couldn’t hear it. The work of the interpreter was honestly one of the most impressive things of the whole conference. Thank you to her.
The saints of Zion fed us, took care of us, and in general hosted a great conference for us. They decorated the whole place in good Texas style and even made us yankees feel welcome. From talking to them and several pastors and laity from the state of Texas, Confessional Lutheran theology is doing well in that great state.
If you had the opportunity to attend, it was good to have you. If you couldn’t, plan on it for future years.
Thanks to all who helped put it together (Pr. Hull and Zion). Thanks to the great preachers. Thanks to the organist! Thanks to the great speakers. It was a great start to all of the Reformation festivities of this year.
For photos, check back here later or take a look at the BJS facebook page.