Richard John Neuhaus (a Lutheran pastor who later became a Roman Catholic priest) made popular the notion in Lutheran theological circles that the Lutheran Church is a “reforming movement” within the Catholic Church. Pr Lou Smith of blessed memory, once said to me in response, “Mark, I was not baptized into a ‘movement’, but into the one holy, catholic and apostolic church”. His comment turned me around the right way.
In a similar vein, I have an almost visceral reaction to the word “Lutheranism”. Many good pastors and theologians will write about “Lutheranism” with great eloquence. But we were not baptized into an “ism”, but the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, always being reformed by the Scriptures and within the written Word, His Law and Gospel. We are not merely adherents to a ‘system’, but baptized into Christ’s own body where Justification by grace through Faith in Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone. The photo above on this blog is not of either an “ism” or a movement. Yes, those who speak of the Church in those terms are well-meaning but it is not Biblical. One famous evangelical said the Church was like a hospital. Folks can nod their head in assent. After all Jesus Himself compared Himself to a physician ( Matthew 9:11-13). But I don’t know about you: when you’re in a hospital, what’s the one thing you want to do? Not be there! Go home! Not once in the Bible is there that comparison. When we are part of His Church we are home. As one pastor said in a different context that it does not do well to import into the Church and theology other images and pictures besides the Biblical metaphors and similes. By such importation, we can get way off the mark, even to remaking His Body into our own preferred picture: see Liberal ProtestantISM. And we can wander into abstractions, or church as partisan politics, instead of the real picture. But indeed, to those who have been washed and believe, by the work of the Holy Spirit, are part of Christ Jesus’ Body, with all it’s pain and joy, the real picture, icon:
But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12)