Discussion and Devotional thought of the Day:
“Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ. 2 I praise you because you always remember me and follow the teachings that I have handed on to you. 3 But I want you to understand that Christ is supreme over every man…. 1 Corinthians 11:1-3 (TEV)
1 Finally, our friends, you learned from us how you should live in order to please God. This is, of course, the way you have been living. And now we beg and urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to do even more. 2 For you know the instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 (TEV)
203 Surely all those consolations I receive from the Master are given me so that I may think of him all the time and serve him in little things, and so be able to serve him in great things. A resolution: to please my good Jesus in the tiniest details of my daily life. (1)
It sits there, on the sign identifying the congregation I pastor, on our stationary, on business cards and polo shirts.
A Label, something that identifies our heritage, but also potentially divides us from the body of Christ.
I both love it, and hate it, even despise it.
I despise it because people assume it is something that sets us apart, something that identifies why we are different, as if being a lutheran was a license to condescension, to some higher level of purity or knowledge or perfection. Though not it’s intent in every place bearing its name, there can be pride associated with that label. Because of both assumptions, I despise it, just as I despise the fact that we are 3 years from “celebrating” a division in the church, that is contrary to the will of God. It is my regular prayers that something would happen, a miracle, that would allow the entire church to find healing together in Christ. That my small section of the church would have the humility to encourage this, even noting our own sin, our own failures, our own poor theology that prevents it.
I hate the label, because it is not specific. Many “wear” it, and have radically different beliefs. Some have departed the focus on grace and mercy and Christ’s delivering us into the presence of our Heavenly father, saving us from sin… our sin. They have neglected the treasuring of a relationship with God that brought such peace and joy to Luther. For this man realized God was our refuge from the brokenness of the world. Others have gone the other direction, forgetting the why’s and legislating the hows and whens. They look more to great theologians of different eras, taking even their errors as being right. They will even say their own teaching is beyond question. Extremisms define the label today, far more than the basic teachings of the catechism, and how it summarizes truth from scripture. In some ways, the extremes almost defeat the benefit of the label. Knowing this, I would actually think a better description of my church would be the old name, the Evangelical-catholic church. Historically and with a pragmatic view to our work, it suits us well.
I think the reasons above are why some toss aside the labels, or at least try to toss them aside. They label their church community church (though there are denominations with that moniker), or Christian Church or church of Christ (though I was originally ordained in that denominational family…err brotherhood of churches)
So why not just hang out a sign that says, “a church”, or “the church on the corner”. Get rid of all other identifying markings, all other labels.
After all of this, why do I like the title?
1. It reminds me that who I believe, and what I believe about Him, is bigger than just me. It was handed down to me, entrusted to me by a larger community of faith. My congregation and I don’t stand alone. In the same way my friends in the Roman Catholic Church find comfort in seeing how saints have endured persecution and troubled times, knowing that God would work through Luther, Melancthon, Chemnitz, Walther, Pieper, Piepkorn, that broken men found solace and hope in God’s is incredible to realize.
They pass us down, not just an academic belief system, but a sense of hope, a story of healing, the assurance that God is our refuge, our help in times of trouble. As Paul encouranged us to imitate him as he imitated Jesus, so these men (and women) provide some helpful tracks along the journey. The label reminds me of this, and those that went before. Their failures, their successes, and how they coped with both!
2. While it doesn’t reduce or eliminate extremism, it gives me a base to start from, a point to evaluate what I teach, and preach and how I administer the sacraments. While their words are only legitimate when in accord with scripture, they do help me, to ensure I don’t fall far astream. Creeds and catechisms are never end all, be alls, but they help. One doesn’t have to go far back in history to see those who claimed to base their understanding solely on scripture fail miserably, leading people astray. (Jim Jones is an example, as are denominations like the Jehovah Witnesses) Think of a amusement park, and the “car rides”, which have a steel or cement center rail. Having a heritage of faithful people running along the same rail before helps us stay the course. (see Hebrews 11)
I suppose the last reason I love my particular label, is that the irony keeps my humble. I know Luther would shake his head at us, wondering why in the world we would name our denomination after such a sinner as he was. The irony that we did, because he was a sinner that God would use to restore something the church had lost (he also messed up a lot – please understand this!) But if God could use a pastor as broken, as crazy, as powerfully as he did…despite his pride, his temper, then there is hope for me, as I ask my people to follow me, as I follow in footsteps of all of those who follow Christ.
Rejoice, we aren’t alone in this journey, God has sustained people beyond number who have handed down to us, what we hand down to others!
By the way, know this, if your label is different, that doesn’t mean you aren’t welcome… just the opposite – please, plese come let’s find out why the labels are blessings… not letting them divide us!
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 901-904). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.