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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Rabbit trail

Departing from Genesis for a moment ...

I just read this news release from the ELCA news service about the church's publishing house having considerable trouble with retirement accounts for its employees. Late in the article the publishing house says they cannot cover their employees' retirement deficits out of their general fund because of "our own operational challenges resulting from fewer sales to shrinking ELCA congregations, and increasing competition from the Internet and publishers outside of the Lutheran tradition." The whole article -- and especially this statement -- is a harsh reminder of one of the biggest problems the Lutheran church as a whole has had for the last three hundred years.

Namely, we have operated as a closed system, believing it is better to be strictly "Lutheran" in all our ways rather than interacting with other Christians in our context. So Augsburg Fortress, our publishing house, has avoided selling to a general Christian market for fear of watering down our "Lutheran" identity. They have counted on sales within ELCA congregations, but those congregations have started looking at AF as only one option among many -- and sales have suffered. This downward trend is that much worse because growing Lutheran churches have tended to look elsewhere for resources. They are growing because they have a strong emphasis on boldly proclaiming Jesus as Lord and they have a high view of the Bible's authority. Sadly AF has not done a good job of providing resources for these congregations. Because AF doesn't see themselves in direct competition with other Christian publishers, they've not felt the pressure to assess their market and provide the resources their market is demanding.

What's the point? I'm not trying to bash Augsburg Fortress or the ELCA. As a friend of mine said recently, "The ELCA is old news." But as we move forward, it is important for us to realize that being Lutheran doesn't mean we isolate ourselves in a bubble. Note: I believe being Lutheran is one very, very good way of being a follower of Jesus. I'm proud of that identity. But we have to first know what it means to follow Jesus, and then know what it means to be Lutheran well enough that we can be out in the world, out in the mix of other flavors of Christianity, with the confidence that we have a voice, we have a contribution. The Lutheran distinctives of Law and Gospel as the lens through which we view the Bible, salvation by grace alone through faith alone, the priesthood of all believers, and the other distinctive teachings of the Lutheran tradition are an important piece the whole Christian church needs. So we cannot keep to ourselves and smugly feel that we've got it right -- Lutheran Christians need to be out in the world with the rest of the body of Jesus Christ, bringing our perspective and learning from the gifts other members of the body bring. Together we can help the world know Jesus.

And the other side of this coin is that Lutherans need what other Christians bring. We need the charismatics' passionate desire for the presence of the Spirit. We need the Calvinists' stand on God's sovereignty. We need the Wesleyans' longing for personal holiness. We need the Baptists' emphasis on personal salvation and the Roman Catholics' sense of the history and tradition of the body of Christ throughout the world. We need the Salvation Army's (did you know they're a church?) heart for the poor.

These other parts of the Body are not the enemy. Rather, the enemy is the one who seeks to keep us in conflict with these other Christians so that we are not engaged in making Jesus known to the world.


  1. Completely agree with this post. John Piper is a baptist (calvinist) and has some of the best teachings on the web for free that i've seen. His main theme (and website name) is "desiring God". Isn't that what we as Christians are supposed to be focusing on? ie. loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength?

    i haven't been a committed follower of Jesus for very long, but i've been a Christian since I was about 12 years old. And though i don't know Jesus very well yet, what i do know of him makes me want to know him more. He is the most amazing, interesting, loving, gentle man i've ever met. I'd follow him anywhere. ;o)

  2. Gosh I appreciate this blog entry and Monica's response. I'm not smart enough to know the difference between a Calvinist or a Wesleyan, but I do know Jesus. I cannot imagine Jesus calling himself a Lutheran, a Catholic, or a Chrismatic. At the same time I have had the good fortune of enjoying the friendship (and followship) of Christians that attend a host of churches names.

    It is good to have a variety of churches because they met the needs of a variety of different Christians. (So long as they serve Jesus and preach His good news from the bible.)

    I have often pondered the following: If the apostles were to return to earth today, which church(es) would they attend?