Why I love being a Lutheran
I wasn’t always the dyed-in-the-wool Lutheran I am today. Baptized Catholic, I grew up in a home that was split between Catholic and Lutheran. In college, I drifted into generic Evangelicalism, disavowed any denomination (in particular some “dead” church like Lutheranism), and got bloated on spiritual pride before nearly burning out on Christianity altogether.
It was only then that I was able to hear the gospel for what it truly is—good news for sinners. I had to realize what a wretch I was before I could understand what St. Paul meant when he said, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7.24-25).
So yeah, I’ll admit it: I’m an unabashed advocate and defender of the Lutheran church. Not (as theologian Herman Sasse once said) because it is the church of Martin Luther, but because it is the church of Jesus Christ.
So as we prepare to celebrate this Sunday the 498th anniversary of Luther nailing the 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door—and thus the beginning of the Reformation—I can’t help but reflect on some of the reasons that I love being a Lutheran.
1) We put Jesus front and center.
No church worthy of the name would say that it puts Jesus “back and to the side.” And yet, in practice, many do. If churches had slogans, the Lutheran church’s may well be “Christ-centered, cross-focused.” Jesus is at the heart of who we are and what we do. The gospel for us isn’t just an appetizer; it’s the hors-d’oeuvre, main dish, and dessert. More than anything else, this is why I am a Lutheran: because of Jesus.
2) We were protesting before it was cool.
Nowadays, everybody and their brother is protesting something: Wall Street, Main Street, Sesame Street. It’s become more avant garde just to accept the status quo. That wasn’t always so, however. In the 16th century, few would (or could) stand up to the religio-political machine of the Roman church, which was getting rich on the forgiveness business. Luther and his confreres did exactly that, and we are still reaping the benefits today.
3) We don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Many people in Luther’s day believed that he didn’t go far enough; many still do. Why retain the liturgy? Why still celebrate the sacraments? Why keep stained glass? Weren’t (and aren’t) these things too, well, Catholic?
Luther’s response would be, as the Scripture says, “Test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5.21). Lutherans don’t pretend like nothing good happened in church history between the time of the apostles and the time of the Reformation. We are ancient and modern; evangelical and catholic; sacramental and biblical. Which reminds me…
4) We relish paradox.
Scripture is replete with paradoxes—shoot, life is. The temptation is to loosen the tension and let logic have the last word rather than God. Free will or predestination? Human responsibility or divine grace? Saint or sinner? The Lutheran answer is, Yes! We speak where Scripture speaks and are silent where Scripture is silent. It’s not our job to reconcile things the Bible says that we don’t understand (it’d be surprising, in fact, if everything in Holy Writ made perfect sense to finite, fallible human brains). We’re called simply to confess what we have received from God, and let Him sort out how it all fits together. He’s cool with that.
5) We have the best hymns.
Yes, of course I’m biased. Let me just name a few off the top of my head: “A Mighty Fortress,” “Thy Strong Word,” “Salvation Unto Us Has Come,” “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” (Lutherans translated it), “The Tree of Life,” and on it goes. Plus, need I remind you of the little known music director of St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Leipzig, a guy by the name of Johann Sebastian Bach. Even Catholic converts miss their Lutheran music.
6) We enjoy Christian freedom.
“For freedom Christ has set you free,” Paul says in Galatians. “Therefore do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5.1). At our best, Lutherans toe the fine line between legalism and licentiousness; we live in the freedom of the gospel. Some accuse us of enjoying that freedom too much, and there may be a little truth to that—though, as C.S. Lewis said, “The good man is sorry for the sins which have increased his need. He is not entirely sorry for the fresh need they have produced” (The Four Loves).
7) We put Jesus front and center.
Did I say that already? Well, it bears repeating.
These are just a few of the reasons why I love being a Lutheran, and while there are certainly many more—I could have stopped with the first one. As our Synod’s website for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation puts it, it’s still all about Jesus.
Why do you love being a Lutheran?