The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Where I grew up in Sydney, the Lutheran Church was largely unknown. If it was known then it was the ‘migrant’ church or the ‘German’ church. The four pastors I had before I left home and moved into the city were American, Dutch, Dutch, and Australian. I also grew up with the idea that while small there was only one Lutheran Church. If I knew the history – that in 1966 the Lu-theran Church of Australia (LCA) formed – it didn’t really mean anything to me as a teenager except that I heard the adults label the pastors or them-selves (or other adults) as either ‘former ELCA’ or ‘former UELCA’ (the predecessor church bodies) but I recall thinking and feeling that it was good that there was only one church. At seminary I learnt more of this history – and started to attend synods – where you could ‘see’ the past raise its head in the theological discussions – and to be honest some of them were fights – that rumbled through the church but the ‘one church’ stayed one church. I think there was (is) Aussie pragmatism to this as well as working to a theological consensus in that Austra-lia is far away from everywhere and a small church split-ting into smaller churches doesn’t make a great deal of sense. The history is different here. Ascension is the only full time Lutheran congregation in Suf-folk and Norfolk so I can easily forget that there are 12 different Lutheran church bodies here in the UK and just keep operating in terms of ‘one Lutheran Church’.

I couldn’t do that in Denmark. My recent trip to the synod and summer camp of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark (ELFKiD) had me continually bumping into the issue of more than one Lutheran Church. The state church in Denmark is Lutheran and just under 80% of the population are associated with it. It traces its history to the time of the Reformation (1536) as part of the establishment of groups in various countries which followed the Lutheran Confession. Lutherans don’t have a Pope or an Archbishop of Canterbury but we’re a product today of those many beginnings in various countries – some of which had royal support. But at the centre was the confession of what Jesus had done for us – justification by faith – and this genesis has the seeds in it of more beginnings when the confession of faith requires it. In Denmark’s case the ELFKiD began in 1855 in response to the then twin forces of the Awakening Movements and increasing secularism. Other 19th century responses included migration and hence the begin-nings of Lutheran churches in Australia and the USA.

Today historians have various opinions about the necessity of such responses but that isn’t the issue for those living at the time. Each generation is called to faithfully pass on the Faith as it has been received according to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Sometimes Christians read the Bible and try and ‘go back’ and become 1st century Christians but to do so ignores for us 20 centuries of church history which also shapes us because we stand on the theological shoulders of those who have gone before us. We know from history that saying the same words may not mean the same thing. What I sensed in Denmark as I taught and listened was a little church seeking to make its way following Jesus and clearly teaching the Faith not only by saying what they believe but also by saying what they don’t believe and when those around you are similar to you, then your words need to be precise indeed – not to stay apart as such but to be clear about the truth of the gospel – so that more and more people may come to know what it means that Jesus is Lord.  — GS