Lutherans know what they believe. Many times, they know what other Christian confessions believe, too. And they believe that they are right where others are wrong. We don’t allow anyone to pastor our congregations who doesn’t confess that the Lutheran Confessions are a faithful and true exposition of Holy Scripture, and we don’t let anyone be a member of our congregations who doesn’t confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, as taught in the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true. In short, we’re Lutherans because we believe Lutheran doctrine to be correct. Whoa. At face value, that seems
a little bit offensive ridiculously and pompously arrogant.
Why do we care about doctrine? Why is right teaching—orthodoxy—so important to Missouri Synod Lutherans? In short, so you can sleep well.
We study Scripture, we learn from the Lutheran Confessions, we learn the Small Catechism by heart, we sing hymns with rather rigorous doctrinal content (and eschew the pithy and superficial), we have high expectations of young confirmands (and adult confirmands, too), and we confess that we will all be catechumens of the Word of God our whole lives long for one simple reason: so we can have rock-solid confidence in our salvation.
The goal of doctrine is not to be right for the sake of being right. The goal of doctrine is to give you full confidence in Jesus as your Savior. The beauty of Lutheran doctrine is not that it’s right as much as that it’s comforting. You are a sinner, sinful from birth and having sinned every day since. Your sins are not a small deal. They’re a huge deal. They’re heinously offensive to a holy God. You deserve to die forever because of them. And yet… (How beautiful is that word “yet”!) For the sake of Jesus, you do not get what you deserve. God gave your sin and your punishment to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He died for you. He rose for you. To this point most Christians agree.
But how do the benefits of Jesus death on the cross get delivered to you? In answering this question, Christians do not agree. A Roman Catholic would say that God gives us grace through His Sacraments in order that we might do good and thereby merit God’s mercy at the end of our lives. Most American Evangelicals would say that God completely does the work of salvation except He leaves it up to you to choose salvation (or ask Jesus into your heart, or pray the sinner’s prayer, or make Jesus the Lord of your life, etc.). Genuine Calvinists would say that God completely does the work of salvation, but He does not offer it to all people, only to His elect (that is, He creates some people whom He never intends to save), and you can never know with confidence that you’re among God’s elect until the end.
For both Roman Catholics and most Evangelicals, salvation is based on your works, either the works God enables you to do throughout your lifetime or that one work, that one exercise of your will, to choose Jesus. What if your works aren’t enough? What if you do some back-sliding? For Calvinists, the work of Jesus on the cross is limited only to those God eternally elects to salvation. None of that instills certain confidence in salvation. None of that makes for a good night’s sleep.
We do not believe only Lutherans are Christians. Absolutely not. Since we know and have confidence that we cannot save ourselves by any work, so also we know that a man cannot be saved by the precision of his confession. In the “life of the world to come,” there will be Christians of every stripe and every denomination.
But in nowhere but Confessional Lutheranism (the kind of Lutheranism that still believes in the Word of God and holds the Lutheran Confessions as true) is there this kind of confidence. You are saved solely and exclusively by the Word of God. He works through means (Word & Sacraments) to deliver saving faith to you, to preserve you in saving faith, to do absolutely everything you need for salvation. Nothing is required of you; God does it all. You can be (and should be) absolutely certain of your salvation because Lutheran doctrine calls you to look outside of yourself to God for confidence. Have this confidence. Sleep well.