When I see this meme or ones like it on Facebook, I have smiled and kept scrolling.

But really, this meme points to a critical issue at the intersection of faith and culture. The two often get confused. Our faith and our culture are connected and intertwined but they are different things. It’s our culture that says, “I like church because I like solid foods suspended in Jello.” But it’s our faith that says, “I like church because the Holy Spirit comes to me in the presence of the Body of Christ.”

Bishop Riegel, Bishop of the Western Maryland/West Virginia Synod, once suggested how a pastor might respond if she begins to serve a congregation that has the American flag planted next to the communion table. Bishop Riegel said to go to the council and ask if the flag must be there in order for them to worship. If the answer is yes, the flag should be removed because their answer reveals the congregation’s idolatry of the flag. We don’t worship our flag, our nation, our culture, our foods, or our songs. We worship our God, the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, the God who comes to us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Lutheran church is not a cultural club. We don’t exist for the sake of drinking coffee together, singing old German melodies, or spending time in the buildings our grandparents helped to build. The Lutheran church is a community of faith. We are people of all times and places, gathered around Word and Sacrament to hear and see and know the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are convinced that nothing in life or death can separate us from the love of God and nothing we can do can make us earn God’s love.

What is most important in your congregation?  Is it elements of culture or faith?

How has your congregation shown flexibility in issues of culture in order to reveal your faith focus?

Pastor Beth Martini is an assistant to the bishop in our synod. She served as the pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Duncannon, PA for five years. She is passionate about fostering authentic Christian community by connecting people to one another, God, and creation. She and her two children are members of St. Peter, Mechanicsburg, where her husband Alex serves as pastor.