500 years ago, Northern Europe was essentially an either/or world. You were either Christian (mostly meaning Catholic) or not, either heaven bound or hell bound, either rich or poor, either blessed or forsaken.
One of the most striking innovations that marked the Lutheran Reformation was a move from either/or thinking to both/and thinking. And we see this reflected in much of Reformation thought, theology and practice. Instead of a person being either sinner or saint, they were seen as simul justus et peccator – both sinner and saint. God didn’t work only through spiritual means, but also through the the gritty, earthy stuff of daily life (the Lutheran Doctrine of Two Kingdoms). In his foundational treatise “The Freedom of the Christian,” Martin Luther wrote:
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
His main point was that, through faith, God frees us from the enslaving powers of the world, the devil, and the sinful self. But at the same time, faith calls us to serve our neighbor, creation, and the suffering world.
As we near the end of the church year and lean towards the anticipation and hope of Advent, we find ourselves at a point in history with both immense challenges and amazing opportunities. Many of the cherished practices and comfortable patterns of the past are no longer able to meet the challenges of the present, while new opportunities, while emerging, are not quite clear enough to embrace fully.
It’s in a season like this where the both/and thinking of our Lutheran tradition can help us navigate the uncertainty, manage the change, and see the future that God is calling us into. May we trust in God to both protect us and guide us.
Pastor Scott Simmons