What does this mean… to be Lutheran?

The Martin Luther window at St. Matthew's Luth...

The Martin Luther window at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Charleston, SC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since I happen to be finding good material lately, I’m going to continue today on the Lutheran church. Partially because some of my British friends have indicated to me that they know essentially nothing about us. Something that should be stressed, as it is in this article is that we do not follow Martin Luther, although he is one of us and a very wise teacher, we follow only Jesus Christ, and him crucified. The other thing is Lutherans are conservative, the Reformation happened because we were trying to conserve and reform the church. As conservative, American democrats say about their party, we didn’t leave the church, the church left us. This is the foundation of our lead in to many teachings, “The church has always taught…” For all my Catholic friends who just blew a gasket, we recognize that for the most part you came back to the fold. You just got too involved with what we call “The Kingdom of the Left” as opposed to the “Kingdom of the Right”. To us you are were the schismatics. This article is by  writing in ”believe, teach, and confess”it is one of the best summaries of what it really means to be a Lutheran that I have every read. Enjoy.

Over the past three decades I am often asked what it means to be Lutheran. What do Lutherans believe? What is most important? How does that work out in practice? This is just a brief introduction to those questions. Despite “popular” views, Lutherans do not follow Martin Luther. Rather, we confess the same Christian faith he did; hence we do not support everything he wrote. Martin Luther appeared at critical time in church history and had a significant influence on the entire Christian Church, but we do not “follow him,” rather Jesus Christ and him crucified. The name “Lutheran” was originally a derogatory term used by Luther’s enemies. Later, it became a term to distinguish itself from Reformed (Zwingli, Calvin, and later Arminius) as well as from the radical reformation.

Historic Continuity: “The Church has always taught…”

The Lutheran Church sees itself in continuity with the historic Christian Church throughout the ages, not something invented in the 16th century. That is, in most of our official writings (called the Lutheran Confessions), we often use the phrase “As the Church has always taught” to show that what Luther and others publicly were teaching was consistent with the historic church. We frequently use the term “catholic” (meaning “universal”) to denote the true Church throughout the ages, not in reference to the specific church body known as the Roman Catholic Church headed by the pope. This phrase is critical in understanding Lutherans, because while sometimes we look like Roman Catholics, we see the papal church deviating in the Middle Ages and onward from that historic faith. At the time of the Reformation, Luther and others continued what was done that was consistent with the Bible and the Church through the ages, but ridded itself of false teachings (especially in worship). In that sense Lutherans were “conservative” keeping that which was solid and discarding other elements. They could and did keep paintings, statures, icons, as aids to help people learn the stories of the Bible. On the other hand, Zwingli, Calvin and other Reformed leaders wanted to distance their churches from anything that looked Roman Catholic. For them, in regard to worship, they made significant alterations to the order of service and even destroyed what appeared in churches. The Reformed tended to get rid of paintings, statues, and icons. Lutherans use the phrase “believe, teach, and confess” to denote those statement which reflect accurately what the Bible teachings. In line with that, Lutherans accept the three Ecumenical Creeds as accurate statements of the Christian faith from the Bible (Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed). You can find them here.

Continue reading What does this mean… to be Lutheran? « ”believe, teach, and confess”.

Creative Commons License Believe, teach, and confess byRichard P Shields is licensed under aCreative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work atexegete77.wordpress.com.

I have little to add to this except to hope that you have learned something about a part of Christianity, that is not particularly good at blowing its own horn. But do remember this is one of our core beliefs:

The reality under the cross is that we should expect persecution, suffering, and even death. Living in this world as Christians means life under the cross of Christ.

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22 Responses to What does this mean… to be Lutheran?

  1. Joseph Richardson says:

    It’s a good article. And I do like Lutherans and Luther himself a lot. Our continued schism saddens me a lot, though. As an historian, I wonder how Lutherans can justify a claim of “historic continuity” — especially for doctrines like sola scriptura and sola fide.

    • neenergyobserver says:

      You do, I hope, Joseph, realize I was tweaking my Catholic friends a bit. One of the points I keep making is that there is not all that much difference between us. Remember to that while we do reject Papal Infallibility, and the magisterium, we do recognize all of the teachings coming from the councils. Like he says in the article we build out from the middle.

      I don’t have a real answer for you, mostly because I’m trying to stay a step or two ahead myself, I’m still learning the theology of my church as well. I’m fascinated but also overwhelmed. If a had to guess, most of our justification would be based around the need to get the Pope out of the way at the time of the Reformation. More study for me, good thing I’m enjoying it! :-)

      • That’s good to know. Consider me well and truly tweaked. ;-) I’m still getting to know your tone of writing.

        I definitely believe there is not much difference between us — that’s one of the main arguments of my blog. Lutherans and Catholics I think suffer from more misunderstanding than anything else. Even radical Reformed (i.e. Presbyterian and Calvinist) Protestants I think would agree with us much more if we could stop bickering over terminology. Just the other day in one of my posts about the Sacraments, I started calling them the “means of grace” — having no idea I was quoting Luther. I really believe that if both Luther and the Church had been more patient with each other, and if Luther’s arguments hadn’t gotten caught up in German imperial politics, we might have resolved these debates before there was a permanent split.

        Likewise I’m still learning theology and even the history of the Church. I admittedly take Catholic apologists’ word for it that the Church Fathers didn’t support sola scriptura or sola fide — but in the little reading I’ve done, I’ve never seen any evidence that they did. There are some passages that can be supposed to support that when taken out of context, but reading a little further it’s evident that that’s not what they were talking about at all.

        • neenergyobserver says:

          Takes time to know each other, I try to be serious without be solemn, and kid a bit. ;-)

          There’s really very little difference at base between the churches (and the Anglicans, for that matter). In some cases both can be almost more Catholic than the Catholics and vice versa. Calvinism doesn’t really fit, predestination just doesn’t work with saved by grace, I grew up in a church that tried, not satisfactory. It was only satisfactory to the Prussian government.

          Sola scriptura and sola fide I haven’t dug into enough yet to have a valid opinion. So we’ll see.

          Best part is it’s fascinating stuff, and we’ve developed a good enough group here, with you, and Jess that we get a diversified opinion while remaining pleasant and avoiding all the attacking that goes on.

  2. I guess for us who are not educated in Patristics or History from a standpoint of an institute of higher learning, we rely more so on answering the question: who has the authority to answer the question and did the Holy Spirit abandon the Church until Luther reformed it. I doubt that God had it in mind that I would need to be highly educated to find the Church He founded. Yet I would if I listened to the arguments put forth between scholars from the Catholic Church and many of the Protestant faiths. The arguments can become dizzying for the layman. I’ll let them fight it out; knowing that the Church Christ founded would not be abandoned and will still be here when Christ returns. It is enough for me. Christ did not “leave us as orphans.” God also does not withdraw the gifts He has given, such as the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, or He would have taken away “freewill” a long time ago – for we keep screwing up and will do so forever it seems. So for me, the onus was on Luther to be patient and to fight out his theological battles with the theologians and bishops of his day and not the other way around. The Church had no obligation to deal with what it viewed as a heresy and to bear with it to the possible damnation of its members or the corruption of Her teachings. She did what She thought was right at the time. Would we have lost more souls to Protestantism if they had been more patient? I don’t know. Would the Protestants have ended their break with the Church had they been more patient? I doubt it, but then that is only my personal opinion.

    I’m tweaking right back at you, Neo. :-)

    • neenergyobserver says:

      I know SF :-) Some of my reading indicate that it might have, some not so much. It’s interesting but,, in truth, I agree, I really believe both and perhaps a fair number of the others are valid. Mostly it’s all about belief.

      • A total puzzlement that leaves one quite flummoxed at this riddle wrapped in an enigma, I might say, though I could be wrong . . . or right for that matter. Who’s to say? :-)

        • neenergyobserver says:

          Exactly and “It’s not for me to say…” :-)

        • Servus Fidelis says:

          I know. Que sera sera is what I’d say. :-)

        • neenergyobserver says:

          Whatever will be, will be :-)

        • Servus Fidelis says:

          You could put it that way I suppose. :-)

        • neenergyobserver says:

          Seems to work, for me, anyway. :-)

        • Servus Fidelis says:

          Whatever floats your boat so to speak. :-)

        • neenergyobserver says:

          Indeed, soon be time to go fishing :-)

        • Servus Fidelis says:

          Beats me, but I’d rather be fishin’ I suppose, that is, unless its ice fishin’.

        • neenergyobserver says:

          Ice fishin’ is a good time as well, as long as you’ve got a snug Ice house.

        • Servus Fidelis says:

          An ice house sounds like a refrigerator to me and that doesn’t conjure up thoughts of being snug.

        • neenergyobserver says:

          Well, I suppose you could look at it like that, if you remember that it’s warm in a refrigerator when it’s installed in the middle of a walk-in freezer. Snug is relative.

        • Servus Fidelis says:

          Ahh so. (a little Japanese I picked up over the years)

        • Useful phrase it is

  3. Pingback: It’s All Wrong But It’s All Right | Resting in His Grace

  4. Pingback: The Turk, Our Lady, and the Fight Ahead « nebraskaenergyobserver

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