Speaking of Faith: Campus Christian
By Kurt Rouser
How can students stay connected to Christ in high school and college? In Romans 12:2 we are told not to be conformed to this world, but that does not mean we should be social outcasts. The same verse advises us to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, that by testing we may discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. As you gain independence at school away from home, it is critical that you remain united with others in the one Christian faith and recognize your special "watermarked" vocations.
As a university professor, I challenge Christian students to consider the question, "What is your vocation?" Understanding that a vocation is a calling, where has God called you? You have vocations as student, son or daughter, friend, church member, employee, brother or sister. This simply means that you do whatever is in front of you to do in order to serve the people God has put in your life. In Matthew 28:16-20, we read: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." Academic campuses are filled by "all nations" seeking knowledge, which presents a unique opportunity to share your faith as you carry out your vocations. What follows here is practical advice for you as a Lutheran student. This advice flows from Scripture and my decades as a college student and professor. I do not intend this to be a "how-to" article adding to the Law, but rather a response to concerns I have frequently heard raised by students and their parents.
Be among the brothers and sisters.
I was raised in a Lutheran family in California and was very passionate about my faith all the way through high school. When I left home to attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado, I found a natural sanctuary in the chapel and associated campus ministry. It was great to interact with Christians of other denominations, but it resulted in doctrinal confusion for me, as I was untethered from regular fellowship in a Lutheran church. Thankfully, God blessed me with a Lutheran chaplain at my first duty station after graduation. That chaplain cleared up my confusion and connected me with a local Lutheran congregation. I continued to engage in the military chapel community, but my relationship with it changed as I hungered for the pure doctrine I was regularly fed in the Divine Service when in fellowship with other Lutherans.
My experience was like that of the apostles in Acts 1:14, who "with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer." I emphasize the need to be part of a Lutheran congregation, especially while separated from home--being in fellowship, in one accord and praying together. Students should consider membership in a local congregation that can care for their spiritual needs. A student may even find a local Lutheran congregation with an LCMS-U chapter. There are also many ways to connect through online resources such as Higher Things, Issues Etc., Lutheran Public Radio, and The Lutheran Hour (just to name a few), but frequenting a local congregation is crucial so you may be fed with God's Word and Sacrament.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting Lutheran students disengage from other Christians on campus. In fact, there could be many opportunities for evangelism, but our message is a special one. We can bear witness to unbelievers and fellow Christians on campus. As we read in 1 Peter 3:15, it is important to "always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." We are "watermarked" in our Baptism to bear "witness of His resurrection" (Acts 1:22). We have a unique understanding of the true Christian faith to share with all nations on campus--believers and unbelievers--particularly about justification apart from works and how we are united with Christ in Baptism.
Share with the "Men of Athens."
High school and college campuses present a unique setting to share the Gospel at any potential moment with those already in a learning mindset. Note the words of the Apostle Paul to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2). You might be asking a reasonable, practical question: "How do I even begin?"
Read the approach Paul took in Athens (Acts 17:16-34), where he "reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there." Consider his message:
"…he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, 'May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.'"
Much like the Areopagus in Athens, academic institutions are a place to reason with those who happen to be there, potentially from all nations around the world. So, how do you enter a conversation that will segue into sharing your faith? Jesus showed a simple approach with a Samaritan woman in John 4:4-42 by starting with an ordinary request for a drink, which led to a discussion of the living water He gives "welling up to eternal life." Can you imagine having such a conversation with a friend over lunch or a cup of coffee that could spur more interest in your beliefs?
In Acts 17, Paul intrigued the "men of Athens" by explaining further what he believed. He started by saying,
"The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything" (v. 24).
He started by introducing God the Father, maker of heaven and earth (the Apostles' Creed)! This message is often in conflict with the modern science taught at academic institutions, but it is important to establish the God of creation so that you can continue with the message:
"The times of ignorance God overlooked, but know He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead" (v. 30).
For those with a troubled conscience who are seeking truth, it is important that you point to Christ crucified and bear "witness of the resurrection." However, be cautioned about the response you may receive. In Athens, "when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, 'We will hear you again about this.'"
Expect a "fiery trial."
Paul issues the same caution in 2 Timothy 4:3-5 about those who will not receive your message:
"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry."
Likewise, Peter warns in 1 Peter 4:12, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you." So do not be discouraged when your message is not received, but remember that God's Word does not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11). You could be planting a seed today that may yield a harvest later!
It takes a lot of courage to share your faith, making yourself vulnerable to potential ridicule. This brings back the importance of being in fellowship with other Lutherans, a source of encouragement. I will end here with the same advice Peter offers in 1 Peter 5:6-11:
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen."
Whether this fall will be your first time on a college campus or you are returning for another year, you can always start fresh, making the most of every opportunity to share the Good News--the Gospel that has watermarked you for the amazing vocation of bearing witness to Jesus and Him crucified!
Dr. Kurt Rouser is Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Oklahoma State University (OSU). He graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1995 with a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering. He has served as an elder in multiple congregations across the country while on active duty and continues at St Paul Lutheran Church in Wellston, Oklahoma, where he attends with his wife and seven children. He has been involved in various campus ministries and is currently a part of the Fellowship of Christian Faculty and Staff at OSU.
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