We Believe – We Really Do!
The central symbol in our church is the cross – the cruel instrument of torture and death which the Roman Empire reserved for rebellious slaves, violent criminals, and political subversives. The cross of Jesus Christ is where God meets us – hidden in weakness, vulnerable, suffering, forsaken, and dying.
God comes to us in the abyss of despair and in the deepest darkness. God encounters us in the painful reality of our mortality, our ultimate loneliness, and our weakness. As we look to the cross of Christ all our human attempts to “find God” are exposed as illusions!
We Do Not “Find God” By . . .
- proving God’s existence by nature or logic.
- claiming our material wealth as a sign of God’s blessing.
- earning God’s love by our good works.
- building glorious religious buildings or institutions.
- reaching a high level of personal morality.
- saving ourselves through status, knowledge, consumption, chemicals, positive thinking, correct religious doctrine, self help groups, health foods, ancestral lineage, health foods, or exercise plans.
None of these things are bad, but we do not find God through them.
God Finds Us – in our darkness, pain, emptiness, loneliness, and weakness.
God Is Everywhere! God weeps where there is pain, and God rejoices where there is wholeness and love. Through Baptism and Holy Communion (we have a fancy word for them: sacraments) and through the Living Word, God uses the common and ordinary stuff of this world to touch us, wrap us, challenge us, adopt us, nourish us, redirect us, comfort us, and forgives us – by uniting us with Jesus.
- God makes a member (arm, toe, lung, eye)of the body of Christ – the church.
- we are adopted as children of God, and begin our walk with God.
- God chooses us, calls us, saves us, and gives us a new birth of freedom.
- we are forgiven – free to live without excuses.
- God ordains us to love and serve our family, friends, neighbors, strangers, and enemies (aka, “our neighbor”).
- we are marked with Christ’s cross forever, and filled with the breath / wind / spirit of God (which we call Holy). In Baptism we are crucified and buried with Christ, and we are raised to a new life / reality / existence.
Baptism does not depend on how we feel, what age we are, the doubts we have, the sin or accomplishments we bring, or our success or position in life. Baptism is God’s work – not our own.
In Holy Communion…
- We share in the family meal of bread and wine, which is the body and blood of Christ.
- God calls us to remember Christ’s death on the cross.
- We share in Christ’s broken body and blood poured out through eating and drinking.
- God is present in this meal – with us and for us – forgiving our sin and nourishing us for discipleship.
- We feast on Jesus, who feeds us with himself, so that we may be his body in the world today.
- God gives us a foretaste of the great heavenly banquet – where all things will be made good and right.
In the Living Word of God…
- God speaks to us directly and calls us to follow a different way than the way of our own selfishness.
- God breaks into our lives – creating new life and new values.
- God calls us to commitment, like a young person asking another, “Will you marry me?” or like Jesus calling a couple fishermen, to “follow me.” Saying “Yes” and following Jesus will revolutionize your life.
- God, in Christ, woos us and pleads with us, “I love you. I forgive you. I want you. Trust me. Obey me. Enter into the joy of my kingdom.”
God’s Word is NOT a set of propositions (rules, philosophies, guidelines, or principles) with which we can argue, agree or disagree. God’s Word was not dictated and written down so we could determine its meaning – doctrines, moral “laws”, or steps we must follow to “find God.” This is a Dead Word of our own creation.
This Living Word of God Comes to Us Through…
- Jesus, the Word of God Made Flesh – the babe of Bethlehem who was crucified outside of Jerusalem and arose from the tomb to forgive and strengthen his followers who abandoned, denied, and betrayed him.
- Ordinary Human Words we speak to one another – examples of this inspired Living Word of God we speak are: God loves you! You are forgiven! Jesus died for you! Fear not, for God is with you and for you – not against you! (God’s Living Word is sometimes even spoken through sermons, liturgy, and hymns – but most powerfully by you as a friend or neighbor who cares.)
- The Bible – the Written Word of God that preserves the ordinary and inspired human words spoken by those who first trusted in God’s promises of life, love, and forgiveness. The Bible is our yardstick, to help us measure our Words with the words of Jesus and the words of his first followers.
The Church Must Be + Catholic + Evangelical + Reforming +
The Lutheran reforming movement of good news within the church catholic began in the sixteenth century when a university professor realized that the church was using “words” that were hindering the Living Word of God from reaching the hearts of the people. Some teachers within the church were telling people that they could buy God’s mercy by purchasing indulgences – certificates or coupons guaranteeing the forgiveness of sin.
The professor, Martin Luther, could see that people were believing that they did not need the Living Word, which demanded a revolution of life. He did not want a new church, but only to:
- debate those teaching that God’s forgiveness could be received through the certificates / coupons (aka, indulgences).
- teach and preach the Good News of God’s love for all people, which he believed would call women and men to obedient trust in God, and therefore reform in the church.
As the Church Catholic We Believe That…
- the church is Pentecost – the Spirit of God moving in and through people of every nation, race, gender, economic status, and religion (or no religion), to bring faith, hope, and new life through faith in Jesus Christ.
- God is Father/Creator, Son/Redeemer, and Spirit/Advocate: one in three and three in one (the mysterious unity of God that we call the Trinity).
- all human beings are born without trust in God and without love for God and neighbor (original sin).
- Jesus is 100% human, just like us; and he is 100% God – no little bit of a human Jesus and no little bit of a divine Jesus here – (the mystery of the one and only God-Human: Jesus)!
- the Bible as the only measurement and norm for our faith and life (supported by the teaching of the early church, the creeds, and the early ecumenical councils). We have been studying the Bible for 2,000 years – and we will never conquer it. But again and again, it conquers us!
As the Church Evangelical We Believe That…
- the good news of God’s love and mercy is given freely to all people through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Trusting in this good news (God’s verdict for us because of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection) is faith, which itself is the work of God in our hearts and minds. Faith cannot be earned or deserved by saying, signing, or doing anything moral or spiritual. (Get over it!)
- this teaching of faith coming only as God’s gift to us (not earned or deserved in any way) is to be the only basis for everything said, done, or taught in the church (You getting the idea that we are really into grace? It’s not just a little booster shot to help us along when we get stuck!)
- the church (Christ’s body alive on earth today) is real and true wherever the absolutely free and good news that God has “done it all” for us is proclaimed clearly (no little bit – or a lot – you can do to earn God’s love) and the sacraments are administered according to this good and free news. (It’s not just Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, etc. anymore!)
- Christians don’t do good stuff to get God’s love. Only because we already know that God loves us freely and unconditionally , we respond with thanksgiving by doing good stuff for anyone in need.
- there are some core beliefs (with a foundation of God’s undeserved love for us in Christ Jesus, of course) like telling others about God’s grace, Baptism, Holy Communion, and the Bible that we will never abandon.
- many church practices can be “tailored” to what works best for us – what you wear to church; how or when you celebrate most holidays (although we are big on Sundays, Easter, Christmas and Pentecost); or how or when you pray, fast, or care for the poor (but we really believe that if you are trusting in God’s undeserved love, you will gladly do all three of these things in some way or another).
As the Church Reforming We Believe That…
- both the bread (flesh of Jesus) and the cup (blood of Jesus) should be offered at every celebration of the Eucharist / Communion / Lord’s Supper. Jesus is not half in one and half in the other. Jesus is fully “there” for you in either or both – so you decide if you want to receive one, the other, or both!
- priests should be allowed to be married or single, but no one should be required to be married or single (and BTW, don’t go thinking you are better or get more points with God one way or the other).
- confession is a good thing (we have it! public and private) – but the most important part of confession is to encourage the one confessing to believe in the free gift of God’s forgiveness (there we go again!)
- having pastors, bishops or other church leaders with fancy titles is just fine, if they are spiritual guides who serve under the good news of God’s free gift of faith in Christ Jesus. But when church leaders command armies and banks – somebody should start asking questions about whom they serve and trust.
- no church always has all the right answers about everything (but we are confident about a few things we have learned in our 4,000 year faith journey), and the church has made and will continue to make mistakes (sometimes really bad ones!) and God continues to reform it. We really love the church, as we love our family and friends – sinful as we all are.
We would love to hear what you believe, too!
Baptized, We Live! by Daniel Erlander
The Augsburg Confession, 1530