While the pied pipers of hyperventilating praise bands, life coaching celebrity pastors, hip production values and the trappings of success lead the contemporary church on its way to sanctified, spiritual glory, storming the gates of heaven, Lutherans plod along basking in the glory of just being one of the folks. And what glory it is.
Sinners, mindful of their inadequacies, and suspicious of grace alone, have always wanted to enlist the church as an accomplice in their restless need to change and improve themselves. And the church has often been willing to serve in that purpose. But that is not the Lutheran way, at least not when we are at our best. Luther tapped the podium and got our attention in some important ways, and one of the most important was his understanding of the Christian life, vocation.
There is a great deal that can be said about Luther on the Christian life, on vocation, but let’s keep it simple. The Christian life is the actual life you are living among friends, family, business associates and neighbors. Your spiritual vocation is not to sniff around for evidence of the Holy Spirit, pursuing delusions of improvement or perfection, but to dive headlong into the gritty business of daily living in that Christ won freedom that is His gift to you. So, the quote below from that late, great Gerhard Forde:
A locus on the Christian life is potentially the most dangerous in dogmatics. It is concerned with giving an account of how the act of God in Christ impinges on, effects, and affects the lives we live. Such an account is potentially dangerous because, as the tradition shows all too patently, the rhetoric has a way of running away with itself and becoming inflated and oppressive. In the anxiety to demonstrate that the Christian life is different, vital, relevant, abundant, and obviously superior to every other kind of life, the encomiums pile up, often fired by enthusiasm and hubris rather than by reality.
from Christian Dogmatics, Vol II, (Fortress, 1984), 395.
Luther’s understanding of Christian vocation was concerned with keeping real people in the real world. Luther knew that grace restores us to God, our neighbor and ourselves. It sets us squarely in the midst of living, freeing us to be of some good here and now as we await the good and gracious future He alone will bring.
One of the greatest gifts I have received as a Lutheran Christian is the knowledge that the unconditional gift of God’s grace in Christ allows me to be realistic, lucid and sober about myself. For I know that the person made righteous by Christ is the actual person I am. I have been taken off my own hands by Christ who now takes complete charge of my life and future. In that confidence, I am returned to daily life to take up the mostly mundane, often challenging and occasionally exhilarating business of living. I am set free from religion and the sanctification project to be what I was created to be – human.
So, to all of you who are storming the gates of heaven in search of glory, know this; when you finally tire of the self-improvement spirituality project and are ready to get real, you are invited to join us Lutherans in the church basement for red jello and tuna hot dish. You are welcome to join a church where you can actually put your feet up and relax.
We’ll leave the light on for you.