Wednesday, February 4, 2015
The distance between Christian and Lutheran. . .
One would insist that Christian is foremost and first and Lutheran secondary. In it as if Christian were the major identification and Lutheran a sub-category. So the idea here is that Christian is the identity that counts (it saves) and Lutheran is a personal preference (one of many preferences here -- most of them being equally valid and effective). Lutheran is a step down from Christian.
Another would say that to be Christian is to be Lutheran (even if the person does not know it yet). This would insist that Lutheran is the only authentic shape or form of a Christian. It is not far from saying that in order to be saved you must be Lutheran. Lutheran is a step up from Christian.
I suppose there are also those who would say that they are mutually exclusive terms. Those who think that one cannot be Lutheran and Christian or Christian and Lutheran -- one can and should only be Christian. There were none of these folks in my conversations.
Before these conversations,I had never conceived of any distance between the two. A Lutheran is a Christian and, if I am honest, I would admit that Lutheran is the best form of Christianity. I am not a Lutheran first and a Christian second -- I am a Christian by being a Lutheran, being the best Lutheran I can be. There is no distance between Christian and Lutheran. If there is, we are in big trouble.
When I identify myself as a Lutheran, I am identifying myself as a Christian, as a Christian who believes the Scriptures are the Word of God and His living voice that spoke and all things came to be, that spoke to keep hope alive over generation after generation, and who became flesh so that my sins are forgiven and I am reconciled to my Heavenly Father. When I identify myself as a Lutheran, I am identifying myself as a baptized child of God who was raised up out of that water filled with the Spirit, with forgiveness, with new life, and marked as God's own being readied for the place He has prepared for me in eternity. When I identify myself as a Lutheran, I am identifying myself as one whose new life is nurtured and nourished upon nothing less than the flesh of Christ for the life of the world and the cup of His blood which cleanses us from all sin.
Frankly, I do not think it is enough to say "Christian" in an age when that word has come to mean something so broad and vague. To say "Lutheran Christian" is both to connect faith to a written expression (the Confessions) and to a community of people gathered around the Word and Sacraments. Ultimately this is the issue. Can one become Christian and remain Christian apart from life within the community where the Word and Table of the Lord are source and summit? Yes, I suppose it is theoretically possible but it is surely not what God intended nor is it a benefit to the individual to live outside the means of grace. Quite the opposite, it is nearly a major uphill battle to remain in faith while living apart from the Word and Table of our Lord. Ask anyone who has been forced to do this and they will admit the struggle.
Are we doing the Lord or the person any favors by bringing them to Christ (or bringing Christ to them) without connecting them to an altar, pulpit, and font? I don't think so. The Christian marketplace is ripe with seductive, emotive, and false forms of the Gospel that will only destroy faith. That is why Lutheran missions are about Lutheran congregations where those who hear the Gospel and believe may be fed and nourished upon the Word of God and the Table of the Lord. That is why the Lutheran witness is not merely to the faith but to faith and life where the Eucharist is source and summit of living out of the baptismal life. To do any less is not merely institutional folly but the failure to be the witnesses we were called to be.