Christianity 201

March 9, 2013

On Ethnic Heritage Churches

Today’s post is from the blog section of Theologyweb. The author’s name is indicated as elysian and it appeared under the title Connected in Community.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NRSV)

Today’s question:
How does remaining connected with Christ, the Head, solidify your fellowship with others in the body, the church?

I have to admit that one of the things that turned me off to being part of a church when I took a hiatus from church involvement several years ago, was the whole socio-political aspect of most churches. I was already playing the status-to-win game professionally, and by the time I got home from work I was tired of people, and weary of office politics. I didn’t want to go to church and end up playing politics there too.

The one organization that should be relatively free of the cut-throat competition and dirty politics that permeates the world is the church. However, the church is made up of sinful people- people who put “me” first, people who don’t hesitate to use others for their own purposes, people who must be “right” at all costs, and people who seek the esteem of others to make themselves look and feel good.

The church where I was confirmed was an example of this. That congregation had once been exclusively a heritage church, which essentially meant you were of German ancestry, your parents belonged to that church and you were baptized in that church. The new pastor who had come to the church when I started going there in high school was trying to evangelize- to invite people to worship, to come to classes, and to participate in the community, but not everyone supported the pastor and his outreach.

The church became divided between the old-school faction who took a dim view of anyone who was not of German ancestry and/or not baptized into that particular church in infancy, against the pastor along with the evangelization faction who welcomed newcomers with open arms.

Since I was one of the newcomers, some of the old-school members weren’t terribly thrilled I was there. Neither of my parents are Lutheran, and most of my ancestors came from either England or Scotland. My English surname didn’t help endear me to the old-schoolers either (though I do have some German ancestry too.)

The battle in that church came down to a sad struggle: keep the community a small, ever-dwindling faction of ethnic Germans, OR open the door to the greater community. I am glad to say that the pastor, and ultimately the community itself, won out. Today it is still a small congregation, but it is comprised of a greater variety of people- people who are ethnic German, people who aren’t German at all, people who came to Christ as adults, and people who grew up in different traditions.

God never meant for the church to be a genealogical preservation society or an exclusive club. He meant the church to be a place for ALL people who are seeking, knocking, asking and striving to follow Christ.

I adhere to a very specific way of interpreting Christian faith. I am a confessional Lutheran. I belong to and participate in a Lutheran church that is a vibrant community that embraces people of all backgrounds and situations. I might not agree with everything my church does, but by and large it is a God-honoring community. The Gospel is proclaimed, the sacraments are given, and the congregation is committed to serving God.

My church is not perfect. I can’t say that I agree 100% with either of our pastors all the time. Just as in any other organization containing sinful humans, we have obnoxious people. I’m one of those obnoxious people. But the grace of God and the love of Christ are central in our church. Slowly I am learning that loving people is more important than being able to agree with them all the time.

The more that I stay focused on Christ, the more I realize I have in common with believers of other traditions. The more I stay focused on Christ and rooted in His word, I realize that I can forgive people who are sinful humans just like I am. I can love people and be gracious toward them even if I don’t particularly like them. I may not agree with all of the other Christian traditions’ doctrines or practices, but I can acknowledge their faithfulness to Christ and join them in loving and serving God. I can embrace other believers not only in my own congregation, but in the greater church as well, because I know that’s what Jesus would do.

I pray that God will keep me aware that there is no such thing as a “lone ranger” Christian, and that I need the greater community to grow in faith and grace.

Blog Flashback:

From two years ago, here’s a post for worship leaders and songwriters on taking a Biblical passage and “making it sing.”  Click here to read.