Being a Lutheran can be a cross, especially in trying times. Why insist on believers having citizenship in two distinct kingdoms—earth and heaven—when one of them, the world around us, is so dysfunctional? So I took a three-day leave of absence to join an Amish congregation whose bishop, Vernon Raber, told me, "We are citizens of one kingdom only, the kingdom of Jesus Christ!" I thought they were an excellent group to escape to, good Christians singing and praying in German, my mother tongue, and avoiding the vulgarities of politics. I liked it.
My ephemeral desertion to Raber's world might raise eyebrows among my Lutheran coreligionists. "How can you enjoy the company of people disdaining this world, which is of course not Christ's (John 18:36) but nonetheless the realm of our hidden God?" they might ask. Someone will surely reprimand me: "Have you forgotten Luther's counsel that we Christians must engage the secular reality we live in, which is ruled not by faith but by reason, the 'empress of all things,' in Luther's words?"
It would not surprise me to hear someone ask: "Do you deny that our faith in the Good News of being redeemed sinners sets us free to fulfill our divine tasks in this sinful and temporal world? Are you not mocking Christ's sacrifice?"
Well, I don't deny this, nor do I wish to mock Christ, and I haven't forgotten Luther's advice. But even a confessional Lutheran might be permitted an occasional reprieve from sound doctrine to delight in the company of a warm-hearted minority of people believing an entirely different theology—people like Vernon Raber.
I ran into Bishop Raber and his flock in what's called Little Arabia, a flat, rural section of southeastern Illinois where ancient oil pumps ...1