The ELCA church sign down the road from my place now declares:
TRUE HEROISM - THE URGE TO SERVE AT WHATEVER COST
I find this sentiment nauseating on two grounds. First, it is neither an accurate definition, nor a constructive one. If you want to encourage people to serve courageously, you need to recognize that a true hero serves whatever the urge. Otherwise, you are telling people that if they don't feel an urge to do the right thing, even at risk of personal sacrifice, they don't have what it takes to be a hero. Rather the courage of people who fought back against their urge to run, hide, please themselves, etc., should be held up as an example of true heroism. That picture is a mirror in which all of us can see ourselves, a pattern we can all follow, given the right kind of encouragement.
The second reason this sign makes me want to hurl is far more serious. It is a sign that this "Lutheran" church has given up the very thing that distinguishes Lutheranism from all other faiths. It is a hint that what prevails at that ELCA church is a teaching of morals and pointers for living, rather than the gifts of God that set us free from guilt, death, and the devil. It is a sign of a religious outlook that generates good works by telling people what to do, rather than filling them with Christ and making them His vessels of lovingkindness.
Lutheranism offers something unique and precious to the world. It is therefore easy to understand why it is slandered, hated, and disdained everywhere, and why so much effort is expended on pushing it out of the picture or changing it from within. Only Lutheranism delivers the free gift of total, unconditional forgiveness. Only Lutheranism instills a comforting, complete assurance of God's grace and salvation. Only Lutheranism is truly Christ-centered, locating every act and decision relating to our salvation in Christ alone. Only Lutheranism teaches that the Word and Sacraments are God at work, giving us His gracious gifts, from our rebirth as God's children in Baptism to our precious, life-giving communion with Jesus' true body and blood. Only Lutheranism subjects all things, including our own interpretation of Scripture, to the living voice of God in His Word.
Lutheranism gives freedom where every other faith adds bonds and burdens. Lutheranism breathes the Word of God in humble faith, where every other belief-system sniffs at God's revelation with varying degrees of doubt and superiority. Lutheranism tirelessly confesses what man-centered theologians angrily deny. Lutheranism holds its peace where other systems multiply useless definitions and rules of their own making. To walk under the yoke of historic, Lutheran doctrine is to bear a sweet burden, knowing that every oft-tested and -contested article is Christ's own gospel, and knowing with what long pains it has been saved for us. I would not give up a single article of the Lutheran faith, any sooner than I would give up the whole Gospel; because I sincerely fear that to lose one may be to lose all.
And so, whatever my urge may be, I pray the Lord will give me the courage to stand firm in Lutheran theology to the very end. But I will not ask to be recognized as a hero. My hero is Christ Jesus, who died for me, and who lives in me; who forgives me when I fail in my duty, and who strengthens me to serve at whatever cost. Heroism comes from Him, not from me. And so, if He grants me the opportunity to preach, I will preach like a Lutheran - not like that ELCA sign - and point people to true hero: Jesus.