Editor’s Introduction: October/November 2022 What Does It Mean To Be Church Now?

[1] I remember sitting with tens of thousands of Luther Leaguers in San Antonio in 1988 at the National Lutheran Youth Gathering as we all sang together “The church is not a building where people come to pray, it’s not made out of sticks and stones, it’s not made out of clay.  We are the church, the body of the Lord, we are all God’s children, and we have been restored.” The catchy song still plays in my head anytime anyone asks a question related to the nature and function of today’s church.

[2] The song plays in my head a lot these days. The question concerning what the church is and what the church ought to be today seems to be front and center inside church buildings and amongst theologians, pastors, and churchgoers.

[3]  Locally, I hear the questions each month at my own church in Green Bay’s “Growing Grace” committee meetings where we pragmatically wonder how to use social media to spread the Word and theologically wonder what it means to be a truly welcoming church.  The same questions surface at the Roman Catholic parish that sits on the campus where I work.

[4] Internationally, I had the joy of listening to Kenneth Mtata present on “Spreading the Word of God in the Contemporary World” and Wanda Deifelt lecture on “Church in the Postsecular World” at the International Luther Congress.  There too, I was able to discuss with the Bishop of Uppsala, Karin Johannesson, her new book that speaks of the importance of spiritual practices for the Lutheran church.

[5] As many readers know, Pope Francis has urged the leaders in the Roman Catholic church to participate in a synodality study in which he asked that all people (both those in and outside of the Roman Catholic community) be invited to talk about how they see the Roman Catholic church today.  In the United States, Lutherans as well as Roman Catholics ought to pay attention to the overwhelming common opinion that the church should serve the poor, work for justice, and practice radical hospitality and that in these areas the church has much room to grow.

[6] What is the church today? What should it strive to become?  These are the questions that are discussed in this issue of Journal of Lutheran Ethics.

[7] Our first essay comes from Karen Bloomquist who speaks of the need for moving from the static noun theology to the verb theologizing as we seek to reformulate our understanding of our faith for the current context and the neighbors who need us to attend to them.

[8] Our second essay comes from Matthew Best who discusses how the church both ought and can guide Americans through their thinking as they consider old and new conspiracy theories in order that people remain open to the hope of catholic faith in universal truth accessible to all people not just an elite few.

[9] The third and fourth essays deal with the structure of church. The third essay by A.T. Sutton outlines ways for church leaders to make decisions about virtual and in-person worship, while the fourth essay, by architect Buddy Siebenlist, discusses his view of the importance of the physical “sticks and stones” that house the people that are the church.

[10] Finally, Stewart Herman’s essay on the covenant between the church and state calls leaders to consider the current work on the social statement on civic life and faith.

[11]  Having finished Herman’s essay, readers are reminded that the December issue will bring together essays focused specifically on this topic of the relationship between faith and civic life.  The February issue in 2023 will focus specifically on the matter of Abortion and Women’s rights after the Dobbs decision this summer.

[12] It is my hope that reading these essays will inspire readers to consider the role of the church in their lives and their own vocation as the living and theologizing church.



Jennifer Hockenbery

Jennifer Hockenbery serves as Editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics .  She is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Humanities at St Norbert College. She attends Grace Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI.