Called Forward Together into Questions, Part 1

My colleague and co-blogger, Dave, has started to address the six questions of “Called Forward Together in Christ.” It seems that it might be a good time to join him in this exercise and to explore these questions alongside of him.

Again, the questions put to the Body of the ELCA are:

1. What is distinctive about our identity as Lutherans?

2. What kind of Church do we believe God is calling us to become?

3. How do we become an inclusive, diverse church that is inspiring and relevant in different communities?

4. What is God calling us to do in a world that is facing unprecedented levels of poverty, conflict and violence, inter-religious tension, and massive displacement of people?

5. What do we expect from our church leaders?  How do we recruit, invest, and support them to lead this church into the future?

6. Will our current structures serve the church well into the future?

Today, we will cover only two. Let’s begin.

1. What is distinctive about our identity as Lutherans?

The answer to this question will depend on the community in question, I think. For many people, Lutheranism has been its history and its past. The traditions of Lutheranism, for folks in this category, are the identifying hallmark. These have, in the past, created a sense of community. Now, however, the rallying cry of this past and this tradition seems to draw very few members into that community.  I suspect that this is one of the many reasons for the current anxiety and sense of crisis in the church.

For others, especially for those who have been through seminary, such as pastors, the theological history of Lutheranism serves as the identifying marker of Lutheranism. Here, we talk about such great pieces as the Theology of the Cross, Grace, Uses of the Law, and, God forbid, the Two-Kingdoms view of reality. Many of these are good and still useful, as Dave has pointed out about the Theology of the Cross, while others, such as Two-Kingdoms, have been deeply challenged by the injustices in our world and the theologies that address these injustices. In the end, though there are indeed great Lutheran theological pieces, I believe that we are lacking a wide spectrum and real depth, through no one’s fault in particular. Quite simply, we need to start doing theology again, boldly and freshly, so much so that theologians actually make a wake again, so much so that theologians tempt the chance of their falling into the theological abyss. I’m talking about a daring doing of theology.

What I don’t expect people to talk about so much but would hope to see is Lutheranism as social practice, both in the past and in the present. Even with our historical view, harking always back to the reformation, we have lost track of so much that has happened in our faith. Does anyone remember Inner Mission and all of the missional outreaches that the movement created? Does anyone recall Bethel, where people of faith shared life with people who were experiencing poverty and people with disabilities? That is a part of where Lutheranism has been, and ironically, it is a part of where many in the Lutheran faith are trying to go. Also, Lutheranism was itself a bold experiment. As many of us know, Luther did not intend to start the Reformation. Yet, as he burned that papal bull, Luther had no choice but to launch a bold new experiment, being Church outside of the reign of the One Universal Church. It doesn’t get much more bold than that. In our day and time, there are people in the Lutheran Church who are trying new and bold things, which are different from Luther’s example, of course, but which are indeed bold and fresh. One example could be the Welcome Church. Another could be Chicken Coop Church. I could keep listing them, but if you look them up, you’ll get the general idea very quickly. What if Lutheranism was, in addition to some history and to theological pieces which are solid, a way of practice, one that revolved around certain principles, as in an ethics course only focusing here on social practice instead, focusing on how do we go about doing theology in the world, which involves ethics but which is much larger than those evaluations with which ethics concerns itself? To try to make that last point clearly, allow me to offer this, a reworded version: what if we not only asked if a thing were “good” but had principles that allowed us to maneuver, which guided us, in our attempts to be the church. Such principles might be: boldness, openness, considerate, collaborative. (Note that some of these don’t fit too well with strict historical examples in Lutheranism.) So we might ask of what we are doing or hoping or planning to do: is this bold and experimental? is this open to other people who might not be exactly like us? is this considerate towards our neighbors and community? is this collaborative, or do we involve others who are, while not making the exact same confession, at this moment in time also within the same missional stream from God that we ourselves happen to be in? What if certain principles and questions became the guiding basis for Lutheranism, some from history, many from theology, and a good number from current situation and context?

Onward to the second question:

2. What kind of Church do we believe God is calling us to become?

This, I believe, is the question that will help us to determine those principles that I was talking about before.  Where do we see God leading us?  To what sort of place do we believe God to be ultimately leading us?  I suppose that the answer here, from both past and present Christian theologies, is the Kingdom of God.  So now the question becomes:  what does the Kingdom of God look like?  what is the experience of the Kingdom of God?  how would we describe the Kingdom of God?

Seeing as how Jesus, throughout the four Gospels, gives us a foreshadowing of the Kingdom of God, and since the final chapters of Revelation paint an interesting picture of this in-breaking reality, and because so many other places in the Bible point to what this future reality of God’s Reign might look like, we should really turn, I think, to scripture and then our context in order to discern this.

I suppose that I could begin this process here and then draw some principles and questions for the doing of ministry out of it, but it is really much more interesting for me to leave that task up to anyone who wants to do it and see if anyone goes for it.

With that all being said, however, I do believe that Questions 3 and 4 lead us in that Kingdom direction and give some principles and questions to us.  Questions 3 and 4 state that we are to be, as is the Kingdom in many portrayals of it, a) inclusive, b) diverse, c) inspiring, d) relevant, e) concerned with poverty, f) concerned about violence, g) concerned about refugees, and h) concerned with how to be inter-religious.

So, we would, according to “Called Forward Together in Christ,” be concerned with asking:  how in our context do we be inclusive, diverse, inspiring, relevant, concerned with poverty, concerned about violence, concerned about refugees, and inter-religious?

Answering those questions with theology and practice, while drawing from appropriate historical examples when able and necessary,  would be the next steps.

For now, however, we will pause, and I will return to address, in a more specific fashion, Questions 3 through 6 sometime after Dave does his own analysis.  (I admit that, now, I’m just letting Dave take the first step.  It’s kind of dastardly to let him go first and then respond, like the sort of thing that N.T. Wright might do, but at least it’s been stated upfront.)

2 comments

  1. How do we make our Church function for our members and our communities it’s a big question our members needs and community service are both important. How can a church run programs like clothes closets and homework help when the ones who do these ministries can no longer drive and they live in a city with no public or Senior transportation? How do we treat our staffs do we use the worlds business model or do we follow Jesus and take care of those who take care of our people? Can all of these things live in harmony and where does worship and Christian education fit in how do we lead our people to be committed to bringing their children up in the church teaching them about Jesus and service in a world with little free time and demands by sports teams and a hundred other activites after young families time leaving Jesus and the church leftovers because his demands are easier to get a break from. We have big challenges ahead.

    1. Those are good questions and good points. I think a great many of those questions have to be answered locally, contextually. I don’t know, if it were me, that I could take all of those at once either. But they do all have their importance, don’t they? Good questions.

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