Parish Newsletter Column on Fulfilling the Reformation

November 2012

Dear Disciples of Jesus,

Five hundred years ago the change most needed from the Reformation did not happen. Protestants thought we were getting back to the heart of the Gospel, grace, but because we didn’t understand the fullness of that grace we somewhat missed the mark. God’s grace does begin with a promise of forgiveness for our individual sins so death does not have the last word, but it doesn’t stop there.

By being so trapped in individualism we missed that the full scope of grace in Jesus Christ extends to the whole creation. Instead, we focused on our individual fate in the afterlife and could not see the New Testament message of grace as a movement liberating us from the powers of sin and death that cause division and separation, destruction and decay. (Romans 8 is the highpoint of the New Testament painting of this picture.)

Because we missed the full message of grace, we’ve been unable to fully live into it, becoming trapped in thinking that grace is only about believing the right things about Jesus to get to heaven when we die. For this earthly life, trying to be nice to people like Jesus was becomes the underwhelming goal.

But that’s not what the New Testament is inviting us into! We are invited to a grace much grander than that — a grace inaugurated on Easter morning with our Lord’s rising from the dead as the down payment, which is leading us to a New Creation. This grace liberates us from the powers of sin and death and is changing our world, whether we see it or not.

Crucial to this liberation movement, this being-made-new, is anthropology — a being-made-new of all that is human, including our institutions. The move from imperial forms of government toward democracy with its shared power is a sign of that newness. Working against sexism and racism and poverty are signs of that newness.

Obviously there’s a long way to go! Being-made-new as humans is proceeding at an evolutionary pace — not 100,000 years slow like our first way of becoming human (what St. Paul calls the First Adam in Romans 5-6). In light of that full anthropological picture, the changes for the better in the 2000 years since Christ (the Second Adam in Paul’s anthropological language) seem fast by comparison.

The point we need to understand is this: if five hundred years ago we took the big step of at least getting the point of focusing on grace, then the next enormous step for us to take now is to finally understand the full scope of that grace. We most succinctly see this in Ephesians when Paul clearly illustrates the point we landed on in the first Reformation: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

But if we are to finally make the big change which most needed to happen — but didn’t — at the first Reformation, we can’t miss what Paul says in the very next verse. Ephesians 2:10 begins to reveal the reason for the grace, which is to remake us for the work of peace. The climax of Paul’s message comes in the passage our youth celebrated this summer in New Orleans. I invite you to reflect on these words that are more fully the heart of the Gospel:

For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. (Eph. 2:14-22)

The needed change that did not happen at the Reformation was to begin to live into being “one new humanity.” Protestantism became another reason to be two (or several hundred after all the splintering of churches) instead of one. God’s grace of forgiveness seems to allow us to grow-up at our own pace. But five hundred years later, I believe we are finally ready to take the next step. We are finally ready to live into the way of peace and justice in Jesus Christ.

What does this mean for ministry if we work to fulfill the Reformation? Certainly, we can continue to do many of the things we are doing now. But the following emphases in ministry as we claim God’s grace will help us as we work to finally fulfill the Reformation begun 500 years ago:

  • Breaking down the walls of race – The most pernicious way in which we have been two instead of one over the last four hundred years is white racism against People of Color. I’m not talking about just addressing individual racial prejudice, but the race prejudice combined with power that is embedded in our institutions. Those dividing walls won’t come down without our intentionally working to dismantle them. It is my hope that Prince of Peace claim antiracism as part of our mission identity.
  • Breaking down the walls of gender – We also create division and fall short of God’s grace in the way LGBT brothers and sisters are treated. Another hope is that we will work toward becoming a fully welcoming and inclusive church to LGBT persons. Several of us attended a conference on Building an Inclusive Church that lays out a thorough and careful process for exploring the possibilities as a congregation. (See more elsewhere in this newsletter.)
  • Breaking down the walls of religion – I envision resuming the interfaith work of several years ago when Don Berdahl was leading the Sunday adult class, and strengthen relationships with Muslim neighbors, people of other faiths, and people with no religious faith.
  • Expanding our stewardship of creation – We have a strong team leading us in stewardship of PoP building and grounds. I’d encourage creating an Earthkeeping Team to work in light of that broadest scope of grace, the whole Creation, which is waiting with eager longing for us children of God to get our act together in caring for the whole Creation (see Romans 8:18-23).
  • Working with other Christians toward healing our community – Continue deepening our relationship with the Michigan Organizing Project (M.O.P.), finding ways of working together to heal some of the divisions among us, especially between wealthy and poor.

What are the ministries that spark your passions? How can you participate? Please prayerfully consider new involvement in ministry at PoP as we seek to fulfill our Gospel calling of joining in with God’s work of creating one new humanity in Jesus Christ.

In Christ,
Pastor Paul

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