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What is Truly Lutheran?

To begin with, we do well to define the term Christian. A Christian is one who believes in the forgiveness of sins through the blood atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. This faith and confidence is not part of the natural human heart but a consequence of the gospel through which the Holy Spirit creates the faith that confesses,

“I believe in God the Father… and in Jesus Christ… and in the Holy Ghost.”

One is not a Christian because he is perfect in his mortal state but because he is pardoned through the substitutionary atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. From such faith flows the life of sanctification—Christian living—which glorifies our Heavenly Father who has begotten us again unto a living hope through the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3-9).

To the continuation of genuine Christianity and the Christian’s hope, the Word of God is essential—for apart from that Word there would be no Christianity! Furthermore, apart from the Word of salvation there is no genuinely Christian life. Martin Luther said, “I am continually saying that our entire life and all our works must conform to God’s Word if they are to be considered God-pleasing and holy” (What Luther Says [WLS], Vol. I, p. 214).

Luther also maintained that a Christian accepts the Word of God without question: “Christians should simply cling to the Word alone and not argue as to whether God is lying or telling the truth. They are simply to believe it because Christ says it” (ibid.)

So then, who is truly Lutheran? That Christian is truly Lutheran who—as Martin Luther implied— remains loyal to Scripture! “The perfectly pure, the only, and the certain Word of God must be the foundation of our faith” (WLS, Vol. II, p. 863). No honest Lutheran would deny Luther’s comment.

But here is where a problem arises. Not all within Lutheranism agree on what is Scripture. Consequently, not all agree on what constitutes loyalty to Scripture.

For us the whole Bible is the inspired, unerring Word of God. What God transmitted to the prophets and apostles was the Word of God, is the Word of God, and shall forever remain the Word of God. Therefore not a single Word of Scripture can be denied without doing violence to the whole of Scripture. For us loyalty to Scripture means that without reservation, evasion, or recasting, we confess and teach the Bible. We are not among those who believe that the divine Word is subject to revision for our time. To suggest so is heresy.

This is our confession. It is truly Lutheran!

Martin Luther declared, “Nor should we let men toy with Scripture, juggle the Word of God, and make it submit to being explained, twisted, stretched, and revised to suit people or to achieve peace and union; for then there should be no secure or stable foundation on which consciences might rely” (WLS, Vol. III, p. 1475). They who deny that the whole of Scripture is the Word of God make God a liar!

However, even among Lutherans who profess respect for the Word of God and who hold legitimate concerns about the direction of Lutheranism are those who, for reasons of their own, pick and choose what they want to believe and practice from Scripture.

For example, a sizeable group within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is upset over that church’s approval of homosexual pastors and homosexual unions. Some of those have left the ELCA. Yet that synod continues to ordain women into the pastoral ministry and engages in unionism (joint worship without unity in doctrine and teaching) as well as in the practice of open communion. Though it is claimed that Scripture is their only and final authority in matters of doctrine, they have adapted themselves to modern interpretations and practices rejected by their fathers.

We make no judgment regarding the salvation of such, for salvation is the gracious gift of God the Father to all who hold fast to Christ and believe in the forgiveness of sins through the merit and atonement of Christ. Nevertheless, they are truly Lutheran who remain steadfast to the Word of God in all doctrines set forth in Scripture and accept the Confessions of the Lutheran Church set forth in the Book of Concord of 1580.

True Lutherans give more than lip service to the name “Lutheran” and to the doctrines confessed in the Augsburg Confession, the defining confession of true Lutheranism. With the Augsburg Confession true Lutherans without reservation teach from Scripture that…

1. God is Triune—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

2. All since the fall of Adam and begotten in the natural way are born with sin.

3. Christ, true God, assumed human nature conceived of the Holy Ghost through the virgin Mary (see Apostolic Creed).

4. All people are justified, and their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who by His death has made satisfaction for our sins.

5. The ministry of the Word and Sacraments was instituted for the proclamation of the Word, through which the Holy Spirit creates faith.

6. This Spirit-engendered faith produces fruits of faith (good works).

7. The Holy Christian Church consists of all believers in Christ, and only believers. It shall endure forever.

8. An orthodox church is a church in which the gospel is rightly taught and the sacraments rightly administered. Its unity is maintained through the Word and Sacraments, not through human rites or traditions.

9. Baptism administers the grace of God, and children are to be baptized.

10. The body and blood of Christ are truly present in the Sacrament and are distributed in, with, and under the bread and wine.

11. Private confession and absolution is retained in the Church.

12. Repentance consists of contrition (sorrow) for sin and faith in Christ’s atonement.

13. The Sacraments awaken and confirm faith in those who use them.

14. No one should publicly teach in the Church who is not regularly called.

15. Customs and traditions are observed that do not burden consciences, and which serve good order in the Church.

16. It is right for Christians to hold civil office.

17. Christ will return at the end of time to judge all—believers to heaven, unbelievers to hell.

18. Humans possess free will in civil matters but not in spiritual matters.

19. The cause of sin is the will of the devil and the flesh (old man).

20. Good works cannot reconcile to God, for the sinner is saved by grace through faith in Christ alone.

21. We may follow the faith and example of the saints, but we do not venerate them.

These and whatever other doctrines are set forth in Scripture are to be believed and faithfully taught in the Lutheran Church. Luther said in his day, “Let him who does not want Scripture stick to his own. We want Christ and not the pope” (WLS, Vol. III, p. 1178).

There are those who choose to go their own way. For our part we have no intent to disassociate ourselves from Luther and the doctrine he set forth from Scripture. As we are Christian, God help us to remain truly Lutheran!

(To be concluded)