This month marks the five hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther's 95 Theses. In other words, this month it has been half a millennium since a gruff, over-anxious firebrand posted a discussion topic on the community message board in the German city of Wittenberg, setting off a chain reaction that resulted in a great deal more than the theological debate the monk/theology professor likely had in mind.
Luther and his legacy are not without flaws and controversies. The Church has splintered into a thousand different sects, and that has in no small way contributed to the crisis of conscience and skepticism toward truth claims that continues to characterize the modern Western world even today. And if that isn't a heavy enough burden to lay at Luther's feet, he's often accused (not without reason) of anti-Semitism and oppressing the peasantry.
In spite of all that, there are a number of aspects of Luther's legacy that I love. For instance, sometimes his thinking is reduced to short Latin slogans that start with a form of the word "sola," which means "only" or "alone." By far my favorite of these "sola" statements is "solus Christus."
Being a Christian is not primarily about morality, or going to church, or the Bible, or feeling a certain way, or having a certain kind of spiritual experience. Being a Christian is about Jesus Christ. Whatever else it might be about, Christianity begins and ends with Jesus. But it is so unbelievably easy to take our eyes off the prize! It can feel like the easiest, most natural thing in the world to value other things above this One, or to think we can have two centers to our lives. But the truth is that we can't. Jesus himself put it succinctly:
As with money, so with any number of things.
When I was a seminary applicant some years ago, making the interview rounds, I remember sitting in the office of a prominent theologian at one school I had applied to. The school had a hip website, all the people there talked and looked and acted cool, and by most any objective measure this seemed like a great place to go to school. But something seemed missing. The theologian asked if we had any questions, and before I had a chance to censor myself a question leapt from my lips. "Who is Jesus here?" I asked.
When it comes to making a judgment about any form of Christian community, I still think that's a pretty good question. Wherever I've been and whatever else I've felt drawn to or repulsed by in Christianity in the world today, this one thing has remained constant: I believe that a life is lived best only when it's oriented toward Jesus. And, even more, absent a singular focus on Jesus Christ, the label "Christian" itself becomes meaningless.
At Vine & Branches, there are a lot of things we believe in passionately, and there are a lot of things that we love and can easily get excited about. But our hope is to orient all our passionate convictions and all the people and things and ideas that we love around just one central conviction about our one central love. And actually our hope is to help you to do the same.
One way to articulate this one central conviction about our one central love is just this: Jesus Christ is Lord. Another way to articulate this is:
I hope you'll join us on this journey.