May 2017

May 2017

After 115 Years, What Makes Us Different?

This year the congregation of Holy Cross observes the hundred and fifteenth year since her founding in 1902. Much has changed in our congregation since then. No longer do we gather in a preaching station or a storefront to worship in the German language. The location of our church building has moved from Belle Avenue to Locust Street. Even our “new” church building has seen several significant expansions. Surely if the founding members of the “Evangelisch-Lutherische Kreuzgemeinde zu Ost-Davenport” could join us on a Sunday morning, they would be astonished at how different things are!

But they would also notice some significant similarities. Even though we now worship in English, the founding members of Holy Cross would still be able to follow along with our services, which adhere to the same outline they’ve had for over a millennium. Even though we gather in a “new” building, our sanctuary retains the churchly architectural cues that indicate, “The place where you are standing is holy ground.” Even though we sing in a new language, and many of our hymns are recent compositions, we still sing many of the old Lutheran hymns that were so dear to our forebears, using the same tunes and extolling the same Christ. And most importantly, we still teach the same things that we taught the day we were founded.

This continuity with our own past is more remarkable than it might at first seem. There are plenty of churches that are significantly older than ours who have nevertheless changed beyond all recognition. Some choose to worship in buildings that are intentionally indistinguishable from secular venues. Others use exclusively novel forms of worship that would be totally alien to the Christians of generations past. Still others have changed their teachings so dramatically that one wonders whether the name “Christian” still applies.

What makes us different? In a word, nothing. Nothing, that is, except the free, unmerited grace of God.

No people has ever been so blessed as the people of Israel, God’s chosen nation. And yet God said of His chosen people, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers” (Deuteronomy 7:7–8). God chose Israel by His grace alone, and it was only by His grace that a remnant was preserved even as the rest of the people perished in their folly and unbelief. This pattern holds true in the New Testament as well. St. Paul writes that “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy” (Titus 3:5).

If our congregation has been kept faithful to the inheritance bequeathed to us, it is only because God has been gracious and merciful to us. It is not because we are inherently any better than those who have given in to the harmful changes in the culture around us. It is not because we are stronger, smarter, or in any other way more fit for institutional survival. Our faithfulness is an unmerited, undeserved gift, and we would do well to heed the warning of St. Paul: “Let him who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

As we celebrate a hundred and fifteen years of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in East Davenport, may the congregation of Holy Cross continue in faithfulness toward the God who has proved to be faithful to us.  Here’s hoping that in another hundred and fifteen years our spiritual descendant will still be about their Father’s business at Holy Cross!


Pastor Neuendorf