Devotional Thought of the Day
16 You do not want sacrifices, or I would offer them; you are not pleased with burnt offerings. 17 My sacrifice is a humble spirit, O God; you will not reject a humble and repentant heart. Psalm 51:16-17 (TEV)
Legalism claims that overt actions in conforming to rules for explicit behavior make us right and pleasing to God. It’s as if we believe that power resides in the words or in the rituals themselves. Jesus called legalism the “righteousness . . . of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20 NRSV).
Legalism and superstition are closely joined by their emphasis on controlling people and events through little rules, bypassing the realities of the heart and soul from which life really flows. That is why Jesus tells us we must go beyond the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees to heart-and-soul transformation if we are truly to enter into life.
Disclaimer – if you aren’t a Lutheran, some of this may not make sense. But other groups have modifiers as well, Examples of this are “Evangelcial” Christian, or “Conservative” Baptist, or “Orthodox” Presbyterian, or “King James Only” Believers, or Traditional Catholics. Consider what words modify or assist to “truly” define your trust in God.
There are a lot of denominations out there, and some have taken their denomination name out of the name of their church. You don’t know what they believe, or what their history is, because they have hidden it from plain sight.
I am a Lutheran, the theology and practice that has been passed down I find consistent with scripture and the early church. The somewhat simple way Luther and his peers dealt with being severed from the Roman Catholic Church was not perfect, and yet, what they laid out in documents like the Augsburg Confession clearly reveal the love of God, poured out on us through the word and sacraments by the Holy Spirit.
So, here I stand, and until proven otherwise I don’t have much of an option!
Yet in my brotherhood/denomination which we call a Synod (which means, ironically – to walk together) there are those who would modify the term Lutheran with different words. Confessional is one of those terms, one that is used as a badge of honor, and which draws a vague line in the sand. There are others, that take a further stand, and I would list them as well, and those inside my little section of the family of God know them well enough.
The problems with these labels, no matter where they are on the spectrum is that they divide us based on legalistic standards, rather than on how Christ defines us, they separate us from those that cling to the Lord just as we do. They attempt to clone the people of God, rather than realize the diversity that comes within a family or within a body.
The idea is the line in the sand becomes a sense of pride, a sense where I can say, “my sacrifice is more appropriate than yours, and therefore I am more blessed, more holy,”
And that is where I struggle, with this idea that any label (including our denomination labels) make us “more holy” or that our worship of God is more acceptable (more Orthodox) is about as close to heresy as you can get. I am not saying we shouldn’t seek to refine our beliefs and practicesi to make them more consistent with scripture, but to claim our position is more holy, our worship more acceptable is wrong, dead wrong.
We need to approach God in a way that is both humble, recognzing our brokenness and yet bold, depending on His invitation and HIs making us acceptable and welcome. We need to recognize our brokeness, and rely on His transformation of our heart and soul and mind, rather than parade around, touting that we are the best of His chosen people.
So I am Lutheran – using that title to describe the beliefs I have, that I hold to, that I teach…. that I depend on only because they reveal to me and help me explore the breadth and width, the height and depth of God’s love, and through God’s word, and the sacraments, I experience that love, which is too great to understand.
You have a different label? Let’s sit down and talk, praying and relying on the guidance of God, who loves us, to make His will known, and His love revealed. But let us depend on Him for that journey, and never boast of our own reason or strength.
Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.