Last week Steadfast Lutherans held one of their Regional Conferences at Zion Lutheran Church in Winter Garden, FL. The amount of attendees was not huge, but it was a good bunch of faithful Christians who desire to learn more and confess rightly this strange Lutheran Confession of ours drawn from the strange Word of God. We are strangers in a strange place. We are strange to the world, because we confess the Word of Christ whose kingdom is not of this world. And the world is conversely strange to us, because we look forward to our true home in the kingdom of God and his Son. In the meantime his Holy Spirit rules our hearts and minds with his truth.
This conference addressed why certain hot button topics, such as the ministry, missions, the distinctions between men and women, the Lord’s Supper, and other church practices are strange to the world.
I had the privilege to start off the conference by discussing how God’s order is strange to the world. What God establishes, whether it is the ministry of the Word and Sacraments, the office of father and mother, husband and wife, or other authority he gives on earth, the world always abuses. Sure, the world might use these things, but it can never understand them as gifts of God. So the world makes use of what it thinks will yield results while it throws out the rest. This is why anything you can conceivably call a “ministry” replaces the ministry Christ instituted. This is why so many churches treat women as second-class citizens by, instead of extolling the roles God has bestowed on women, trying rather to say that they oppose the error of women’s ordination but then give them the consolation prize of reading publicly the lessons of Scripture in the church service. This is why cohabitation has replaced marriage. This is why worldly chaos has replaced godly order. But God’s order is given not simply to lay down rules. Rather, it is to give us peace in Christ, with pastors teaching according to what God called them to teach, fathers and mothers instructing their children in the gospel, and so on. From these orders flow the rest of the duties for our lives.
Rev. James May of Lutherans in Africa and Lutheran Heritage Foundation – Africa presented on how Christians are still strangers in Africa. Even though you might hear of how Christianity has boomed in that continent, they are still in great need of the same thing we need: pastors who can teach them the Word faithfully, rightly distinguish law and gospel, and administer the sacraments according to Christ’s command. In short, they need God’s means of salvation and faith. Pastor May explained how so many missions are done in Africa. They come in with their goodies, give a little bit of what some might consider “gospel preaching,” and then they leave. So while the people might call themselves Christians, they are starving for faithful Christian instruction in the gospel. Baptism is a free gift, as Pastor May said. And those who are baptized need continual instruction in what this gift gives them. They need instruction in what repentance and forgiveness for Christ’s sake actually are. This is what Pastor May’s call is in Africa. We are grateful to God to be able to support him in any way we can.
Finally, Rev. Robbie Rojas presented on why open communion should be strange to Christians. Christians want the truth. They want unity. But open communion (sometimes mascaraed by the term “close communion”) is a lie, since it pretends that there is agreement when there is not. It allows Christians to believe lies while giving the impression that they actually confess the truth. And this causes discord and disunity. But closed communion is a confession of the truth, and it is good for Christian unity. When we are faithful to God’s Word we don’t need to fear the attacks of the world. God will bless us, because that is what he promises.
This conference sparked much fruitful discussion. It is often hard to find a congregation in Florida that practices closed communion, follows the liturgy, unabashedly teaches our treasure of Christian doctrine, and teaches both by Word and deed the order of creation, which is attacked by this godless world. But the best way to address this problem is with the Word of God. If you are in Orlando, and you want a faithful church with a faithful pastor, check out Zion Lutheran Church in Winter Garden. They meet on Sunday mornings at 8:30 for Bible Class and 9:30 for Divine Service.
God has had mercy on the saints at Zion. While they were being led astray by the wicked practice of open communion, and they were confused by the practice of having women proclaim the Word of God from the lectern, God worked through the Word he gave Pastor Rojas to preach. He has given them growth not only in numbers but more importantly in the knowledge of his divine truth. On Sunday morning we sang nothing but Lutheran hymns, we followed the Common Service (page 184 in the Lutheran Service Book), and we witnessed the baptism of a child and the reception of two other new members. What a joy! God’s Word is alive and well in Florida. Knowing the cross that my dear friend, Pastor Rojas, has had to endure for contending for the truth, it brought tears to my eyes to witness such a service. Pastor Rojas, by God’s grace, is a patient teacher of God’s Word, driven by the love for Christ and his flock, and he is a great example to us all that God’s Light shines in the darkness, even if it is in sunny Florida.
The conference brought together a handful of confessional Lutheran brothers of the steadfast Word of Christ, both pastors and laymen. People were encouraged to speak the truth with the boldness and confidence that the Holy Spirit gives in his Word.
We already have plans for next year’s conference, so stay tuned for further updates! Even if you have to fly out here, consider taking a vacation next winter, come to the conference, and join us at Zion for Divine Service on Sunday. We confessional Lutherans need each other to build one another up with God’s Word.
Videos of the presentations should be available soon.