What does it mean to be Lutheran? There are millions of Lutheran Christians in the world, but I would argue when asked what that means many would not really know what that means. Commonly the joke is that Lutherans are Catholic Light – “All the Liturgy, but half the guilt!” It’s all meant in good humor and it does create a light mood when talking about it, but it leaves us searching for a better definition, one that we can share easily with many. Lutheran was a name that was given by those that disagreed with those that agreed with Luther’s teachings and the Augsburg Confession, but it was not a term that was meant as a compliment. Luther is quoted stating that he would much rather have those who agreed with his teachings be called Evangelicals. Lutheran began as a name that was meant to be more of a connotation of disdain, but became a way to signify what we believe. Lutherans were truly the first Reform movement of the Church, but unlike those that have co-opted the name “Reformed” the desire was not to break away and create a new Church outside of Rome but was to reform the Church in Rome. The same is true that the Lutheran Church is the only church to formally file a protest with Rome and be the first “Protestant” faith. Zwingli and the other reformers protested Rome, but entered into the fray five years after the 95 Theses were posted and the Reformation had begun. It is amazing that all the terms that would best define Lutheranism outside of the name Luther have been co-opted, “Evangelical”, “Protestant”, “Reformed”. But all of these terms would fit us.
Lutherans and to be Lutheran in our Christian faith is, as is in our Confessions, a reclamation of the Christian faith and is centered around the principles of Faith Alone (Sola Fide), Grace Alone (Sola Gratia), and Word Alone (Sola Scriptura). The first symbol of our faith was the slogan, “The Word of the Lord Endures Forever” (Verbum Domini Manet et Aeternum). The focus was to center our justification in faith alone by grace alone in the Word of God alone through Christ alone to the glory of God alone. Faith being at the center to show us that the works that we do have no value in our salvation and it is only in that faith which our Lord Jesus Christ gives us is where we can find the comfort we need to know the salvation that our Lord gives us. It is not based upon my feelings, my thoughts, or the works that I do, but in the faith in Jesus Christ that is given us only through the Holy Spirit who reveals Him to us. A Lutheran is one who agrees with the teachings of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther and the Augsburg Confession (as well as its Apology).
Simply put a Lutheran is a Christian who puts Christ in the center of all things as revealed in the Word of God and places us as the passive receivers of God’s active revelation of salvation and our need for that salvation. We receive what is given to us by God and our single action is to believe and trust in the promise that is given. When led by the Holy Spirit to baptism either by our parents as infants/children or as adults. As we are baptized the promise is given in the Word that is joined with the water and the promise is revealed at this point the actions are God’s as He gives us His Holy Spirit and adopts us as His own. Each time we come to the communion table to partake of the Lord’s Supper we are reminded of that promise and receive that forgiveness. To be Lutheran is to be a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, grounded in faith through the Word of God, and redeemed through the promise given to us in the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross that “all who believe and are baptized will be saved.”