Recent news headlines highlight one challenge after another for our world—which makes it an ideal time to share what Lutherans believe.
The last thousand days have been eventful. COVID-19 became a household term. We experienced shutdowns, lockdowns, school closures, mask mandates, and vaccine debates. We witnessed police violence caught on video and a summer of protests and riots that followed. We experienced a contentious presidential election. We saw the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade and the lives of Supreme Court justices being threatened.
The events of the past thousand days presented challenges to leaders, including Lutheran ones. They forced leaders to make difficult decisions, face seemingly constant criticism, and say plenty of prayers. Given the choice to relive the last thousand days again, I’m not sure anyone would.
However, the last thousand days have done us a tremendous favor. They have accelerated things that previously had been happening slowly in our world. They have made it obvious that what our world needs most right now happens to be what we Lutherans do best. They have made it clear that we Lutherans are ready to meet the challenges of our moment in a way that few others are interested in doing or are able to do.
What makes us distinct as Lutherans are truths that were at the heart of the Lutheran Reformation and remain at the heart of Lutheran doctrine. Those core teachings are the perfect solutions to some of the biggest problems in our world—problems that non-Lutheran and non-Christian voices are identifying.
A need for righteousness
What the world needs most: A driving force of human behavior is an obsession with righteousness. People want moral vindication. People want to believe that they are one of the good guys rather than one of the bad guys. People argue so fervently for their favorite social or political cause—and show so much hostility to those on the other side of the issue—because they are looking for a basis for their righteousness.
What we do best: We Lutherans know the source of righteousness. It comes by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus alone. This righteousness is not just our ticket to heaven someday. It’s the basis of our moral vindication today and every day. Not only do we Lutherans know that righteousness is found only in Jesus, but our confessions also call this our “first and chief article.”
A need to do real good for real people
What the world needs most: When people support a social or political cause to establish their own righteousness, they inevitably neglect or even harm those they are supposed to be helping. Our world is filled with moral posturing, but very often it doesn’t seem to do any real good for real people.
What we do best: We Lutherans know that doing real good for real people is exactly what God wants from us. Since we don’t have to be responsible for our own righteousness, our focus is freed for the needs of our neighbor. In each of our unique vocations, God surrounds us with neighbors and fills every day of our life with “good works . . . prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
A need to build institutional trust
What the world needs most: From government to the media to academia to public health, institutional trust seems to be at an all-time low. Increasingly, people who occupy positions within institutions view their positions as platforms for expression rather than as molds to be formed by. Whenever the latest controversy arises, people with a platform feel the need to weigh in, whether or not the issue has anything to do with their institution.
What we do best: We Lutherans know that Christ rules over all earthly institutions. We also know that those institutions serve different purposes, perhaps most notably the church and the state. The church has a specific jurisdiction and mission and has specific means for carrying out that mission. Our positions within that institution are not platforms for our own expression but come with clear obligations given by Christ himself.
A need to embrace being present
What the world needs most: COVID-19 has forced us to evaluate which activities—including the church’s—can be done just as well virtually and which need to be done in person. Many within Christianity think that the future of the church is online, even as we continue to observe the long-lasting negative effects of our increasingly virtual and disembodied living.
What we do best: We Lutherans know that God the Father created us body and soul, that God the Son redeemed us body and soul, and that God the Holy Spirit sanctifies us body and soul. The gospel is more than just content or data. Through the means of grace, God uses embodied humans to serve the gospel to other embodied humans to build an embodied community called a church.
A need to remember our limits
What the world needs most: The unbridled optimism over human ingenuity and technology that characterized our world more than a decade ago has been gradually crumbling. The digital tools that we thought would lead to limitless opportunities for individuals and organizations seem to be destroying people.
What we do best: We Lutherans know that God does his best work on the far side of our limitations, not on the near side. In other words, he does his best work in our weaknesses, not in our strengths. Even as we continue to use our abilities and everything human ingenuity offers us in service to the gospel, we know that we will continually run up against the limits of those things.
The right recipe for the moment
Each of the teachings just listed are distinctly Lutheran: justification by grace through faith, vocation, the two kingdoms, the means of grace, the universal priesthood of all believers, and the theology of the cross. Each is an important ingredient in making us who we are. Together, these ingredients form the recipe we Lutherans have to offer our world.
So, pay attention. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear all kinds of influential voices—journalists, talk show hosts, comedians, podcasters, university professors—identifying the problems to which these doctrines are the perfect solution. We have been handed this recipe of teaching that isn’t just true. It also seems to be exactly what our world is starving for right now.
Jonathan Bauer (right) was one of the keynote presenters at the 2023 WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership. His entire presentation can be found at lutheranleadership.com.
Author: Jonathan Bauer
Volume 110, Number 5
Issue: May 2023
- Challenged churches
- Jesus’ church will not be overcome
- Refined by fire
- The importance of followers
- Our Lutheran moment
- Leading from your knees
- Leadership conference equips members to serve
- Training the next generation of leaders
- Moving the needle
- Strengthening ministry teams
- Reflections on Lutheran leadership
- Lutheran leadership: Not just authority
- Shifting congregational culture
- Partners in ministry
- The love of Christ compels us
- The Lord’s triple gift