Similarly, these are the very same things that help to make Lutherans uniquely different from any other confession of "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3).
How are Lutherans different? As another Lutheran layman, Philippe deBlois, wrote in a piece titled "No Other Way To Lent" for Higher Things...
When I first joined the Lutheran Church, I wasn't quite sure what to make of the Church calendar and all of its holy days and seasons. As with most evangelicals, I was accustomed to an abridged calendar where Christmas and Easter were celebrated and that's about it. What was particularly perplexing to me was the season we now enter: Lent, a period of penitential reflection. Those words would bring me back to my evangelical days where the entire focus of the Christian life was on reflection and doing. Church teaching was geared towards making me read more of God's Word, meditate more, pray more, be more mission minded, join the worship band, get involved in small groups, serve more, fast more...
Don't get me wrong. Some of those activities can be good things. The problem is there is no Jesus there. And if He is there at all it's only as a distant helper who helps me do more and somehow grow closer to Him. What I need is a Savior. What I need is the life, death and resurrection of Christ that happened 2000 years ago FOR ME and my sins of today.
I can fast or meditate on Scripture for hours, days, years, and still not find the forgiveness of sins FOR ME. Is my repentance genuine? Am I really truly sorry for those sins I committed? Am I acting Christian enough? Am I growing closer to God? Penitential reflection left to itself leads to despair. No matter how much I look into myself and repent of my sins, no matter how much I reflect on the sufferings of Christ, there is still no Jesus FOR ME. Remembrance doesn't give me Jesus. Repentance doesn't give me Jesus. And the more I look into myself, the worse it gets. I remember this as a very sad reality for many people I knew growing up. Older people who had been in church for years would not take the Lord's Supper because they felt unworthy. They knew all the theology, read their Bibles and prayed daily, knew all the works of Christ, His dying and rising, but they could not be certain they were part of the elect. They felt too sinful, hadn't repented genuinely enough or seen enough fruits in their lives. They abstained from the Lord's Supper so as to not eat and drink in an unworthy way. How sad! They had misunderstood the Lord's Supper and turned it into yet another act of devotion rather than the pure gift of the true body and blood of Jesus given to sinful beggars.
What brought me to Lutheranism was it's Biblical understanding of the means of grace. As Martin Luther said: "If I now seek the forgiveness of sins, I do not run to the cross, for I will not find it given there. Nor must I hold to the suffering of Christ as Dr. Karlstadt trifles, in knowledge or remembrance, for I will not find it there either. But I will find in the sacrament of the gospel the word which distributes, presents, offers, and gives to me that forgiveness which was won on the cross" (AE 40:214).
There I found true comfort and certainty! The Lord's Supper is not some mental act of remembrance of Jesus and how He once lived, died and rose again. The Lord's Supper is where I come as a beggar and am nourished with the gift of His true Body and Blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins FOR ME. In this Sacrament, Luther affirms, "Christ takes me and devours me and gobbles me up together with my sins. I partake of his righteousness such that His godliness swallows up my sin and misery so that I have nothing but righteousness" (All become One Cake: A Sermon on the Lord's Supper, 15231).
Lent is a time of penitential reflection indeed but no amount of reflection, no amount of reading and meditating on Scripture, no amount of fasting brings me Jesus and His forgiveness. I get all of Him in the means of grace. So what better way to do Lent than to, as Dr. Norman Nagel once said, "Best way to celebrate Lent is close to the means of grace, rejoicing in our Baptism, rejoicing in the body and blood of Christ given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins."
Isn't that what we just prayerfully considered in the Lenten sermon about Judas from the other day?
So, we Lutherans are different due to our Biblical understanding of the Means of Grace among many other things.
That brought me to another Lutheran layman who also wrote about these critical differences between Lutherans and other Christians as he reflected on his transition from a Reformed/Presbyterian background to becoming a Lutheran.
He highlights the Means of Grace too, but goes further by identifying nine different marks of distinction. Certainly take some time to read his entire list, but there's one item he calls attention to that I want to emphasize here since I have found it to be the most glaring (and comforting!) difference next to the Means of Grace.
5. Christ Focused Justification: Justification is the idea that we are saved by faith alone. It might shock people to hear that this is a point of difference, after all justification was a major point for Luther and just about every protestant tradition believes they take many of their cues on this subject from him. So yes on the surface Lutherans and Protestants would affirm justification by faith through grace, however it does not take long to see that the two groups diverge very quickly. Protestant thoughts on justification would look something like this: “Scripture says believe and you will be saved. I believe. Therefore I’m saved. Lutheranism rather looks at justification in this way: “Jesus says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”. Jesus is not lair. Therefore I’m baptized and have newness of life and all the promises scripture ties to baptism.” We can see that these two differ drastically. To Lutherans protestant faith is reflective and too easily can devolve into a reflective faith, that is a faith in ones faith in Christ. Lutherans fear that protestants ultimately do not look to Christ but rather look to their own work of faith. This for the Lutheran will only lead to despair because what happens when the Protestant doubts their salvation or that they have proper faith. Often the Protestant reaction to someone asking whether they are truly saved, is to ask that person whether they exhibit the proper fruit of salvation. Are they living the life of a Christian. As a Lutheran this makes me want to cry because rather then lead frightened and confused people to Christ for assurance of salvation the protestant ultimately leads a person to their own works for assurance. The Lutheran when asked how do you know you are saved replies “I know I’m saved because I’m baptized. It is in the waters of baptism that he has saved me and washed away my sins, Given me the Holy Spirit and has made me beloved child of his, for the sake a Christ and his death for me on the cross.”
Of course, that isn't an exhaustive list, but it's a great place to start for anyone who wants to begin an honest and serious discussion about the things we Lutherans believe, teach, and confess and why we hold to such truths so faithfully.
As mentioned in the above piece, "after reading this article, you will realize the challenge that Lutherans do not fit nicely into a box with Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Evangelicals, etc." Indeed.
Now, for those who may be thinking that we are somehow suggesting that a person cannot be a Christian or cannot be truly saved unless they identify themselves as Lutheran, that's simply not the case at all.
The Lutheran Church does not claim to be the only saving church, but it does instruct on how to be justified and saved by grace. #Lect33— C. F. W. Walther (@CFW_Quotes) February 29, 2016
Caring about doctrine requires Christians to engage in the difficult and painful task of making distinctions between church bodies.— Swim the Rhine (@swimtherhine) February 29, 2016
Some people living among the sects love the truth and may be better Christians than some Lutherans. Christ rules everywhere. #Lect33— C. F. W. Walther (@CFW_Quotes) February 29, 2016
Why am I a Lutheran? Well, I can tell you that it's more than mere "tradition."
The short answer is because it's the most Biblically sound confession of faith on the planet. I didn't think that just a few years ago (I went through a phase were I thought ALL churches and denominations were apostate, blasphemous, and heretical), but today I wholeheartedly and most certainly do believe that Lutheran doctrine is consistent with Christian doctrine.
As Daniel Preus wrote...
I am a Lutheran for the same reason I am a Christian. It is not by choice but by grace. The teachings of the Lutheran Church place Jesus at the center because the teachings of the Scriptures place Jesus at the center. No other confession demonstrates such fidelity to the truths of God's Word. No other confession so glorifies Christ by placing Him at the center of all it confesses and teaches. Being a Lutheran is truly all about Jesus.
For an ex-Evangelical like me, however, who is only recently coming to appreciate the "Means of Grace" (a.k.a. the preaching of God's Word; Baptism; Lord's Supper), I have to say that this is what I've come to crave the most from Lutheran preaching and teaching -- Jesus, Jesus, and more Jesus!
You'd think that Christians from any denomination would be focused on Christ, but I'm here to tell you that that's just not so these days.
In a Lutheran layman's terms, all of these things help to remind us why we identify ourselves with Martin Luther, and it all has to do with God's grace and the fact that it's because Jesus is always at the center of anything and everything we preach, teach, and confess.
Even Luther himself knew that when he wrote, "The first thing I ask is that people should not make use of my name, and should not call themselves Lutherans but Christians. What is Luther? The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone. How did I, poor stinking bag of maggots that I am, come to the point where people call the children of Christ by my evil name?"
NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Executive Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 2 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!