Tuscaloosa, USA - Differences in ideology among Lutherans continues today.
While the Protestant Reformation is remembered as a major split between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, it was the first of many divides. At Epiphany Fine Dining in downtown Tuscaloosa, a group of Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod dissenters meets each Sunday to practice what they believe.
Epiphany Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, called Epiphany Lutheran for short, was founded in 2007 by Epiphany bar manager Tim Killion.
Before taking a job at Epiphany, Killion worked primarily as a teacher. He made the transition from teaching to managing and left the church he pastored for 10 years because it was time to do what he felt was right, he said,
“When I left the national church body, it came down to the fundamental principles. Because pastoring is what I do, it became clear to me that the best thing was to take my call and establish a new church that was outside the Synod,” Killion said.
Killion’s decision to leave Holy Cross Lutheran was based on a conflict in ideology. Frustrated by what he saw as the church’s inconsistency and failure to adhere to the traditional Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod doctrine was his reasoning for departure.
“The reason I felt that I had to go was that the church wasn’t faithful to the doctrine. We have a more firm language that says you can’t divert from the doctrine. I knew that I couldn’t stand by them (Holy Cross Lutheran) as there was no uniformity in worship practice and doctrine,” Killion said.
What separates Epiphany Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession from Holy Cross Lutheran, Killion said, is its firm adherence to the Lutheran doctrine and its traditions.
Killion said he and other members are “theological conservative,” meaning they believe the Bible is the word of God and to be taken literally, word for word, while a growing number of “theological liberals” don’t believe the Bible is true word for word. In starting a new church, Killion did so on his own terms without a salary or a worship location.
“In the two years that I’ve pastored Epiphany Lutheran, I’ve never regretted it for a day. To watch the people of God revel in his mercy and none of the silliness that surrounds it has been a joy. We come every week with the belief that the Lord strengthens us in our faith,” he said.
According to Killion, the majority of Epiphany Lutheran members are former members of Holy Cross Lutheran who adhere to a more conservative ideology. Epiphany Lutheran’s associate pastor Kirk McQuillan shares Killion’s story.
“Like Tim, I also left my church because the Lutheran church I was a pastor at was going through some doctrinal issues that I couldn’t accept. When I moved here, I looked for a congregation to minister at that I was in line with,”
After years of dissent, McQuillan feels he is finally at peace with Epiphany Lutheran.
“Being here means having the freedom and peace to be Lutheran and to preach what we believe in,” he said.
For Gus Grosse, following Killion to Epiphany Lutheran meant turning his back on the church he had grown up with. Both his father and grandfather had served as pastors of Holy Cross Lutheran. He admits that while he struggled with the departure, he feels he made the right decision.
“Christ was born in a manger so if that was good enough for him, we can meet in a restaurant for a while. It doesn’t have to have stained glass windows but it would be nice if it did. God is where his followers are,” Grosse said.
With the help of his 38-member
congregation, Killion transitions the restaurant into a sanctuary each Sunday morning. After moving the tables and chairs into the back of the restaurant, Killion and his wife set up an altar on the buffet table and bring in their crosses and crucifixes. For Wednesday night bible study, members meet at associate pastor McQuillan’s house.
“We hang a wooden cross in the window, but we have to take it apart every day. There’s no place of our own to do that. And so those are the things that we miss. The tools of my trade are not as readily available, but on the other hand, everyone’s happy and believes it a church,” he said.
Killion adds that while they are thankful to Epiphany for providing them with a worship space, they are definitely working to build a space of their own.
“We’ve spent the past two years licking our wounds, but now it’s time to get back out there,” he said. “We need to start reuniting ourselves with people of like minds and spirits.”