By Graham Glover –
Martin Luther and his cronies obviously had a significant part in the movement that history calls the Protestant Reformation. It’s no wonder then that Lutherans are properly called Protestants. With a nod toward our Anglican friends, we Lutherans were among the first “protesters” of the theological abuses occurring in the western Christian church in the early 16th century.
But today, on the eve of the 500th year of this “reformation”, it’s time for Lutherans to abandon any affiliation with the term “Protestant”. In no way should Lutheranism be emblematic of what Protestantism represents in the 21st century.
Growing up a Lutheran in the South, I have frequently had to explain what a Lutheran is, which oftentimes goes: we are not Roman Catholic or Protestant. This perceived ambiguity is why Roman Catholics and Protestants love and loathe Lutheranism. On the one hand the Protestants understand why the Lutheran reformers protested, on the other, the Roman Catholics are entirely perplexed by the confessions that came from them. In short, neither Roman Catholics nor Protestants know what to make of Lutherans. This tension has defined Lutheranism from its inception and remains one of the many things that keeps me part of its ecclesial communion.
Today though, some within Lutheranism are actively shedding their Lutheran identity. There are several reasons contributing to this move, but behind these, I think, is a deep desire to affiliate themselves and their congregations with the larger movement known as Protestantism. They are making this move while vocally and joyfully rejecting their Lutheran heritage. It’s as though they can’t get rid of their Lutheranism fast enough. This is a mistake of grave proportions and one that Lutherans should be greatly concerned about.
First, a caveat: one of the things I enjoy most about the Chaplain Corps is the daily interaction I have with clergy from other denominations – a dialogue that typically doesn’t happen in the civilian parish. Many of my chaplain peers are God-fearing, Christian men (and women) who want to serve the Lord and their denomination. The open dialogue I have with them is something I wish occurred more often in my denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. But despite these interactions, there is no doubt that I am not a Protestant as my peers understand the term. While my Protestant chaplain peers believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, they do not share the Lutheran understanding of, among other things, Justification, the Church, the Sacraments, etc. For some, I can’t even get them to confess the Apostles’ Creed. For many, the theology of the Book of Concord (the confessions every Lutheran swears is a right exposition of the Christian faith) is either theologically insignificant or offensive. In other words, my Protestant colleagues do not identity as Lutherans. And nor should they.
Why then do some within Lutheranism want to identify themselves and their congregations with Protestantism? What is it that draws them to identify with those who share so little of what the Lutheran Confessions proclaim? Do these Lutherans reject what our church teaches about original sin and free will, as so much of their newfound theological language promotes an affection of self over against the biblical reality that we are poor, miserable sinners in need of God’s grace? Do they no longer believe that justification by grace through faith is the article on which the church stands or falls, as works-righteousness pours from their lips in so much of what they say? To that end, do these Protestant-loving Lutherans believe as the Augsburg Confession teaches that the Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered? If so, how do they make sense of their redefinition of the Gospel and the Sacraments to terms that have no foundation in the Scriptures, the Confessions, or the tradition of the church catholic? Speaking of the sacraments, how do those Lutherans who are so eager to abandon their Lutheran label justify the lack of baptismal fonts and altars in their trendy “places of worship”? As to worship, I wonder how these Lutherans interpret Article XXIV of the Augsburg Confession: “The Mass is held among us and celebrated with the highest importance”. For when one attends their “worship”, there are little, if any, signs of that which the church catholic defines as worship.
But that’s just it, for these Lutherans – these who so desperately want to appeal to and identify with the greater Protestant world – church is an ever-changing and ever-evolving thing. The church needs to change. It needs to stay in a never-ending state of protest. Against what? Anything it seems. Anything that might be perceived as old, out-of-touch, or different from contemporary culture. The eternal truth of the Gospel? The promise of Christ and His Church? I guess that’s not enough…
We Lutherans may have started this whole “Protestant” thing, but any affiliation with 21st century Protestantism we may have needs to end. We are not the same. We are not Protestants. We are Lutherans.