People often ask me about Lutheran Renewal. What does the church think about it? How is the church going to respond to it?
The desire for renewal is hardly surprising in an age when individual fulfilment has become the most important thing in life. Naturally, we want more. That can be a good thing – we should want more of the things of God! The danger is that we put ourselves at the centre, demanding ever-greater proofs of our faith. We can become spiritual ‘consumers’, in much the same way as we are consumers in the world of daily work and commerce.
Take baptism, for instance. Baptism is God’s binding commitment to us as his children. It creates what it says: new birth through water and the Spirit. This is not just an experience, but most importantly, it is a permanent relationship created by our Heavenly Father. The Catechism says that baptism ‘effects forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and grants eternal salvation to all who believe, as the Word and promise of God declare’.
The danger is that we put ourselves at the CENTRE, demanding ever-greater proofs of our FAITH.
If, in seeking renewal, we were to start saying, ‘That’s just not good enough; there must be more’, we would undermine trust in God’s work and God’s faithfulness. If we were to say that baptism isn’t complete without a second ‘filling’ of the Holy Spirit, and the gifts to prove it, we would be telling God that he didn’t do the job properly. He had better do it again, but on our terms.
When Lutherans look for renewal, we return to our original baptism, where God bound himself to us with a promise. That promise is the basis of our new life today and our hope for the future. Luther’s Small Catechism explains all this.
One of my concerns as a church leader is that is we are forgetting our basics. Luther wrote the Catechism at a time of great stress and danger for the church, when people had forgotten their faith. They needed a reformation, a time of renewal and returning to the true faith.
So when people ask me about renewal, I say that renewal can be a good thing. The Reformation 500 years ago proves that. A number of our current church leaders experienced revival in their own faith as part of renewal movements.
However, if a renewal movement begins to go further than the Bible, leading Christians to trust their own understanding and experience more than God’s promise and God’s working and if it makes us spiritual consumers rather than believers, then it goes too far. That would be idolatry, making a new god to place our hope and
trust in, and forgetting the true God who sent his Son to die for us.
I pray that God does renew our church in the way that the writer to the Hebrews describes: ‘We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete. He endured the shame of being nailed to a cross, because he knew that later on he would be glad he did. Now he is seated at the right side of God’s throne! So keep your mind on Jesus, who put up with many insults from sinners. Then you won’t get discouraged and give up’ (Hebrews 12:1,2 CEV).