One of my deepest convictions about God is that God is larger than our understanding, larger than our language, larger than our culture, and larger than our Churches. I wonder then, if this is why we have such diversity in Christian ecclesiologies. Is the Triune God so large that They cannot be encapsulated into one Church tradition? Is the diversity in our global Christian traditions a reflection of the diversity within God? Avery Dulles, in his book Models of the Church, writes “the Church is not fully intelligible to the finite mind of man, and that the reason for this lack of intelligibility is not the poverty but the richness of the Church itself.” Churches, as a reflection of God, must be intelligible and vastly diverse because God is infinitely above our ability to categorize the Divine.
I think it’s beautiful that there is such diversity because individuals seek different aspects of God and can align themselves with a denomination and church tradition that provides that. Some may find a home in a denomination that is different from our own, and that is okay. Some may find a home in a Church tradition within the same denomination that is different from our own, and that is okay. It is okay because God is good and God is good in all the myriad ways the Divine reflects in us and in our Worship. Personally, I have found my home in a denomination that expounds on the graciousness of God who loves all people, and I find this in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA); and I have found my Church home in a Church outside of Church where people who are uncomfortable within the stained glass windows of traditional churches will find an open table and full inclusion within the muraled walls of a dive bar downtown or a brewery’s music venue.
So what does it mean to be Lutheran? The Lutheran tradition finds its pillars in Law and Gospel, which means that we follow the Commandments God placed before us in order to live well in integrity, knowing that our actions impact the world around us - our fellow humans, the animals, and God’s entire creation. God gave us Commandments as guideposts so we would know how to live in mutual harmony with others. God did not give us Commandments with a threat of Damnation. That is where the second pillar comes in - Gospel. Gospel is the Good News that Jesus - through His Incarnation, life, and death - redeemed humanity once and for all. Salvation has been given, and in receiving this gift, we no longer have to live in the shame and fear of being impossibly perfect to prove our worth for eternal Salvation. Forgiveness is an inherent gift of belonging to God, and there is nothing more we need to do to be forgiven.
Being ELCA within the greater Lutheran tradition is a call to radical hospitality. Within this tradition, we focus on love, inclusion, and an open welcome to all. We believe that it is not our job to judge who belongs and who does not. We give that right solely to God, and we stand in witness to God’s love, forgiveness, and desire for social justice in the world. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay too. Wherever you find God, it is my hope that you lean into this relationship and understanding within a denomination and Church tradition that enriches your soul and inspires you to do God’s work in the world - care for the sick, comfort those who mourn, clothe those who are naked, forgive those who have harmed you, fight for righteousness, welcome the stranger, and be a peacemaker in a world that often seems deadset on tearing itself apart.