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Faith and Conscience in 21st Century America

For nearly two and a half centuries, American Christians have been blessed to live in a country that honors and values religious freedom. In fact, one of the founding and core principles of this great country is the freedom to live and speak in accordance with one's religion. But is that which our Lutheran ancestors, and so many other Christian immigrants, sought in coming to the United States eroding from our country's foundation?

Our culture has changed and is constantly changing. Christians living in America no longer have as one person put it, “home field advantage.” 1 On the contrary, the Judeo-Christian values and beliefs, that used to distinguish America from other countries, no longer influence the majority of Americans. But should this give us cause for concern? Christians in every age have had to balance the tension of living “in the world” without being “of the world” (John 17).

As Christians, we have a dual citizenship; we are citizens of the both the state and of the church. As such, we are called to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” We are commanded to obey the secular authorities (Romans 13:1–7), and at the same time, we are called to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). While we are certainly not called to escapism, the tension to live and be involved in a positive and God pleasing way “in the world” without being “of the world” is increasing.

Luther, and Lutherans after him, have always distinguished between the two realms of God, namely the church and state. We have always acknowledged that these two realms are distinct and have different roles and responsibilities in the world. The church is the mouth house for the gospel, proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to a world bound in sin and death. The state is God's instrument of working justice in the civil realm, restraining wickedness and punishing the evildoer (Romans 13). As those who understand and appreciate these two realms, we know that it is not the church's place to Christianize the state or to coerce people to believe in Christ. At the same time, we also know it is not the state's place to legislate and bind the Christian's conscience.

Dr. C.F.W. Walther put it well:

The Lutheran church believes, teaches and confesses, in accordance with God’s Word, that the secular government does not have the power to command its subjects to do anything that God has prohibited, nor does it have the power to prohibit anything that God has commanded, nor does the government have the power to force its subjects to do anything that violates their conscience. 2

This brings us to the quandary of living in 21st Century America. We know that secularism is on the rise and the state continues to legislate laws that are contrary to God’s Word and our Christian beliefs and values. 3 But just how far will the state go? And when will the state and its laws force Christians to go against what God commands and against their conscience?

A few year ago, a state licensing officer in Washington demanded that a Christian day care center remove posters depicting the “Tree of Good and Evil” from a classroom wall, and a Bible verse from a chapel wall, because the content was “too negative” and might frighten children. City officials in Coeur d'Alene Idaho “instituted an ordinance barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, then informed two Christian ministers that unless they agreed to perform same-sex ceremonies, they could face months in jail and $1,000 in fines.” 4 After Hurricane Katrina, “Federal officials tried to block a local church from offering worship services and Bible studies along with food, clothing and shelter to victims” of the hurricane. 5

Recently, a Wyoming judge was censured by the state’s Supreme Court for telling a local news reporter that she, hypothetically, couldn't perform a ceremony for a same-sex couple because it would violate her religious beliefs. A federal appeals court ruled that a high school football coach was justifiably suspended for kneeling and praying on the field with his team after the game.

These are just a few of the issues facing Christians who seek to live according to their faith and conscience in 21st century America. Can the state coerce a business owner to act against his or her religious beliefs and God-given rights of conscience? Will the state eventually force churches and religious organizations to act against their beliefs and sacred practices? These are just some of the important questions that lie ahead of us in the 21st century.

On Thursday evening, October 26, we are privileged to have Tim Goeglein, vice president of External Relations for Focus on the Family, here at Saint John's to speak to these important issues. Tim has served in high-level government posts for the past two decades. His years of public service and private initiative have been devoted to faith, freedom and family. Tim's firm grasp of our American heritage, church and state issues, and the legitimate role of faith in the public square, has made him a coveted speaker around our country. It is with great appreciation and anticipation that I invite and encourage you to join us for Tim's special presentation, “Faith in the Halls of Power: What is Ahead for American Christians in the Next Decade.”

  1. Timothy Goeglein and Douglas Napier, "Free People" (The Lutheran Witness, January 2015), 22–23.
  2. C.F.W. Walther, Walther's Works: All Glory to God (Concordia Publishing House, 2016), 467.
  3. A prime example is the Supreme Court's decision on so-called “same-sex marriage” in the summer of 2015.
  4. Goeglein and Napier, 23.
  5. Ibid., 23.

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 970-305-2420.

Kids in the Divine Service

Growing up in the faith is much like growing up in a family. Watching and experiencing how adults in their family (primarily parents) speak, act and live out their daily lives shape children into who they become as adults. Children learn to speak the language that is spoken around them. They tend to, though not always, follow, even imitate the actions of others around them. Children will also tend to value the things valued by their family.

Baptized in the Christian faith, children are brought into a community of faith that speaks, acts and lives a certain way, a unique way, that is shaped by Christ Jesus. As children grow in the faith, attending and participating in the Divine Service on Sunday mornings is essential, even paramount to faith development.

As it is in the home, so it is in the church. Children will learn to speak, act and live out their Christian faith by what they hear, see and experience on Sunday mornings. Children absorb things by repetition, they learn to sing and pray even before they can read or understand everything completely. A very normal part of the learning process includes asking questions. “Why does pastor wear a bath robe at church?” “What does the word Sanctus mean?” “What is Advent?” “Why do we light candles at church?” These are all good, inquisitive and important questions!

To help parents and grandparents answer these questions and more, the LCMS recently released an updated resource titled “Kids in the Divine Service.” These brief guides are written for parents and children to read and talk about together. They give instructive and helpful insights into the Divine Service, church setting, seasons of the church year and Christian faith for children of all ages as well as helps for parents to continue the conversation.

Starting this month, "Kids in the Divine Service" can be found on the last page of the Sunday service folder and in The Eagle under a new section titled “The Family Altar.” May these guides be a blessing to you and your children as we grow together in faith and life in Christ Jesus.

In Christ,
Pastor Nettleton

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 970-305-2420.

The Time of the Church

Our daily lives tend to follow a rhythm of seasons, routines and patterns. The ordinary rhythm of life ebbs and flows between work and rest, day and night, winter and summer, holidays, vacations and ordinary, mundane life. These rhythms would be empty cycles, void of meaning, without being anchored in the One who gives meaning and purpose to our very lives: Christ Jesus.

The seasons of the Church Year, much like our very own lives, follow a rhythm that is anchored in Christ Jesus. The first half of the year (Advent–Easter) is focused on the events of our Lord's life; “His conception and birth, His fasting and temptation, His suffering and death, His resurrection and Ascension, His session at the right hand of the Father, and His pouring out of the Spirit.” 1

Having followed our Lord's life from Christmas to Easter, we have now entered into the second half of the Church Year known as The Sundays after Pentecost or The Time of The Church. After celebrating the festivals of Christmas, Epiphany, Transfiguration, Easter, Pentecost and so on, the second half of the year can seem like going from vacation back to the ordinary, mundane routines of life!

This is, however, one of the main emphases of the Sundays after Pentecost—our everyday, ordinary, lives as Christians. As the season focuses upon our Lord's teaching and our lives as His disciples, the liturgical color is green which bespeaks growth. What exactly does it mean to live by faith? How do we live in the world but not of the world? How do we love our neighbor and witness to the everlasting hope we have in Christ?

Wonderfully capturing and articulating the themes of the Sundays after Pentecost, Pius Parsch writes;

The Sundays during the Pentecost cycle develop three great themes. The first is Baptism and its graces. We are baptized and grounded in the graces of Baptism. Every Sunday is a reminder of baptism and a small Easter. The second theme is preparation for the second advent of the Lord. It is treated in detail in the final Sundays of the season. The remaining theme, the burden of the Sundays midway after Pentecost, may be summarized as the conflict between the two camps. Although we are placed in the kingdom of God, we remain surrounded by the kingdom of the world. Our souls are laboring under Adam's wretched legacy and waver continually to and fro between two allegiances.

By these three great themes the liturgy covers the whole range of Christian life. In Baptism the precious treasure of the Spirit was conferred. Through it we are God’s children and may call God Father. Through it we have become temples of the Holy Spirit, heirs and brothers of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, Baptism has not translated us to a paradise without toil or trouble. Rather we are sent out into a troubled world to work and struggle. We must guard the holy land of our souls against hostile attack. We must learn to know and conquer the enemy, and such is the task that will continue until we have taken our final breaths." 2

The Sundays after Pentecost focus on our Lord's teaching for us, His people, as we learn to live out our baptism, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as His people. But there is more! Parch continues,

The Church serves as both the heroine, who teaches us the art of warfare, and our strong fortress and shield in the conflict. Through Holy Communion, she bestows aid that repeatedly frees the soul from the entanglements and temptation. How does she do this? Courage and strength and perseverance flow from the Word of God in the Service of the Word, and they flow in even fuller measure from Holy Communion. Of ourselves we are helpless creatures, wholly unable to withstand the attack, but in Holy Communion another battles for us. The Mightier, Christ, vanquishes the mighty. 3

Rooted in the living waters of God's Word and nourished by the holy food of the Lord's Supper, we are strengthened over these ordinary Sundays after Pentecost to live as God's people in this world, to do His work where He has placed us, as we wait for and anticipate His coming again.

  1. William Weedon, Celebrating the Saints (Concordia Publishing House, 2016), 280.
  2. Pius Parsch, The Church's Year of Grace (Liturgical Press, 1964), IV, 94–95.
  3. Ibid., IV, 95.

Image from Concordia Lutheran Church, Nashville

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 970-305-2420.

Vacation Bible School 2017: Mighty Fortress

We had a great week of Vacation Bible School! 28 children joined us over the week as we focused on God who is our Mighty Fortress, our Shield, our Refuge and our Deliverer. We also confidently celebrated that Jesus is our champion over sin, death and the Satan. Because Jesus acts through His Word and keeps His promises, every day is a day to give thanks and celebrate His victory for us!

Our VBS Mission project this year supported Sharing God's Mighty Word. This mission outreach sends Bible-based literature to inner-city kids around the U. S. The children's response was quite impressive as they did an excellent job bringing in their daily offerings giving $103.06 to support this mission project!

Thank you to everyone who donated various items and to everyone who volunteered their time and energy to plan, decorate, teach, organize and lead a fantastic week of VBS!

Serving with you in Christ,
Pastor Nettleton

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 970-305-2420.

Summer Internship

Shortly after beginning my first year at Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis, Missouri, I was assigned, like all seminary students, to a local congregation for what the seminaries call "field work." During my time at seminary, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Crystal City, Missouri, and Hope Lutheran Church, Saint Louis, Missouri, provided this pastor-in-training with ample opportunities to put my studies to work; teaching Bible classes, serving in worship and occasionally preaching.

Field work has been and remains an important aspect of seminary training for men preparing to enter the Office of the Holy Ministry. Over the years, congregations in the Fort Wayne and Saint Louis areas have provided seminary students the opportunity to gain important parish experience before and even after their year of internship or vicarage.

A summer music internship offered by a sister congregation sparked the idea of a summer internship here at Saint John's. After reaching out to Concordia Theological Seminary and Concordia Seminary last year, both seminaries welcomed the idea of Saint John's offering a summer internship for a seminary student who had finished his first and was heading into his second year of seminary.

Last November, Concordia Seminary provided the name of a student interested in a summer internship. After some fine work by our internship committee (Wil Shimoda, Ron Young, Del Fredin, Ruth Seiler and Tom Miles), the committee recommended first year seminarian Ben Vanderhyde to be hired as our summer intern. On April 30, the congregation voted to approve this recommendation.

Growing up in the Denver area, Ben is a native Coloradoan. He is a member of University Hills Lutheran Church, where his father, Rev. David Vanderhyde, serves as pastor. Ben is a graduate of Concordia University Wisconsin, where he majored in Parish Music. Ben and his wife Grace, a graduate of Concordia University Nebraska, welcomed the birth of their first child, Larson, on March 31 of this year.

As a musician who plays both piano and organ, Ben will serve as our summer organist. He will also gain some parish experience helping with various aspects of pastoral ministry, including Vacation Bible School, teaching adult Bible classes, assisting in hospital calls and home visits and preaching a sermon or two.

Ben will be installed as summer intern on Sunday, May 28 during the Divine Service. A reception for the Vanderhydes will follow the service down stairs in the Large Fellowship Hall. We welcome with joy the Vanderhydes to Saint John's!

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 970-305-2420.