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Christ's community of believers

by Carolyn Nestingen (WordAlone board member, Roseville, Minn.)

June 12, 2008

photo of Carolyn NestingenAbout three weeks ago I stood on the shore of Lake Iznik in Turkey, in the city known fifteen hundred years ago as Nicea. I stood with others above the lake on the crumbling foundations of the building where the first Council of Nicea was held. At that council various early Christian church leaders discussed, and probably argued with passion, about the attributes of God, and then about the divinity and humanness of Jesus Christ.

It was a peaceful lake in the mountains, not a ripple in the water betrayed these former verbal battles. We stood on these original foundations of the Christian church we know today and confessed our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed.

On that trip we saw crusader fortresses as well, reminding us of the swords raised in defense of Christianity, but also of the single-minded determination of those crusader knights to destroy anyone coming between them and Jerusalem. The power of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit we confess in the Nicene Creed was taken by the crusaders into their own hands to create their form of Christian realm. As we all know, the crusades were a disaster, except that they gave knights the opportunity to come home and spin tales of adventure and heroism, true or not, and to escape the dreadful truth of the death and mayhem they had caused.

What is it we confess in the creed born in Nicea? We confess that God is almighty, our Father and our creator, as well as the creator of the entire universe, including the parts we don't see. We confess that Jesus Christ is our Lord; that He was with God before the beginning of our world and before He was born into this world as a human being; he not only preached and healed, but took our sin upon himself and died on the cross; he descended into hell and was raised to life again, all of this in our place, that we might know life with no end, instead of the death our sin brings upon us. We confess that the Holy Spirit is also God, has His origins in both the Father and the Son, and gives us -- breathes into us -- that life which doesn't end. We go on to confess our belief in the holy catholic church and the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

Chapter 2 of the ELCA's Constitution is called "Confession of Faith" and confesses "the Gospel, recorded in the Holy Scriptures and confessed in the ecumenical creeds and Lutheran confessional writings, as the power of God to create and sustain the Church for God's mission in the world."

Looking back on both these eras of Christian history, we can see human minds and hands at work, creating tension, forcing specific views, and determining to prevail over opponents. Occasionally we see glimpses of the Holy Spirit at work bringing agreement among these disparate folks and focusing all eyes and minds on Christ's word of life and promise.

"Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy" we read in 1 Corinthians 4:2. Paul sees us as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries, who have been given God's Word, full of promises to each of us, promises of forgiveness and life, of harmony with each other and peace within ourselves. That Word speaks to us in very specific ways about what God demands and hopes of us, about God's power to destroy evil and those engaged in it, and God's patience with the people of Israel, with Peter and the apostles who kept straying from the life-giving way shown to us.

The ELCA today engages in a fight on sexuality as polarizing as those I was reminded of in Nicea or at the crusader fortresses. Too often this fight is personal, accusatory, with each side convinced that their position is the only true reflection of God's Word. Yet the measuring stick God applies is one of trustworthiness. Applying that standard, we cannot ignore those parts of Scripture that speak of homosexuality as sin, nor can we explain them away as linked to an inappropriate cultural standard long since disappeared. A trustworthy steward doesn't pick and choose which parts of Scripture to apply. A faithful steward doesn't set aside God's law to make way for God to "do a new thing."

Seeking to be trustworthy in this fight is tough and lonely. It is hard to speak out against the sexuality position treated as the norm daily on television, in the news media, by advocates, and by many in our church. It is hard to bear their derision. Yet we are called to be trustworthy stewards of God's Word, regardless of what that means for our comfort, reputation, and friendships. We join many unnamed in history who have been alienated, sometimes killed, and often forgotten for holding fast to God's Word. But really, that communion of suffering saints is a rich one, and one in which we can find the comfort of a Christ who suffered for us all.