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The Grammar of our Faith

Has there been a better invention in the age of computer than the squiggly red line that appear under mispelled words? (See what I did there–even though you can’t see the red line, I can on my screen and it is taking all I’ve got to not go and correct it!) Okay, maybe there are better inventions. But, at least for this grammar challenged and spell struggling writer, I lean heavily on the automatic spell and grammar check. Heavily!

As such, take this post with a grain of sand–I’m talking a little beyond my wheelhouse. This past Sunday we celebrated Reformation Sunday. Reformation Day is coming up on October 31st. It commemorates the beginning of the reformation as Martin Luther tacked 95 talking points on the town bulletin board in Wittenberg, Germany. And, every year, Lutheran Christians around the globe pause and remember the importance of this act. You may remember three years ago as we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the reformation.

Modifying Persons, Places, and Things

But here’s the deal. I like being Lutheran. It is an important element of my faith and theology. But it pails in comparison to my identity in Christ Jesus. And, here is the grammar lesson. Let’s analyze the simple sentence, I am a Lutheran Christian. The noun here is Christian. Being Christian is the focus of our sentence. The qualifier and modifier of this noun–the adjective–is Lutheran. Lutheran is not the focus–it helps to better understand the focus. As Christians, our relationship with Christ Jesus is of paramount importance. It is our relationship with Jesus that brings about salvation. Not our relationship with brother Martin. Of course you know this. This is not revolutionary. So, let’s take it a step further.

The word “Christian” could also be understood as a verb. Perhaps not in the classical sense. But, in the theological sense, right? Verbs are the action words. As followers of Jesus we act. There is movement, power, energy, and activity in our love of Christ and others. What is a Christian if not empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a change agent in the kingdom of God. The Spirit gives us power and calls us to act and use this power for the care and redemption of the world. Certainly, it all comes from our Triune God. But, we are on the move with God. And, if this is true, then “Lutheran” is no longer an adjective. Instead, it becomes an adverb. It performs a similar function. However, adverbs modify the movement. Adverbs further define the ways in which the actions of the verbs are lived out. So, maybe, Lutheran is more of an adverb that qualifies how we serve the Lord and one another throughout this life. Regardless, “Lutheran” is not the verb nor is it the noun.

Supporting the Growth

The final thought I share with you comes from one of my mentors, Leonard Sweet. In describing the significance and the role of our various denominational doctrines, Sweet articulates well how our various adjectives/adverbs relate to Christ. Jesus, in John 15, speaks of vines and branches. The imagery is of a grape vine in a vineyard. It is clear the whole focus and attention is given to the vine (Jesus) and the branches (us). If you have ever been to a vineyard, you know that one of the important elements of the growing process of vines are the trellises. These support structures allow for the growth to occur. Nobody pays close attention to the trellises. They don’t produce fruit. They don’t need to be watered or cared for, except to be mended on occasion. And so it is with our denominational doctrines and teachings. So it is with reformation teachings and our heritage. Martin Luther was a great reformer who helped to shape the world. But, at his very best, all he did was help to hold up the vine and the branches.

Luther and his legacy are a beautiful adjective that help to further define our understanding of who Jesus is and why He matters. Happy Reformation Day!

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