Bishop Johnson, the national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCC), recently stated the following: “We human beings are a weird mix of both desiring and resisting change… God is calling us to a new thing, a new way of being Church. The hard part is that we don’t know what this new thing is yet.”
I agree with the first part of Bishop Johnson’s comments, but I disagree with the Bishop’s assertion that “we don’t know what this new thing is yet.” In fact, we actually do know what this “new way of being Church” is. We really do know the “new thing” God is calling us toward, because it is essentially the good old new thing that our Lord Jesus declared two thousand years ago. We know full well that God is calling us to become very much like the early Church of the first several centuries of Christianity’s existence.
The early Church was a movement. Through Christ, in Christ, with Christ, the early Church was a movement of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it was a movement of the FULL gospel of the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. And this full gospel of Christ is marked by the following seven essential characteristics:
- universal grace
- forgiveness of sins and repentance
- spiritual rebirth and renewal
- daily personal relationship with God
- radical hospitality and inclusive fellowship
- compassion and lovingkindness
- charitable service
The truth is that the mounting needs of the world are forcing the Church to reclaim this good old new thing of Jesus — a good old new thing that is marked by these seven characteristics. Yes, for the sake of the world God so loves that he sent his only begotten Son to redeem it (John 3:16-17), God is calling us toward a living faith and spirituality that manifests these seven aspects of the gospel of Christ our Lord. But, of course, this is both exciting and frightening to consider.
We know deep down within our hearts that this is the direction God is leading the entire Church of our Lord Jesus. In all three primary branches of the Christian Church — Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant — we are seeing a reclamation of the good old new thing of Jesus. However, as Bishop Johnson of the ELCC said, we are “a weird mix of both desiring and resisting change.”
The sudden, dramatic and miraculous change in leadership within the Roman Catholic Church is a sign of this leading of the Holy Spirit. The new Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, clearly has a reformer’s heart and is doing things that are simultaneously exciting for some but frightening for others.
Through persecution by the Marxists for decades in the former Soviet Union, and through persecution by Islamist militants throughout the Middle East today, the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity continues to be an example of faithfulness under fire to the entire Church of Jesus Christ. Also, through their participation within regional and global Christian associations and councils (like the World Council of Churches), Orthodox Christians from the Middle East have become a strong voice crying out for the rights of religious minorities in our world and for greater cooperation between the various branches of Christianity.
The Protestant branch of the Church continues to be a source of innovation for the entire Church of Christ Jesus our Lord. In particular, within the so-called “Mainline” Protestant groups (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, etc.) I see Christian people refocusing outward for the glory of God and the redemption of the world. And this reclamation of the good old new thing of Jesus is involving the reclamation of all seven marks of the full gospel of Christ that I listed above. Specifically, I see brothers and sisters in Christ within our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) starting to manifest more fully the following Bible text:
“When the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to emphasize these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and beneficial for everyone.” – (The Holy Bible, Titus 3: 4-8)
By the grace and power of the Holy Spirit of God, we are seeing more people within our Church tradition starting to take their faith more seriously despite the general decline of religious observance within our American culture. While we see our society experiencing a general decline of religious faith, we also see Christians experiencing a revival and reclamation of the full gospel of Christ for themselves and the Church — especially the aspects of spiritual rebirth and renewal, and a daily personal relationship with God. And from this spiritual rebirth, renewal and relationship (based upon the grace and forgiveness of Christ) we see a growing desire to engage in good works of justice and mercy.
All this is indeed exciting and frightening! We really do know deep down within ourselves that this is where God is leading us as the Church, and we must trust in God to keep and guide us on this world-changing path of the good old new thing of Jesus our Lord.
Together in Christ’s Mission, Pastor Tim