12/22/2015 9:30:02 AM
Pastor Chris Vossler
Don't Let Others Define Us
Yesterday Amy and I decided to go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was a really good movie, but I’m not going to talk about that this time around. Instead, I want to talk about a conversation that we had while waiting in line to enter the theater—naturally there was already a line an hour before the previews! Amy and I happened to be right in front of an older couple and struck up a conversation with them. We started off talking about Star Wars vs. Star Trek, but we soon discovered that we were both pastors (Exhibit #47 in favor of my argument that all pastors are geeks!), he with the United Methodist Church and I with The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.
When he heard that I was LCMS his immediate response was “I am so sorry for you.” I admit that response rather surprised me. Frankly, I’ve never considered being LCMS something to apologize for. After all, the LCMS is a church body that actually teaches the Gospel! We read Scripture and properly distinguish Law and Gospel. In our churches the Scripture is taught in its truth and purity and the Sacraments are rightly administered. We participate in mercy works both at home and around the world. We are in fellowship with church bodies in Europe, Africa, Asia, South America… How is any of that something for which I should be sorry?
That’s when the other pastor expanded on what he meant: he’s only ever encountered ELCA churches and pastors; I wonder if I was the first LCMS pastor he’d ever taken the time to talk to. In his experience the ELCA was always welcoming toward him and his congregation in terms of ministry work together. He’d never received the same from LCMS churches. In other words, his entire understanding of the LCMS came from interactions with the ELCA, and thanks to that his view of the LCMS was completely the opposite of the truth.
The fact of the matter is that while we do not pretend to have full doctrinal agreement with other church bodies when none exists, we are more than happy to join together with other Christians to serve our communities. Even though we cannot commune together—an intimate symbol of close doctrinal agreement and fellowship—with Christians who do not share our beliefs about the Sacraments, the person and work of Christ, and the Scriptures, we are happy to discuss those differences with them. And until we can come to an understanding of true unity, we are happy to work together for the betterment of our people and communities. While doctrinal agreement is necessary for church fellowship, it is not necessary to give food to hungry people or help pay for someone’s electric bill when they need help.
But when we stay in our own circles and do not talk to other Christians, those opportunities get lost. When we do not define ourselves, the words of that other pastor come true: we let our enemies define us. For that reason, I would strongly encourage you to be open to talking with other Christians. Let them know what we believe—and understand it yourself. Do not let others define who we are as the LCMS.