By Guest Writer Michael Austin Miller
When Stephen and I began to sharpen the focus of our project, we asked ourselves, “If Luther were alive today, what would his ‘theses’ be?” In our work, From Death to New Life, A Requiem for the Church, we offer five statements that we feel move us forward in the work of re-forming today’s church. As we've developed these thoughts, I’ve found it difficult at times to be bold. Perhaps Luther did as well. As the church we must continue Christ’s mission to love God with all we have and our neighbors as ourselves. As we continue to reform, we must be willing to speak out. We must be willing to say with Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
I grew up in the “Bible Belt” of South Carolina where my family belonged to St. Timothy Lutheran (ALC/ELCA) Church. In my home church, I felt safe, secure, and significant. There I was surrounded by friends, family, and a whole host of surrogate grandparents. Most importantly, I learned of Christ's love as each week the pastor preached on the themes of love, grace, justice, mercy, and humility. Sadly that message was not the primary religious narrative found in the region back then — nor is it today. Instead of sermons about a God who lavishes love on the little, the last, the lost, and the least, the pervading message in that culture has often been “Turn or Burn.”
In many evangelical churches today, sermons are still riddled with fear-filled references to fire, hell, and damnation. Such churches teach that every thought or action can be categorized into right/wrong or black/white. There are no shades of grey in such narrow-minded theology. Similar to the days of Levitical Law, there remains a code of Christian conduct that, if sinned against, would result in one begging for mercy to a wrathful God on Judgement Day.
Conservative belief holds that to be a "Child of God," one must say the Sinner’s Prayer, or be baptized, or affirm one’s faith, or take communion, or be "washed in the blood of the Lamb" - whatever that means. Fortunately, one of the growing reforms seen in today’s church is the recognition by many that there is no such being as an “orphan of God,” and there are no deeds one must do to win God’s favor. We are God’s creation. We are God’s children.
Unfortunately, grace-oriented mainline denominations rarely make the news with their message of Love and at times when loving and cooler heads should prevail in our world, the silence from many mainline denominations has been deafening. Meanwhile, conservative/evangelical theology seems to eek its way into the headlines and governmental issues in some form or another nearly every day.
The world desperately needs to hear grace-oriented messages to counter the long-held image of a vengeful, spiteful, Old Testament God who seems to encourage, ennoble, and enable abhorrent belief and behavior.
Twenty years ago, I was living in a small South Carolina town when Ellen Degeneres publicly admitted that she was gay. One prominent church was bold enough to post, “Come Out of Sin - Not the Closet” on their roadside reader-board. Regrettably, I saw NO churches willing to respond by publicly affirming her or others who’ve been marginalized by the church.
It seems that there are not many who are as bold in their faith as the man for whom the Lutheran church is named. And, as we are currently witnessing by the actions, or inaction, of some political leaders: SILENCE EQUALS COMPLICITY.
Ephesians 4:20-24 (The Message)
“But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.”