Reformation Day

"Luther Before the Diet of Worms" by Anton von Werner, 1877 Credit: Wikipedia

“Luther Before the Diet of Worms” by Anton von Werner, 1877
Credit: Wikipedia

Today is Reformation Day, observed and honored in Christian churches around the world. The primary focus is the work of Martin Luther, born November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Germany. Luther spent his early years in relative anonymity as a monk and scholar but went on to become one of Western history’s most significant figures.

On October 31, 1517, Luther gained notoriety when he wrote a document attacking the Catholic Church’s corrupt practice of selling “indulgences” to absolve sin and nailed it to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. His “95 Theses” propounded two primary beliefs—that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans receive salvation only by faith and not by works. His speaking and writing catalyzed the Protestant Reformation.

On November 9, 1518, Pope Leo X condemned Luther’s writings as conflicting with the teachings of the Church. Later, in July of 1520, Pope Leo issued a papal bull (public decree) concluding that Luther’s propositions were heretical and gave Luther 120 days to recant in Rome. Luther refused to recant, and on January 3, 1521, Pope Leo excommunicated Luther from the Catholic Church.

On April 17, 1521 Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms (this term has nothing to do with culinary mattersJ) in Germany. Refusing again to recant, Luther concluded his testimony the next day, April 18, 1521, with the courageous statement:

“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”

Frankly, for a number of reasons, I often ponder whether the world and church are long overdue for a new Reformation! Much has changed in nearly 500 years. Authority concentrated in the hands of leaders who pursue power and crave control does not serve the church well!

Renewal and reformation will occur only if and when humble, courageous servant leaders, lay and clergy alike, pave the way for a return to the primary purpose of the church. The heart of the Gospel, God’s grace in Christ, has life changing power! That message must be proclaimed clearly, unfettered by trappings and traditionalisms that hinder its impact!

So today while the world observes Halloween, we Lutheran Christians join members of other Protestant denominations in thanking God for Martin Luther’s insight, courage and conviction. In doing so we remember things as they were and envision things as they might and ought to be!

Your Thoughts About Church Visitors

Church 1Perspectives articles the past two weeks have dealt with church visitors. Before moving on from this topic, it seems good to share a few responses I’ve received from readers. So here we go:

• Nathan wrote: “I think it is better to think of them (people who come to our churches) as guests rather than visitors. Guests are anticipated, prepared for and welcomed. Visitors are often viewed as an inconvenience.”

• Paul wrote: “This [discussion about church visitors] assumes that there are so many visitors coming to our churches that we need to develop answers to the questions being asked. Many of our churches have very few visitors. We really do need to get out of the church building (rather than expect all the people to come to us) and be the church in the community where people are living. That will help us discover the questions [church visitors are actually asking]!”

• Bill wrote: “Mama-Missouri stands at a crossroads between irrelevancy and connectedness. If we remain staunchly dedicated to being our grandfathers’ church (page 5 and 15), we hasten our demise. If, rather, we seek to connect with the lost, hurting and broken people around us, we might actually come closer to God’s idea of “church” in James 1:27: ”Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

• Paul also wrote: “When they [church visitors or guests] show up, we need to have a group of people (congregation) who are willing to engage with them and all they bring in appropriate ways, with answers and postures and a heart filled with Jesus type love and activity. That means a church engaged with people where they are–the public zone.

“We just are not too good at that. We figure that if we offer enough programs and resources and ‘stuff,’ people will hear about it and then choose what we offer rather than the same choices from other organizations down the street, at their work, with their friends, etc. I am not saying we shouldn’t have stuff happening at church. But relying on that to bring in visitors is probably too optimistic in our world today.

“Actually, what we do at church should probably be focused on developing the faithful to be faithful and faith filled in their communities! [We do well by] using our gathering as a means to an end—being washed by grace and then prepared and motivated to share [that grace] when we get our boots on the ground in the marketplace.”

Thanks for sharing your perspectives! Perhaps this little series of articles will stimulate some reflective thinking and creative acting! The Gospel is too precious to keep to ourselves! As the “This Little Gospel Light of Mine” song says: “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna’ let it shine!”

Let it shine! All the time! Let it shine!

More about Church Visitors

Visitor 2

Last week’s article listed “Nine questions visitors aren’t asking but churches are still trying to answer.” It generated quite a few responses, including several asking for a list of questions church visitors are asking these days.

So here’s a partial list of such questions, some of which were provided by my readers, most of which come from my own experience:

  1. Is the parking lot always this full?
  2. Where are the bathrooms?
  3. Are they clean and will they smell fresh?
  4. Will my young child be well cared for in the nursery and feel loved and safe there?
  5. How long will the worship service last?
  6. Will I be able to understand and follow what goes on in the service?
  7. Does the pastor preach from the Bible and does he really practice what he preaches?
  8. Does he always preach this long?
  9. Does he always preach this well (or poorly)?
  10. For what primary purpose does this church exist?
  11. What is the quality of the children’s ministry?
  12. Will my teenagers be excited about becoming involved here?
  13. Is there a ministry for senior adults?
  14. Do the people here get along with other Christians in the community?
  15. If they have communion today will I be allowed to participate?
  16. Will the time I spend here help me find answers to questions I have about God?
  17. Will the time I spend here help me find answers to questions I have about life?
  18. Would I be proud to invite my friends and family to come to this church with me?
  19. Will I leave here knowing and feeling that I have been in the presence of God?
  20. Will I leave here feeling more guilty than when I came or will I feel forgiven?

Pastors and lay leaders should have conversations about these and other questions visitors to your church are likely to ask. Such conversations are best when respectful and non-accusatory, asked and answered with sincere desire to represent with excellence the God we worship.

Remember last week’s reminder of our responsibility as Christians, stated in 2 Corinthians 5:20: “Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” That’s a huge responsibility and awesome privilege!

Church Visitors

Visitors 1Recently I saw an interesting article on MinistryMatters.com titled “Nine questions church visitors aren’t asking but churches are still trying to answer.” Here we go:

  1. So how soon can I get involved with your committees?
  2. Can I get a longer bulletin—maybe something with more detail?
  3. Will you please single me out in front of all the people during worship this morning?
  4. Will you please send some “callers” by my house later and interrupt me while I fix dinner?
  5. Can you please seat us in those uncomfortable pews with our fidgety kids and aging parents?
  6. How quickly can I fill out a pledge card?
  7. Does this church have weekly meetings, rehearsals and other activities that will consume most of our family’s free time?
  8. I need more paperwork! Can you give me a folder filled with glossy pamphlets, old newsletters and denominational statements of belief?
  9. During the worship service, can someone with a monotone voice speak (at length) about all the insider church happenings and people’s private health matters? I find this so inspiring.

Here are a few of my thoughts:

  1. Perhaps this brief article will inspire church leaders to consider carefully what to do and what not to do when communicating with church visitors, assuming some of those folks still exist in your community and are not totally extinct.
  2. We do well to be sensitive to the thoughts, impressions, needs and feelings of folks who take what to them may very well be a significant risk of becoming a church visitor.
  3. It is very important for us to see our church as others see it, including its exterior and interior features, restrooms, nursery, etc., and to see ourselves as they see us!
  4. Perhaps before we continue providing answers to questions no one is asking, we should take time to discern the questions people actually have on their minds.

Why is all this important? Purely because of our responsibility as Christians, stated in 2 Corinthians 5:20: “Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”

That’s an awesome responsibility and incredible privilege! Regardless of the reason people visit our church, they are people for whom Christ died! And we are Christ’s representatives to them!

Opposition and Proposition

Credit: casarosada.gob.ar

Credit: casarosada.gob.ar

Statistics show a growing increase in the percentage of U.S. population who declare no religious preference. Other statistics reflect radical disagreement on controversial issues of social and sexual significance. These realities challenge the Christian church to think and act proactively in presenting the claims of Christianity in a way that compels greater attention and response.

That’s why a recent Austin American Statesman article attributing quotes to Pope Francis drew significant attention. The Pope is quoted as saying: “The Roman Catholic church has grown obsessed with preaching about abortion, gay marriage and contraception. I have chosen not to speak of those issues despite recriminations from some critics.”

Pope Francis sought to “set a new tone for the church” by saying it should be “a home for all and not a small chapel focused on doctrine, orthodoxy and a limited agenda of moral teachings. It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent.”

He continued: “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. We have to find a new balance. Otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.” The very next day the very same man reiterated, in unmistakable terms, the church’s position against abortion. And I’m glad he did!

For unless and until convinced that God has not spoken clearly on controversial contemporary issues, we cannot and should not try to change what we believe God has said regarding such matters. We have a duty to state clearly what we believe God’s will mandates we must oppose. That should be done unequivocally and unapologetically, at appropriate times and places. Yet in the process of expressing opposition, we dare not obfuscate our primary purpose of proposition.

That propositional purpose is the powerful proclamation of God’s love in Christ, law and gospel, sin and grace, repentance and forgiveness, justification and sanctification. That’s the message that touches the hearts of people and brings them to the foot of the cross! That’s the message with which we must lead! For people need to hear what the church proposes much more loudly and clearly than only what the church opposes!