My week has been dominated by the ELCE financial audit. We have to give an account of our-selves to the world because in the UK the ELCE is a registered charity and there are certain responsibilities that go with that status and for which we receive certain privileges (the most notable being the receiving of Gift Aid). All ‘parts of the body’ of the ELCE basically need to count in the same way so we present a clear ‘big picture’ to the world. Thus we thank John our treasurer – and I thank all ELCE treasurers! – for attending to this task for us.
As a congregation we probably don’t think of ourselves as a charity. As a synod (congregations not counting together but walking together) we probably don’t think of ourselves as employers or legal entities complying with all sorts of legislation. I think that most of us would see Ascension as ‘church’ or ‘spiritual home’ or as a particular group of peo-ple where the link and the association is with God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So should we be asked to give an account of ourselves we think in terms of faith and confes-sion – what do we believe? Much of the world and even we ourselves can think giving an ac-count is about our performance – how well we’re doing – but in our case it should with what we believe. (How well are we doing? Well, we can always do better! That’s why ‘performance’ in a church needs carefully understanding. We need to know who we are – whose we are! – and why – to really understand the behaviour that happens next.)
What do we believe? That’s a very good question – and it applies to a lot more than spiritual-ity. What do we believe about … Brexit, the government, polygamy, school age, conscription, film ratings, the future? To give our account of such things we will draw on our experience and the information we believe truthful and relevant and make our case. Some might agree – some might not – and we tend to congregate with the ‘likes’. This process happens very quickly now via social media but it often takes some time.
If we look at the history of the Lutheran Church we will see a process – discussion and docu-mentation often in a climate of tension and conflict – whereby people stated what they be-lieved about the Christian Faith and what they didn’t believe. The Augsburg Confession is one such historical document in a certain time and place (1530 Augsburg, Germany) whereby peo-ple – in this case princes and ‘free cities’ – wanted to be heard (literally – there’s a whole story about it being read out so other people could hear it!). They wanted to declare the Christian Faith in conformity with the ‘Church Catholic’ and to reject the abuses they believed affected the Church of Rome. They needed to do this – they wanted to – because Emperor Charles V and the Church of the day with whom they were disagreeing – saw them as heretics, false teachers, and dangerous to society. This confession seems to be a compilation or combination of the previous decade of thoughts, discussions, early statements, catechisms, and a lot of teaching. All Lutherans regard it as giving good answers to the question ‘What do we be-lieve?’.
We all have to give accounts. We do it a lot. Sometimes formally; sometimes informally; some-times it’s about being aware of who we are; sometimes it’s about being aware of where we are – maybe in an environment where those around us disagree. When it comes to spiritual matters the process doesn’t change – we go to our ‘sources’ and verify and then testify (say what we believe). Lutherans return all the time to Jesus – to his Word – and to the writings about the Bible that teach what we believe is true. And one of those writings – a very important one – is the Augsburg Confession. It helps us give an account of what we believe and why Ascension and the ELCE is around. GS