“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” Romans 1:16
I remember being one of the randomly chosen people to help find a new name for the joint venture of Lutheran Brotherhood and Aid Association for Lutherans. Of course, it became officially “Thrivent Financial” in January of 2002. For the record: that had not been my choice! But, we sure got used to it and today many don’t know what to do with the names of the predecessor organizations.
I had no absolutely no influence in choosing the name of our national church body, the NALC – the North American Lutheran Church. Now, ten years into our history, were I to have a say, I think I would have liked it if we somehow would have managed to add the word: Evangelical. After all, we have a theology and a ministry ‘ideology’ that is evangelical: as in being based in the transforming love of Jesus with the emphasis on sharing the Good News, the euangelion, with the world. That Good News points to the grace and mercy, the liberation and salvation we have in Jesus.
But, even the church bodies that use ‘evangelical’ in their name are often misunderstood and/or challenged in their expression. A Pew Research reports that over one-fifth of the U.S. public—and a third under the age of 30—are religiously unaffiliated. These are the “nones.” They look at any organized religion and often deem it extremist, filled with hypocrites who have no problem declaring their judgmental opinion upon others; who are anti-science, anti-intellectual and constantly worry about morals (especially when it comes to human sexuality) and are anything but ‘woke’.
In the eyes of the ‘nones’, most church bodies get lumped together. Well, of course, it is not exactly a secret that some of the criticism is indeed valid and at times comes just a bit too close to the truth to be comfortable. We are not perfect. Have you noticed? Not the NALC at least, not any of the many Lutheran bodies floating through the universe and just as well not any of the countless other denominations we run across.
But, we shall not forget or diminish that we do have a theology that is based on the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ that is the euangelion. The ‘trick’ is to live what we are all about, what we believe and confess! Meaning, we can, must, should, will and do cling to the great gifts God sets in front of us – trusting that God indeed will take care of what he promises.
At our best, Lutherans are very much aware of our human brokenness. Read Luther and many of the reformers of the 16th century; read martyrs throughout the centuries and certainly, read Scripture. There can be no doubt about the reality of human sin and brokenness and the devastating consequences for individuals, groups of people and creation that result. There is God’s judgment. There is God’s Law. But there is always God’s love and the Good News of Christ.
As true “evangelical” Christians (not to be misunderstood in terms in which this expression is most often used in our North American context when and where it additionally is just as often connected to certain political views BUT in its very original meaning!!!) Lutherans are aware of our lot as simultaneously saint and sinner. Yes, our detractors are correct: there is hypocrisy in the church—welcome to humanity; come and join us; where have you been, you fit right in?!
Nevertheless, we still have the Good News! We have the Word of God alive in our midst and the Spirit of God working in our hearts and minds so that we are not overtaken by our stubbornness and arrogance. We love the freedom to serve one another and yet we are slaves to none for Christ has set us free. We are ‘evangelical’ – soaked in the Good News, the Gospel of the One who died for us. We are evangelical! Amen