Rev. Michael Keith
I like Heinz ketchup. It tastes good to me. I like it on hamburgers and hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches. I like it on my macaroni and cheese, but only on leftover macaroni and cheese. (It is a terrible sin to put ketchup on freshly made, creamy macaroni and cheese. That must be enjoyed in its natural state.) I like ketchup on a lot of things. Heinz ketchup. However, sometimes another brand of ketchup will end up on the table. This is a scary thing to deal with. I look at it suspiciously. I poke at it. I sniff it. I try to determine if it will hurt me. I wonder if it will be as good as Heinz? Could it be better? Doubtful. Will it leave me disappointed and sad? I don’t know-it’s not Heinz. With a bottle of Heinz ketchup I know what I am going to get. It’s what I want. It won’t let me down. It’s going to taste good on my food.
In some ways your church sign is like the name Heinz on a ketchup bottle. If I see that your sign has the name Lutheran (and in particular LCMS in the U.S. and LCC in Canada) I know what I should expect. In fact, that is why when I am traveling I will try to find a LCMS/LCC church to visit. The name represents something. It is telling me that at this church there are certain things taught and certain beliefs that are held to by the people there. That’s why I want to go there. I want to hear the Gospel. I want to hear the Law and Gospel properly distinguished and applied. I want to receive Holy Communion. I want to hear the Absolution pronounced by the pastor.
The name on a church is not just a name. It is a confession. It is telling you something about what is believed, taught, and confessed in that church. It’s important. It makes a difference. Just try swapping my ketchup bottle! It makes a difference! If I were to walk into a church building that had the name “Pentecostal” on the sign I would know what to expect and what not to expect. I would be very surprised (pleasantly so!) if I heard the Law and Gospel properly divided and applied there. I would be shocked to hear any teaching that encouraged infant baptism (since that is clearly rejected in Pentecostalism). The pastor would not pronounce holy Absolution because such a teaching is contrary to what is believed in that church body. The differences would be clear.
It does matter what church you attend and to which church you belong. It’s not just a name-it’s what you believe. Do you know why you belong to the church you attend? Do you know what is taught there? Or is it just a name to you? If you don’t know, go talk to your pastor. Ask questions. Find out what you believe and why you believe it. It’s important. That’s the role Confirmation is supposed to play in the church and in your life-so that you know what you believe and why you believe it.
The Lord has provided you with His Church so that you might receive His gifts. He gives you His gifts through His Word and Sacraments. He has called a pastor to serve you with those gifts. Sadly, the Church on earth is fractured and divided. It is a result of living in the fallen world. However, the Lord has and will preserve His Church through the ages. He has preserved it for you wherever you find the Word of God proclaimed and the Sacraments administered faithfully. Find such a church and joyfully receive the gifts Jesus has for you there!
Rev. Michael Keith serves as pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church and SML Christian Academy in Stony Plain, AB Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org