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What is a Lutheran (according to Luther)?

You meet a new colleague and to your surprise you discover she is a Lutheran. You are delighted to find you have this in common.

In the course of time, however, after several discussions you realize your colleague does not believe God created the world in six days, as the Bible says. Then, come to find out, she doesn’t really believe the account of Jesus’ resurrection is to be taken literally. When it really comes down to it, she isn’t even sure there is a literal heaven and is pretty sure there is no such thing as hell.

You finally ask, incredulously, “You call yourself a ‘Lutheran’?”

Just what is a ‘Lutheran’?

Today it would seem that name doesn’t stand for much. Many who call themselves Lutherans are among the most liberal ‘Christians’ around, denying key teachings of Scripture.

That gives us an opportunity to explain what it really means to be Lutheran. We are not honoring or following a man. It is not Luther’s doctrine or teaching we follow but God’s Word. We acknowledge and praise God that He used Martin Luther to bring His true Word back to the people.

To be ‘Lutheran’ is to share Luther’s devotion to the Word of God, making it the only norm for all teaching in the church.

Perhaps the best way, therefore, to understand what it means to be a ‘Lutheran’ is to listen to what Martin Luther himself has to say about what is important and about the use of his name in this way.

“I ask that men make no reference to my name and call themselves, not Lutherans but Christians. What is Luther? After all, the doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone.…I neither am nor want to be any man’s master. Christ alone is our Master. He teaches me and all believers one and the same doctrine (Matt. 23:8)” (WHAT LUTHER SAYS, Vol. II, p. 856).

Luther clearly considered the Word of God to be everything. The doctrine he taught was not his own but God’s as taught in the Scriptures. Yet when the enemies of the gospel began calling those who believed as Luther believed ‘Lutherans,’ he realized that they cannot deny that name without denying Christ in whom Luther trusted.

Luther said, “But if you believe that 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”  (WLS, Vol. II, p. 857).

So, you see, to be a ‘Lutheran’ is to stand firm on the Word of God. To believe every Word of God and to stand firm on that Word, proclaiming it against all that opposes God’s Word.

As Luther said one time, “Luther himself has no desire to be Lutheran except insofar as he teaches the Holy Scripture in purity” (WLS, Vol. II, p. 858).

Also, the later confessors said,  “The Word of God alone should be and remain the only standard and rule of doctrine” (Formula of Concord, T.D., #9,
p. 855).

This is especially true of the central teaching of Holy Scripture that our salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ’s substitutionary death.

May we live up to that name in our life and confession to show the world that we rely on God’s Word alone, and that we trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness and salvation.

That is being truly ‘Lutheran’!