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To whom shall we go?

by Jaynan Clark Egland (WordAlone Network president)

November 11, 2008

photo of Pastor JaynanGetting the question right and identifying the final destination are often the most important parts of moving forward in a journey of faith. Whether you will encounter forks in the road, detours, bottomless potholes, dangerous conditions is not the primary concern at the beginning of your journey; it is the question of where you are going. You can’t even put in a calculation for MapQuest assistance or GPS guidance without giving them the location of your destination.

Face it... some can just run on forever and ever like Forrest Gump, without any apparent reason or destination. But, not knowing where you are going is usually only acceptable for short “Sunday drives” in the countryside or in the movies’ idyllic journeys to nowhere.

“The Way” must be clear.

Everywhere I go these days and whomever I talk to about WordAlone and our voice and ministry I hear the questions, “Where are we going?” “When will it finally be enough and time to leave?” “How are we going to go; will anyone follow?” These are only three examples that represent dozens of more questions! All ask the same thing.

“Are we leaving the ELCA?” (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)

Staying or leaving--is that the question? I feel that it is being asked so much and in so many ways it has taken on its own proverbial sense and mimics, “To be or not to be ... that is the question.”

Staying or leaving isn’t the question.

I don’t think it ever should have been considered the question. Though it makes me sound crass or distant, my real answer to the staying or leaving question is, “It doesn’t matter.”

For too long Christians in general and Lutherans in particular have cared too much about the letters in front of or behind their names. We have cared far too much about things like affiliation, denominationalism, institutional structures and organizational charts and far too little about making disciples, preaching the Word according to the Biblical witness, naming the name of Jesus, telling His story, teaching young and old alike. We’ve been clinging to the institutional brand name and body and disregarding our birthright and our Lord Crucified and Risen.

Choices and behavior that place church structure and human authority over the story of our Lord Jesus and His authority are the Reformation of 500 years ago revisited. We’ve focused our attention and even our “devotion” on the institutions of human construct at the expense of our confession of faith that Jesus reminds us is not revealed to us by flesh and blood but by our Father in Heaven. To have done so as Lutherans for all these years of denominational shuffling is nothing short of idolatry.

When the business becomes more important than the product, when the package is more important than the gift, when the delivery is more important than the message, when the title is more important than the call, then it follows that the question of where we go ends up trumping the true faith question--the more important question-- “To whom shall we go?” You as a church or as an individual are not being confronted by the “where?” but by the “who?” The true question is not what church body you belong to now, belonged to in the past or will belong to in the future . . . it is whose body and blood was given and shed for you and to whom do you belong?

The mission and ministry of the WordAlone Network don’t change and are not limited by whether you are in the ELCA or not, have joined LCMC (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ) or CALC (Canadian Association of Lutheran Churches) or any other emerging association of Lutherans. WordAlone doesn’t want to neglect or lose track of any confessing Lutherans or other Christians who yearn to be in fellowship with other believers--believers who still confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ and who still regard the Bible as the inspired Word of God, which has authority in and of itself and over us as sinners in need of forgiveness and salvation.

If you are a member of the ELCA then WordAlone invites you to become an active part of the coalition for reform in which we are a member group--Lutheran CORE. Make your voice heard and work for reform within the ELCA. WordAlone is committed to being present to the ELCA and to speaking the truth in love on and off the assembly floors, especially the ones in 2009.

However, what WordAlone has done in the past eight years or will do in the future years is not driven by denominational lines or alignment rather it is defined by the question of “to be or not to be faithful?” That is the question. Where can you best confess your one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Where can you be most faithful to His “Great Commission” and tell His story and make disciples for Him?

Wherever that is . . . the WordAlone Network wants to be available to help you in any way we can. Networking, connecting people, helping with call situations (Lutheran Clergy Connect), helping seminarians to be true to their confessions of faith (Seminary Debt Relief Fund), birthing new Lutheran agencies and ministries to meet the needs for hymnody (ReClaim Resources), theological education (Institute of Lutheran Theology), educational resources (Sola Publishing), even a new Lutheran Church body (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ) are all within the calling of the WordAlone Network. WordAlone has been living a new paradigm, a new way of being the church and doing the work of the church.

The basis for church organization should not be vertical, institutional structures but horizontal connections and witness--confessing the faith and serving the neighbor. Simply, we should look to the first church in Acts and try to act according to that example. Let us try to be about function first and allow the form to follow.

So, as the ripples went out from Jerusalem, Judea and beyond in the earliest church, part of WordAlone’s ministry is to help individuals and churches extend their outreaches in faithful, Word-based ways by informing and connecting them to a variety of existing Lutheran and other Christian agencies that do specialized ministry and practice good stewardship like Youth Encounter, World Mission Prayer League, Faith Inkubators, Eastern European Missions Network, China Service Ventures, Bible Alive/Connections, Mount Carmel Ministries, Church Resources, and that is only to name a few. There are so many ways for you to extend your ministry and outreach farther than you can do as an individual church and do it through an ever widening and tightening network of confessing Christians.

We are called to be the church that God wants us to be. Only God our Father through Jesus Christ his Son can define what that is, how it works and who it is. I don’t think Jesus really cares what church or institution you belong to; however, He does care that you know to whom you belong. You are His . . . and He is “The Way.”