Kevin Corcoran (Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College) writes, in Church in the Present Tense: A Candid Look at What’s Emerging:
Christianity is about the reconfiguration of the human heart, the redirection of human desire. Christianity crucially involves beliefs, but it's not about the beliefs. Because the Christian faith is about lives well lived in conformity with our created nature, the Christian faith inducts Christians into concrete practices, rituals, and sacraments that had for over fourteen hundred years of Christian history the life-transforming effect of producing Christian disciples.
Lutherans have traditionally recoiled at words like these. “It’s not about the beliefs.” In some regards, our tradition has been all about the beliefs. We have a storied 400 year-long tradition of fine-tuning and holding to our beliefs. Saved by faith through grace. The primacy of the word. Matters of faith and adiaphora. The priesthood of all believers. Simil justice, et peccator. One of the hallmarks of the Lutheran movement has been a careful attention to theology, believing that there are implications to what we believe. Our hope has been that with these beliefs we can provide a lens through which we see God’s word more clearly, and explore God’s will more faithfully.
Yet at the same time, we understand that if our Lutheran beliefs and doctrines and traditions don’t make a concrete difference in our lives, they haven’t served us (or God) very well. Many theologians and church leaders these days are exploring what it means to take praxis seriously. Praxis is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as the, “practical application or exercise of a branch of learning.” The Lutheran way of approaching Christianity is not just a system of beliefs – a philosophy to be studied and mastered. It is a way of life. It is a way of connecting with God. It is a way of living in this world as disciples of Jesus. It is the exercise of Christian faithfulness.
I have been reading some, lately, about how to reach a new generation of Americans with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It seems clear that young people are quite skeptical of Christians who claim to be devout believers, but whose lives show few signs of faithfulness. They are quick to see through the thin veneer, and conclude that what they are seeing is more hypocrisy than integrity. This presents a challenge to the church; a challenge, first of all, to be fiercely committed to inviting people into a genuine and transforming experience of God’s grace. In all that we do as a church, we must be committed to our mission statement: we are all welcomed into God’s grace, just as we are. Yet we must never forget the second half of our mission: we are sent into God’s world to be a reflection of Christ’s love. This is Christian praxis. And essential!
When have you been touched in a profound way by God’s grace? What does the Christian life look like to you? These are vital questions for those who seek to be a living witness to the faith that we share.
God’s peace to you all, David J. Risendal, Pastor