What's a Lutheran Church?
New Joy is a Lutheran church, and part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. With over 4 million members and 9000 congregations in the United States, New Joy is part of a wider church that is grounded in God’s grace, and called to love and serve our neighbor.
We are a church that recognizes that God’s Living Word is truly among us, calling us to serve the world sacrificially. We receive with joy the gift of God’s Word and Sacraments each Sunday in worship, and expect to encounter our Lord at work in the world everywhere we go.
We are a church that calls women and men to leadership, honors the LGBTQ community as beloved children of God, seeks understanding with those who do not share our Christian faith, and embraces the daily work of everyday Christians as truly holy means of contributing to the greater good. Over 500 years ago Martin Luther published his 95 Theses for reform of the church. Since then the church and world have changed dramatically, and by God’s Spirit the church continues to be renewed to this day.
A Deeper Dive into Lutheran Theology
Lutherans have traditionally spoken about God’s generous grace, but what does mean for other aspects of how we speak about God and our lives? Continue reading for seven ways we Lutherans speak about God, the church, and the call to Christian living.
Continue reading for seven ways we Lutherans speak about God, the church, and the call to Christian living . . .
Lutherans know that God comes down the ladder
It doesn’t go well for us when we strive upwards. Remember the story of Icarus from Greek mythology, or of the ancients who wanted to build a tower to reach heaven (Genesis 11)? This is a story as old as humanity itself. We are not able to climb up any ladder of righteousness or spirituality or piety or goodness to reach God and attain some status of holiness or purity. Happiness, fulfillment, contentment is not found at the end of a ladder, either. Though as humans we constantly struggle to get up the ladder, to get above others and reach the heavens, the ladders we climb just lead us further and further from God and from true community. The Good News is that God comes down the ladder to us, blesses us, graces us, loves us. What did we do to deserve this? Nothing. That’s just the nature of God, to come to us.
Lutherans know that God dwells where we least expect God to dwell
We know that God is most clearly seen in odd, out-of-the-way places such as the suffering on the cross, or the shame of the animal stable, or among the outcasts. Or with people who can’t climb a ladder to save themselves. When we humans draw lines dividing us from them, good from bad, righteous from unrighteous, God is on the other side of the line. The cross compels us to go to the other side of the line, the other side of the train tracks, the other side of life, the “bad” part of town, to look at and experience God’s presence amidst suffering and brokenness. Which is good news since we, too, are often on the other side of those lines that others draw.
Lutherans take sin seriously
In their prayers of confession many Lutheran churches proclaim, “We confess that we are in bondage to sin, and we cannot free ourselves.” Lutherans admit that on our own we cannot escape the power of sin. We don’t really have a free will – our will and our whole being is bound to sin. Lutherans are, frankly, quite pessimistic about human nature. It is only through God’s power and grace – and not our own efforts – that we can choose the good, trust God, and love our neighbor. This is not a work of our own doing, but is a gift of God nurtured in Christian community, with Word and Sacrament, prayer and praise.
Lutherans place Word and Sacrament at the center of their lives
For Lutherans church is less a place than an event - that event where God’s Word is proclaimed and God’s blessings are shared through the sacraments. In that proclamation and sharing we believe that God truly shows up to comfort us and give us life.
Lutherans speak of “real presence” to describe our Lord’s power and promise in Holy Communion. “This is my body, given for you” are words we take seriously. Jesus gives himself to you, and each week in our church you hear and receive that promise. Jesus shows up in the bread and cup, in the giving and receiving, of Holy Communion. So too in Word proclaimed in song and preaching, in reading Scripture and speaking prayers. Jesus shows up in these things to bless us and the world through us. Luther also described the calling of Christians to be Christ to one another. That is not merely an individual act, but when we gather in community we gather to be and to proclaim Christ to one another.
Lutherans emphasize God's work, not ours
Preachers in our churches are called to proclaim the acts and comfort of God. What is God doing in the world? What is God doing for us? Our sermons do not generally describe three steps we can take for a better life, or what we can do to get closer to God. Lutheran preaching and teaching is emphatically not about us or our efforts, but about God’s promise for us and for the world. Any talk about what we do as Christians follows from the promise of God’s love and graceful action in the world.
When Lutherans talk about living our faith, it is almost always in terms of service to our neighbor. It is no surprise, then, that Lutherans have some of the strongest social service networks in the country, with Lutheran Social Services, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and Lutheran World Relief. We’re a church rooted in the promise of God’s love and grace for us and for the world. Freed from having to earn God’s love and grace, we are released for a life of love and service. God’s Work, Our Hands.
Lutherans embrace paradox
We live in a complex and messy world that is many things at the same time. A Lutheran worldview is not black and white, either/or. But rather, the world is a mucky, messy simul (Latin, meaning at the same time). We Lutherans embrace many paradoxes, many tensions in our theology and practice:
• Simul justus et pecador – we are at the same time sinner and saint.
• God’s Word is law and gospel at the same time.
• We live in two kingdoms – a kingdom of God and a kingdom of man – at the same time.
• By the grace of God we live as free people, yet we are bound to serve – at the same time.
Of course, these resonate with and flow from Biblical paradoxes, including Jesus’ call to lose your life to gain it (Matthew 10:39), his invitation to the rich young man to sell everything he owns to receive treasure in heaven (Matthew 19:16-22), his teaching about faith the size of a mustard seed moving massive mountains (Matthew 17:20), and his repeated teaching that the first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 20:16). Because we are people of paradox, Lutherans hesitate to draw clear lines of either/or, us/them, etc, but instead choose to embrace – however uncomfortably – the tension of the simul.
Lutheranism embraces the common stuff of everyday life
Martin Luther valued daily life and the vocation of common people (once saying that it is more blessed to change a baby’s diaper than to be a priest). In the tangible things of daily life, in the real interactions with family, neighbors, and strangers, Lutherans find God and a call to serve others. Your daily work, whatever it is, is a way to serve others in faith.