What is a Lutheran?
Bible-teaching, Christ Preaching Ancient Christianity for a Brave New Age
The name “Lutheran” originates with a medieval monk who was eventually excommunicated from the Roman Papacy for his insistence that salvation in Christ could not be bought or sold, but was a free gift of God. The name “Lutheran” first was used as a derogatory term meant to brand Luther and his followers as heretics. They themselves, however, referred to themselves as “Evangelicals.”
Never intending to rift the catholic Church, Lutherans then and now seek to call back all Christianity from the many new and innovative but false teachings which have arisen. They point to the ancient doctrines of the one, holy, catholic and Apostolic Church, as delivered once for all in the Scriptures, and as confessed by all Christians in every time and place. For this reason, the early Church, and her Fathers (or “pastors”) and traditions, play an important role in maintaining a unity of faith and practice by ever pointing us to the grace of Christ. Much more could be said here, but of utmost important is the understanding that Lutherans believe the Church, as the body of Christ, has (and always will have) the mind of Christ. There is one Truth, and the Lord Jesus has called all men to unity, or “concordia” in, with and under that one Truth.
“The Book of Concord,” first published in 1580, is the Lutheran catalog of those universal Christian beliefs. Founded on God’s Word, written a context wedged between a very antagonistic Roman propaganda machine and an exploding radical splinter-groups, this grouping of Confessions is still relied upon today as the truly catholic (“universal”) and evangelical (“Gospel-centered”) heritage of the ancient Church. To Lutherans, this book is not itself inspired, but rather a true confession before men of the inspiration which is revealed to us in Holy Scripture.
Bible or Confessions?
Lutherans confess that, “The Word of God is and should remain the sole rule and norm of all doctrine” (FC SD, Rule and Norm, 9). What the Bible asserts, God asserts. What the Bible commands, God commands. The authority of the Scriptures is complete certain and final. The Scriptures are accepted by the Lutheran Confessions as the actual Word of God. The Lutheran Confessions urge us to believe the Scriptures, for “they will not lie to you” (LC, V, 76), and cannot be “false and deceitful” (FC SD, VII, 96.) The Bible is God’s “pure, infallible, and unalterable Word” (Preface to the BOC.)
The Lutheran Confessions are the “basis, rule and norm, indicating how all doctrines should be judged in conformity with the Word of God” (FC SD RN.) Because the Confessions serve only to repeat the written Word of God in a new age and context, they act as a most useful standard for determining what is faithful, Biblical teachings, insofar as that teaching is addressed in the Confessions.
The Lutheran Reformation began as the sincere expression of concern that the false and misleading teachings were obscuring the glory and merit of Jesus Christ, and thus stealing the Gospel from devout Christian consciences. The Book of Concord confesses the Gospel this way:
“Human beings have not kept the law of God, but have transgressed it. Their corrupted human nature, thoughts, words and deeds battle against the law. For this reason, they are subject to God’s wrath, to death and all temporal afflictions, and to the punishment of the fires of hell. As a result, the Gospel, in its strict sense, teaches what people should believe, namely, that they receive from God the forgiveness of sins; that is, that the Son of God, our Lord Christ, has taken upon himself the curse of the law and borne it, atoned and paid for all our sins; that through him alone we are restored to God’s grace, obtain the forgiveness of sins through faith and are delivered from death and all the punishments of our sins and are saved eternally…. It is good news, joyous news, that God does not want to punish sin, but to forgive it for Christ’s sake” (FC SD, V, 20.)
For more information, the Book of Concord itself, and explanations of its various parts, explore The Book of Concord online.