According to a study done by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), of the 3.6 million baptized members of that church body, half worship in congregations with an average attendance of 150 or less. And out of the ELCA’s 9.393 congregations, 82 percent have an average worship attendance of 150 or less (Lammi, Kurt, “Would They Notice?” Living Lutheran, p. 33). The conclusion? The denomination is mostly made up of small congregations (p. 33).
As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year, it is important for us to remember some of the key statements of Martin Luther. One of those statements is on the concept of freedom. Luther said in his most famous treatise On the Freedom of the Christian, in 1520: “The Christian individual is a completely free lord of all, subject to none. The Christian individual is a completely dutiful servant of all, subject to all.“
These two statements may seem to contradict one another, but, in fact, they encapsulate the complete picture of what we as Christians call freedom.
I saw this fill-in-the-blank activity on the back of a carton of berry punch, and it got me to thinking about the people in my life who have had an impact on me. My teachers, my pastors, my co-workers, my friends, my neighbors, my family have all influenced me enormously. But I do not express to them my appreciation as often as I should.
I like how the letter on this carton provides a framework with blanks to fill in. That gets the ball rolling for me. How would you fill in the blanks for people who have helped you through life and your life of faith? How would you describe what they are to you? How would explain what they have enabled you to be? How would you express how they make you feel?
I have lately been contemplating the concept of adiaphora. Not only because it is fun to say, but because many of the things we spend a lot of our time thinking about in the Church oftentimes fall into the category of adiaphora.
In general for Christians, adiaphora means “matters not regarded as essential to faith, but nevertheless permissible or allowed in the church.”
Things like discussions of the floor covering in the sanctuary or the color of the paint on the walls of the fellowship hall, for example, are not essential to faith, but do constitute a large part of our time sometimes. Adiaphora.
St. Augustine famously said of Jesus on the cross: “Victor quia victima!” which means “victor because victim.” On the cross, Jesus turns the ancient thinking of battle on its head. Usually in war, the defeated is the victim and the executioner is the victor. But as the victim on the cross, Jesus became the victor over the enemies of sin, death and the devil. St. Paul points out this amazing reversal:
Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” —1 Corinthians 15:54-55
Then in Hebrews 2:14-15, St. Paul describes the divine combination of Christ’s being victim and victor this way:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.