The Fifth Sunday of Easter

For whatever images one has of the Christian Church – congregation, body (of Christ), people (of God), a spiritual house (made of living stones), branches (of the vine), the household (of God), the Christian Resources Exhibition held this week at Sandown Park, Esher added for me another im-age – business – or maybe I should say ‘businesses’. Dare I say it, ‘big business’. The ELCE was present this year in the Media Section promoting Lutheran Radio UK in particular but also our-selves – which might be compartmentalised as congregations, Westfield House, and media. I was there on Thursday and people who were in a venue walking passed something like 350 exhibitors repre-senting over 500 organisations often seemed genuinely surprised at the idea of an internet radio station and politely intrigued by the label ‘Lutheran’ as well. We gave away over 1200 media packs across the 4 days.

At the Exhibition, you could also attend seminars, youth programmes, arts, music, and comedy perform-ances, worship, a healing and wholeness zone or the announcements of the UK Christian Film Festival or the Christian Book awards and considerably more. I didn’t make it to any of those but hung around our stand and talked and listened and talked some more … about Lutherans, Australia, the Pope, the catechism, the programmes on LRUK, other churches, Lutheran history here, the Third Use of the Law, whether once saved you can lose your salvation, the ELCE, and more. And as you looked around, the other stalls were talking and listening and promoting as well.

We’ve come a long way from the Eleven disciples watching Jesus ascend (Matthew 28:16) or the 120 followers waiting for the ‘power to come from on high’ (Acts 1:15). I find myself torn. I see the need for organisation and structure – think of the apostles and deacons of Acts 6 or the first coun-cil of Jerusalem (Acts 15) and the requirement for the teaching and the confession of faith to re-main truth and faithful and the efficiency of good order, structures, and processes – and the prob-lem that comes with self aggrandisement and organisational survival. And I see the more chaotic side of Christian living where each disciple of Jesus engages the world around him or her with a freedom to react and serve and these different environments can produce different faces of the church. We don’t have to look the same everywhere but there’s also the problem of making church in my image (isn’t that a cult?). So while hopefully the confession stays the same, the face of the church doesn’t have to be.

Fast forward to now and we have Christians (most of them) gathered around three ecumenical creeds, we have organisation and structure (a plethora of them), and we have the individual free-dom that comes with following Jesus in the world around us. We now have an almost 2,000 year history in which these three ecumenical creeds are taught in different ways; we have splits and reformations, revivals and movements. I can honestly understand non Christians looking at Chris-tians or a Christian group askance and wondering ‘Who are you and this Jesus you talk about?’. It is very easy to gather people around a cult of personality or enthuse people with a specific action or task.

And yet we believe in the holy Christian Church (Apostles’ Creed) – that it still exists – hidden in organisations and resource exhibitions, in people who stand in stalls, who visit them, and in the billions who didn’t. What binds us is the triune God who has acted to bring a new creation (in Christ) to this dead world. For us as Lutherans this means gathering around words, water, bread and wine for we believe that God does not work clearly or apart from them. These are the key things to look for throughout the world. What is always important is what God does – still today – and if we feel it is important to do something as a congregation, a church, even an internet radio station so be it but let’s never forget that all we ever need to live with and share Jesus are words, water, bread and wine.  — GS