As we approach Reformation this weekend, we remember Martin Luther as the reformer of the Church who unintentionally led to the formation of Lutheranism. Martin Luther saw injustice in the church and took steps not to form a denomination, but to reform the Church of the day. It was a time of momentous change. Changes that came with the price of threatening his life. Yet, Luther persisted.
Today, the church remains in reform. In fact, church and reform go together. The church is to be in perpetual reform. If we are as we confess, a Spirit-led church, then we cannot help but continually reform because the Spirit is always on the move, stirring things up, calling the Church to be more Christlike, gathering us to be one body, and enlightening us toward the will of God.
So it seems appropriate, as we remember the Reformation, to look at what the Spirit is up to now and reflect on the Church’s calling in the world. Here are a few things I have been thinking about. I hope they stir in you more insights as to the challenges churches face and the blessings that they provide.
Even before Covid-19 there was a trend, probably for the past 20 years or so, for churches to drop from their name their denominational affiliation. This was done in the effort to make the church more welcoming, thinking that people really do not care about denominations anymore. It is not doctrine that brings a person into the church; it is the people. To some extent this is true. Others thought that the name of the church is not the issue; the issue is music. In order to attract more people, contemporary music with a band is the key. These reforms still exist. In fact, I have heard from some visitors that looking for a church home with music like ours in worship is hard to find, but for those who find it, it is a real gift.
Needless to say, the Spirit has not led us to drop Lutheran from our name. Some church leadership specialists speculate what the future holds for denominations. Will they continue to exist, or will there be changes in the organization of denominations? Or a lessening of denominations? Some would say that the denomination is a relic of the past of a by-gone era. To that, I say we need our denominations. At least this one, speaking from what I know best. The ELCA has an important message to share. We are a denomination centered on Grace. We believe in Word alone, Faith alone, Grace alone. This focus is uniquely Lutheran. The core of Grace is uniquely Lutheran. A Lutheran knows that a personal faith does not end there, but leads us to be concerned in the hopes and pains of others with whom we share the unity of Christ. Our faith always moves beyond ourselves to care for those beyond the church.
The ELCA has geographical synods that are a network of congregations and partners. We gather to be a supportive system and an avenue for communication and leadership from the bishop and council. Many find the synod to be vital to the denomination.
Some leaders describe Covid-19 as being the hinge-point for the church and what the future will hold. None of us have a crystal ball, but we all have a Holy Spirit leading us into the future. We enter the future with gratitude, generosity, and patience as we take each step forward. As people are getting their Covid booster shots, more are returning to in-person worship. Now we will very soon have the availability of immunizations for some of our precious younger ones. The online worship continues to be a blessing to many of our worshippers. On Reformation Day we will welcome 20 adults and four children into membership; most will be attending worship in-person. We have also offered those who attended our February 2021 New Member Gathering the opportunity to be welcomed in person this weekend since they were welcomed via Zoom.
Yes, the church keeps changing as the Spirit leads. If we ever stop changing, then we need to figure out why, because that is not the nature of the Spirit. Reforming of the church turns out to be a gift of God to all people back in Martin Luther’s day, today and in the years to come.