Helen Mildenhall’s most recent contribution to our continuing conversation [Viewpoints, Oct. 11] centers around questions about taking part in worship (in the face of doubts about the truth content of the language and doctrine expressed), attending the Lord’s Supper (if not a member of the denomination in which it is served) and participating in one-on-one dialog with Christians (though not a card-carrying believer).
If I’m right, Helen, your point is all about genuineness, not hypocrisy, when using the language of worship or communing or when exploring faith issues with another. I admire your care for integrity in matters of this magnitude and commend it to everyone.
In responding to your concerns, I think of the difference our life situation makes when we’re not sure whether we believe all that is said and done in worship or when denominational credentials are the means to communing, or if one can explore faith issues while one’s own convictions are unsure. Let me illustrate the significance of life situation from where I am as you read this.
I’m in the Peoples Republic of China at this time, listening and learning from the growing numbers of Chinese Christians-really an astonishing pace of growth-in this most populous nation on earth. Their life situation is marked by risk, harassment, and sometimes brutal persecution by a regime of state-sponsored atheism. Yet they gather in congregations-some legal and many more illegal underground house churches-to celebrate the Good News amidst bad situations. It’s not that every worshiper grasps the full content of all that Scripture, hymns, and creeds offer. But the overwhelming reality is the presence of the One to whom the words point: Jesus is Lord. That was the very first creed (it turns up in I Corinthians 12:3), and it’s still the heartbeat of all the enriching spiritual heritage that has come to us from the apostolic beginnings.
Their life situation is comparable to people suddenly dumped overboard into threatening seas who cling for dear life to the lifeline thrown out to them. They don’t know all about the rescue operation in their behalf nor do they comprehend why the law of gravity pulls them down instead of holding them up. They’ve got a lifeline to hold onto!
The question much closer to home for us is how firmly we can hold onto that same lifeline in our vastly different life situations, where the undertow is more subtle but no less fatal to our lives set amidst a privileged affluence that rivals any in world history. Holding fast to the one Lord whose rescue operation reaches everywhere is what counts. From that handhold of trust all other matters of worship language, communion participation, and faith dialog can be sorted out as they will and must.
In addressing your concerns, Helen, from a perspective both global and local, I lean toward testing the language of worship and practices of faith through the witness of those who have given their lives for it-not only here in mainland China but more recently in a Pennsylvania schoolroom. Word has gone worldwide about that 13-year-old Amish girl who told her murderer to shoot her first in her hope to thus spare the lives of the littler ones alongside her. Here is a life situation before which we stand in humble awe, trying to find our place and deal with our needs as we live under the towering greatness of the truth God reveals, yes in the venerable language of worship that has stood the test of centuries, but above all in the surprises of humble, faithful people whose lives make us want to live as they do and be as they are.
Two more items you touched upon. With regard to who is welcome at the Lord’s Supper, some Lutherans (as well as Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians) admit only those who are prepared and who identify with the full doctrinal stance of that denomination. That’s to be respected. Others of us, however, recognize that we are not the only ones who prepare the baptized diligently for their place at the Lord’s table. And so we welcome all such who hunger and thirst for his forgiving love, cherishing the unity that is ours in Christ as he feeds and leads his entire flock across denominational lines.
The other thing you mentioned is your calling me by my first name, which is just fine with me. My mind goes back years ago to an experience in Japan where our foreign names were written in a special Japanese alphabet. When a group of Japanese friends sought to translate my name into English letters they came close. But instead of writing Dean Lueking, they wrote Dum Looking.
Thanks, Helen, for Dean. Not Dum.