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What Luther Says

What Does It Mean To Be A Lutheran?

We're only two weeks away from celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation and the Lutheran Day School that my kids attend hasn't done any activities or lessons on Martin Luther, the Reformation, or the Lutheran essentials!

As my 11-year-old daughter reminded me the other day, it probably has a lot to do with the fact that a majority of the students enrolled in the school right now aren't even Lutheran themselves.

You see, a majority of them attend the Wesleyan mega-church in the local area, adhere to "Believer's Baptism," and partake in cups of grape juice and goldfish crackers for Communion. The rest are either Baptist, Evangelical, Methodist, Pentecostal, or Non-Denominational (anything but Lutheran).

Of course, the school is ok with this, because more students means more kids enrolled in their small Christian school. Besides, "We're all Christians!" so why make a fuss over denominations that only "divide" Christians anyway? Or so the thinking goes.

In fact, it's the same mentality that led them to take "Lutheran" out of the name of the school a few years ago in the first place and to replace it with "Christian" so they could appeal to a wider segment of the population.

All of this got me thinking...What does it mean to be a Lutheran?

 Now, there are many ways to go about answering that question. Here are a couple of good answers to that question to help lay the proper foundation for us...

There is something remarkably different from the way Lutheranism understands Jesus Christ than the Roman Catholic church, the Baptist church, or the Reformed church does. There is something which distinguishes Lutheranism from these other churches in how Scripture is interpreted, and this difference is found in what it means to be Lutheran. 
I've heard many answers to the question, what does it mean to be Lutheran? My personal favorite is that "we're right, and everyone else is wrong". My second favorite is a more theologically correct answer, Lutheranism is a confessional church. These answers are not quite what we are looking for though. What it means to be a Lutheran is that we are Christocentric, meaning that Christ is at the center of all of our theology. 
Lutherans, do not look at creation outside of Christ. Lutherans do not look at their daily lives outside of Christ. Lutherans, do not look at the inerancy of Scripture outside of Christ. Furthermore when Lutherans look to Christ they look to Him knowing that His sacrificial death on the cross has forgiven all the sins of the world. The Roman Catholic church does not do this, they point to their works which through Christ merit them forgiveness. The Reformed and Baptists do not do this either, rather they point to their decisions and claim that Christ merits them forgiveness because of their decisions. These latter two teachings are false, and it is because they do not center around Christ, rather they center around man made intervention. 
The study of Christ, or the study of how Christ is connected to and through all of our doctrine is called Christology. To be Lutheran is to see everything through Christ who died for forgiveness. To be Lutheran means that you realize your sinful nature, you see yourself as purely dead in sin, incapable of doing anything. This lack of capability is also significant to what it means to be Lutheran. Dead people can't do anything, and thus we fully rely on Christ who makes alive that which was dead. 
When the Reformed and Baptists look at a cross they rarely depict it with Christ nailed to it. Lutherans on the other hand are notorious for big crucifixes, crosses with Christ nailed to them. Lutherans do this because it was when Christ was nailed to that cross where the sins of the world were forgiven. The blood shed at the cross washed, and made what was once crimson, white as snow. Lutherans realize that the events at the cross are the center of their theology. Furthermore, the events at the cross are the center of life. 
To be Lutheran is to be Christocentric. To be Lutheran is to deny man's ability to play a role within our faith. Thus, Lutherans lay it all at the foot of the cross where true man and true God was pierced for the forgiveness of sins. 
To be Lutheran is to always be pointing to Christ. 
-- Stan Lemon

What is it mean to be Lutheran in the first place? What does that mean, to be Lutheran? And It is something that you are! It’s not something that you join, it is not something that you do. It is, it’s not even really something that ultimately in the end you believe. You either are Lutheran or you aren’t. And the great thing about being Lutheran, is that makes one a Lutheran is not anything in one’s self but something decidedly outside one’s self. This is something that we need to learn, we’re learning it slowly but surely, we’re learning a lesson that we ought to have known by now. And that we often do remember and then forget, as quickly. That what makes someone, what makes a congregation, what makes a pastor, what makes a synod, Lutheran is only one thing. It’s kind of the fifth sola of Lutheranism that you won’t see on any banners or Luther roses or anything like that. The only thing that makes a Lutheran, a Lutheran whether that Lutheran is a congregation or a pastor or a lay person is the Lutheran Confessions. That’s it. The definition of a Lutheran is there in our confession. Believing that, confessing that, makes one a Lutheran and not believing that and not confessing that, makes someone something other than a Lutheran regardless on whether you call yourself that or whether your church has the sign outside that says you are a Lutheran. It’s one thing and one thing alone our confession. 
-- "What's So Special About Being Lutheran?" by the Rev. Todd Wilken - October 13, 2013

That brings us back to our original question: What does it mean to be a Lutheran?

The above link to the source of Rev. Wilken's quote will take you to a fantastic 36-minute lecture he gave on the subject so please make sure you don't miss that one. It's such a pastoral, sober-minded presentation for us to prayerfully consider.

I also recalled this gem while writing this piece...

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. 
-- Rev. Daniel Preus

Of course, that one comes from his excellent book "Why I Am Lutheran: Jesus At The Center" which I reviewed here. It's a book that reminds us of why we go by this name, 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. It's a book that reminds me of the following Bible verse...

1 Corinthians 9:16 (ESV) For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

Though St. Paul wrote that one, I can't help but always think of Martin Luther whenever I come across it. It's also why I love something Luther himself once said in response to the use of his name to describe us Christians who believe what he was calling the church to repent of and return to.

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? 
-- Martin Luther

While I agree with his humility and sentiment here, I also think it's ok to identify ourselves with the one confession of "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3), because our confession matters simply because the truth of God's Word matters.

For me, being a Lutheran means something. Maybe it's because of where I came from and how I almost caused "shipwreck" to my own faith due to all the false teachers and their false teachings that I enthusiastically believed, taught, and confessed as an Evangelical that rejected all denominations (1 Timothy 1:19).

Whatever the reason, I no longer apologize for being a Lutheran like I used to, but I embrace it and believe it's the most bold, faithful, historical, orthodox confession of "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3) there is.

How do I know? After all, I was wrong once before, so how do I know I'm right this time? That's a fair question. All I can say is that having an actual Book of Concord where all of the Lutheran Confessions are written down and publicly available for anyone and everyone to read for themselves gives you the opportunity to verify if the things I believe, teach, and confess are an accurate and clear confession of Biblical truth.

Take comfort, my dear friends. For those of you who are non-Lutherans (or for you "Lutherans-In-Name-Only"), please recall that quote from Luther himself that I just referenced above, which speaks to us through the ages.

What does it mean to be a Lutheran? It means never being ashamed to admit that you're a Lutheran because you know you have the pure Law and Gospel that save lives.

It's Christ-centered, cross-focused preaching and teaching that's about "CHRIST For You!" as opposed to a Christ-less, cross-less brand of preaching and teaching that's about "YOU For Christ!" instead.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, what it means to be a Lutheran is to believe, teach, and confess nothing but the unadulterated truth of the Word of God and Jesus Christ at the center of it all.

NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just your average everyday Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to "Confessional Lutheranism" and one who recently escaped an American-Evangelical-Non-Denominational mindset a little more than 4 years ago now despite being a Christian my whole life. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way back into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with the Bible, our Confessions, and Lutheran doctrine in general (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 not only correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1), but repent of my sin and learn the whole truth myself. With that in mind, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) 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 heavily 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 I 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 footnotes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I will 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 under-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!

About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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