Tuesday, June 07, 2005

What Do Lutherans Believe?

After twenty years of searching through the generic "evangelical" world for a true and authentic worship experience and stopping at many churches along the way, I have found authentic worship in the practices of the confessional Lutheranism. Many generic "evangelicals" display a knee-jerk negative reaction to the word "Lutheran". The statement, "I used to be Lutheran 'til I got saved.", is a very common one in the generic "evangelical" movement. I can't argue that a person making such a statement might not have had saving faith during the time he called himself a Lutheran, but I would argue whether he was truly a Lutheran. What does it mean to be Lutheran?

On numerous and un-erasable occasions, when asked what church I attended (a common proof of salvation amongst generic "evangelicals"), I would reply, "Oh, I'm a Christian, but God has called us to attend a Lutheran church right now." Yep. That came out of my mouth many times. To merely say that we attended a Lutheran church was too embarrassing - I had to add a disclaimer in order to identify myself as an authentic "evangelical". It pleased me that the ELCA Lutheran church I attended - the same one I grew up in and returned to when I had grown weary of the antics of the non-denominational world - was rapidly tossing out Lutheran biblical teachings in favor of the watered-down theology of the non-denominational churches I had just come from. At first this pleased me, but then I started to ask myself "What does it mean to be Lutheran?".

These practices caused me to question:
  • Either baptism saves or it doesn't. Which is it? If the Lutheran church traditionally baptized infants because they believe scripture says that it saves, then why are wenow praising parents who let their children "decide" when to be baptized? This became most apparent to me when I was praised publicly at the front of the church by one of the pastors for doing just that. I was finally allowing the baptism of my children, at their ages 7 and 9, after years of objections from my husband, parents, in-laws and an older ALC pastor. I had disregarded and dismissed their exhortations that the children should be baptized, but only the older pastor came close to putting it into understandable words. He told me that parents should bring children to the baptismal font. I agreed to have them baptized just in case I was wrong. The Holy Spirit had started to convict me of my unbelief in God's desire to save my children, but I wasn't fully convicted of my sin of unbelief until scripture was presented to me by a dear confessional Lutheran pastor. (I have since explained my sin and repentance to my family and children. I am also making sure that my kids are well-educated in what scripture teaches about baptism, as well as family roles in marriage, church and society.) I recently asked my husband why he allowed me to prevent our children from receiving God's grace through baptism and he replied that he just trusted me as the more spiritual in our marriage. I don't allow him to do that anymore; I have backed off and wait for him to take the lead without me hovering over his shoulder.
  • Either the bible warns about improper distribution of holy communuion or doesn't. Which is it? If the Lutheran church traditional believed that there was a scriptural warning not to take Holy Communion without saving faith, why did our church hand it out to anyone who walked up to the railing?
  • Either it is forbidden for women to be pastors or it isn't. Which is it? If scripture teaches that women should not have spiritual authority over men, why had we started to ordain women?
  • Either same-sex sexual relationships are right or wrong. Which is it? If the Bible says that certain relationships are not God's plan for men and women, then why are we "studying" it?
In the ELCA, I had heard of the Missouri Synod and the WELS, but not the ELS (which ironically had a large congregation less than a mile from my church). As our disenchantment grew, we left our ELCA church for a large local LCMS church for 2 years and found two of the four practices listed above; the main reason we left that church was because they communed anyone who came forward. It bothered me that the church would believe one thing about communion and then disregard it a few years later. I knew that was wrong to commune unbelievers, but I didn't understand why. We returned to our ELCA church.

The influence of non-denominational churches on our ELCA church continued, but I didn't know where else to turn. My husband was tired of me asking to switch churches every few years. Other Lutheran synods were never discussed at my church, although conservative non-denominational churches were often mentioned at great examples of churches. The thoughts of popular pastor/writers, like Osteen and Schuler were preached from the pulpit. It was rare to hear a sermon based solely on scripture in my ELCA church. In my continuing quest to answer my questions, I found the WELS website. I spend six months studying every question in Q & A section. It was there that I learned what Lutherans believe and I learned that my church really couldn't call itself Lutheran anymore. I contacted our local ELS church and started meeting with the pastors. Six months later we joined the church.

A new and favorite blogger in the confessional Lutheran blogosphere, Pastor Walter Snyder of Ask the Pastor, answers the question, "What do Lutherans believe?". I would like to add one thing to his answer: the Lutherans he speaks of have very little to do with many ELCA churches you might know. The ELCA synod was born of synods that reject the infallability of scripture, among other key doctrines (doctrine = what Jesus taught). The Lutherans he speaks of most often belong to one of three confessional Lutheran synods: LCMS, WELS and ELS.

Excerpts from What Do Lutherans Believe:

Look closely at the Lutherans and you’ll see resemblances to several other churches. We believe above all else that Jesus Christ is our only Savior from sin, and that we are saved by grace alone, through faith in Christ Jesus. Human works, no matter how good, are seen as the result of salvation, not its cause.

The Lutheran Church is a Biblical church. We hold that the Bible is the only source of Christian teaching. It decides what and how we believe, teach, and confess. In this, you'll see a strong resemblance to other “Bible-believing” churches.

Lutheranism is a preaching church. We proclaim the Word faithfully. We apply the full force of God’s Law to condemn sin and crush the sinner’s confidence. Even more, we pour out full measure of the healing balm of the Gospel: Sin is forgiven, God and man are reconciled in Christ, and the Lord grants fulfilling life on earth and eternal life in His presence to all who believe.

We believe in baptismal regeneration, trusting that Christ’s words with water give forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation. We baptize infants, since we know from the words of Scripture that they are born in sin and need of Christ’s forgiveness and the new life He gives in Baptism.

Regarding the Lord’s Supper, we believe that we do not receive only bread and wine to remember Christ’s sacrifice, but that miraculously we receive the very body and blood of Christ. Through eating and drinking this Supper, God forgives sins, strengthens faith, and joins us ever more closely with our Savior. The Sacrament brings us into closer communion with the Father, who is one with Christ. The Supper also creates closer communion with brothers and sisters in the Faith—the Body of Christ, His Church. Since we believe in the unifying effect of the Supper and take seriously the commands and warnings in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11, we spend time carefully teaching those who desire to join us at Christ’s altar, that they might discern the body of Christ, know the Christian Faith, and join us in one confession.

Read on: Ask the Pastor: What Do Lutherans Believe?

Another good resource, What the Bible and Lutherans Teach, by Harold A. Essmann, as found on the WELS.net site. He writes:

Nearly 500 years ago, the Christian church was corrupted by many false teachings. A man named Martin Luther led people back to the teachings of the Bible. His work, and that of his friends, is called the Reformation. Through Luther God restored the church to purity of doctrine and a new life of faith in Christ. The doctrines of the Lutheran Church are not new. They are the teachings of the Bible. Thus the Lutheran Church is not a new church. It is not a sect or cult. It is a church whose teaching is based on the words written by the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament. The Bible tells us about Jesus Christ. The teachings of the Lutheran Church are those of the original, ancient church of the apostles and early Christians.


Anonymous said...

"If the Lutheran church traditional believed that there was a scriptural warning not to take Holy Communion without saving faith, why did our church hand it out to anyone who walked up to the railing?"

How do you determine whether or not one has saving faith? Do you need everyone to display their baptismal certificate?

- Maria

Louise Wilde said...

Regarding the statement about what Lutherans believe: what is a "human good work"? "All our righteous acts are as filthy rags." The believer in life in Christ is "God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works," Ephesians 2:10. God's workmanship is not "human good works."
"The law is not based on faith," and "Whatever does not come from faith is sin." No response to the law covenant is anything bur sin, but "If you remain in me, you will bring forth fruit. By yourself you can do nothing."
There is no such thing as a "human good work." But there is "being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the LORD, who is the Spirit."
I eat Christ's flesh as real food and drink his blood as real drink when the Father enables me to come to him, as Jesus talks about his being the bread of life in the last half of John chapter 6.

TKls2myhrt said...

Dear Louise,

You misread the post. Lutherans, at least confessional ones, agree with what you wrote. All our acts are as filthy rags.

Thanks for commenting.