WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Martin Luther used this question repeatedly when he set out to articulate the basic beliefs of Christianity. In Luther’s 16th Century world, not much about Christianity was really explained or even accessible to those outside of church leadership—priests, monks, bishops, etc.—even the Bible was written in Latin. Luther sought to change that.
Much has changed over the last five hundred years, but Luther’s question is still relevant today. I know I’ve found myself nodding along to words that I’ve heard in church over and over but struggle to actually define. The catch is that many of these terms are actually very helpful in articulating what it is that we as Christians believe. At some point, though, we stopped talking about the meaning behind the terms and assumed that everyone understood what was meant. We turned the terms into church jargon or insider language.
There are probably many I wrestled with that you might already know, and there are definitely ones I will miss, but here is a list of some of the church words and jargon I’ve had to work to articulate for myself.
Grace: This is what I’ve come to know as the “Lutheran Lens.” It’s what everything is viewed and filtered through. Grace is that which is given to us—something we do not deserve and can never earn. In the church, grace is the gift of faith, salvation, and forgiveness given in Jesus Christ by God through the Holy Spirit.
Faith: Belief in God and the promises of Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. This is a bit more than simple intellectual agreement, however. Faith is beyond evidence or proof—and it’s not something we do or obtain for ourselves. This is also a gift of the Holy Spirit. As Luther said in the Small Catechism, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel.”
Salvation: This one’s complicated, but I’ll try to get a glimpse of it out there. Every faith tradition has an ultimate concern—most are about what happens after death. Salvation is the achievement of that ultimate concern. Through the Lutheran Lens, salvation happens by grace through faith.
Justification: Being made right with God. Forgiveness given to us by God makes us right with God. Again, this is not something we earn or achieve—it’s all God. It’s all grace.
Sanctification: This one isn’t used as often, but sanctification is really important, too. It’s the process of the Holy Spirit working inside of us, transforming us, and making us into the people who live like we’ve been saved by grace through faith.
Stewardship: Stewards are those who are put in charge of someone else’s stuff—land, possessions, money, etc. While stewardship is often used in reference to money, stewardship in the church really refers to how we care for what God has given us—property, lives, abilities, and yes, money. Since we believe God created the world and all in it, we also believe it really does all belong to God, and we have been charged with its care.
Fellowship: Basically, social time. Fellowship is the time the church community spends together outside of worship—strengthening relationships and caring for one another through the gift of time.
Hospitality: Commonly referring to food or refreshments served during a fellowship time, hospitality can also mean the care and welcome we offer when we encounter one another.
Now/Not Yet: This current era of the world. God has become incarnate in Jesus, who lived, died, was raised, and ascended into heaven. There has been a glimpse of the dominion of God here on earth, but we have yet to fully realize the promise. We live in the now/not yet.
Sinner/Saint: Everyone. We are all sinners. It’s part of human nature—we constantly sin, every day because we are sinners. However, we have been justified and saved, so we also share in the sainthood of salvation. Simultaneously, we are sinners and saints (in Latin: simul iustus et peccator).
Holy Trinity: The Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the one God. Three Persons. One Being. Any further definition risks confining God to human concepts, and God is so much bigger than that—so much bigger than our human understanding.
Hallowed: Something that is revered as holy and sacred. This word (pronounced
hal-low-wed when said in the Lord’s Prayer) is one I’ve yet to hear in non-church conversation.
Theology: The study of God. Theological concepts are ones that refer to ideas formed or drawn from these studies. To be clear, there can be many theological concepts about any given topic—often scholars will encompass a spectrum of opinions, ideas, and conclusions. Theology is something we all work through together, keeping one another grounded in faithful beliefs and scholarship.
All of these terms help us define and articulate who we are and what we believe as Christians. However, what we believe is only the beginning of the journey. The bigger question we have to face is how we respond to all of this grace, forgiveness, and salvation. Since this has all been given to us, and we don’t have to worry about earning or deserving it, now what do we do? Well, we live. We live and we can consider what it is we do with these lives we have, and how we might live these lives as people saved by grace through faith.
Have a wonderful summer living in the salvation given to you by grace through faith.