Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The distance between Christian and Lutheran. . .

I have had several interesting discussions (individual, small group, and even within the Circuit) in which a question came up on how much distance there is between Christian and Lutheran.  I have to admit that I had not thought much about it until that point.  After the discussions it seems that there are a couple of answers to the problem.

One would insist that Christian is foremost and first and Lutheran secondary.  In it as if Christian were the major identification and Lutheran a sub-category.  So the idea here is that Christian is the identity that counts (it saves) and Lutheran is a personal preference (one of many preferences here -- most of them being equally valid and effective).  Lutheran is a step down from Christian.

Another would say that to be Christian is to be Lutheran (even if the person does not know it yet).  This would insist that Lutheran is the only authentic shape or form of a Christian.  It is not far from saying that in order to be saved you must be Lutheran.  Lutheran is a step up from Christian.

I suppose there are also those who would say that they are mutually exclusive terms.  Those who think that one cannot be Lutheran and Christian or Christian and Lutheran -- one can and should only be Christian.  There were none of these folks in my conversations.

Before these conversations,I had never conceived of any distance between the two.  A Lutheran is a Christian and, if I am honest, I would admit that Lutheran is the best form of Christianity.  I am not a Lutheran first and a Christian second -- I am a Christian by being a Lutheran, being the best Lutheran I can be.  There is no distance between Christian and Lutheran.  If there is, we are in big trouble.

When I identify myself as a Lutheran, I am identifying myself as a Christian, as a Christian who believes the Scriptures are the Word of God and His living voice that spoke and all things came to be, that spoke to keep hope alive over generation after generation, and who became flesh so that my sins are forgiven and I am reconciled to my Heavenly Father.  When I identify myself as a Lutheran, I am identifying myself as a baptized child of God who was raised up out of that water filled with the Spirit, with forgiveness, with new life, and marked as God's own being readied for the place He has prepared for me in eternity.  When I identify myself as a Lutheran, I am identifying myself as one whose new life is nurtured and nourished upon nothing less than the flesh of Christ for the life of the world and the cup of His blood which cleanses us from all sin.

Frankly, I do not think it is enough to say "Christian" in an age when that word has come to mean something so broad and vague.  To say "Lutheran Christian" is both to connect faith to a written expression (the Confessions) and to a community of people gathered around the Word and Sacraments.  Ultimately this is the issue.  Can one become Christian and remain Christian apart from life within the community where the Word and Table of the Lord are source and summit?  Yes, I suppose it is theoretically possible but it is surely not what God intended nor is it a benefit to the individual to live outside the means of grace.   Quite the opposite, it is nearly a major uphill battle to remain in faith while living apart from the Word and Table of our Lord.  Ask anyone who has been forced to do this and they will admit the struggle.

Are we doing the Lord or the person any favors by bringing them to Christ (or bringing Christ to them) without connecting them to an altar, pulpit, and font?  I don't think so.  The Christian marketplace is ripe with seductive, emotive, and false forms of the Gospel that will only destroy faith.  That is why Lutheran missions are about Lutheran congregations where those who hear the Gospel and believe may be fed and nourished upon the Word of God and the Table of the Lord.  That is why the Lutheran witness is not merely to the faith but to faith and life where the Eucharist is source and summit of living out of the baptismal life.  To do any less is not merely institutional folly but the failure to be the witnesses we were called to be.  


Unknown said...

"When I identify myself as a Lutheran, ... " This paragraph tells us what you think with the term "Lutheran". What do other Christians or unchurched people think when they hear the term "Lutheran"?

Paul said...

I am a an evangelical catholic of the Augsburg Confession.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I still call myself a Christian and a sinner saved by grace. I attend a Lutheran Church (LCMS) and follow the doctrines, but I am first and last a follower of Jesus.

Kirk Skeptic said...

I am a Christian, because Lutheran too is a vague term given liberal bodies like ELCA and NALC. Also, if the term Christian was good enough for the church in Acts, who really thinks it can be improved upon?

Anonymous said...

Much thanks for this post,I did enjoy it.

Janis Williams said...

When formerly Baptist, we were, 1. Warned to stay away from Luterans, they were quasi-Catholic. 2. They were targets for evangelism (seeing they Baptized babies, and thought there was real Body and Blood in communion.

I am now unashamed to call myself Lutheran, and will explain that it means Christian, also. In a day when words only mean what they "mean to me," definition of terms is more importnt thana ever.

Anonymous said...

It would be hard to believe that Lutheran is a term more vague than Christian has become!!

I thought the point of this was to narrow the distance between the two terms and not widen it. Am I wrong?

Is being Lutheran not being a follower of Jesus? Was this not what the good pastor was challenging in the article?

Carl Vehse said...

"Therefore, we do not call ourselves Lutherans after him in the same way that we are called Christians on account of Christ. We are not called such because we believe in Luther. As highly as we treasure this vigorous witness, in our church we still do not accept so much as a word in matters of faith simply because Luther said it. Rather, we accept his words only in the instance that it can be shown written clearly in the Word of God. We do not accept him as any apostle or prophet but rather we know that he was subject to error and sin like other men....

"Just as Luther refused any improper esteem in the church so our church has not improperly honored him. Just as it says in the beginning of the Formula of Concord, which is one of the most important public confession of the orthodox Lutherans:

"We believe teach, and confess that the one rule and guide, according to which all doctrine and teachers should be judged is the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and new Testaments alone. Other writings of old and new teachers whatever their name should not be considered equal to the holy Scriptures, but rather all of them together one with another are subject to it and together are taken only as witnesses of how much and at which places after the time of the apostles such doctrine of the apostles and prophets were kept."

Excerpted from Concerning the Name "Lutheran" (C.F.W. Walther, trans. Mark Nispel, Der Lutheraner, Vol. 1, No. 1 September 1, 1844)
Lutheran in a Nutshell: A Lutheran is an unconditional subscriber to the Book of Concord of 1580.

Carl Vehse said...

“What is a Lutheran? What is the nature of subscription to the Lutheran Confessions? These two questions which are often considered together and which are as inseparably related as Siamese twins have become increasingly important in our day when Lutheranism is fighting for its identity and life.”

“What then is the nature of confessional subscription?”

“Confessional subscription is a solemn act of confessing in which I willingly (AC, Conclusion: FC SD XII,40) and in the fear of God (FC Epit. XII,13; SD Source and Norm,20) confess my faith and declare to the world what is my belief, teaching and confession. This I do by pledging myself with my whole heart (bekennen wir uns; amplectimur; toto pectore amplectmur; FC SD Rule and Norm, 4-7) to certain definite, formulated confessions. I do this in complete assurance that these confessions are true and are correct expositions of Scripture (aus und nach Gottes Wort; weil sic aus Gottes Wort genommen und darin fest und wohl gegrundet ist; ibid.5,10). These symbolical writings become for me permanent confessions and patterns of doctrine (Begriff und Form; forma et typus. ibid. 1; einhellige, gewisse, all gemeine Form der Lehre; ibid.10) according to which I judge all other writings and teachers (wofern sie dem jetzt gemeldeten Vorbild der Lehre gemaezz. ibid. 10).”

Excerpted from Confessional Subscription, by Robert Preus, Ph.D., D. Theol., Faithful Confessional Life in the Church, from the Lutheran Congress, August 31 – September 2, 1970.
Lutheran in a Nutshell: A Lutheran is an unconditional subscriber to the Book of Concord of 1580.

Carl Vehse said...

"In this paper the term 'Confessional Lutheranism' refers to commitment to the Book of Concord “as a witness to the truth and as exhibiting the unanimous and correct understanding of our predecessors who remained steadfast in the pure doctrine” (FC, SD, Rule and Norm, 13) 'because it is drawn from the word of God' (FC, SD, Rule and Norm, 10). The members of a 'Confessional Lutheran Church,' therefore, accept “without reservation … all the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God."… Such an understanding of 'confessional Lutheranism' necessarily implies that all forms of conditional subscription to the Lutheran Symbols are incompatible with and actually contradictory to it."

Excerpted from “The Future of Confessional Lutheranism in the World" (Dr. Samuel Nafzger , Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol 42, No. 3, July 1978, 221).
Lutheran in a Nutshell: A Lutheran is an unconditional subscriber to the Book of Concord of 1580.

Timothy Buelow said...

In my part of the country, a large branch of the restorationist movement has appropriated the term "Christian" to themselves.

Kirk Skeptic said...

Much ado about nothing, as "Lutheran" is best understood as an adjective; so, then what noun does the adjective describe: Christian, maybe? As a noun, "Lutheran" simply means one who subscribes to the FC.