What We Believe
How Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church Fits into the Larger Christian “Puzzle”
Lutherans are one of the many denominations that make up the Christian Church in its fullness. The various denominations that exist have differing ways of understanding their role in the world, and how best to live as Jesus-followers. A priest named Martin Luther (not the same as Martin Luther King, Jr.) started questioning some of the ways the Church in his time understood its role in relation to everyday people. His writings have shaped how Lutherans live out their Christianity even into today.
Among the various types of Lutheran denominations in the United States, Beautiful Savior is part of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). The ELCA is considered the most progressive of the Lutherans in its interpretation of the Bible, for example: practicing “open communion” (all are welcome), ordaining women, and ordaining single or married LGBTQIA+ pastors.
A bit about what we believe
ELCA Lutherans are followers of Jesus and believers in God as the source of our very being. Jesus is how God came to live on earth, fully human and fully God, in order show how passionately God loves us. God wants to be in a reconciled, intimate relationship with us–even though we too often insist on going “our own way” and stray from the ways of God.
Jesus fully experienced life as a human being; he was born in the natural way, as a vulnerable, dependent child. He lived life among people of a specific place for a certain amount of time, and then when he was killed, he died a painful, physical death. Through all of this Jesus remained fully divine (God). We don’t exactly understand how this is all possible, but we believe that through the mystery of God, Jesus was raised out of death into new life. In overcoming death he also made it possible for God’s people to enter into eternal life (the presence of God).
Although no human is without sin, we are invited to live into our identity as a people forgiven and freed from the power of sin and death through the work of Jesus. The salvation Jesus makes possible does not wait to occur after our death, but begins in our lives now, here on earth even while it continues into a future we cannot yet imagine. The example of Jesus’ life and teaching, along with ongoing actions of the Holy Spirit, provide a path for healing and reconciliation allowing us to live into the Creator's intentions for our lives.
What do I have to believe?
People are invited to bring their doubts and questions into conversations about faith, religion/church, and how the Bible is understood. Indeed wondering and asking questions is one sign of engaged, active faith! People with all sorts of backgrounds have found a supportive, accepting community at BSLC. Most of us believe in God and identify as followers of Jesus, but not all.
The power of prayer
Prayer is how we communicate and are in relationship with God. At its most basic, prayer is a conversation with God, so there is no one “right way” to pray even though there are practice you may choose to use, to enrich your prayer life. All followers of Jesus can have confidence that when we pray, the relationship we are expressing is directly with God–there is no intermediary necessary–and God “hears us”.
We do receive back responses to prayer, but not always in the way(s) we hope. As we pray, we are changed: how we engage in the world is changed, how we “see” life is changed. Prayer is not about getting all we want, nor does prayer take away all of life’s challenges. Rather, prayer changes how we experience the challenges, and reminds us that we are not alone amid the trials we face in life.
A few understandings about God (but let's be real - figuring out God is not possible)
God is not human and humans are not God, yet humans, in all our diversity, were created in God’s likeness. God cannot be fully understood or described according to human terms. That doesn’t stop humans from trying to explain God, including through “creeds” (belief statements) developed centuries ago and still spoken today.
The ELCA is one of the Christian denominations understanding the ultimate mystery of God as Trinity. We believe that God is One–the one and only God. And yet, we also understand God as three “persons,” often called Father (but also Creator or Mother), Jesus (the Son of God and Savior of the world), and Holy Spirit. It’s OK to be confused and have questions about this. None of us have this down!
Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church (and the ELCA in general) is Bible-based. We give the most weight to the parts telling how Jesus lived and taught when he was on the earth and then the writings describing the forming of the Christian Church.
We believe that scripture (i.e., the writings within the BIble) is not just dusty history, nor something set in stone eons ago, but is a “living Word” that continues to be revealed to us in new ways. Scripture has particular meaning and impact for every generation. Part of “being church” is working out together how scripture reveals God’s intentions in the context of our time.
What Bible do ELCA Lutherans use?
The Bible usually recommended for study within the ELCA, is the New Revised Standard Version. (the recently updated version adds “UE”). That being said, the “right” Bible for you is the one you will read/use. The Common English Bible (has more contemporary language/phrasing) and the Inclusive Bible are other more recent translations that are found in ELCA churches. There are many, many other translations available, and most are perfectly acceptable to use.
Lutherans understand sacraments as those practices Jesus told his followers to do using ordinary physical things (i.e. water, bread, wine) for extraordinary purposes (to hold and enact the mystery of God) in concrete ways. Lutherans observe two sacraments: Baptism and Holy Communion.
What is it? Holy Communion is “the meal” through which we continue to receive from Jesus, assurance of his presence with us. It is his table and his invitation to participate.
How do ELCA Lutherans understand communion? Jesus ate with all sorts of people–he “broke bread” with rich, poor, leaders, and people “from the margins”. So on the night he was to be betrayed and given up to death, he shared bread and wine with his disciples, telling them to continue to do the same and we carry this practice on. Jesus also said about the bread, “this is my body” and of the cup of wine, “this is my blood”. Because he said these things, we believe that by the mystery of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s body is “in, with, and under” the bread–it is also Christ’s body given for us and it is bread. Likewise, we believe Christ is “in, with, and under” the wine.
Who can participate? Anyone who feels stirred to participate in this meal may. We, as part of the ELCA, practice an “open table” (no need to do anything first, or to believe a specific way to participate).
Baptism–ELCA & Beautiful Savior Understandings
Lutherans value and encourage people to be baptized. Scripture describes Jesus saying his disciples were to do (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is something that only needs to happen once–there is no rebaptizing necessary when coming to a Lutheran congregation from another Christian tradition. Through baptism we are joined in the “body of Christ”, the Church (made up of all followers of Jesus). We are encouraged to daily “remember” our baptism as a reminder to ourselves that we are beloved by God, always.
Unless there is a health emergency, or other precluding circumstance, baptism happens within a gathering of the faith community since it joins us in community. Traditionally and “for good order,” baptisms are done by a pastor, however whenever there is a pressing circumstance, anyone who is baptized may baptize another person with water, “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (i.e., the name of God as we understand it from Jesus).
In the ELCA we baptize infants as well as older persons. The stories in the book of Acts where households were baptized can be assumed to have children. We understand baptism as coming from and being an action of God, coming to us freely through the Holy Spirit, rather than something “we” do because we are perceived as having made a choice for God based on reason. Nevertheless, some intentionality to participate in a life of faith needs to be expressed by the person or their parents (it is not baptism to splash water or submerge someone if there is not that intention).
When people who were baptized as infants or as young children are 12 or older, it is common for them to go through a process known as “Confirmation”. After a course of study and conversation, each person is given opportunity to make public affirmation of their faith in a worship service. This marks the person determining they are ready to take on the responsibility of their own faith AND they officially (legally!) become voting members of the congregation in which they are confirmed.