You might be a Lutheran if…
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” -John 1:14, 16-18
“You might be a Lutheran if your five-year-old recites the Old Testament books as: ‘Genesis, Exodus, Lutefisk…’”
(With apologies to non-Lutheran readers. I’m starting off deep in Lutheran World this week…but stick with me, we’ll get more universal.)
As we’re approaching Reformation Day (the anniversary of Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to a church door and sparking the Reformation), I’ve been thinking back to something a (non-Lutheran) professor once said to me: “Lutheranism is one of the few denominations that is still pretty much ethnically-based.”
What he meant was: we don’t — and probably can’t — assume anything about the heritage of a person just by knowing that they are Baptist or Methodist or Catholic. But if you meet a Lutheran, you can guess that they have a German or Scandinavian background (doncha know?).
But here’s the thing: from a global perspective, that is not true anymore! According to 2019 data from the Lutheran World Federation, there are currently many, many more Lutherans in Africa (28 million) than in the Nordic countries (18 million, the next-highest number). Germany is the country with the most Lutherans (10.8 million), but Ethiopia is not far behind (10.4 million), and third place goes to Tanzania (7.9 million).
This data matches the trend in Christianity overall. In 2020, two-thirds of Christians lived in the “Global South” (Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania). In North America and Europe we fret over declines in church membership, but the “decline of Christianity in the Global North is now being outpaced by the rise of Christianity in the Global South” according to the International Bulletin of Mission Research.
I know, I know. “Thanks for the random info, Pastor — but I’m here for devotional time!”
One of the great mysteries — and amazing graces! — of the Christian faith is the Incarnation. “The Word became flesh” in Jesus of Nazareth: a particular person from a particular place in a particular time who lived within a particular culture. God’s universal presence and truth became very, very specific.
Then our specific savior gave us the commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The Church decided pretty quickly that converts of “all nations” would not have to give up their own culture and take on everything about Jesus’s Jewish culture in order to become part of God’s family. This is what we see Paul working through over and over in his New Testament letters (see Galatians 6:11-16, for instance).
This is amazing. It points us toward faith that the universal truth of the Gospel becomes specific for each of us. God speaks to us right where we are: in our own cultures, our own identities, our own questions and longings. Like Paul preaching to the Athenian philosophers from their own philosophy (Acts 17). Like Jesus sharing the gospel with the hungry through food. Like the way some Lutherans seem to connect with God best through the music of Bach. Like how Tanzanian Christians praise God with ululation. God connects to us in ways we understand with the messages we need to hear.
This diversity is also a great gift to the Body of Christ. When another person explores their faith with traditions, questions, and experiences that are different from mine, that means they may be learning things about God that I wouldn’t even think about. That’s why I love reading Bible commentaries from around the world, or even from U.S. traditions that are different from my own. These siblings in Christ help me see things in new ways. Russian Christians taught me to focus in on the famine that shows up in the Prodigal Son. Scholars from the Black Church taught me to connect Jesus’ crucifixion to unjust deaths in our own time.
God has given us each other. God has given us diversity. And these are wondrous gifts.
God of all nations, you send your Spirit to speak to us in our native tongue, through the stories and symbols of our families. You also send us each other to share new insights, to explore new questions, and to help one another know you. Open our minds to hear what you are teaching others. Give us the words to share what you are doing in our lives. In Jesus name, Amen.
Oct. 27, 2021
- Katherine Museus Dabay
- Another kind of darkness
- A call to courage for 2021
- Acquiring a peaceful spirit
- Anastasis: the Greatest Story of God’s Saving Power
- Fear of the Lord
- God is not overwhelmed
- Grief & Graduation
- How do you keep from giving up hope?
- Jesus among us
- Rest is Holy
- Surprisingly Simple: Breathe!
- When God uses something terrible for good
- When we are moved
- You might be a Lutheran if…