Friday, March 30, 2012

Does Denominationalism Still Matter?

At a recent International Transformation Conference, a long-time friend introduced me as “his favorite Lutheran.” He meant it as a compliment. It was his way of saying that he has come to know me as someone with a Lutheran heritage who is passionate about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the authority of God’s Word and the mission of the Christian Church in the world today. I’ll take it!

It was more than 500 years ago that Martin Luther, a Catholic priest and university professor in Germany, called for reform in the Church of his day. He boldly declared our core values to be “Faith alone, Grace alone and Word alone.” He was particularly passionate regarding the Bible’s teaching about salvation: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9.

In the 1st century, the most pressing question was, “Is Jesus who he claimed to be, the Son of God and the Savior of the world?” In the 16th century, Martin Luther’s day, the most vital question was, “How are we saved? Is it by good works or by grace through faith in Christ?” This question was so significant that it led to the Protestant Reformation.

I would suggest that today, in this multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-anything-goes world, the most compelling question of our day is, “Are there many roads to God?” or perhaps, “Why should I believe in God at all?”

In John 14:6, Jesus declares, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Many Christians consider this claim to be the bedrock of our Christian faith. But do you realize that others today consider this verse to be either fabricated by the early Church or one of the most intolerant and bigoted statements of all time.

In this generation, when only 4% of those between the ages of 18 and 24 claim Jesus as their Savior, we no longer have the luxury of debating the “pros and cons” of the brand name on the sign out front. The questions being asked of Christianity, as you can see, are not related to issues of church structure, baptism, gifts of the Spirit or worship style. They are questions that challenge the most foundational claims of our Christian faith.

That’s why I see an urgent need for every Christian to “stand up and be counted” just like Luther, who in his day was willing to place his confidence in the authority of God’s Word and declare, “Here I stand!” We must each be able to confidently share with our neighbors, friends, co-workers and class-mates “who Jesus is, why he died on a cross and why he is worthy of our full commitment as his followers.” It is the fact that so many people who claim to be Christians have difficulty answering these questions that we find the Christian Church in such an anemic state today.

Last Saturday, I attended a regional conference of the association of churches with whom we are affiliated; Lutheran Churches in Mission for Christ. (LCMC) Two members of our Church Council, Tim Steinbeck and Jan Adams, attended as well. We are pleased to report that the 772 congregations that now comprise LCMC share our DNA! They are passionate about the authority of the Word of God and the vitality of the Great Commission that calls us to “go” to the whole world in Jesus’ name.

Rather than a “top down” structure, LCMC represents a “bottom up” approach where every member is viewed as a minister and every local congregation is encouraged to hear God’s Call and use its gifts to serve him freely. As a place to stay connected with others who share our Lutheran roots, LCMC is a good fit for Christ Church! There is passion in the Spirit that is refreshing to be around. If you would like to learn more, I encourage you to visit

I appreciate our Lutheran heritage. I’ve never been anything but a Lutheran.

So I guess I don’t mind being called someone’s “favorite Lutheran.” However, my prayer is that by God’s grace, we may all be known as “transformed followers of Jesus” who are on fire for the things of God and not afraid to show it! That’s the kind of Christian I want to be!

How about you? How do you reflect on the value and influence of denominational identities at this critical point in the history of the Christian Church? Is denominationalism obsolete? What role might the various Christian denominations still be called to play in the greater mission of the Church? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Blessings, Pastor Greg Pagh

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