Church HistoryHi. My name is Dave McCarty, and I am the pastor of new Hope Lutheran Brethren Church. I'd like to tell you a little bit about who we are at New Hope and how we came to be.
Growing in Faith
A Growing Love for Gods words
Although the New Hope congregation was born on April 9, 1995, our story goes back before that date, back to days when God was just beginning to plant in our hearts a love for his words and a desire to follow him.
Most of our charter members were once members of another Lutheran parish. Most of us had been Lutherans all our lives and were proud to be part of a movement founded on the conviction that God so loved the world that he sent his Son to die for us while we were still lost in our sins. We learned to share Martin Luther's belief that the Bible is a revelation from God, not the thoughts of men; that, as Luther says, "not only the words, but also the phrasing" of the Bible is God's work, not man's; and that, as Luther once wrote to the pope, "We should allow Scripture to rule and master us, and we ourselves should not be the masters, according to our mad heads, setting ourselves above Scripture."
As we studied the Bible together, we came to appreciate how powerful those words are when we let them speak - how much we could learn when we let the words of God instruct us and allowed God through his words to "renew our minds" (Romans 12:2).
A Growing Concern
But over the years, our love for the Lord and his words was darkened by a growing uneasiness with our denomination. We would read or hear news articles about the ELCA that were unsettling. As a church, they were slow to take a stand to defend the unborn. They seemed unable to witness clearly God's revealed will in the area of human sexuality. They were seeming to abandon the Bible for the wisdom of human beings. There was no confidence that the Bible truly had the wisdom needed for our times. For example:
A study on human sexuality concluded that the Bible doesn't mean today what it meant when it was written.
The same study repeatedly described the origin of the Bible as human - that it was nothing more than a human compilation, that the Gospels were nothing more than the church's earliest memories of Jesus' sayings and actions, and that the writings of Paul reflect nothing other than the ideas of an itinerant missionary. As a result, the clear teachings of Scripture were set aside as irrelevant on today's culture, and the church was left with only the human wisdom of the sciences to guide us.
Adult Sunday School material assumed that the books of Moses were not written by Moses but by a variety of other people, despite the fact that Jesus credits Moses as their writer (and the holy Spirit as the author). As a result, Creation was taught to be a myth and the history of the Bible dismissed. In its seminary training and printed literature, the ELCA taught ways of dismissing everything supernatural in the Bible so that even the Virgin Birth and Resurrection could be viewed as myth rather than history.
Confirmation material made no reference to the blood of Jesus Christ cleansing us from sin. It seemed unsure of just why Jesus had to die.
The national Women's Group of the ELCA supported the idea of changing the Church's teaching on homosexuality and urged its members to promote legislation that would legitimize what the Bible would have us pray for deliverance from. Several of its members attended a conference in Minneapolis calling for the Church to call God "mother" and reject the sacrifice of Jesus as "the ultimate example of child abuse by God".
In area churches, the Sunday morning liturgy seemed to be more important than the content of God's words, and a push for weekly communion seemed to reinforce the idea that ritual was the closest the Church could bring us to fellowship with God. It did not surprise us then when a poll appearing The Lutheran magazine in the Spring of 1995 revealed that 80% of pastors and even 34% of laity in the ELCA believe the Bible contains errors.
At the same time we were learning these things about our denomination, in our study of the Bible we came upon the verse from 2 Timothy 3:1-5 - "In the last days there will be terrible times...people will hold to the form of religion while denying its power. Have nothing to do with them." Little did we know at that time how God would speak to us through those verses.
A Growing Conviction
God saw our confusion and shared our sadness at how a Church with such a strong Biblical tradition was compromising the Word of God and treating society's wisdom as more wise than God's wisdom. But God did not call a Moses to lead us out of bondage. Rather, he moved the hearts of each of us, and together we followed the leading of our Lord Jesus Christ as he made a way for us out of the bondage of darkness and into the freedom and hope of trusting in his words alone.
Several members of our parish came to me, their pastor, asking if I would help them look into leaving the ELCA. I suggested they raise their concerns at the upcoming annual congregational meeting. They did so, and the parish voted unanimously to look into changing denominations. God had been working among us. He was preparing a way through the wilderness of uncertainty.
I had shared my parish's disappointment and for over a year had been looking into other Lutheran denominations. I had contacted leaders of The Association of American Lutheran Churches, the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations and The Church of the Lutheran Brethren. I had also looked into the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. As we shared the information I had gathered, we had a growing conviction that the Lord was leading us to consider the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.
A Growing Appreciation
We had never heard of the CLB - in fact, many of us did not know there was any Lutheran Church in the US besides the ELCA. The more we looked at the CLB, the more we began to feel at home - like this was what we always had been.
The Church of the Lutheran Brethren began in the US in 1900 but its roots go back to Europe and the days of the Reformation. After the great revival of the Reformation, Lutheranism was in danger. Like the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2, it was theologically correct but was losing it love and zeal. Life in the Lutheran churches was not much different than it had been before the Reformation. People still did not know or live the Bible. Christian faith was reduced to sacraments and liturgy, and the idea of faith in God as a daily walk with God was dying out. Then two movements arose within Lutheranism - one a movement among the laity and the other a movement among the seminary teachers. Both stressed the truth that the Gospel is a call to a way of life, and that we are invited to live moment by moment in fellowship with God.
As Lutherans immigrated to the United States, they brought their new, vital faith with them. Here in the US, in the absence of a "state Lutheran Church", those who believed that faith in God is a call to a daily walk with God were able to organize churches where membership was defined in terms of being committed to Jesus Christ and his truth in daily life, and being accountable to one another in the faith. Baptism and Communion were important, but the church was viewed as the body of baptized believers, not just as the body of the baptized.
Then at the turn of the twentieth century, God moved among Christians throughout the world to send missionaries to China. Unable to afford such a mission of their own, five independent Lutheran congregations joined resources for missions and in December of 1900 formed the Church of the Lutheran Brethren. With a heart for missions and a conviction that the Bible is God's revealed words, the CLB continues to have thriving mission work in Chad, Cameroon, Japan, and Taiwan. A strong official presence in China ended when the communists took over, but the seeds that mission work sowed continue to bear fruit, according to reports from the area.
The CLB is a unique Lutheran body in some ways. For instance, the synod prefers a "low-church" style of worship. You will not find insence, albs or formal liturgy here. Instead you will find ordinary people praising God for his love and praying together in his presence. Our order of service is made up of hymns, praise choruses, a time for sharing how God has blessed us, a time for prayer, a children's sermon, the reading of Scripture and sermon. We share communion regularly through the year, but not every week. We believe the Church is meant to function as individual congregations, not as an organized national body. Our synod exists only to provide resources and oversee mission work at home and abroad. For more information, our congregation provides a variety of pamphlets that explain the CLB, its beliefs and practices.
A Growing Fellowship
And so it was that on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1995 the New Hope Lutheran Brethren Fellowship had its first worship service. It met first in the New Columbia Community Center, but with over 80 in attendance it was clear that we needed more space. We arranged with the local fire company to rent their hall for Maundy Thursday and Easter, but with those who did not share our convictions persuaded the Fire Company to take back their offer, confident that if we had no place to meet on Easter we would soon die out. Labelled a cult by those who did not share our single-minded commitment to God and his words, we were rejected by former friends and even family. But God provided for our needs and within two days we were able to arrange meeting in the Search and Rescue social Hall in the Southgate Plaza, Milton. And the love and support we share with one another eases the pain of the rejection we have experienced as a result of living our convictions.
But a church is people, not a building - and being a church is a daily identity, not a weekly chore. Our congregation gathered in members' homes for choir, for Bible Study, for Fellowship and for meals just as the New Testament Church met in the Temple for worship but met throughout the week "in their homes for teaching, and fellowship, for the breaking of bread and prayer" (Acts 2:42-47). Several offers for land came to our congregation, as well as a few church buildings, as we dreamed of having a building out of which we could minister as a neighborhood church. Then in the Spring of 1996, the New Covenant Church of Lewisburg, which had been meeting in a church building on South 14th Street in Lewisburg since1985, disbanded and their building was offered in sale to us. It had been built by the Nazarene church in 1948, and was used for a few years to house an Orthodox Presbyterian congregation. Now that the New Covenant congregation was no longer using it, the building would find new tenants - and what a testimony to the ways of God! This building, which had served so many varieties of churches was evidence to the truth that "God is no respecter of persons (or denominations) but accepts anyone who fears him and does what is right" (Acts 10:34-35). And so his Spirit makes his presence known.
As we gather for worship in our new building, we continue to meet "daily" with one another, for the work of God is most evident in the lives of his people, and even as he did in Creation, so God continues to work every day, and not just on Sundays. Our great hope is that God will use us to touch the lives of others with the only Hope sufficient for our days - the love, wisdom and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our great fear is that, having been called by God out of dead ritual into a living faith, we would lose our original love for who God is (Revelation 2:4) and become "just another church", where God is worshiped Sunday morning and self sits on the throne throughout the week. And this will surely happen if we begin to think God called us because we were better than anyone else, or that the success of our congregation depends on us.
We are humbled that God chose to call us out of doubt and confusion into a living expression of faith in God. We long to share the hope we have in Christ and model the love and holiness of our heavenly Father. We are far from perfect on our own. But by God's grace we are part of a wonderful adventure - that of living moment by moment in fellowship with the God who made us, who saved us from sin and death, who walks with us and leads us into new and exciting adventures of faith. If you love the Lord, come join us! And if you don't, come with, and perhaps you soon will! We'd love to have you with us on the road of obedience and faith!
|New Hope Lutheran Brethren Church, 2007|