Monday, September 3, 2012

Christian First; Lutheran Second?

I recently read a blog post by a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod pastor who thinks it’s better to emphasize your identity as a Christian while downplaying your Lutheran identity. He claims that if we’re so concerned with being ‘lutheran’ [sic], it can keep us from focusing on our true identity in Christ. He’s hardly the first Lutheran to say something similar.

Lutheran doctrine is the doctrine of Christ, that was taught by the apostles and Jesus Himself. The wonderful theology that Lutheranism offers, justification, the Sacraments, the Theology of the Cross, and vocation, to name a few, all find their basis in Christ. To somehow downplay this is to downplay the Truth. Lutherans throughout the centuries have been excited to share their Lutheran faith with others. Entire books have been written by Lutherans who winsomely proclaimed what it means to be a Lutheran.

The reformers strove to demonstrate that Lutheran doctrine was the same as that taught from the beginning of Christianity. In the Augustana, they say “Our churches do not dissent from any article of the faith held by the Church catholic” (AC, Part II, 1), what the Formula of Concord calls “the simple, unchangeable, permanent truth” (SD, RN, 20). Johann Gerhard, in his four volume Confessio Catholica proved the catholicity of Lutheran doctrine, showing its presence in every age of the Church. To call yourself a Lutheran is to call yourself an orthodox, catholic, Christian, one who confesses the doctrine of Christ as the Church has done through every age.

Prof. W. H. T. Dau had this to say:
As long as there has been an orthodox Church on earth, so long there has been a Lutheran Church. It sounds strange, but it is true, the Lutheran Church is as old as the world; for it has no other doctrine than that which the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles received from God, and proclaimed. The name Lutheran, indeed, did not come into existence until three hundred years ago, but not the matter which that name signifies. Accordingly, the question, Where was the Lutheran Church before Luther? is easily answered, thus: The Lutheran Church was wherever there still were Christians who with all their heart believed in Jesus Christ and His Holy Word, and would not surrender this alone-saving faith of theirs in favor of human ordinances, or who made this Church their final refuge in the hour of death. (Four Hundred Years: Commemorative Essay On the Reformation, p.313)
Louis Wessel stated:
God will permit the extinction of Lutheranism as little as that of His Word and Christ’s evangel. The human or historic title may perish, -- though we doubt even that, -- but Lutheranism as a principle of religion is imperishable. (Theological Quarterly, Jan. 1917, p. 311)
Our true identity in Christ will never be found without understanding the person and work of Jesus Christ, something only Lutherans fully confess. Jesus took on a human nature. He became flesh and dwelt among us. The God who created heaven and earth becomes a part of it. An ordinary virgin becomes the mother of God, and God is born in a manger. He eats with sinners, is tempted, draws in the dirt, weeps. Ultimately, God dies on a cross, all to serve us in humility. It doesn’t sound very glorious does it? Jesus ascends to heaven, and while seated at the right hand of God, is still man as well as God. Yet he remains a part of His Creation. He is still present. He comes to us in His Word, spoken not by angels, but by sinful men. He comes to us in the unremarkable waters of Baptism, accompanied by His Word. On the Lord’s Day, we eat His very body and blood, the same body crucified on the cross from which blood and water flowed. These earthly things, when combined with His Word, grant us forgiveness and new life in Christ. These earthy elements are the way in which God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. They are His means of grace. The Lutheran understanding of these things define identity in Christ. Without them, your identity in Christ becomes nothing more than a veiled theology of glory, and your life becomes an unending focus on yourself and your works and your feelings and your obedience, instead of a focus primarily on Christ’s sacramental invitation and promise of the forgiveness of sins.

Maybe it’s popular in today’s era of inclusivity and diversity to downplay your Lutheran identity, but it’s sure not historical, or Scriptural. Christian first and Lutheran first – they’re one and the same.

photo credit: Martin Gommel


Anonymous said...

From "On Being a Christian," by Henry Hamann (Northwestern Publishing House):
"The sentence 'I am a Lutheran because I am a Christian' asserts
(1) that the Christian faith is clearly revealed, (2) that it can be grasped and understood, (3) that it can be accurately stated, taught, and confessed, and (4) that this has been done in traditional Lutheranism. It is a further consequence of this conviction to hold that convinced members of other denominations would think exactly the same way about their view of the Christian message--and, thinking that way, would reject my views which are specifically Lutheran. The big enemy of the true Christian faith is compromise, toleration, and the spirit that we all are right--as if the important thing is not to be Lutheran, but to be Christian without any denominational confession whatever." pp. 11,12

Ought to be required reading.

Joe Strieter

John Brandt said...

Excellent post, Scott.
This also explains the same confusion of many lay people. Perhaps Lutherans apologize for being Lutheran because they don't understand what being Lutheran means.
When a pastor feeds his flock a steady diet of Beth Moore, The Story, Rick Warren and The Shack this is what happens.
When youth directors usher their youth to non-denominational retreats, promote artists that melodiously croon about what we can do for God this is what happens.
When Sunday School and VBS uses non-Lutheran materials, this is what happens.
When new member instruction becomes a weekend retreat, this is what happens.
When Lutherans don't know the difference between the theology of glory and theology of the cross, because they have not been taught, this is what happens.

Derek Johnson said...


I was referred to your post off Brothers of John the Steadfast and am very encouraged by it. Too often, many Lutherans I know overcompensate when they interact with other Christians, feeling as if they will come off as judgmental. Perhaps a better way to say it is we are Christians who just happen to observe the theology in the Lutheran tradition because it best reflects the Scriptures. It's tough-we don't want to alienate fellow Christian, but at the same time, we shouldn't oversimplify our differences or say that they aren't important. We can still hold to our Lutheran identity and treat other Christians with respects. Thanks again, and God's blessings.

Scott Diekmann said...

I agree Joe, On Being a Christian ought to be required reading.

Thanks for the compliment John.

I'm actually a layman Derek. Thanks for reading.