Grace and peace in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
You may be a Lutheran if…you think that an ELCA bride and an LCMS groom constitute a mixed marriage.
Joking aside, this little bit of humor gets at the heart of what my article is about this month. When someone declares that they are Lutheran it is almost inevitable to want to know which kind. Are they ELCA, LCMS, WELS, LCMC, AFLC, NALC, and many, many, more right here in North America (for a list of the various different Lutheran bodies in North America visit http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lutheran_church_bodies_in_North_America). With all the various divisions within the Lutheran church it should come as no surprise that there are some strong ill willed feelings between them. It seems like we have taken ourselves back to when Lutheranism first began, at least in the sense where the term “Lutheran” was used as an insult.
Looking back on where we have come as a body of believers, we find that we have strayed from what Luther had originally intended when he set out to reform the church. In fact Martin Luther was appalled by the fact that people wanted to call themselves Lutherans in the first place. Luther once said, “What is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine. Neither was I crucified for anyone.” The whole point of the Reformation as Luther envisioned it was to get the church back to its roots, back to the basics of teaching the Word of God, and only the Word of God. When the catholic church refused to listen to Luther, the group of people that formed following Luther’s teachings called themselves “evangelical.” In an publication about Lutheranism the author writes, “As ‘evangelical’ Christians, they understood themselves in light of the gospel, in contrast to ‘papal’ Christians whose identity was rooted in their relationship with church structures and authority centered in Rome, especially the pope.”[i] What Luther wanted was to get the church’s focus back onto the Word alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. This ideal has shaped many people in many different ways, which in turn has led to the many different divisions with the Lutheran church today.
Despite the many differences that all of the Lutheran bodies have, there are certain teachings, or themes, that all Lutherans seem to ascribe to. Such core Lutheran themes as Justification by grace through faith, Law & Gospel, the Means of grace, the Theology of the Cross, and finally the theme of people being both Saint and Sinner. These distinctive Lutheran themes will be the focus of my articles in the coming months, each month taking a closer look at each of these themes, with the intent to figure out how they shape our understanding of God’s Word for our daily lives.
The grace of Christ be with you forever.
Your willing servant,