By Graham Glover –
In 1974 I was born and baptized a Lutheran. In 1988 I was a confirmed a Lutheran. In 2004 I was married and ordained a Lutheran. And today, in 2015, I remain a Lutheran.
For 40 years my Lutheran identity has been at the heart of who I am and is, to this day, my confession of faith.
I say this because many who know me wonder from time to time if Lutheranism is where I will stay. Several of my peers suggest that I have some unusually strong papal leanings. They can’t understand why I want the Roman and Lutheran communions to end their schism and finally reconcile after 500 years of separation. On The Jagged Word I have expressed high respect for the Bishop of Rome, an office many Lutherans consider to be anathema. I have also said it would be a good idea to restore Latin to the Mass (which I think should be offered daily), something The Cantankerous Critic says is absurd. I confess the Blessed Mother to be ever-virgin, immaculately conceived, and the new Eve who continues to pray for the Church. I’ve asked my fellow Lutherans to consider the intercession of saints and have pleaded with them to abandon any affiliation with the 21st century term, Protestant. While my library and devotional readings are littered with Luther’s works and other Lutheran theologians, I value the writings of Pope Benedict XVI – whose theological influence and pedigree I put on par with Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther – more than most. And oh yeah, I really don’t like “sola scriptura”.
Yet a Lutheran I am and a Lutheran I will remain.
But how can this be? How can one who holds the beliefs noted above still be a Lutheran? Even my Roman Catholic friends say that I am more “catholic” than they.
I’ll say it again: a Lutheran I am and a Lutheran I will remain.
Why? There are several reasons, but one stands above all the rest. It is the very reason Luther and his contemporaries began their reformation and why, despite my incessant gestures toward Rome, I remain a steadfast Lutheran: the doctrine of justification.
Through the words and deeds of our Lord, along with the teachings of His holy church, one simply cannot get around the reality that this doctrine is the defining focus of who we are and what we seek to become as Christians. It’s not that the doctrine of justification is the only important teaching within Christendom or that there has been universal agreement on it. Rather, it is the understanding that we sinful beings, in dire need of a Savior, are justified by His grace through faith in Him. Period. This truth is and always will be the very essence of Christianity.
I’ll readily admit there are practices that frustrate me with those who confess the Book of Concord to be a right exposition of the Christian faith, to include those within my denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. I really don’t like our congregational polity and think Lutherans lack much – both theologically and practically – in our abandonment of apostolic succession and the episcopal model of church polity. The fact that many Lutherans do not worship in the manner that our confessions proclaim to be good, right, and salutary is not only sad, but a testament to their true confession – one that clearly stands outside of Lutheranism. I don’t doubt our church’s teachings on the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist, but I wonder how many of our people (to include our clergy) really believe that what we eat and drink is the very Body and Blood of our Lord. Don’t believe me? Just witness how our clergy act when presiding at the altar and how our altar guilds treat the remaining elements after the Divine Service is over. We may confess Real Presence, but too often our actions often resemble those who teach the bread and wine are mere symbols.
Despite these frustrations and the aforementioned appeals of the Roman Church, I remain a Lutheran. I could create a list a mile long of things that irritate me with Lutheranism and that attract me to Roman Catholicism. But no matter the length of this list, nothing can overcome the importance of the Lutheran teaching on justification.
For arguments sake, let’s assume that Rome has the rightly appointed bishop of Christendom. Let’s assume she correctly understands the role of Tradition in the Christian faith and places the necessary emphasis on the Mass, the Eucharist, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints. Even if these and other teachings of hers are true, Rome still – after 500 years of division – fundamentally errs in her teaching of justification. And this is a deal-breaker of epic proportions. It is why Lutherans must remain committed to our reformation and continue to proclaim what our Lord testifies to be true. Lutherans cannot shirk from the doctrine that we are justified by grace through faith.
When Rome teaches that we are justified by grace and works – faith and works, she binds consciences and plants seeds of doubt. She, perhaps unwittingly, takes the focus off of Christ and places it on the backs of wretched sinners. When Rome confuses our justification with our sanctification, she takes all of the beauties of her hierarchy, her tradition, her liturgy, etc. and mars it with the stain of our imperfect and unrighteous deeds. Simply put, when the teaching of justification is distorted, everything else, no matter how hard we try, falls apart. Luther knew this. The reformers knew this. The Lutheran Church knows this. And this is precisely why I am and will remain a Lutheran.