Coca-Cola has done it. The U. S. Postal Service has too. Virtually every organization alters its logo, reformulates its product or changes its name from time to time in order to present a positive, up-to-date public image. What about us? Has the time come to “get over” the Reformation, leave Luther to the pages of history, and create a new image for our church?
Evidence suggests that many think so. A Lutheran mega-church in our community omits “Lutheran” from its name and simply calls itself “Community Church of Joy.” The largest Lutheran synod in the country, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has been meeting with the Episcopal Church, the Reformed Church in America, and others for the purpose of getting past historical differences in doctrine and establishing full communion between these churches.
In addition, over the years criticism has been leveled at Luther for his strong language against the Jews, his inflexibility toward the views of others, and some of his politically incorrect personal opinions.
So, does all this mean that it’s time to paint over “Lutheran” on our church signs and go with something new?
Not at all! The Lutheran name is far too precious to surrender! It’s not that we worship the man, as some have charged. We know, and Luther himself freely admitted, that he was just like all of us–a sinful human being unworthy of God’s loving notice. Luther made mistakes and said things he later regretted. Yet we cherish his name because of what it stands for. Luther’s words fill thousands of pages in multiple volumes dealing with dozens of topics, but what he believed and taught was all based on three simple, God-revealed truths: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide.
Three God-revealed Truths
Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) is the truth that the Bible is the God-breathed Word from cover to cover. It stands alone as the ultimate authority and test for every belief and teaching. Recall Luther’s courageous confession at the Diet of Worms: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason–I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other–my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything. . . . ”
Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) is the truth that we are saved from sin and death by God’s grace alone, not by our own works and goodness or by any combinations of Christ plus our works. As Paul says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
Sola Fide (Faith Alone) is the truth that all the blessings of Christ’s redeeming work become our own by Spirit-created faith, not by our earning them or by anything else for which we could take the credit. In explaining the Third Article, Luther says: “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Ghost has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. . . . ”
These three truths are the foundation of the Lutheran Church upon which we still build today.
At a time in history when “Martin Luther” most commonly evokes thoughts of Martin Luther King, Jr., and when many of those churches which still claim the name Lutheran have long ago abandoned what it stands for, may we by God’s grace stand firm. May our church signs still proclaim “Lutheran,” and may our pulpits still proclaim the pure Gospel truths Luther held so dear! No change needed here!
— Pastor Michael Eichstadt