Monday, October 31, 2011

For Reformation Day: A Lutheran Identity

What is a Lutheran, anyway?

Sometimes people define Lutherans by what we’re not: the most common being “We’re not Roman Catholics.” Well, that’s true. The Augsburg Confession still calls the Roman Catholic church to repent of her false doctrine and practice and return to the teachings of the apostles and fathers. But if the sum of a person’s Lutheran identity is simply what we’re not, that’s not a very robust identity.

For many whose Lutheran identity is little more than “not Roman Catholic,” there’s a fear of things that look a little too Roman Catholic. Because Lutherans and Roman Catholics share a common heritage, a common history, they will naturally have many things in common with one another, just like two siblings from the same parents may not only look alike but also act alike. Two such things that often ruffle peoples’ feathers and cause them to protest that things are “too Roman Catholic” are making the sign of the cross and having private Confession and Absolution.

If you had to think of one thing that all Lutherans have in common, one thing that defines what it means to be a Lutheran Christian, you’d be hard-pressed to find something better than Luther’s Small Catechism. Everyone has a catechism. Everyone had to learn it to be confirmed. It’s the layman’s summary of the Bible. It’s quintessentially Lutheran. And yet, right there in the catechism are these two “too Roman Catholic” things: the sign of the cross and private confession and absolution. So how did it come to be that these two things, among many others, featured prominently in the most Lutheran thing you can think of, are regarded as Roman Catholic practices?

Because we’ve been wasting our time defining ourselves by what we’re not.

Who cares what we’re not. Let’s be who we are: Lutherans. Let’s learn to speak the words Lutherans speak, sing the songs Lutherans sing, worship the way Lutherans worship, pray the way Lutherans pray, catechize our children the way Lutherans catechize their children. In short, let’s not be afraid to be Lutherans, with a robust Lutheran identity. Lutherans are people who trust completely in God’s work for salvation. They don’t believe they had to make a decision to be saved; they don’t believe their works earn them God’s mercy. They believe in a Triune God who works from outside of them to deliver to them His precious gift of faith. They believe faith comes by hearing, that God adopts them into His family in Holy Baptism, that the Lord Jesus sends pastors to forgive their sins, and that God feeds them with forgiveness through the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.

This is a wonderful time to be a Lutheran Christian. We’re in the middle of something of a renaissance of classic Lutheranism. The greatest Lutheran publishing house in the world is turning out some of the best resources ever: The Lutheran Study Bible, Treasury of Daily Prayer, Lutheran Service Book, Concordia: the Lutheran Confessions, a newly redesigned Lutheran Witness, and more. More and more congregations are returning to the Lutheran practice of receiving the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day. Lutherans are rediscovering the Church’s historic vestments, covering their ordinary pastors in the extraordinary beauty of Christ’s Office.

It’s always a good time to be a Lutheran if you want rock-solid certainty of salvation. But today is a particularly invigorating day to be a Lutheran as we’re gradually growing in a robust, confident Lutheran identity.