Monthly Archives: February 2010


 First Sunday in Lent                   Luke 4:1-13

Introduction:               Today is the first Sunday in Lent. As you know, those of us who grew up in the South pronounce our ‘e’s and our ‘i’s the same, which can get a bit confusing. If you ask someone for a pen you have to specify whether you want something to write with or to stick something with. I bet I’m not the only one who wondered why we have a season of Lint in the Moravian church. It always sounded like a special time to clean out your lint baffle in your dryer. But even when you know the difference between the season of Lent and lint in your dryer, you can still be confused. To be honest, Lent baffles many of us.

Lent                The word “Lent” or Lenten comes from the old German word for springtime. It probably referred to the fact that days are growing longer this time of year, that the days are lengthening, but in England this old word for spring was used to describe the annual time of fasting in the church year. In other countries, this period is known as the 40 days. Just to make things as confusing as possible, the 40 days of Lent actually last 46 days because you don’t count the Sundays. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which in America is known as the day after Mardi Gras. Lent ends on Easter morning.

            Different churches observe Lent with different degrees of intensity. For the most part, the Baptists I teach at Wake Forest have never heard of Lent, while the Episcopalians take it very seriously. We Moravians are somewhere in between. Some of you may have “given something up for Lent.” People often choose Lent as a time to go on a diet or give up smoking. I tried giving up sarcasm one Lent. That went well. Originally, Lent was a time when Catholics were required to give up meat and even milk and eggs. One reason Easter eggs became so popular was because people had not been able to eat eggs for nearly seven weeks before Easter. In the old days, giving up meat for Lent was a way that everyone in the church ate like poor people who rarely had the luxury of meat. Our Moravian ancestors rejected church fasts and rituals imposed by the pope, especially if they were not founded on the teachings of Christ. One of our founding theologians complained that priests were more concerned with someone eating a sausage during Lent than they were over Christians taking human life. Protestants sometimes made a point of cooking meat on the grill during Lent just to prove that they were free from oppressive church laws.

            Like so many things in churches, Lent was a good idea that got out of hand and became another reason for people to fight and criticize others. Our Moravian ancestors studied history and the Bible to come to a better understand of things like Lent. What they discovered is that it took centuries for the idea of Lent to develop. Originally, there was a simple time of fasting on from Good Friday to Easter during which Christians remembered the sufferings and death of Jesus. This added to the joy of Easter morning. It became customary to baptize new Christians on Easter, and those being baptized went through a period of instruction and training that was called catechesis. For forty days before their baptism they would study, pray, fast, and meditate. We do something similar in confirmation today. In ancient times, those being baptized did not bath or change their clothes during the forty days, which meant everyone was really glad when they were bathed in baptism and given a new white robe to wear on Easter. What our ancestors learned was that Lent was not simply a time to give up meat or eggs; it was a time to learn how to be a better Christian. Rather than giving things up at Lent, perhaps we should take new things on, such as reading the Daily Text or memorizing the creed, or volunteering at Sunnyside Ministries. Lent is not a time to make ourselves more miserable than we already are; it is a time to grow closely to our Savior.

Forty Days                 Why does Lent last 40 days, not counting Sundays? Our Gospel lesson for today should give you a hint. After his baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and nights. When he came back he began his public ministry of healing and preaching. The story of Jesus going into the wilderness is told in three of the four gospels, but only Matthew and Luke give us the details. All Mark tells us is that Jesus fasted during that time and was hungry.

            It is easy to get bogged down thinking about how anyone could go 40 days without food and water and miss the most important points about this story. Don’t picture Jesus sitting in the desert with a calendar marking 40 days off his calendar. It was not a test to see if he could go 40 days, beating the old record of 34 days set by a rival prophet. 40 is a symbolic number in the Bible. It means a really long time. More important, it means a really significant long time that leads to a change in history. Think back on the Old Testament. The flood lasted 40 days and nights, according to one account in Genesis. Moses fasted for 40 days and nights on Mt. Horeb or Sinai before receiving the 10 commandments. Elijah the prophet fasted for 40 days and nights before meeting God on Mt. Horeb. The Babylonian Exile lasted roughly 40 years. All of these stories point to a wilderness experience; a time of preparation before God’s chosen servants do something new and wonderful. The story of Jesus’ time in the wilderness fits this pattern. And the season of Lent is a yearly reminder of Jesus’ struggle and temptation in the wilderness as we prepare ourselves for the miracle of Easter.

Luke’s Version          This year we read the story from the Gospel of Luke. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, but Luke does not tell us why. We have to make an educated guess. What is it that makes a wilderness a wilderness? In America we think of the wilderness being dense woodlands filled with wild animals, but the wilderness can be a desert wasteland. The key thing is that there are not many people in the wilderness. There are no cities, villages, or farms. There is no civilization; no restaurants or laundries or coffee shops. When I was a Boy Scout, Marty Haga took us on a 50 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail, and I was prepared for the wilderness. I had all of my trail foods and a canteen. I did not bring any money because I knew we were going to be in the wilderness. Imagine my surprise when the trail went through mountain villages and the whole troop stopped for hamburgers and milkshakes. So much for wilderness!

            Jesus went into the wilderness so that he could be alone with God. He fasted because there was no one to give him food. It was a dry land so there was little water. He went out into the wild so that he could think about what he was going to do with the next stage of his life. Alone with the wild thinks, Jesus hoped to hear the voice of God, which is what Lent is all about.

            But what happened? Instead of hearing the voice of God directing his way, Jesus encountered the devil in the wilderness. You know what that is like. You know what it is like to stay up in the wee hours of the morning all alone, struggling with decision you need to make; struggling with questions; straining to hear the voice of God and instead hearing the voice of the tempter. You hear your own body begging you to indulge in unhealthy, unwholesome appetites. You hear the voice of your own fear urging you to take the easy path instead of the right path. You hear the voice of your own doubt telling you that you are a failure and you should just give up. You hear the voice of your greed and ambition telling you to sacrifice those you love so you can make more money. I don’t need to tell you about the voices you hear when you are all and vulnerable surrounded by the emptiness of despair.

            What I do need to tell is that your Savior knows what this is like. He was in the wilderness. He was alone and hungry. He heard the cries of the wild animals and knew what it was like to have no safe place to sleep. He faced the tempter and heard the voice of the devil telling him to give into his selfish urges.

            We do not have time this morning to discuss in detail how the devil tempted Jesus. Luke and Matthew tell us there were three temptations. This does not mean that there were only three, just that three were so significant that Jesus later told his disciples about them. Yes, we would not know about these temptations if Jesus had not told his followers what the devil had said to him. When he came out of the desert Jesus knew that he had won a great battle and he wanted others to know how he had struggled.

            The first temptation is the one that is easiest to understand. Jesus was hungry and the devil suggested that he use his supernatural powers to turn the stones into bread. Notice that this is more than a temptation to break his fast or to feed himself when he shouldn’t. The devil was not tempting Jesus to break his diet, like the devil does in TV commercials. He began by saying, “If you are the Son of God.” The temptation is all in the word “If.” Jesus has just been baptized and has heard the voice of God declare him a beloved child, but then the devil says, “prove it.” If you are who you think you are, prove it. Prove it to whom? There’s no one there but Jesus and the devil, and the devil knows who Jesus is. He is tempting Jesus to prove it to himself by using his power in a selfish way. He is raising doubts in Jesus’ mind just before he goes forth to serve. He waits until he is weak and hungry and lonely to raise doubts about who he is what he has to do.

            The second temptation is one few of us face, but we sometimes think about it. The devil shows Jesus all of the splendor of the world’s kingdoms and promises them to Jesus. This time he does not say, “If you are the Son of God.” Instead he offers Jesus the chance to be the ruler of the world. That’s what the Messiah should be, the devil tells him. You should be a king like David or Solomon. You should go forth like Alexander the Great and conquer every kingdom and be proclaimed a living god by your awe-struck subjects. We do not know if the devil could give this to Jesus, but this is the kind of temptation we can understand. Sell your soul to the devil and be a success in the world. If your soul is little, you will get a small success, but sometimes great people sell their souls to achieve great things. You’ve seen some of them in your lifetime. Rich, famous, powerful men and women who have no heart, no compassion, no soul. Empty shells walking through fabulous homes and offices without even knowing they have lost their souls. They have their reward. Jesus was tempted to become the king of kings by following the easy path of conquest instead of the hard path of loving service and sacrifice. He is the Lord and Savior because he resisted this pernicious temptation.

            The third temptation Luke tells us about is one that is harder for us to understand. Again the devil says “If you are the Son of God.” Jesus has refused to become king of kings by doing evil, so the devil tries again to undermine his faith. He sows doubt. If you are who you think you are, prove it to everyone. Jump from the pinnacle of the temple and show the world that God’s angels will protect you. Show the world that you are the Son of God so that they will follow you out of fear. Remove all doubts so that people will not have to rely on their faith. Demonstrate the power of God so that people will not have to trust in God’s love. Make God prove to the world that you are his son. But Jesus recognized the voice of the devil and resisted temptation again. He chose to obey God and do God’s work in the world rather than putting God to the test.

            Luke ends his story by saying that the devil left him until an opportune time. That time was in a garden called Gethsemane when Jesus was again tempted to save his own life, and instead he chose the path of sorrow and death.

Conclusion                  This sacred season of Lent is not about finding ways to make yourself miserable instead of enjoying the springtime. It is not about becoming a temporary vegetarian or proving to yourself that you can go without ESPN for seven weeks. This season of Lent is a time to journey into the wilderness with Christ and boldly confront the tempter whose velvet voice undermines your faith, love, and hope day and night. It is a time to pay even closer attention to the many ways you are tempted to be less than a beloved child of God called to bring God’s mercy to a suffering world. It is a time to discover that you can do the right thing rather than the easy thing. With that in mind, let us prepare ourselves for Holy Communion. Amen.


Playing in the Mud

When I was a teaching assistant at Princeton Seminary, I played co-ed intermural football, something no one over thirty with bad knees should do, as my wife reminds me, but it was a good way to get to know my students. We played the big championship game one year after a week of rain. The field was so muddy we could hardly walk, much less run, but we played hard. When the game was over both teams were muddy and bloody, some were winners, others were losers, so we did the only appropriate thing. We started running and sliding head first through the mud, caking mud on one another, and generally getting covered in the stuff. When one of my students came home his wife nearly kicked him out of the house for being an idiot, but his twelve-year-old daughter came to his defense, “Daddy’s teacher was out there, too.” My wife was more understanding. She just shook her head and pointed to the washing machine and the shower. Julie wasn’t surprised I was a mess because she knows that I’m a firm believer in playing in the mud. Learning in the mud: As a kid, you learn a lot by playing in the mud. You learn that you have to walk differently in mud, and that if the mud is real deep it can suck your shoes and socks off. You also learn that there is a whole other world under the surface of the earth. You find that we share this planet with all types of creatures, some of them inhabit our nightmares, but we depend on all of them. You learn how deep roots go; how trees grow from acorns; and that bottles can stay buried forever without decaying. If you play in the mud, you learn that rubies and emeralds are hard to find, but that there are lots of other beautiful rocks hidden away. You learn how to help nature grow things. In short, you learn. Playing in the mud can lead you to become an agriculturalist, an archaelogist, a geologist, a paleontologist, an entymologist, or any number of other ‘ologists, and that’s not all. Potter’s clay is just a more refined form of mud, but it is the raw material of the artist. I don’t know for sure, but I bet that before Micheangelo created his Moses, Pieta, or David, he played with a lot of clay and mud. Playing in the mud can lead you to surprising discoveries. This mud player became a historian and a theologian. I think I would have had a harder time wading through all of the murky waters of history and theology if I hadn’t spent a childhood in the mud. Salem What’s all this got to do with us today here at Salem? Our students may look prim and proper, but believe it or not, we encourage our women to play in the mud. We affirm the motto of the Magic School Bus on PBS “Get dirty, make mistakes, learn something.” Few of our classes involve literal mud, but many of them do get you metaphorically muddy. The answers are not cut and dried; students have to work for themselves to clear up their confusion. They have to learn the important lesson that you have to live with confusion and ambiguity. Most important, they learn to explore and to make mistakes. Making Mistakes This can be a hard lesson. We very much want to get the right answer and make a perfect grade on the test. Many of us go through every day of life as if God is grammar teacher marking down every mistake. The fear of being wrong keeps us from striving for the right answer. Instead of taking the risk of being wrong, we say or do nothing. We play it safe and keep our skirts clean, but we don’t learn anything that way; we don’t do anything that way; we don’t make the world a better place. Studies have shown that this is particularly true of girls in school. Around seventh grade, the average girl in the average school stops raising her hand to answer or ask questions. In part this is a response to the fact that teachers tend to call on the boys, but it is also because in many and various ways our society teaches young women to stay neat and clean. Women risk a lot when they speak up in school. If they succeed they are branded as significantly undatable. If they fail they are ashamed. So it is safer not to try at all. It is the easy way; the safe way; the clean way, but it is not thebest way. Unfortunately much of our nation’s education is geared this way. In school we learn that wrong answers get us punished with a red X, the scarlet letter of the academy. We learn that there are schedules to keep; grades to master; a limited body of knowledge to memorize. The one question we learn to ask constantly is “is this going to be on the test?” We learn there is only one right answer. I remember that my shop teacher in seventh grade kept telling us that there is one tool for every job and a job for every tool. I still think that shows a lack of creativity. I think you can do almost anything with a Swiss Army knife and a rope. But most schools don’t teach us that. Grades By the time we get to high school we have been taught over and over that the point of school is to get a good grade. If you think about it that’s a ridiculous idea. The point of school is to learn, perhaps even to learn how to learn. Grades are only a way the teachers acknowledge that you have learned. Getting the grade without going through the process is worthless. Cheating is a way to avoid the mud; to keep from taking the risk; therefore it keeps you from learning. If you get the grade without the work, you have nothing. Character Playing in the mud is a way not only to develop people’s minds; it is a way to strengthen their characters. I’ve been talking about taking risks, experiencing things, making mistakes, and even getting dirty, but this does not mean self-destructing through drugs, sex, or thrill-seeking. It has been my experience that young people who walk on the wild side are ones that have not discovered how to learn and grow. They turn to drugs and sex to block out their minds and souls; to stop the endless yearning and avoid the pain of growth. Those who turn to sex and drugs are not taking risks, they are trying to avoid them. They are so afraid of mistakes and failure that they turn to something to give them a quick and easy thrill, a thrill anyone can have. The best way to help children avoid drugs and premature sexuality is not just to say no; it is to discover the joy and challenge of living and learning. Women who have learned to enjoy life and live with the ambiguity of life are less likely to take short cuts such as drugs, cheating, and lying provide. The Church I hate to admit it, but the Christian Church often teaches us the wrong message. Instead of opening us up to the joy of discovering the workings of God in all of creation, churches often try to lock us in to old answers. Instead of teaching us to learn from God, we are told to be content with the answers we’ve been given. Instead of helping us to probe our doctrines and scriptures for meaningful truths and deeper insights, we are told to live by another person’s interpretation. Too often the church has confused morality with ignorance of the world. We often equate morality with shutting ourselves off from the rythyms of life, but true morality is intended to help us go out into the world. Moral teaching gives us the rules and resources we need to go out into society, raise families, run businesses, and find new solutions to difficult problems. The true message of Christ is a call to live as fully living, imperfect human beings. When we read the Bible with open eyes we see that the Old Testament is full of people of genius and courage challenging the old assumptions. We see Deborah leading her people in war and prophesying in the name of God. We see Elijah challenging the powerful and being driven into exile, but in his despair discovering the reality of the one God. Jesus In the New Testament we see Jesus probing people’s souls, asking them questions without a single answer. Jesus frustrated many of his hearers. They came to him for the answers. They wanted to know what was going to be on God’s final exam, and instead Jesus asks them questions and gives them stories to think about. In our readings for today, Jesus sent his students out into the world without all the answers. He says, go and do what you can to help others. When they came back, they told him of their successes and their failures. Jesus sent them out into the mud of life and there they found their potential and their faith. Learning The greatest tools in learning are a probing curiosity, a flexible spirit, , and a willingness to be wrong in order to find what is right. The best thing that a school or a teacher or a pastor or a church can do is to develop these natural gifts in students. It is important to impart knowledge, but it is even more important to lead students to the fountain of knowledge; to help them discover the truth for themselves. In short, to help them play in the mud. I think this is what Salem is all about. We push our students; question them and offer different points of view so that they will question back and offer their ideas. We send them into the world of work, of learning, and of service where they will see for themselves that some questions have many answers and when you encounter a problem you have to roll up your sleeves and get a little dirty while you fix it. We give them ancient texts and help them to read with their own eyes; to challenge accepted answers; to try new approaches. We grade them and they learn that a bad grade is not the end of the world, it is the call to excel. We build young women’s esteem by sharpening their minds and letting them make mistakes. I hope that we can learn to do the same thing in our home, our own lives, and in our churches.

Jesus and Salvation

A Moravian Understanding of Jesus as Savior

Craig D. Atwood

Easter, 2003

This is a critical moment in the Moravian Church.  Yes, we are dealing with doctrine, but doctrine is more than slogans and memorized catechisms.  Doctrine is our self-understanding as the people of God.  Our doctrine and our practice must be in harmony. The history of Christianity is filled with examples of churches that established doctrinal purity and lost their faith, love, and hope.  Too often the phrase “Jesus is the only way to heaven” becomes in practice “Agreement with my preaching is the only path to God.”  Too often the concern to save some is distorted into the desire to condemn all who disagree with us.

There has been a great deal of discussion and even argument in recent years over the Moravian understanding of Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life.”  Throughout its long history, the Moravian Church has proclaimed that Christ is “the source of our salvation.”  We know of no other way to abundant life in this world and the next.  Moravians have also proclaimed Paul’s message that “through Christ, God is reconciling the world to himself.”  In other words, we teach that it is because of the on-going work of Christ that humans can be restored, forgiven, and brought into a grace-filled and loving relationship with God and all of God’s creation.

It is very important that Moravians understand that we teach that salvation is the work of God alone.  It is God alone who saves us. Moravians have traditionally recognized that Jesus and Paul repeatedly warn people about the dangers of self-righteousness.  It is the sinner rather than the Pharisee that is justified in Jesus’ parables.  When we turn salvation into a work that we do or when we believe that we are somehow worthy of salvation, then we reject the grace of God and turn our backs on Christ. We then seek salvation apart from Christ and lose what we seek.  We cannot save ourselves.  We do not save others.  All that we can do is recognize that we are indeed sinners saved by grace and in doing so become agents of God’s infinite mercy to others.

The Ground of the Unity makes a useful distinction between the saving work of Christ and the “fruits of salvation.”  We believe that the redemptive work of Christ is an objective reality, much as the work of creation is an objective reality. The fruits of salvation, on the other hand, depend on our acceptance of the gift Christ offers.  Moravians have always understood that we respond to God’s work of salvation in Christ through faith, love, and hope.  These are the only spiritual gifts that truly matter, as Paul informed the Corinthians.  Faith means trusting in God’s promises and the reality of Christ’s redemption.  Love means seeking the good of others in concrete acts of mercy and acceptance.  Hope means that we do not despair about the future but look for a better world for all of creation.  It is essential in the Moravian Church that our preaching and teaching about salvation increase our faith, love, and hope.

If in our zealous preaching of salvation through Christ we slip into anger, bitterness, or hatred towards those who do not receive our message or whose understanding of salvation differs from ours, then we are in danger of rejecting our own salvation.  To paraphrase Jesus, what have you gained if you convert the entire world but lose your own soul?

As to Jesus’ statement that he is “the way, the truth, and the life,” it is wise not to place too much stress on a definite article.  The word “the” is not the focus of the text.  The focus is on the words “way, truth and life.”  One way to interpret this verse is that Jesus himself shows us the way to God through his own life, teachings, work, and sacrificial love.  In saying that Jesus is the way, the Gospel of John is restating Jesus’ teaching that we are to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him.  It is important to note that this verse does not say, “Belief in Jesus as the Son of God is the only way to the Father.” It simply says that his followers must follow his way.

In all of the controversy over Jesus being the way to the Father, we are apt to miss the essential point that Jesus is also truth and life.  This means that the path to the Father is the path of truth.  All that is true comes from God.  It is Satan who is the father of lies. When Christians resort to deception in their effort to convert people, they are following the way of Satan rather than Christ. Moreover, Christianity embraces truth even when it comes from sources other than the Bible.  It is vitally important that we do not allow our zeal turn into a fanaticism that denies plain truth and hard facts.  Any religion or church that teaches that scientific facts are contrary to faith is not Christian.  Jesus is the truth; therefore if we turn from truth we turn away from Jesus.

Jesus is the life.  Clearly this means that following Jesus brings life in this world and the next.  This is consistent with the rest of Scripture. The word “salvation” comes from the word for health.  Therefore if our preaching and teaching diminishes life and destroys people, then we have ceased to be Christian.  Salvation in Jesus does not mean hopelessness, misery, destructiveness, abuse, or malice.  When churches resort to psychological or physical violence to enforce belief in Jesus, they lose their own salvation.

Jesus said that no one comes to the Father expect by him and we do doubt this statement.

There are, however, reasons to doubt that this verse is talking about salvation.  Jesus says that he is the one who can show his disciples who the Father is.  In the Catholic tradition, this refers to the Beatific Vision that is reserved for the saints.  All those who are saved are in paradise, but not all of them will see the Father.  Protestants acknowledge that this may instead refer to mystical experience, such as Isaiah’s vision of God.  For Moravians, this verse has traditionally meant that Jesus is the most complete revelation of God that we experience in this life.  If we desire to know God and God’s will, we look to the Gospel record of the life of Jesus. The followers of Jesus can be confident that when we look at Jesus we see the Father revealed.

The basic problem in the current controversy is over the word “only.”  Moravians have always and continue to proclaim that Jesus is the Savior of the world.  There is no reason to doubt that Jesus is our Lord and Savior.  Nor should we doubt that by believing and following Jesus we shall experience eternal life with him.  Moreover, our missionaries have courageously taken this simple message of God’s self-giving love to those whom the world despised and rejected, such as slaves. This is consistent with the witness of Scripture and our experience of Christ.  There is simply no need to go beyond Scripture and insert the word “only” where it does not appear.  We must remain true to the plain sense of Scripture, common reason, and our experience of God in Christ.

There are many dangers in going beyond Scripture, particularly when we begin to preach and behave in ways inconsistent with Christian virtue.  There is a real danger that we will become the older brother in the parable and reject our own redemption by objecting the father’s mercy.  There is a danger that we will travel over land and sea to make a single convert and make him a “child of hell” rather than a child of God.  There is a danger that in shutting the kingdom of heaven to others, we shut it to ourselves.  This is not a minor issue. Our approach to salvation defines who we are as Christians and as a Church.

There is strong evidence in the Bible that God works in many ways to bring salvation.  Jesus himself told the parable of Lazarus in which Abraham and Lazarus are in paradise even though they died before Jesus’ atoning death.  Hebrews strongly affirms the salvation of the faithful people of the Old Testament.  Paul indicates in Romans that God keeps his promises and that the people of the Old Covenant are not rejected because Gentiles have been welcomed through a New Covenant.  The Moravian Church has traditionally taught that children who die before making an adult profession of faith are also saved by God’s mercy.  Would any Moravian pastor say otherwise at the funeral of a child? The repeated message of the Bible is that God is merciful beyond human comprehension.

It is consistent with the Christian tradition and Moravian theology to acknowledge that salvation remains one of God’s mysteries. Moravians should approach the doctrine of salvation in the same way we approach the presence of Christ in the Holy Communion.  What is mystery remains a mystery.  In the doctrine of salvation as in the doctrine of Communion we hold to the simple words of Scripture and proceed in faith.  Sometimes it is more dangerous to say too much rather than too little.

Does it mean that we lose our motivation for missions if we acknowledge that God may save people who have not made a profession of faith in Jesus?  It has not had that effect in the past.  The most heroic period of Moravian missions was an era when the mystery of salvation was acknowledged.  Moravian missions are not based on the desire to win some type of contest with other religions nor are they conducted to satisfy the personal ego of the missionaries.

Moravians engage in global missions because we love all of God’s children and want to be in communion with them.  We proclaim the gospel because we have found our salvation in Christ and want to share the joy of Christ with others.  We do not go in to the world to save people from the fires of hell.  We go to offer people the joys of heaven and intimate fellowship with us.  There are hundreds of millions of people in this world who are longing to be redeemed from their isolation.  All we need is a renewed awareness that the Holy Spirit is preparing those who are ready to receive the gospel rather than falling into the unchristian belief that we can conquer the world.

In summary, the Moravian Church’s traditional understanding of salvation includes the following key points that we reaffirm:

1.  We hold to the foundational Protestant conviction that salvation is by faith through grace.  Salvation cannot be earned.  No one is worthy of heaven. Those who are saved are saved out of God’s grace and suffering love not their own righteousness or even their doctrinal correctness.

2.  We further believe that faith is formed by love.  Love is the active component of faith and is essential to the Christian life and the Christian church.

3.  We preach, teach, and live in the full confidence that Jesus Christ is our Savior and the Savior of the world.  We affirm fully that “For God so loved the world, he gave his begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” This conviction is not shaken by current controversy.

4.  We will resist the temptation to go beyond the simple teaching of Scripture in matters where there is much disagreement.  While we enthusiastically proclaim that Christ is the Savior of the world, we will not alter Scripture by inserting the word only where it does not appear. We acknowledge that people of sincere faith and good will who seek to follow Christ in the way have different interpretations of Scripture.

5.  We affirm strongly the biblical teaching that God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself.  We believe that God’s redemption is an objective reality that does not depend on our response.  We recognize that our knowledge is partial, our motives are tainted by sin, and our love less generous than God.  We hold fast to the teaching that God can do more than we imagine.

6.  We approach the great mystery of salvation in a way similar to our approach to the mystery of Holy Communion.  This is a matter for awe and humility rather than rancorous debate and division. We acknowledge that the Scripture offers many perspectives on salvation, including the possibility of an eventual redemption of all souls in the eschaton.  We feel called to proclaim the Good News of salvation in Christ, but we will not presume to call into question the mercy of our gracious God.

7.  We share God’s love for the world and we go in faith into the world as agents of God’s grace with the life-giving message of Jesus Christ.  We acknowledge, however, that our Chief Elder may close certain parts of the globe to us and that we must follow his guidance rather than our own desires.  The proclamation that our Lamb has conquered should not be twisted into a belief that we must conquer the world.

8  Since Scripture, especially the New Testament, is the primary authority in our church, we affirm along with the Gospels and the book of Hebrews that faithful followers of God, such as Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Miriam, Ruth, and unnumbered others were saved before the appearance of Jesus Christ.  Thus we reject the notion that “belief in Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven” as unbiblical and confusing to people inside and outside the community of faith.

9.  Likewise, in accordance with the teachings of Jesus recorded in the Gospels and the teachings of Paul in his letter to the Romans, we affirm that God is faithful to the promise that he swore to Abraham, revealed through Moses, and reaffirmed through the prophets.  The fact that Gentiles may be brought into relationship with God through the covenant of grace sealed in the blood of Christ does not affect the old covenant with the people of Israel.  We are happy to receive Jews as brothers and sisters and are glad to share with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but we will not preach or teach that the children of Israel who do not accept Jesus as Messiah are condemned by God. Nor will we make Jews the focus of evangelism.

10.  Through the centuries we have recognized the great danger of self-righteousness and judgmentalism.  It is one thing to proclaim the Good News of salvation in Christ; it is another to proclaim that who disagree with us are damned.  The first is a joyful response to our experience of God’s mercy; the second is pride and hate cloaked in the shadows of self-justifying piety.

11. There may come times when those entrusted with leadership in our church find that they can no longer serve in this church with integrity because their understanding runs counter to that of the community of faith.  As Moravians we view such moments as a time for brotherly and sisterly council rather than a legal process.  If separation or change of role in the church is deemed necessary, the transition should be conducted with mutual love and respect. Our utmost concern is for the well-being of the community as a whole.

12.  We affirm our centuries-old understanding that the fruits of salvation are faith, love, and hope. Where these are lacking, there is no church. We also acknowledge that the effort to remove tares destroys wheat. It is imperative that in dealing with differences within our community of faith, as well as in our dealing with people in other religions, that we hold firm to the essential Christian virtue of love. If we cease to represent Christ in the world in our effort to convert the world, we have lost our faith without bringing others to faith.