My life journey to this point has taken a circuitous route through the Christian Church. My wife and I, having come from very different denominational backgrounds, have attended just about every Christian denomination (and non-denomination) under the sun. So how did we end up in the Lutheran church, with me as a Lutheran pastor? Good question! Here’s my answer…First things first: there is One Church with a capital ‘C’: the Church Universal, Christ’s Church that He instituted. Under that Big C umbrella, there are three major divisions: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant.
The first division occurred in 1054 when the Pope of Rome, the leader of the Church in the West, excommunicated (barred from participation in the Sacrament) the Patriarch of Constantinople, who was the leader of the Church in the East. The churches in the East had long opposed Rome’s claims of supremacy over the Church at large, and so they separated from Rome to become what is known today as the Orthodox (meaning original, or true) Church, distinguished from the Catholic (meaning universal) Church. No political statements at all in those titles, right?…
The second division began with a German monk named Martin Luther, who on Halloween night in 1517 posted on the church door a document protesting the Catholic Church’s (of which he was a part) sale of indulgences. In short, the Church was selling the grace and forgiveness of God, something the Bible says are free. This led to a series of defections by regional churches who protested various teachings of the Catholic Church, including priestly marriage, ability to divorce, the nature of communion and the timing and means for baptism, among others. The goals were reform within the Church, but when Rome refused to engage in debate, the regional churches withdrew to form new churches in a series of events collectively known as the Protestant Reformation.
Because there were so many of these separate movements, each with disagreements even from each other over teachings, it became necessary to distinguish themselves from one another. Thus, each gave itself (or became known by) a particular name, giving birth to the first denominations. As for the followers of Luther’s reforms, while they referred to themselves as Evangelicals, to everyone else they were known simply as Lutherans.
Today, there are many different denominations. There are even churches who do not wish to be affiliated with any denomination, so they call themselves non-denominational (which is at least a little silly, since you’re basically calling yourself by a name that means no-name…).
So why did we settle on the Lutheran Church? Because we believe the Lutheran Church has the purest teaching – because it is based solely on the Bible (And a correct reading of the Bible). Believe it or not, not every Christian denomination even accepts the Bible as an authority – and many that do only accept the Bible as an authority, alongside reason, experience or tradition. As Lutherans, we read the Bible, we believe the Bible, and then we seek to understand the Bible. We work very hard to keep it in that order, and not look for the Bible to justify our previously held beliefs – or reject biblical teaching because we don’t understand or like it. And I love that as a Pastor I have the ability to answer questions honestly, even if that answer is “I don’t know.”
Is the Lutheran Church perfect? Far, far, far, far, far, far from it. But as Lutherans, we believe God’s Word: that we are condemned by our own sin but that we are saved (forgiven and promised everlasting life) solely by God’s grace, which is transferred or received solely by faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who paid the price for our sins.
Lutherans don’t have a monopoly on salvation, but I do believe we have the most faithful approach to the Bible and the truest teaching as a result – and that’s extremely important to me.
7 thoughts on “What & Why: Lutherans, Part 1”
When I was a kid, nearly 90 years ago, there were several different “Lutheran” bodies — Missouri, Wisconsin, Lutheran Church of America, American Lutheran Church — and several other minor Lutheran factions — but for the most part, we all “got along” with each other. In fact, we worshiped together at the old Civic Auditorium downtown, during Lent and Advent. We held special holiday services together. Their pastors preached in our pulpits and ours preached in theirs. Today it is much different and it is a sad situation indeed. And, they all have their “Lutheran scholars” who claim that “they have the correct interpretation” insofar as various doctrinal issues are concerned. It’s really kind of a scandal because to the average atheist or agnostic out there, they say, “You Christians can’t agree among yourselves on your religion, and over and above that, you “Lutherans” can’t even agree among yourselves. Why should I be a part of that?” It also has an effect on the younger generation, who, seeing all of this division, make the decision not to “buy” any of it. Pastor Erik is certainly correct: Christ founded only one church, but ever since then, the church hierarchy and scholars have been splitting us into little pieces, each claiming that they have “the truth” — and it continues on and on and on. Christianity today is a pretty poor example of what Our Lord and Savior, Jesus, intended us to be. And there are no serious efforts that I know of in trying to set us back on course again. There was a time, in my day, when Ecumenism was coming to the fore, and there were actual meetings and discussion about our differences, and how to bridge them, but, once again, it seems to have died out completely, because those who “lead” the various denominations cling stubbornly to the claim that only they have the correct interpretation of Holy Scripture. Is it any wonder that church attendance and membership is down in virtually every denomination in this year of 2020?
I agree with Mr. Mossner.