Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

On the Name "Lutheran"

Pastor’s Window for October 2009
On the Name “Lutheran”

Beloved in the Lord,

October 31st is the 492nd anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of the Ninety-five Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, igniting the 16th Century Reformation of the Christian Church. Since that time Christians who continue to confess the Gospel as Dr. Luther confessed it have come to be known as “Lutherans.” But why the name “Lutheran”? Why not just call ourselves Christians? Or are there any other names that may be appropriate? Why do we name ourselves after a human teacher? After all, human teachers can and do err.

Did you know that Martin Luther never wanted his adherents to be called “Lutherans”? Originally the term “Lutheran” was used by Roman Catholic theologians as a slur against anyone who followed Luther in particular, or opposed the Roman church in general. Luther’s followers began to wear the slur as a badge of honor. Dr. Luther opposed this, preferring that Lutherans call themselves Evangelicals (Lutheran churches in Germany to this day are called “Evangelische”), or simply Christians. But he had to concede that a name was needed to set the Reformation church apart from the Romanists. He wrote: “It is true that you should never say: I am Lutherish or popish; for neither of them died for you; neither is your master. Only of Christ may this be said. Therefore you should profess to be a Christian. But if you believe Luther’s doctrine is evangelical and the pope’s unevangelical, you must not flatly disown Luther; otherwise you also disown his doctrine, which you admittedly recognize as the doctrine of Christ. Rather you must say: Whether Luther personally is a scoundrel or a saint means nothing to me. His doctrine, however, is not his but Christ’s own. For you see that the object of the tyrants is not only to slay Luther but also to extirpate the doctrine. They lay hands on you because of the doctrine, and for this reason they ask you whether you are Lutheran. Truly, here you should not speak in a weak whisper but should freely confess Christ, whether Luther, Nicholas, or George preached Him. Let the person go. But the doctrine you must confess” (What Luther Says, Ewald M. Plass, ed. [St. Louis: Concordia, 1959] p. 857).

We call ourselves “Lutheran” not because Luther is our savior (he’s not), or because we believe everything Luther said is right (much of it was, but some of it wasn’t), or because we worship Luther (we don’t). We call ourselves Lutheran because the use of this name is a confession of faith. When we call ourselves Lutheran, we mean that we confess the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the pure light in which Martin Luther confessed it, namely, that we are saved by Christ alone, by His grace alone, through faith alone, without works (cf. Rom. 1:17; 3:21-22; Eph. 2:8-9). When we call ourselves Lutheran, we mean that we confess Scripture alone as the rule and norm of our faith and life. When we call ourselves Lutheran, we are confessing our agreement with the 1580 Book of Concord as the right interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.

But we also call ourselves Christian, for Christ is our only Savior. And we don’t see a disconnect between calling ourselves Christian or Lutheran. We are Lutheran Christians. We recognize that there are Christians who are not Lutheran, but we believe Lutheranism is Christianity at its best. If we didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t be Lutherans. We would attend whatever church we believe is Christianity at its best. To be Lutheran is to be Christian. There is no such thing as unchristian Lutheranism.

We also call ourselves evangelical. To be evangelical is to be Gospel-centered. Lutheranism is Gospel-centered. We also call ourselves catholic (small ‘c’), because to be catholic (literally “according to the whole”) means we are dedicated to the whole teaching of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Scriptures by the prophets, apostles, and evangelists. We also call ourselves orthodox (small ‘o’), because to be orthodox (literally “right praise”) means to confess the true biblical doctrine. But since there are other churches who also call themselves Christian, evangelical, catholic, orthodox, etc., but who teach a different doctrine than that which we confess, we have to set ourselves apart somehow. We do so by our use of the name “Lutheran.”

We dare not be ashamed of that name. Nor dare we be ashamed of the doctrine. In a culture of generic pop Christianity where the doctrine of the Bible is set aside for “lowest common denominator” drivel, Lutheranism is a breath of fresh air. Lutheranism brings meat and potatoes (biblical doctrine and clear Gospel preaching) to a Christianity that consumes mostly cotton candy (little doctrine, almost all emotion, mixture of Law and Gospel). In other words, we still confess the Gospel of Christ as Martin Luther did almost 500 years ago. Our Reformation voice remains vital to the health of the Body of Christ.

Blessed Reformation Day!

Pastor Krenz


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