An Unchanging Word for a Changing World
You’ve heard the joke about how many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb. The point of the joke is that there is a tension among Lutherans about change. However, the issue is no joking matter. We need to be clear about change as we sit in climate-controlled buildings and hear the message service generally in English through a sound system that Lutherans are not against change. Our church body is no longer known as “Die Deutsche Evangelish-Lutherische Synode von Missouri, Ohio und andern Staaten” (The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and other States). We have changed.
In a time in our country when so many things are changing though, we should be clear about what can and even should change and what must not change. Many of our congregations are changing as the communities surrounding them change. Congregations that were once comprised of children of German immigrants now include immigrants from other nations. Parishioners in the church pew may follow along to the Scripture readings on their phone rather than reading out of a pew Bible. There are many ways in which our congregations are changing in our world today.
However, the things that do not change are the almighty God and His revealed Word. What a comfort it is to know that in a culture of constant change, our Lord remains the same, yesterday, today and forever. His Word, likewise, is true and sure and does not “change with the times.” Neither the Church’s confession change. We may be answering different questions than in previous times, but we continue to confess what we have learned from the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.
As a parish pastor, I would encourage members to attend “new member classes” to get to know those who were interested in joining the congregation and as a refresher on the basics of the Christian faith. One evening I was interrupted during a class by an older member who wanted me to know that what I had just said was what the pastor at the congregation had said in her confirmation class sixty-five years earlier because she had written it in the margin of her copy of Luther’s Small Catechism. She was encouraged to see so clearly how our confession does not change.
It is a comfort to young and old alike that the congregations of the Synod do not change our public confession of the faith. We do to need to address issues that were not facing the Church in previous times, but God and His Word remain the same. Our prayer is that our congregations will adapt and even change to reach their communities and in service to the proclamation of the Gospel in matters that are neither commanded, nor forbidden by Scripture. Finally, may our congregations and those who serve as pastors and servants in the Church, be faithful in teaching God’s unchanging Word in this ever-changing world.