WHAT’S YOUR LABEL?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. . . “ (Ephesians 2.8)
If you are a Pittsburgher and you wear Black and Gold, most of us will recognize that you are wearing the label of a Steelers or a Pirates fan. If you carry a Bible with you to church on Sunday, most will recognize you as a Christian. Your hat can be your label: a hard hat, a fire fighter’s hat, a hair net with plastic gloves. Your label may not always be obvious, but we do assign labels to others as a way of keeping order in our world.
Sometimes labels are positive and life affirming. Other times, labels are negative - and these negative labels influence how we interact with others. A hijab (head covering, usually worn by a Muslim woman) may arouse curiosity or preconceived notions about that person. A black teenager, dressed in a hoodie, may arouse suspicion, or uneasiness, within us. Be careful: negative labels are not always the best guide to social interaction.
Daniel Erlander, Lutheran pastor and writer, wrote an interesting book, entitled: “Baptized, We Live.” It is a short introduction to Christianity and Lutheranism. Pastor Erlander talks about three words, or labels, that are often misunderstood: CATHOLIC, EVANGELICAL, and REFORMING.
He asserts that Lutherans might adopt all three of these labels, because they accurately describe the movement, started by Martin Luther, in 1517.
CATHOLIC: Lutherans are not part of a breakaway, rebellious movement, but we are a part of the continuation of the universal church, built on the foundation of Christ and the apostles. We live for the healing of division within the whole catholic church. This is why we say every Sunday, “we believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” Our worship follows the form of the universal church, which probably goes back to the apostles.
EVANGELICAL: This word is often used to label Christians who claim one must have an adult experience of decision to be a Christian (“be born again”). However, Lutherans also claim this label because our understanding of the Gospel is that, through Baptism, we begin our entry into Christian community. The center of our message is that God, in Christ, loves and forgives us, unconditionally. “Evangelical” is from a word that means “public proclamation of good news”.
REFORMING: This refers to the Lutheran understanding that we are a fellowship of people who are willing to be reformed and who work for reform. Appropriate reforming change brings the church into conformity with the Gospel. Examples of reforms in recent times include the ordination of women, the practice of an open table when Holy Communion is celebrated and overcoming the barriers of race, language, sexuality, disabilities, etc. Even a casual glance through the Evangelical Lutheran Worship book will illustrate reform. The volume includes a variety of musical settings for worship, the inclusion of hymns from around the world and the use of inclusive language.
Perhaps these three words do not disturb or interest you. However, as we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, it is good for us to be clear that we are not a reactive movement, trying to correct the wrongs in other faith traditions or protecting ourselves from them. Rather, we are celebrating the gift of God’s free grace, made available to us through Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior. We are recommitting ourselves to proclaiming God’s unconditional grace in Christ. It is the center of our faith.
Pastor Erlander writes: “We are catholic Christians, members of the universal and apostolic church, one family in Christ by Baptism. We pray for and work for the unity of the whole church on earth, longing for the day when the Holy Spirit will gather all Christians into a single body, a people who will be one, as Jesus and the Father are one.”
+Pr. Paul Koch
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773