What does it mean to be Lutheran

What does it mean to be Lutheran? By Calvin D.G. Willard, Lutheran Pastor. 23 August 2009
By now most readers have seen the Associated Press headline, “Lutherans Allow Sexually Active Gays to serve as clergy” (Friday 19 Aug. 2009). Well that is a dramatic statement but not true. A more accurate statement would specify the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America  (ELCA) allows sexually active gays to serve as clergy. This accuracy would better serve the public because the ELCA does not speak for the Lutheran Church, nor do I. And yet, I am a Lutheran pastor, and that should and does mean something to Christians everywhere in the world. What does it mean to be Lutheran?
That question was sorted out and resolved 430 years ago, and the answer remains true still today. The answer is the Formula of Concord (concord means agreement), which was signed by nearly all Lutheran leaders, both royal and humble, lay and clergy in 1580. It is a large document, now codified as the Book of Concord. This defines Lutheranism still today. It is our book of confessions. The Book of Concord (BoC) contains the three Creeds, the Augsburg Confession, Luther’s Large and Small Catechisms, and several supporting documents.
Throughout the BoC, the Holy Bible is used as the single source and guide for faith and life. In fact the Lutheran confessions state repeatedly “The Word of God is and should remain the sole rule and norm of all doctrine. The Word of God shall establish articles of faith and no one else, not even an angel.” The BoC states “God’s Word cannot err.” Also “it is only from the Word of God that judgments on articles of faith are to be pronounced.”
Lutherans have always held to these confessions, as found in every constitution of every Lutheran Church body, and affirmed in historical Lutheran councils such as the Chicago Thesis of the National Lutheran Council (1919), Intersynodical Theses (1925-28), Minneapolis Thesis (1925), Baltimore Declaration (1938), National Lutheran Council (1945), and the United Testimony on faith and Life (1952).
The Lutheran confessions also state “(the Bible) uses no flowery language, but the most appropriate, simple… and clear words….” You don’t need a Ph.D. in ancient Greek or Hebrew to explain Scripture. They are clearly understood by the reader.
In response to our Lutheran Confessions, Lutherans have always stated our belief in salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, delivered by the Word alone. If you depart from these confessions, you depart from Lutheran faith.
Many have done so in the past, over secondary issues such as the efficacy and administration of the sacraments. They called themselves Reformed Protestants (Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodist, etc.). Most still believe in the Word of God as inerrant and true, but they felt called to follow somewhat different confessions. They no longer called themselves Lutheran, but if they believe in salvation by the grace of God through faith alone in Jesus Christ, we are brother and sister Christians. 
Jesus taught that we are to repent (being sorrowful, regretting, and turning away) from our sins, and believe the good news (Christ died for your sins [Mk.1:15]). But today we hear a majority vote in the ELCA turn away from the authority of Scripture in faith and life. What the Bible declares to be sin, the ELCA says is not. Some say, “God is doing a new thing.” Or they say that modern man has better understanding of human sexuality (denying the inerrancy of God’s Word). Or they say the Bible only contains God’s Word, but was written by fallen men so it also contains error (denying inerrancy again). For the past several years, they have studied man’s philosophy and politics instead of God’s Word as the source and guide to faith and life.
These people have a different view of salvation from that revealed in the Bible. They are departing from the Word of God, not to mention the Lutheran confessions. True Christians call them back to the former, if not also the latter.
Lutheran faith is defined by the word of God alone, as confessed in Book of Concord. There are several Church bodies that are Lutheran by confession and faith. They walk the talk. These include the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, The Association of Free Lutheran Congregations, and 14 other Lutheran Church bodies. They differ on areas of Church polity, the use of bishops, or congregational authority, but they hold to the Lutheran confessions; the inerrancy of Scripture as the only norm of faith and doctrine. They hold to salvation by the grace of God through repentance and faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is what it means to be Lutheran.

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