Thursday, September 20, 2012

11 Reasons I'm Proud to Pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Since my "brand" of Christian is a tiny minority in this part of God's world, I get asked a lot of questions about our denomination. Most commonly either How are you different from the other Lutheran groups we know?  -or- Is that like Mormon or something?

I've been trying to create a short list of what's best about us, what makes us truly unique. Here's a first attempt:

11. Although we are "protestant" and in fact in a sense descended from the true founders of Protestantism (well, actually that honor goes to Jan Hus and the Moravians, but that's a whole other and more complicated story), we are Protestants of the Evangelical Catholic variety. We emphasize how to keep proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ clearly while maintaining as much of catholic substance and practice as possible. We're Protestant Catholics.

10. We have the best national youth gathering of any denomination, hands-down. 35,000 youth gathering in the abandoned places of empire (last two times around in New Orleans, this next time in Detroit). www.elca.org/gathering. You really have to see it to believe it.

9. Lutheran theology more faithfully proclaims the freedom we have in Christ than any other theological tradition of which I'm aware. When the gospel says you are free, you are free indeed. Love God and do what you will (Augustine).

8. We are widely and deeply ecumenical. I think we may be in full communion agreements with more denominations than any other denomination, including Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Moravians, United Church of Christ, and the Reformed church. Plus many more ongoing bilateral conversations.

7. We are a member of the Lutheran World Federation, which connects us to Lutherans in as far flung places as Iceland, Australia, El Salvador, Madagascar, India, Tanzania, and beyond.

6. We write social statements. Lots of them. Because we believe taking a public stand on matters of social justice is simply what Christian communities are called to do.

5. Conformity is not required in our denomination. Your average ELCA congregation may split about 50/50 Republican and Democrat, for example. We find ways to be different, together.

4. I've eaten lutefisk and heard a Lutheran mariachi band at church potlucks. The most important word in that last sentence is "potlucks," but the most intriguing words in that sentence are "lutefisk" and "mariachi."

3. Lutherans have the largest charitable organization in North America, Lutheran Services in America. Whether it is Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Lutheran World Relief, ELCA Disaster Response, Lutheran hospitals, and beyond, Lutherans have a deep and abiding commitment to service to the neighbor in need.

2. Lutherans do liturgy. Our approach to liturgy, however, is very "open concept." So liturgy is (often) accompanied by piano or organ, but it is also rock liturgy, frontier liturgy, or beyond. But Lutherans do liturgy, and it is a beautiful mark of who we are.

1. And we are committed to liturgy because it is worship context for the sacraments, the way and the place through which we meet and encounter Christ, who is hands down the best reason to be a part of the ELCA. Lutherans know Christ is the main thing.

Every denomination has a unique personality, a way of being in the world that contributes to the wider ecumene and Christian witness in the world. These are hallmarks of our personality. There are others. You're welcome to list them.

39 comments:

  1. Excellent! I think I need have this handy when talking to friends. Too often I find myself articulating what is different and how I see the other denomination, especially Lutherans, rather than saying who we are as ELCA very well. This is much better. Thanks.

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  2. Excellent! I think I need have this handy when talking to friends. Too often I find myself articulating what is different and how I see the other denomination, especially Lutherans, rather than saying who we are as ELCA very well. This is much better. Thanks.

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  3. This is helpful reminder, even in "Lutheran Country" of Minnesota. Another aspect that I appreciate is our appreciation of paradox and tension: Law and Gospel, sinner and saint, the already and the not-yet of eschatalogy. Thanks.

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  4. Ok, so maybe 'proud' is not humble, but I'll go w/these 11 reasons, plus add that I love the tension of simultaneously saint and sinner. And our understanding of vocation; we are freed through God's grace to witness in the world, where ever we are placed, in all that we do, in our homes, in our schools, at work, with friends, in the community. How we witness, using the gifts God has given each of us, is our vocation.

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  5. Well, I'm not a Protestant Catholic, I'm a Catholic Catholic, but I agree 100% with everything you say. So what's the deal? Why not just come back? I think we could do a lot more united than all split up, and it would sure be a lot better for all the little financially-struggling Lutheran churches.

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    2. Well there is the wee problem of which sacraments we all consider to be sacraments...and the role of women as clergy and married folks as clergy....For me that is a big hurdle that we would need to sort out before Lutherans "came back"

      But I love the list!

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    3. Kathy, I would guess that the Orthodox church would ask the Roman Catholic church the same question. ;) As Shamrock points out, there are issues of sacramental importance that we're at odds about, as well as many issues of practice.

      I do fully agree that those are no reason why we can't work together, however, and am always happy to participate in ecumenical partnerships with all our brothers and sisters (another reason I agree with Clint I'm proud to be Lutheran!).

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    4. And the Lutherans would ask the Orthodox and Catholics why they don't let clergy marry after ordination and don't let bishops have wives.

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  6. Great list, plus I agree with Joene that I'm a big fan of the paradoxic nature of Lutheran theology. Holding two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time is not so easy. Simul justus et peccator, not such an easy thing to realize about one's self. But a very freeing thing to grasp with.

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  7. Hi Shamrock Isle -- It's really not that much of a biggie. Luther believed in auricular confession -- and women can be teachers with great authority -- they just cannot consecrate as priests... and married priests can happen soon.... I say let's get back together -- it would be good for everybody -- and I do remember hearing something about Jesus' will that we all be one....

    Katy -- "Saint and sinner" has to to with free will -- I think Luther messed up here -- but it's also no big deal.

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    1. Hi, Kathy. As an ordained woman, I disagree that it's not that much of a biggie. For Lutherans, ordaining women and using their gifts to the fullest is a matter of stewardship. And, you're welcome to come to the altar and receive whenever an ELCA congregation celebrates the Eucharist.

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  8. I kind of like the idea of the Roman Catholics becoming Lutheran. Just saying. I mean whose to say it's us that have to come "back" to Rome? :)

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    1. What about the Eastern Rite Catholics? Or don't you think that "Catholic" is sufficient; you don't seem to have that problem with the Orthodox.

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  9. Clint! The Catholics have already become Lutheran! We are more Lutheran than Lutherans! Just ask Luther!

    There were huge changes after Vatican II -- all of Luther's "issues" have been resolved -- at least the important ones. I can't even get away with selling an indulgence anymore!

    Yeah -- but just be practical -- it is you guys who have to "Come Home to Rome." That works -- in English! hahaha

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  10. Or instead of one being subsumed into the other, think the merger model, where each part going in to the larger body changes into something new. Kind of like how the ELCA was born out of a merging together of various Lutheran churches. So, if Lutherans would have to give up things like female clergy, what would the RC's give up?

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  11. Totally love this list but I enjoy the idea of being a rebel, nothing against our Catholic brothers and sisters but I'd be out of a job if the Lutherans "went home" to Rome (besides the small debit I am occuring in seminary)

    Signed,
    awesome Gypsy Seminarian..pastor in the making!

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  12. Caoilin -- We already have a German pope -- isn't that enough for you?

    Kwame -- Trust me, there is plenty of work for you over on my side of the fence.

    Come
    Home to
    Rome

    ChR = XP! :-)

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  13. I'm going to offer something that I think ties in with your #9, Clint. This isn't mine, but from Bishop Tom Aitken of the NEMN synod - it was from a series of reflections he started back in 2010 about the top ten reasons he loves the ELCA. I read it as I was beginning internship, and it really resonated with me about why I love the ELCA, too. Ultimately, we don't put our trust in our own understanding, but rather in Christ.

    "1. We focus on Jesus Christ and the Gospel.
    Jesus is the heart and soul of our life and teachings. He is also the heart of Scripture for us. Preaching is about Jesus, our Lord and Savior and his gospel message of love and new life for all. Salvation is the pure gift of God in and through Jesus. The theological and Biblical emphasis in our church is on grace. It is not focused on certain sins that are used as a judging barometer of who is really Christian, and who is not. Rather, we accept that all are sinners, that Christ loves all sinners and sin does not keep a person out of the church. Faith is not "belief in beliefs," but belief and trust in Jesus the first and final Word of God to all humanity."

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    1. And I think that this may tie into #1 on your list...maybe reword that one just a bit? Instead of "...the way and the place through which we meet and encounter Christ,..." How about "...the way and the place through which Christ meets and encounters us..."
      Dan

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  14. Jeremiah -- Let's say I am a Lutheran married woman who practices adultery. At first I do it quietly, but then as I like it more and more, I start doing it openly -- and my whole church knows about it.

    I am sinner. Christ loves me. No need to repent. I will just keep on sleeping with whomever interests me, and on Sunday I come to my church and stand up for Communion. Maybe I am a Eucharistic Minister.

    This is the church you describe. Oh -- I'll bet you are really talking about being gay.... Why don't you just say it instead of trying to contort Lutheran Theology?

    C'mon. We all get it. This is why the ELCA is clearing out and going broke. Have you checked the Second Quarter Treasurer's Report? No so hot.

    Are you going to call me a "hater"? Believe me, I am not a hater. <><

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    1. Papal infalibility

      Purgatory

      The Cult of the Saints

      Monastic Orders

      Mary the Co-Redemptrix (not official, but wellon its way)

      The Immaculate Conception

      The Assumption

      This is just a short list of things Rome needs to correct. There are many more issues.

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    2. Seeing the virgin Mary in tacos-when did this become a sign of holiness?
      Mary's on the half shell on front lawns? On dashboards? Gold medallions of saints? Those weird palm waving parades? Carrying plaster saints in parades? Lighting candles in front of pictures?
      Why?

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  15. kittyaloneandi -- I highly recommend the Catechism of the Catholic Church to answer all your objections. A little study goes a long way.

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  16. This is not a conversation about the Roman Catholic church. It's a conversation about what is worthy of celebration in the ELCA. Please.

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    1. The Bible

      The Creeds

      The Book of Concord

      The Divine Liturgy

      This is just a short list of things to celebrate in the ELCA. There are many more.

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  17. Thank you, kittyaloneandi

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  18. I like what Daniel mentions, too - the notion that it is God who finds us, rather than we who find God, is a valuable truth, and one that I think the ELCA emphasizes well (at least, in my experience). A small distinction, to be sure, but it speaks a lot about who the main character in the story of faith is, and it's been meaningful to me. It's certainly not due to anything on my end that I've encountered grace.

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  19. Of course, Jeremiah, all religions teach that God is the creator and we are the creatures -- God is the "main character in the story," as you say. Thing is, what do we do after God has reached down and called us by grace? Do we just stay the same? Or do we study -- especially Scripture -- and discover God's will for us? This is what Luther did and taught.


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    1. Kathy - well, naturally that isn't the end point. Our actions to be the people God calls us to be and follow in our servant-Lord's footsteps, however, should not be borne out of obligation, but rather out of response to the love we've experienced. To quote Gerhard Forde: "Now that you don't -have- to do anything... what are you going to do?" As Clint noted, when Christ says we are free we are free indeed, and as Luther experienced, having that weight of shame and sin lifted off our necks leads to amazing acts of kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness towards others.

      Also, to answer an interesting assumption you made earlier - the reason Bishop Hanson's remarks resonated with me had nothing to do with "being gay", as that's not an issue for me (nor is it a sin to "be gay," but that's neither here nor there), but rather because one thing I -do- continue to struggle with is the sin of self-righteousness and picking at the speck in someone else's eye. I catch myself doing it all the time, and no matter how much I work at it, it always pops back up again. I'm so incredibly thankful that I'm still loved and forgiven, even though that sin is a thorn in my side (and likely will be as long as I draw breath). God's love and forgiveness towards me does not depend on my overcoming my own brokenness. Amen!

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    2. And by Bishop Hanson I meant Bishop Aitken.

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  20. Lutherans may encounter lutefisk and mariachi at the same event. But the big difference is, for a Lutheran, the lutefisk would be normal, and the mariachi would be exotic. For the entire rest of the world, the opposite would be true.

    Lutherans in America still struggle with a shocking lack of diversity among its ranks, and its future is not bright if this is not resolved. Maybe partnering with more diverse churches through its ecumenical work would be one approach?

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    1. Mainline Protestantism has been preaching "Celebrate diversity!" for 40 years while remaining about as vibrant as skim milk.
      Either your "Diversity Resource Coordinators" and "Representational Principles" don't work or you're not really serious.

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    2. When Ole and Lena go, what will be left?

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  21. This list was shared with me by a parishoner, I find it (the list and the fact that my parishoner shared it with me) a wonderful example of the the Gospel shared in this new day!
    Keep on blogging! Keep on with the dialog...Thank you
    Soli Deo Gloria!

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  22. I imagine there are some people in Eau Claire Wisconsin who would definitely question # 5.

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  23. Great list . . . glad to share it on Facebook.

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  24. You have great youth gatherings-but barely 8% of your membership is under 30?
    Obviously not that great then.
    And if you don't like "empire" so much, why take the "empire's" money-more than 2/3rds of Lutheran social services are funded through "imperial" sources. And you get tax breaks and clergy housing allowances from Caesar. Want to be "free of empire"? Stop taking the "empire's" money.
    We don't have to get into how pathetic Lutheranism is by taking tax money, even from people who don't belong to it, in places like Germany and Scandinavia; obviously you have no problems not be separate from the state over there.

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