If you watched the movie “The Founder,” you saw an ambitious and egotistical man take credit for and earn profit from something he did not invent. The movie starred Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the self-proclaimed founder of the McDonald’s restaurant chain.
You may know the backstory: Ray Kroc, a struggling milk-shake-mixer-machine salesman, stumbled across the innovative McDonald’s brothers and their revolutionary San Bernardino, California fast food restaurant in 1954. He was astounded at their “speedee” system of food preparation. People walked up to the service window, ordered their food, and received their order in thirty seconds! This was unheard of in the 1950s.
Ray was so taken, he convinced the McDonald brothers to let him franchise the restaurant. But Ray’s enthusiasm got the best of him. He began to take credit for the brother’s innovations. Ultimately, he bought out the brothers and reneged on a promise to pay them one-percent royalties. The story wasn’t very pretty as Ray Kroc’s ego and zeal alienated family, friends and colleagues. Billions of dollars were earned and nearly 40,000 restaurants exist around the world today, but the founder wasn’t the real founder.
As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is celebrated in 2017, I am encouraged to see the Founder getting all the credit. The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s slogan for the celebration is: “It’s Still All About Jesus.” That phrase is very Lutheran. To be Lutheran is not to place Luther or other Reformers or our doctrinal constructs or our denominational moniker at the center. To be Lutheran is to confess, to echo what has been given to us by God through His Word. We are truly all about “Soli Deo Gloria”—to God alone be the glory. Our foundation is that “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil.2). We know that if we bring the Word of God in all its truth, we’ll be bringing what it is to be Lutheran, as well.
Putting the Founder first and not stealing His thunder or getting in His way is somewhat of an art as the church in the world—as the church in mission. At a recent launch of public worship for a little mission congregation that happened to be meeting in a local nursing home, the planting team was discussing the question, “Who do we say we are if people ask us? Do we say ‘We’re Lutherans’? Do we say ‘We’re Christians’? What do we say?” The group decided that leading with Jesus was the best route to take. There would be no shame about Lutheran identity. It wouldn’t be hidden. But in the current context of church suspicion, denominational fear, and anti-institutional thinking, it was agreed that emphasis on the Founder was the way to go. After all, we didn’t invent justification by grace through faith. Putting our identity first could get in the way of Jesus’ saving work through His Word.
If we lead with anything but Jesus, we may disenfranchise the real Founder from having His saving impact on the lives He loves and came to rescue. The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is a good time to remember that this is not about us; it’s still all about Jesus.