It is a Sunday morning in Masealama, and you are putting on your finest clothes to go to the church down the hill. You hear the bell ring, 9:00 am, so you must hurry down to church. You know that ALL of your neighbors will be joining you, because if they do not, the missionaries will come and find them and ask them for one good reason why they are not in attendance. It was a necessity to be at church on Sunday morning, or find a good hiding spot.
In a town founded by Lutheran missionaries, I have frequently heard stories about the church of the past. Everyone was Lutheran because that is what the white people said they must be in order to be saved. And who doesn’t want to be saved? During colonization, this happened all across Africa, where white people stepped in with their “correct” religion and “saved” all of
Not all missionaries were like this, but unfortunately, the extreme evangelism of a few missionaries has made my life as a missionary in
So I started questioning- why are Lutherans here speaking about being “born again” and “saved”? What do these terms really mean? I have always kind of shied away from these terms in the
I can see why it is easy to get pulled into the “born again” terminology. We humans love to be in power, so thinking that our ticket to salvation lies totally in our hands makes us feel in charge. We also love instant gratification- I want to be saved and NOW! No added work or fuss, just a quick change like Paul became Saul and all will be well. But it isn’t like that. Our sin and struggles don’t just go away. Even though I am trying to lead a Christian life, I am still drawn in by my ego-centric thinking and unable or unwilling to completely give up to the life God calls us all to lead. And I don’t see how to get out of it. No matter what I do, I sin. This is where the term “born again” throws me, because I expect it to be instantaneous. So I start to lose hope and think, well maybe I can never be a devout follower of Christ. I do not have enough faith. I have too many doubts, and will never be able to give up the things of this world. But we need to realize that being a Christian is a process, a life-long struggle with which we deal. No one has everything figured out and no one ever will. Instead of being born again, we must be perpetually reborn in Christ.
I am not saying that the “born again” and “saved” terminology is wrong, it just is not right for me. Some missionaries would use these terms because of their power to draw people into the church, and they have taken hold. As long as they do not begin to confuse our beliefs, then all is well. But these words in all their strength can begin to delude the importance of the atonement of Christ. As a Lutheran, I believe that Christ died so that we can all be saved. Through His love, God gave his only son, so that we may not perish but have eternal life. This has already been done for us. We are already saved. But if we then begin to save ourselves by being “born again”, are we not rejecting in a way the death and resurrection of Christ?
I am not your stereotypical missionary. I did not come to “save” people. Christ has already saved all of us. I came to do God’s work by spreading his love to fellow brothers and sisters around the world. To be in community with them, and most of all to learn from them what it means to be a Christian. Not just to be a North American Lutheran, but to be a Christian in this world. I am not saving people because that is neither necessary nor in my power. Martin Luther took the first step into transforming the Bible into the people’s vernacular. He believed that each person should be able to read the Word of God for themselves, so that they can determine their own beliefs instead of having someone else tell them what they believe. He did not say follow me, I have got this whole God thing figured out; he just gave people the ability to figure it out for themselves. No one knows the whole truth; no one church has it right. But through Christ’s death and resurrection, we do not have to be right, we do not have to be born again, we do not have to save ourselves or each other. We have already been granted salvation.
~Heather Anne Nelson