Lesson 4: The Free Church – The Gracious Lifestyle

After 1300 years a revolution took place within the Established Church. The Protestant Movement led to a number of different church types. Some tried to recapture the Countercultural model, some simply to reform the Establishment, and others to develop the new and different. I tried to catch the spirit if not the reality of the movement with the label “Free Church”

The primary task of the Free Church is to proclaim God’s love for each part and person of the world. She is minimalist as defined by the Augsburg Confession. “It is sufficient to have an Assembly of Believers where the Gospel is rightly preached and where the sacraments are rightly administered” This means it only takes two people to be a Church (Matthew 18: 20): one to speak God’s Word and one to hear, one to wash and one to be washed, and two to share a meal. The Church supplies the means of divine grace: 1) The Living Word of God that changes believers’ hearts, 2) Baptism that brings people into the proper relationship with God and other people, and 3) The Eucharist whose regular celebration maintains that relationship.

The Word and Sacraments deliver the Spirit that sends believers to love people and care for the biosphere. Faith is always active in love. The willing heart serves the neighbor.

“Gracious” seems a good description of the lifestyle. It once meant “godly” referring to the “mercy” that is the essential quality of God. The gracious person, being merciful and compassionate demonstrates godly characteristics. The lifestyle is characterized by:

1. Trusting salvation does not depend on what we do but in what Christ has done for us while we were still sinners and helpless. This freedom is often described by the slogan, “justification by grace through faith (alone). We are freed from efforts to please God.

2. Gathering in community to receive blessings not to fulfill obligations. The believers also remember traditions that are critiqued by the authority of scripture and the situation. Even though the community and tradition provide guidance, ones conscience is never sacrificed. Luther claimed, “It is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience”.

3. Thanksgiving which acknowledges we all receive more than we can ever give. God’s love provides all we need.

4. Practicing ones secular vocation as God’s calling. The Priesthood of all Believers is bestowed by baptism. Vocation becomes secular rather than religious.

5. Passing on the blessings received. Believers love, because they are loved; forgive, because they are forgiven, etc. Luther described this as being “Little Christs”.

6. Realizing there is never purity in this world. All are both saint and sinner. Institutions must be continually reformed and individuals must repent daily.

In many ways this is a great lifestyle for modern times. The only absolute is love. In a world where people have trouble loving themselves much less other people and God, it grants the security needed to love and forgive. It supplies the courage to operate in an uncertain world according to the need of time and place. The problem obviously is that its individualism can run amok if it is not guided by the community and tradition.

I’m interested in hearing if our readers think this lifestyle offers a better way to handle authority. Anne obviously has as much problem with obedience as I do. The question is always, “Who really speaks for God?” Bob remind us we shall always be dealing with some form of human authority. And Juan suggests we might find insights in Dostoevsky. I find his “Grand Inquisitor” especially helpful. Does the freedom of the Gracious Lifestyle offer enough structure or does it lose all content? It might lead to a smorgasbord approach in which people pick and choose whatever they want? Is that really so bad?

I really liked Juan’s suggestions that we should have a personal but not a private faith and make sure our love is directed at real human beings not humanity in general. Does “love your NEIGHBOR” indicate Christians keep things local and specific rather than global?

We have looked at four classic lifestyles in this first unit. Probably nobody practices just one in its pure form. For instance, my friend Tony, a Roman Catholic, recently took me, a Lutheran, to a Peace Church conference which we both thoroughly appreciated. We’ll now take a week off. In two weeks, I’ll offer a second unit dealing with four prevalent modern lifestyles I find deficient or perverted.

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