"Built on the Rock, the Church shall stand even when steeples are falling. Crumbled have spires in every land, bells sill are chiming and calling--calling the young and old to rest, but above all the souls distressed, longing for peace and for pardon" (Built on the Rock, LSB 645:1).
This is one of my favorite hymns because it speaks to the unity of the Church and the wonderful assurance of the Sacraments which bind us all together in Christ. However, for the longest time, I didn't really think that there were any Lutherans in the world who actually cared about the things mentioned in that hymn. My experience had been quite small, and rather lonely. I wrote a reflection on the Las Vegas Higher Things Conference last month, and posted it in the hopes that just maybe it would reach a couple of people. Yet by the time I woke up, it had become part of something bigger than I could have imagined. How? My mind still spins looking at all the views to the page, as if I cannot believe that so many people would be interested in reading something related to the Lutheran faith.
There's a short explanation to this: There are hundreds of faithful Lutherans living all over the world who share the same confession, the same communion, and who all understand the importance of passing the faith along to their children and grandchildren. However, until I attended this conference, I couldn't see them; I couldn't grasp just how many there are. I must have known that I belonged to a denomination that was bigger than the 20 or so Lutherans that attend my home church, but out in the middle of nowhere, we are quite alone. None of the other churches in my town, besides the Roman Catholic church, seemed to care about the liturgy, and I went around and around with a Baptist friend of mine on whether or not baptism saves us and came out more confused about my own beliefs than when I went into that discussion. I wasn't entirely sure what I believed or why it was even that important. After all, they were still Christians, right?
When I began to attend college, I was fortunate enough to be only 15 minutes away from a good, confessional Lutheran church whose service, to my surprise, looked exactly like the ones I attended at home. I was so terrified that all I would be able to find would be non-liturgical, non-sacramental, praise band orientated services, that when I found confessional Lutherans, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I had forgotten that there were other people who confessed the exact same things that I and my family did. I realized, then, that there are people all over who believe the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ is important, are willing to look different from all the other churches, and stand firm in the faith.
At the same time, I hung with a Christian group on campus and joined their discussions for a while, but I realized that despite the Christian title, we shared no common doctrine, no common faith. Talking to them was difficult and frustrating because even though we all said we believed in what the Bible taught, we did not all come to the same agreement on many key issues.
That was the great blessing of Higher Things! Almost every single person I met shared my faith, my worldview and believed it was important to have this common Lutheran faith. I made friends easily because there was so much shared ground and so many things I didn't even need to go over because we all believed the same thing. For once, I could talk to people my own age about theology and living in the grace of God and they actually agreed with me and shared similar experiences. It was so wonderful to hear everyone confess the ancient creeds, sing the theologically sound hymns, and believe the sacraments are actually saving and forgiving. Together we share in the faith and wisdom passed down since the first century.
There is a huge push in our culture to celebrate diversity, and there is nothing wrong with getting to know someone whose views and beliefs are different from your own. However, there is also something really wonderful about meeting people whose beliefs and worldview are nearly identical to your own. There is so much encouragement to be gained from talking to these people and so much wisdom that can be shared. Within the Lutheran denomination, there are so many pastors who can share their knowledge, so many adults who can share their life wisdom, and so many young people who cherish and cling to the saving faith of the Gospel.
This is the miracle: that we all put aside whatever other differences we may have and boldly confess our common Lutheran faith to each other and to those around us through our words and deeds. We are not alone, no matter where we are; we are built on the Rock that will never break and knit together as the Church as we confess one common faith.
Monica Berndt is a member of Christ the Savior in George, Washington and studies music at the University of Washington.
Created: August 26th, 2015