After having joined a Luthern (LCMS) church approximately six months ago, what have I learned? As a traditional, conservative Baptist my whole life, and still Baptistic in a few theological distinctions, there are several things that initially drew my interest and makes me glad I joined.
1. The Law-gospel Paradigm
The law is meant to break us down as utterly unworthy and incapable of salvation. The Gospel, the good news that it is, informs us that because of Christ’s atoning work we are forgiven and made worthy totally apart from our efforts and by faith. Those two go hand in hand and this is perhaps highlighted best by the weekly time of confession and absolution. We corporately and privately confess our sins (breaking of the law) and the pastor proclaims forgiveness in the name of Christ to all who have faith in him. As C.F.W Walther argued, as soon as the law has done its crushing work, the reality of forgiveness through Christ must be proclaimed.
2. Gospel-centered Exposition
It’s possible to be exegetically thorough, culturally relevant, and personally applicable in preaching while sidestepping the main point: the Gospel. What does the church have to offer if it does not proclaim the Gospel each week? Practical advice? Morality aligned with Scripture? Historical commentary? What value are any of those things apart from Christ crucified? This has never been more evident than in the past six months when pastors have been pressured to address social and political issues. While doctrine, current issues, apologetics, and church history have all been woven into the sermons at our church, they were on the periphery while Christ crucified consistently took center stage.
Liturgy was not part of the church circles I grew up in and was viewed with critical skepticism. I’ve found the consistency of corporately professing our faith, praying the Lord’s Prayer, and confessing our sins to be remarkably refreshing. It helps the congregation to remember the main thing and what binds us together with the universal church.
Communion in my previous churches tended to be solemn, but very impersonal and infrequent. In my current church, we weekly come to the table and have the body and blood of Christ pronounced broken and spilled for us as the elements are presented. The Lutheran view of communion is different than the traditional Baptist view, but I’ve come to cherish the beautiful mystery and believe that it is more than mere ritualistic symbolism. It’s also the greatest practical application of each service as it’s pronounced as the body and blood of Christ broken and spilled for us.
One false caricature of Lutherans is that they lean toward embracing mystery on difficult theological doctrines rather than picking a side. While it may be true that they are less apt to draw logical conclusions where Scripture is less explicit, the power of paradox is a wonderful humility that accepts biblical truths even when they don’t seem to reconcile in our fallen human minds.
There was an overall emphasis on the Gospel that permeated every facet of the church. Christ in the sermon, Christ in the songs, Christ in the liturgy, Christ in communion, Christ in meetings, and Christ in the prayers. That level of focus meant that Jesus was in the foreground while everything else faded into the distance. It’s remarkably refreshing and unifying.
7. For You
Proclamations of redemption tend to be abstract in most church services. If you call upon the name of the Lord, then you will be saved. If you ask for forgiveness, then you will be forgiven. What about the reality of God’s promises actually delivered in real time? Forgiveness is not merely a concept that one could experience. It is a reality available to everyone each and every moment through Christ! Christ for you. Forgiveness for you. Redemption for you. Right now!
My church isn’t perfect. But every week we gather together as sinful people and hear the story of Christ’s atoning work on our behalf once again. That simple message is the common thread of our very faith. Making it central in every regard tangibly infuses hope and peace in this broken world and in our scarred lives. Now amidst a job change and possible move, I find myself struggling with finding a church that demonstrates these aspects that I’ve come to love.
Photo credit: By Michael Schmalenstroer – Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0