Intrepid Lutherans Conference: A Review

The first annual (hopefully!) Intrepid Lutherans Conference was held on June 1st and 2nd at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  The theme of the conference was “Church and Continuity,” obviously an expression of our theology and worldview that run counter to the theology and worldview of those who espouse the “Church and Change” position that the Church must “Change or Die!”

There were about 55 people in attendance at the conference, most of whom were WELS laymen, although about a dozen WELS pastors and a few ELS, LCMS and Protes’tant members also joined us.  We packed a lot (probably too much) into an evening and a day—lesson learned for next time.  Friday evening began with a dinner, discussion of the NIV2011 and Gemütlichkeit.  Saturday began with Matins, ended with Vespers, and crammed four papers and two open discussion periods in between.

Here’s a summary of the papers that were presented:

Rev. Bob Koester made a presentation entitled, “Gender-Neutral Translating and the Verbal Inspiration of Scripture.” Here Rev. Koester discussed translation philosophy as it applies to God’s Word, especially pointing out that we are not free to remove the male-oriented language of the Holy Scriptures, since they were inspired by God with that language embedded in them. He effectively debunked many of the arguments that are commonly made supporting a dynamic equivalence model of Bible translation (or “paraphrase,” as he called it), especially when the translation is in the hands of heterodox translators.  He demonstrated how the basic principles of translation given to the translators of the NIV2011 were designed from the start to skew their translation in order not to offend modern sensibilities.

Mr. Douglas Lindee made a presentation entitled, “Why Is This Happening to Us? How the culture wars become religious wars among us.” Mr. Lindee demonstrated the necessity of studying history and culture, not in order to imitate the culture, but so that we do not allow the changing culture to change the Church.  His paper began by affirming the reliability of the transmission and preservation of the original texts of the Bible.  Nevertheless, it didn’t take long, he points out, for cultural pressures to entice the early Church into compromise, until the surrounding polytheism and hierarchical structure of secular government worked their way into the life of the Church.  The warning for us, of course, is to keep our eyes open so that the Lutheran Church does not unwittingly succumb to the same external pressures to change.

Rev. Luke Boehringer’s presentation was entitled, “In Bondage to Expectations: Why Results Pull Us Away from the Cross,” and focused heavily on the fatal flaws of the Church Growth Movement.  He demonstrated how the Church Growth philosophy and methods are diametrically opposed to the Lutheran emphases of the bound will, the theology of the cross and the doctrine of vocation.

Rev. Michael Berg presented on “The Beauty of the Western Rite.”  More than a simple explanation of the parts of the historic Divine Service, Rev. Berg’s paper explored the sacramental nature of Lutheran worship and how various worship forms are a response to the fundamental question, “Who is present?” in worship.  Like Rev. Boehringer, Rev. Berg also emphasized the bound will of man, the theology of the cross and Christian vocation, and suggested that an evangelical and catholic Lutheranism that remains true to its theology holds out exactly what a postmodern world needs.

I closed out the long day with a paper entitled, “Do We Want to Be Dresden Lutherans?” (dropbox link), an ever-so-clever (where are the emoticons when you need them?) reference to the Book of Concord, which was first printed in Dresden, Germany.  The paper highlighted the problem that develops when Lutherans become tied to the human institution of a synod rather than to the confession of Concord.  I asserted that we should be loyal to a synod through the Book of Concord, rather than being loyal to the Book of Concord through a synod.  The Bible is the True North.  The Lutheran Confessions are our compass that responds to the North— our response to the truth revealed in the Scriptures.  A synod is a voluntary arrangement of people walking in an agreed-upon direction.  I rather directly suggested in my paper that, while all of us in the WELS claim to be walking fully in the direction of the Book of Concord, our actual confessional subscription is broader than that, ranging from those who consider the Confessions to be totally irrelevant, to those who subscribe to them insofar as they believe them to be relevant, to those who subscribe to them unconditionally and insist that all who claim to walk together in a synod do the same.  Finally, I offer several suggestions outlining what our doctrine and practice would look like “if we want to be Dresden Lutherans,” because that’s what I intend to be.  Who’s with me?  And who isn’t?  Let’s walk together honestly, or not at all.

The whole conference was a real breath of fresh air.  All spoke candidly, but lovingly.  There was no griping or complaining, but there was plenty of honesty and plenty of desire to see sectarian practices removed from the WELS.  There was theological depth to all the papers and a palpable desire on the part of the presenters to be Book of Concord Lutherans.  There was intelligent discussion among the attendees, especially the laity, who realize that the façade of full and complete unity in our synod is neither honest nor helpful.  There is a certain “We thank you, God, that we are not like other Lutherans” spirit that threatens us and has brought us to the brink of spiritual Pharisaism and/or apathy.

All the papers from the conference, and video of most of the presentations, will be available at Intrepid Lutherans within the next week or so.  I invite you to head on over and “attend” the conference after the fact!

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