Anyone who attends the church I pastor can tell you that I love our church’s catechism. In most sermons I’ll quote at least some part of its teaching. I love its brevity, the concise way it summarizes basic Christian beliefs.
The catechism, like any doctrinal statement, has a perspective. None of us comes to the Christian faith from a wholly neutral position. Even self-consciously non-denominational churches have beliefs about issues that divide Christians (about baptism for example).
Recently, I came across a phrase that summarizes the perspective of our catechism nicely. It is actually a statement about the beliefs of the church in which Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, was raised. It said this church is “predominantly lutheran with some reformed influences”. That describes our catechism perfectly.
Both Lutheran and Reformed pastors I know concur that our catechism is predominantly Lutheran, and Donald Bloesch, a theologian with deep roots in churches like ours, says the very same thing about those churches in his book, The Church.
It’s not an accident that what can be said about the German Chancellor’s church can be said about ours. The German settlers who founded Salem were from the same United Church background. But, what does all this mean? Why does it matter?
Again, it matters because we can’t not have a perspective when it comes to Christian faith. We’re all shaped by some view of what the Bible teaches. The only question is the degree to which we are aware of our perspective. The more we’re aware the more we’re free to enter more deeply into those beliefs or reject them for some other beliefs we feel are more faithful to what the Bible teaches.
My own journey began years ago in Bible college as I examined the beliefs of various churches. My wife (whom I was dating at the time) and I would visit various churches all over San Antonio. I would bring books from various doctrinal perspectives with me wherever I would go.
Finally, in seminary, I heard about the United Churches in Germany. We were studying Arnold Bittlinger, an early theologian of the ecumenical churches involved in the charismatic renewal. Bittlinger was from the United Church in Germany. I remember thinking at the time, “I think that’s where I belong. That’s where my study is leading me.”
Amazingly, I end up in Evansville (my wife’s hometown) working at a hospital founded by churches with this background and preaching in those very churches. A call is extended to me by one of those churches, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Of course, in hindsight I see the hand of God and am very grateful. I’m able to enter into my work at Salem wholeheartedly, and I think it shows. I’m able to be the pastor I believe God is calling me to be.
In future posts I’d like to talk more about the specifics of this “predominantly Lutheran with some Reformed influences” faith of mine. For many, this will be very new ground indeed, but I hope all will see that it matters (that the specifics matter).
The specifics of my faith set me off in a certain direction, one not everyone will take, but hopefully everyone will see why I’m going the way I’m going, and they’ll be encouraged to think about why they’re going the way they’re going, because we’re all going somewhere. We all have a perspective.