“I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen”. [Luther at the Diet of Worms (1521), LW 32:112–13]” link
(Note: We are switching
editing formats the editor for posts and this is our first post doing so. Please excuse any errors.)
Today, I decided I would admit to two things.
- I am not longer identifying myself as an evangelical although I am still evangelical.
- I am a member of a Lutheran church that tips conservative. I am not going to name the synod or affiliation.
Before I explain myself, I want to present a post written by a friend, Rich Shields, that expresses things far better than I could. It is called Church in the Midst Turmoil and it is posted at his blog believe, teach, confess.
Rich has helped me wrap my head around a number of things that have been concerning me for years. Since attending my Lutheran church for almost 3 years, I have been presented with a faith that is well represented by kindly church leaders who do not compromise the Word yet convey it in a manner that has bought my husband and me much peace.
The following post is one of those defining moments for me. It was written after the 2016 election.
In the midst of much public angst, fear, etc. over the past week, accusations have been flung at Christians, specifically Evangelicals, about what should be done, changed, etc. In this post I will address that topic. But more, there is much about what Christians say and do, especially relative to the elections and who is elected/not elected, than has been addressed.
Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical
I use all three of these terms, but not as identified by a church body or movement. That may cause confusion, so let me explore this a bit. When I teach hermeneutics (principles of interpretation) I repeatedly point out that one key is looking at the referent of a word, i.e. what is it referring to, pointing to.
When the word is capitalized (Catholic) it refers to the church body that is headed by the pope and headquartered in the Vatican. In my references to that church body I use the fuller title, Roman Catholic Church (RCC).
When the word is not capitalized (catholic) then it carries the basic sense of “universal.” Historically catholic referred to the universal Christian church, that is, believers in Jesus Christ, regardless of location or affiliation. It also meant that the Christians were identifiable by the confession they publicly professed.
I am catholic, in that I confess the Christian faith, and as articulated in the three ecumenical creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian).
Like catholic, when Orthodox is capitalized it refers to a specific church body (or a group of church bodies: Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc.). When the word is not capitalized, orthodox carries the basic sense of “straight praise” (literalisticly) which came to indicate “straight doctrine.”
I am orthodox in that I confess the true, straight Christian doctrine (and praise/worship that reflects such) proclaimed in the Bible (as as expressed the creeds of the Christian Church.
Again, when capitalized the word, Evangelical, refers to a movement within the last 100+ years. Most of the rhetoric of the past 60 years about “Evangelicals” is used in reference to a conglomeration of people from various Reformed, Calvinist, and other Protestant backgrounds.
When not capitalized, evangelical has the historic meaning “gospel.” Interestingly, in Germany since the time of the reformation the Lutheran church was and still is known as the evangelische kirche, the gospel church.
I am evangelical as an expression historically meaning “gospel.” I adhere to the confession of the Gospel in all its purity, as articulated in the Book of Concord 1580.
Confusion and Caution:
These three words can also be used in a sociological way. That is, it might refer to many groupings of people who have the sociological identification as such, but are not theologically included in the terms. Thus, when each is used in a sociological way, then they might include Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses etc. However, when used in their historic theological understanding, the words do not apply to those groups.
I do not write this to cause problems but to note that using a word like “evangelical” (in a sociological construct situation) includes these groups which are not necessarily theologically accurate. For instance, I will never include these groups because I use the terms in their strictly theological sense.
Ministry in a Changing Social/Political Arena
What happens to the message of a Church/pastor when the social, political, economic situation drastically or subtly changes? The answer depends on how the terms above are used, sociologically or theologically? Sadly many churches/pastors don’t make that distinction. Is it any wonder that those outside the Church are confused when trying to provide an answer, demand changes?
With the election of Donald Trump as President, many are questioning how the Church can/should be changed or exhorted to respond. First, I would like to approach this from a secular standpoint. I served in the U.S. Navy 9½ years active duty and 4 years reserve. I served under four different presidents: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan.
In fact, my final processing interview (May 1973) took place when the Watergate investigation was reaching its peak. I was asked how this changing environment would affect my service in the Navy. I answered that my oath is to defend the country and the Constitution. If the President were impeached, then the VP would serve. It would not change my service at all. Thus, over the next decade, changing presidents didn’t affect my work, my commitment to the Navy, the nation, or relationships with family and friends.
So what is the Church to do?
So when the Church is called out now for not addressing the current hot points, I think I need to follow a similar path as a pastor. Note that most of these calls are for Evangelicals to change, or become what the Church should be, etc. My first response is: I am not part of the Evangelical movement, never have been, even though I am evangelical.
Second, I have pastored at the time of six different presidents (Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump). Over the past 30+ years, my focus as pastor has been on proclaiming the Gospel as historically understood. That means that much of my ministry is to and with people who are broken, abused, outsiders, etc. I began using the term “fringe ministry” to summarize this approach, which I think reflects Jesus’ ministry. Not once did the national climate affect the message or my ministry.
From that perspective, I do not have to change church bodies. I do not have to reinvent myself for the current situation. It is not because I am insensitive to what people are experiencing. Rather it is because I have been in the trenches of what people are experiencing: brokenness, abandoned, abused, neglected. The Gospel I proclaim is not a new social construct, in fact, to be Gospel, it cannot be.
What many, or most, people do not realize is that my ministry has even happened. It has not received public acknowledgement. And for that I am extremely thankful. Such public notice could easily close doors to ministry to the broken, abused, forgotten people, not open doors. I have seen God work changes in peoples’ lives that demonstrate exactly where God’s heart is, and therefore where my heart is.
Church and ministry do not change for anyone or any political, economic condition. I think we can learn from our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world: that even extreme, true (not artificial) persecution allows the Church to still be the Church. No president, no congress, no political platform can change that.
So what is the Church to do? In my case, exactly what we have been doing in the past. Thus, I speak Law to expose sin, but most importantly I speak Gospel to bring forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, hope in Jesus Christ. And the Church responds in caring for others as well.
Three years ago, my husband and I were frustrated. We had watched a Reformed Baptist church mishandle a pedophile situation, watched a once thoughtful nondenominational church get taken over by a John Piper/Mark Driscoll quoting pastor, and watched a Reformed Baptist church treat communion like a drive thru window.
We began to feel caught in the middle. On one side were non-Reformed or *whatever* evangelicals like Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Ed Young Jr, and Pete Wilson. On the other side were the hard-line authority driven Calvinists like John Piper, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, and The Gospel Coalition crowd.
Then there were the demon wars, the gender wars, the ESV, ESS, the Prayer of Jesus, the Purpose Driven Life, seeker sensitive, seeker driven, church covenants, women not being allowed to read Scriptures out loud in the church, and on and on.
My husband and I weren’t like any of them. Wasn’t there something for those of us in the middle, who loved Jesus and didn’t want jump on all the latest evangelical fads?
We had been fortunate (Thank you Jesus) through the years to be able to find decent evangelical churches like Park Street Church in Boston or Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Dallas. Wasn’t there anything like that around here for us?
We found the church due to being a bit a selfish. We were looking for a church with a Saturday evening service which fit my husband’s work schedule and allowed him one morning a week in which he could sleep past 6:30 AM. Of course, the typical megachurches offered all sorts of service times but we were finished with them. However, there was one church, a Lutheran church only 15 minutes from our home that offered a Saturday evening service. Lutheran? I had attended one that I liked in college but I thought that Lutherans were either very liberal or very, very legalistic or so I had been told…
So, one cold January evening, off we trekked to a pretty church with stained glass windows. There was a small praise band in the corner, a big cross in the front and lots of candles lit against the dark, twinkling off the windows. The praise band picked the loveliest songs to sing and sang them in a way that invited us to sing along. The one hour service consisted of (and always does):
- Greeting one another
- Singing songs and hearing announcements
- The Apostle’s Creed
- 3 Scripture passages: OT, Epistles and Gospel read by men and women (gasp!) from the congregation up front at the lectern (No lightening bolts from heaven either)
- A short but pithy sermon that I actually remembered the following week
- A declaration by the pastor of our forgiveness
- The Lord’s Prayer
- The Sharing of the Peace
- Communion-Pastors assisted by men and women in the congregation
- The Benediction and the Charge
My husband and I looked at each other, stunned that we enjoyed it so much. So, we kept coming back. The pastors were kind but left us alone. We watched a church that did lots of things like rehabilitate homes, a prom for differently abled folks, midweek dinners which are incredibly well attended and are actually prepared and served by the, take a deep breath gender warriors, the men in the church.
It took us 2 years to join because we kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. It didn’t. We were delighted to be in a church in which the pastors were kind and knew everybody. They eat the midweek dinner with folks and go out of their way to shake your hand after the service.
We attended the 6 week course on joining the church, worried about things like church covenants, etc. No worries arose. We just had to agree that the church was following Scripture and we would help and pray for the church.
We are closing in on 3 years in attendance. As our readers know, our church supported us when Mr Nobody decided to send letters condemning this blog for caring about abuse in the church. I think I bawled my eyes out for about a week. I am so grateful for them as well as my friend, Rich Shields.
My husband and I help serve communion (and I haven’t tripped over my foot and fallen yet) and I am helping lead a small group of kids through confirmation classes which are awesome. I am learning as much as the kids.
I can no longer define myself as an evangelical as portrayed in the media. However, I am evangelical in my approach. My faith is important to me and most people who know me know about that part of me. However, I have learned something interesting. I used to say I was an evangelical and I would endure the occasional rolling of the eyes, knowing what others might be thinking. Oddly enough, when I say that I am Lutheran, I do not get the same response. In fact, others ask me if it is that pretty church nearby. It has a good reputation in our community.
I hope you all understand what I am saying. I have not changed but I now define myself more accurately.
Somehow, I think God kind of pushed me in this direction, knowing what I needed. he also has a sense of humor. Look at what we were led to name this blog. Look at what we chose for a picture for this blog. It is the Wartburg Castle where Luther wrote his German transition of the New Testament.
I look forward to the celebration of Reformation 500 this year as a Lutheran. And, to brag just a bit, the Reformation started 500 years ago when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on October 31, 1517. Sorry Calvinists, it started with Luther, not Calvin!