The Evangelical Lutheran Church — Understanding Purpose

The word “purpose” has become quite a money-making industry. Ever since Rick Warren’s blockbuster book The Purpose Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For? hit the shelves in the fall of 2002, the landscape of American Christianity has been driven by purpose.  Videos, music, workbooks, study guides, evangelism programs and more all promise to help you find your purpose. Not only can your life be purpose driven, but also your church, youth group, community, recovery, small group, and even chiropractic care (Eagle, Idaho-check it out!). This new fad is not really new; just a modern twist on an age old question, “Why am I here?”

The question is very real, and answers vary greatly. People genuinely want to know their purpose in life and until the question is satisfactorily answered there is nothing but doubt and worry and quilt and uncertainty. Lutherans have a distinct and unique way to answer questions about purpose, but the answer doesn’t inspire million dollar marketing campaigns and at times leaves people wanting more. It is, however, Scriptural and Christ centered and “cross-driven.”

A few years ago a young women asked to meet with me.  She said she was having a “spiritual crisis” and wanted to talk to a Lutheran pastor.  Having grown up Lutheran, she had spent the last 10 years or so in various Evangelical churches. She had a serious decision to make that involved work and location and family and a boy friend, in short, “should she stay or should she go.” She told me she had visited with several pastors and still had no answer.  She laid out her situation in great detail and asked me what God wanted her to do, which choice would God bless. In obvious distress, this young woman was at a crossroad in her life and had a difficult decision to make. She wanted me, or rather God through me, to tell her what to do.

I shared with her Psalm 55:22 and reminded her that she was righteous, not because of her works or decisions or choices, but because the Righteous One, Jesus Christ, lived and died and rose for her. He delivered the deliverance to her in the waters of Holy Baptism and put His name on her there. Then I went to Galatians 2:20. Crucified with Christ in her baptism she now lives her life by faith in Christ. I asked her if either choice was sinful or harmful in any way.  She said no. I then smiled and said she was free, free to choose knowing that God would be with her and bless her no matter what she decided. I was not prepared for her response.

“Is that really what Lutherans believe, that I am free?”  I nodded and took her to several other passages in Galatians and John and assured her that in her situation she truly was free.  “But I don’t want to be free; I want God to tell me what to do. I want my decision to glorify God!” It was then that I realized I was speaking a foreign language to her. Ten years of Reformed and Evangelical theology had made its mark. I remembered the answer to the first question in the Westminster Catechism; the purpose of man is to glorify God, which is not all that different from the way Thomas Aquinas answered the purpose question in his Summa Thelogica (first part of Part Two) where glorifying God results in true happiness.

I have always been amazed by the number of Lutheran churches that have embraced the “Purpose Driven” methodology. It’s hard work to be consistently Lutheran in doctrine and practice in light of the newest fads and gimmicks.  The fads and gimmicks seem to work, at least when the measuring marks are dollars and seats.  A brother LCMS pastor once asked me, in light of our discussion on being “purpose” driven, “So how would you answer someone who wants to know the purpose of man?”  “The purpose of man” I said, “is to receive the gifts of God.”  The look on his face was exactly the same as the young woman in my office.

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