What sets us apart?

“The early church was married to poverty, prison and persecutions. Today, the church is married to prosperity, personality, and popularity” – Leonard Ravenhill

Isn’t the church about personalities, programs, and success? Don’t we go for some religious entertainment? No, actually, at least not if you are seeking the Christ of the Holy Bible and the Creeds.  From 1919, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church remains by the grace of God in Racine to deliver the eternal truth of salvation in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God who redeemed us from sin, death, and the devil.  There is nothing more relevant than that!   Our life was meant to be more than a few decades “in this poor life of labor.”

We aren’t about the biggest or most slick programs to fit every taste on the spiritual and cultural buffet.  But then again, ours is not simply a religious business but a congregation gathered by Christ around His Word and Sacraments in that ancient liturgy which has been passed down through the ages as a living tradition that is both evangelical and catholic, full of the Holy Spirit’s work in the past and now among us.  Grace is a traditional Lutheran church.  We stand out from many other churches in that we still follow the historic Lutheran liturgy with reverence and joy in God’s presence.  We recognize that the Church is in the world, but not of the world, yet while each of us serves God faithfully in our various daily callings (stations) in life (not only in “church work”).   We seek to address the modern, cutting-edge, issues of the day, with the unchanging truth of God’s Word and the historic Creeds and Confessions of the Church, because they agree with Scripture.   We confess God’s intent and design for creation and particularly human beings as unchanging and as consistent with Scripture.

We also hold to the Scriptures as the inspired, errorless written Word of God, and the Lutheran Confessions of 1580 as a faithful summary of Scriptural teaching and practice.   These are authoritative for us.  Therefore we avoid mimicking generic American religious trends, movements, and fads, which preach the Christian instead of Christ Himself.

We hold that we are justified before God by grace alone (a pure gift) through faith alone (trust) for the sake of Jesus’ death and resurrection to redeem all people in the world. We believe this salvation is delivered to us through the Word and the Holy Sacraments, and that the Holy Spirit and God’s Word are inseparable. In short, we resolve to teach the apostolic faith (Acts 2:42) which was once for all delivered the saints (Jude 3).

Our life together centers around that eternal Gospel (Revelation 14) in Jesus Christ who is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Rather than being built around programs and personalities, our life together revolves around the worship of the Lamb who was slain and yet lives (Revelation 4,5). We take up our cross and follow Christ the Lord faithfully, rejoicing together in times of joy as well as sadness, knowing the Lord Jesus is with us and conquered sin, death, and the devil.

To put classic labels to us, Grace Lutheran Church is:

biblical– We teach the Scriptures as the inspired, inerrant, powerful, and authoritative written Word of God (2 Peter 1:16-21; 2 Timothy 3:16; Psalm 119). We teach that God made the creation in six days by His powerful Word. We hold to the Scriptural moral and ethical teachings as they have been biblically and historically known among traditional Christians. We acknowledge in the order of creation a natural law revealed to the human conscience and in the design of the universe.   We are therefore staunchly pro-life and young earth creationist.

evangelical– We teach justification by grace alone through faith alone for the sake of Christ, the crucified and risen Lord. We teach that Christ, true God and true man, the sinless and holy one, died for all people of all time(Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 10:17; Galatians 3:10-14; Titus 3:4-7; Romans 1:16; see Augsburg Confession, Article IV).  We are an assembly of baptized believers in Christ who trust in the forgiveness of their sins in Christ alone.  Holiness and forgiveness is given to us in God’s mercy, and is not something we earn or conjure up from within ourselves.  Our faith is in Christ and His Word, and not in ourselves.  Lutherans are the original “evangelicals” in the original sense of the word.  For more on this see “The Spirituality of the Cross.”   Also of note is the Defense Never Rests by Craig Parton.

apostolic – We understand that we, as the Body of Christ, are sent to faithfully teach the faith as it was received and passed on by the holy apostles of Christ (Acts 2:42; Matthew 28:16-20). We teach that the Church is to make disciples of all nations, skin colors, languages, ages, male and female, by means of baptizing and teaching all things Christ has given. We do not accept racism or racial (ethnic) segregation, but teach the Church is unified in Christ as a new people and nation (I Peter 2:9-10). The Church is a culture all her own as she is gathered out of the world.  To be apostolic is to be in mission according to our vocations in life, and together as the church is gathered as the Body of Christ.  We proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again openly in glory.  Revelation 7 describes the assembly of the Church in eternity in this way, where all believers in Christ are gathered together at last as the Body of Christ:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

catholic– We teach and confess what has been taught by the faithful church through the ages without addition or subtraction. We do not understand the Lutheran Church to be a new church (Jude 3; 2 Peter 1:21; Matthew 16:12-25). We affirm the continuity of the church through the ages from biblical times, through the early church fathers and the Lutheran Reformation to this day. We seek to teach the biblical faith “according to the whole.”   The faith we confess is universal and unchanging.   It may not be broken up piecemeal as if biblical teaching is a buffet of choices according to taste or culture.  Our confession sees Christian doctrine as founded alone in the Holy Scriptures but values the testimonies of the early church fathers as a secondary witness.      (See also: Where Were the Lutherans Before Luther?)  We recognize the continuity of the church throughout the ages not simply in Rome or Constantinople but in the sound confession of the unchanging faith, the church gathered around the purely taught Word of God and the rightly administered sacraments of Christ (the marks of the church).

creedal and confessional – We hold to the Lutheran Confessions, as contained in the Book of Concord of 1580, without reservation, because they are a faithful summary and exposition of Scriptural teaching and practice (quia subscription, as it is called). Besides the Reformation era confessions we also confess the three “ecumenical” or ancient Creeds – the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian (Matthew 16).

trinitarian – We confess that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit eternally as is stated in Scripture and in the three historic Creeds and in the early councils of the Church.   God is not a theory but reveals Himself in the Old and New Testaments to be Triune.   The creeds summarize this teaching as found throughout Scripture.

orthodox and liturgical – We teach and practice the historically-received sacramental and liturgical practice that the church has known and handed on. We do not presume to worship in a way in which it has never been done before by apostolic Christians (Acts 2:42; I Corinthians 11:17-32; Hebrews 12:18-29). We understand that the Word of God, Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper are means of God’s grace and are truly the works of God and not of man. We therefore understand them to be the instruments of the Holy Spirit. We do not understand “right doctrine” to be merely something written paper or on a shelf nor merely the purity of an ideology. Where the Gospel is purely preached and the sacraments are rightly administered, there one can find the truly “Spirit-filled” church regardless of mood.  To be “Spirit-filled” is to be gathered around the Lord’s Word and Sacraments.   There is an indivisible union between the Word and the Spirit (see John 14-16).    The activity of the Holy Spirit is not dependent upon fickle human moods or engineering the right group social or emotional dynamics.

sacramental – We believe the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not symbolic or simply testimonies of a Christian to others in the Church.  We believe Baptism is really a washing of regeneration, a means of grace, a means of the Holy Spirit, the washing of water with the Word, and the new birth of water and the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-7; Ephesians 5:25-28; Romans 6:1-8).  We believe Baptism is something God does and not something we do.  We believe that in the Lord’s Supper the consecrated bread is really the very body of Christ and the blessed wine is really the very blood of Christ given for the forgiveness of sins (I Corinthians 10:16, 11:22-26; Luke 22:27; Matthew 26).   We also believe that the holy absolution declared in the Divine Service or in private confession is really a means of grace, instituted by Christ Himself (John 20:19-23).   We believe the sacraments are really the work of God and not of man, though God uses His ministers and the earthly elements Christ mandated as instruments of the Holy Spirit.  We also believe the canonical Scriptures and the proclaimed Word are powerful and effective – though the Gospel is rejectable and forced on no one (Romans 1:16; Romans 10:17; Isaiah 55:10-11).   We believe the Word and the Sacraments are how the Holy Spirit distributes to us in the here and now the benefits of all that Christ won in His crucifixion and bodily resurrection from the dead.   For more on this see this article by the Rev. Dr. John Kleinig.“Where is Your God?” – Kleinig (PDF)