One of the many benefits of being a member of an ELS congregation is the chance to meet and become friends with people you might otherwise have never met. I remember that growing up in our Synod’s Cape Cod, MA parish, there weren’t many kids my age. Of course, I knew, in sort of a theoretical way, that there really were other Lutheran teenagers out there. It’s just that I hadn’t seen too many of them with my own eyes.
When I was confirmed and was able to attend the LYA convention, it was as if my eyes were opened to a whole new world. Before me, no longer only in theory but in flesh and blood, were living, breathing LUTHERANS, people my age who believed the same things I believed. Now that I’m serving as the pastor of yet another far-out ELS parish, I can’t encourage the young people in my congregation enough to also attend the LYA conventions. If nothing else, it reminds them that they aren’t alone. Even if, in their everyday lives, they are surrounded by people who have a completely different faith and worldview, there really are other teens out there who believe and worship God just like they do.
An important part of the LYA convention is fellowship, but it’s much more than that. There are also opportunities for worship and study, both of which are centered on a specific theme every year. The theme for 2016’s convention is the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. In this country, a Christian’s understanding of the Two Kingdoms is often equated with the concept of the separation of Church and State. And while the two definitely have a relationship, they are certainly not the same.
The kingdom of the left (the world) and the kingdom of the right (the Church) have been instituted by God for different purposes, but they have both been instituted by God. These kingdoms are ruled differently, but again, the same Triune God rules both the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of the Church. In the world, God rules through the law and the threat of punishment if one breaks the law. In the Church, God rules by the Gospel, and all the blessings we are promised through faith in Christ. In the world, God has given power to our governing authorities, who should mirror God’s will in how they rule, but often don’t. In the Church, Christ is our king, and His will in the Word of God is the only standard for the Christian faith and life. Finally, in the kingdom of the world, God does not promise any eternal blessings. You may live now in peace, but eventually you will die. But in the kingdom of the Church, God promises every eternal blessing. Along with the forgiveness of sins now, God has promised those who are His through faith, eternal life in heaven.
As Christians, we are constantly living in both of these kingdoms. We don’t cease being people who live in this world when we are in worship, nor do we cease being God’s people, through whom He “salts the earth,” in our everyday lives. And this dual existence is not always easy to navigate. This is why it is important to study what it means to live in these two kingdoms. Hopefully, you and/or your teenager will be able to attend the youth convention this summer. If you do, you won’t just have a good time (and you will!). Through the study and reception of God’s Word, you will be equipped to live as God would have you live in His two kingdoms.
Reverend Paul Webber
Hope Lutheran Church
West Jordan, UT