But Roman Catholics and politicians have no corner on this market. Lutherans do it all the time. You cannot be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and believe in salvation by your works. You cannot be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and reject the Trinity. You cannot be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and reject infant baptism or baptismal regeneration or that baptism saves you. You cannot be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and accept the fact that Scripture is replete with error except in the narrow sense of those things that apply to our salvation (so you cannot be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and say Adam and Eve are mythological characters or that the miracles of the Bible or of Jesus did not happen or that Jesus did not rise bodily from the grave). I would also suggest that you cannot be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and accept or approve of abortion. These things are not little things that can be dismissed in favor of something bigger.
Although I will lose some of you here, I will also say that you cannot be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and reject any or parts of the Lutheran symbolical books. Here I am not saying that you must simply accept them all as Lutheran Confessions but that the content is also required. I will admit that it might not be necessary for a church body not to formally include all in their confessional article but it is not possible for that same church body to reject some of those confessions. Some Lutherans would insist that it is not only possible but the best Lutheran form to pick and choose from those Confessions the way they have picked and chosen what is in Scripture -- confessing and insisting upon some items but rejecting others or refusing to be bound by them.
Let me go one step further. It is not possible to be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and reject what is in those Symbols. For example, can you be Lutheran or claim to be and insist that the frequency with which you observe the Sacrament of the Altar is an indifferent matter? Can you have the Mass every quarter whether you need it or not and claim to abide by the Confession that we observe the Mass every Lord's Day and every other day there are communicants desiring to receive it? Are ceremonies truly a matter of indifferent things so that you can say you are Lutheran but reject the liturgy, reject the customary rituals and ceremonies which the Augsburg Confession insists we have retained? It may be possible for ceremonies to differ but is it possible for ceremonies to be rejected almost in toto as they are by many Lutherans on Sunday morning? It is one thing, for example, not to practice them but to affirm that they can and are rightly practiced but in our church body there are those who insist that the elevation or genuflection or a thousand other things are not Lutheran. Are they right or wrong? Can you be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and reject or refuse to offer private confession? Can you be Lutheran or claim to be Lutheran and insist upon the right to define Lutheranism or read the Lutheran Confessions according to your own interpretation?
So, have at it and take me to task. But I am inherently suspicious when any conversation about doctrine and practice begins with "to me, it means. . . " Do you get to decide what it means? Do you get to decide what the Confessions say? If you do, then in what sense does anyone give consent and promise to them in ordination or installation? It is like saying that you love hamburgers but you only eat veggie burgers and then call them hamburgers. Language cannot survive if words only mean what you decide they mean. We do not live in Humpty Dumpty's world or in a Humpty Dumpty church: "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."
I am frustrated by those, pastors or lay, who insist that they are devout but whose devotion is to something other than what their church believes, confesses, and teaches. I grow weary of those who say they are Lutheran but who look nothing like Lutheran on Sunday morning. There is no such thing as Lutheran in theory. The fabric of Lutheranism is tearing not because of outside threats but because inside the big tent people are picking away at the very threads that we say bind us together.
I will risk going further. There are those who insist that Scripture is so clear that it settles every argument and establishes every position. But if we all accepted this, there would not be a plethora of churches and we would not need creeds or confessions to apply what Scripture says to us. The clarity of Scripture does not conflict with the creeds and confessions which have applied and bound us to its doctrine and truth down through the ages. I am not saying that Scripture is vague but I am saying that we are -- that we find wiggle room where there is to be none and that we make our reason and preference the ultimate magisterium over Scripture and for this reason creeds and confessions have not only been beneficial but essential.
It is a funny thing, really. We decry those who are Republican in name only or Democrat in name only or Roman in name only or Lutheran in name only but we do exactly the same thing when we define the faith and its faithful practice for ourselves and find every possible way out of binding us to what we have decided we do not want or like. And then we complain about the egregious examples of those who have, like Humpty Dumpty, emptied our language of meaning in the cause of elevating individualism, preference, and experience. Finally, the Augsburg Confession insists it is a catholic document but could it be that we have made it into a Lutheran one? If we have, have we really held to the Unaltered Augsburg Confession at all? Is it no wonder that all the kings horses and all the kings men cannot put our Humpty Dumpty church and world back together again?