A little over a year ago, we started rebranding our Wednesday night gathering – starting to call it “ACCESS” instead of the old “+Vespers+” name that we had been using. This name change came out of some investigations over the past couple of years about our campus ministry. We started asking questions about the challenges University Lutheran had to overcome in order to be put in a place where someone would be willing to hear us tell them about Jesus.
One of the overwhelming responses from our asking this question was that students felt like their peers, other students, needed to know that they could access us. One of the greatest perceived challenges that we face is that we have the word “Lutheran” on the outside of the building that we usually meet in – and “Lutheran” is seen as an exclusive, not an inclusive word. While “Lutheran” is not one of our “solas”, it sure seems that way to most of the people that haven’t wandered through the doors of our homes (and sometimes, even then). To them it seems as if we, as a church, hold to “Christ only,” “Scripture only”, “Faith only,” “Grace only”, and “Lutherans only.”
And the sad reality is that we actually have our work cut out for us with “Lutherans only”. If being the pastor of a campus ministry that pulls students from all over the state has taught me anything, it is that there is something broken in the Lutheran church. There are some in our Synod who have blamed our lack of growth on a decreased birthrate and have encouraged young families to have more children “for the sake of the faith”. That’s ridiculous. Here’s why: We don’t even keep the kids that we Baptized at the fonts of our churches, much less the ones that are confirmed at our altars. For all of the “rah rah”ing that we do about the good old days of Lutheranism (whenever those might have been) and bronzing the garbage of years past, we’ve lost our a good measure of what could have been our future.
How did we lose it? We made auxiliary things into ultimate things, and we paid for it by losing track of what should have been our ultimate things. We made idols of “Lutheran culture” and let go of Scripture, Faith, Grace, and at times – even Jesus. We have made “religious fellowship” our highest value, to associate with those who are Lutheran like us. Lutheranism was never meant to be the point, and when it becomes the point, we lose track of what the movement itself was trying to accomplish.
The temptation that might present itself in the midst of all this brokenness is to then let go of all things Lutheran, to change the name on our building to something that won’t stop the average person to walks past our building. But how long will that work for? Probably not very long. Instead, why don’t we try being authentically Lutheran? To cut through the noise of centuries of Lutheran cultural plaque build up, and to stand with Martin at the Diet of Worms and confess Christ only, Scripture only, Faith only, and Grace only? Or kneel with the princes and faithful laypersons as they presented the Augsburg Confession and invited the government to lop off their heads?
Perhaps then we could worry about whom God has given us access to, and how we might love those whom He has put in our way as He has loved us. Perhaps then we could we worthy of the name of this movement in Christianity, “Lutheran”.
One of the things that I love about God is that He loves broken stuff. He loves me, and I’m terribly broken. I find out more and more about my manifest brokenness everyday. God in His grace sees my brokenness as an opportunity. As I look at a broken Lutheran church, I can hardly keep my heart from swelling with anticipatory joy in the midst of my disgust. I know that where I can see brokenness, God sees opportunity. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51). May our hearts break, and may He use them for His Kingdom’s coming.