Friday, April 28, 2006

On Lutheranism

The Lutheran Zepher asks, "What does it mean to be a Lutheran?"

Let me first answer, "Why am I a Lutheran?"

The first and most basic answer is that I'm a Lutheran because my grandparents were Lutheran. I was baptized into Lutheranism when I was three months old. My parents didn't drag me to church often, but we had enough of an identification with one congregation that when I wanted to play in the Sunday School basketball league, I knew where to go. And so I also joined the youth group there and went to annual LCA youth retreats (anyone else go to Crossways in Baltimore in the mid 80's?).

I don't remember what they taught me when I was a youth. I went to college with (1) a personal identity as a Lutheran and (2) the conviction that it didn't really matter if I went to church or not (I've learned as a parent that children rarely get the message you intended). So I drifted away from the Church and embraced the liberal arts mantra of the foolishness of Christianity.

But something more than that stuck somewhere deep in my sub-conscious mind. Years later, when I rediscovered Christianity, I checked out a number of denominations and their theology, and the superiority of Lutheranism was clear to me. I'd like to think, based on this, that I chose Lutheranism freely, but I'm a post-modern so I can't do that. I know too well why I chose it.

Still, regardless of what has led me to be a Lutheran, I really do like it, and so I'll return to the original question, "What does it mean to be a Lutheran?"

Obviously, what I've said to this point has some relevance to that. Being a Lutheran is something that gets into your blood and stays there. It's not just like being handed a hat that you continue to wear your whole life. It shapes you. It makes you who you are. Being a Lutheran makes you a Lutheran.

And so, for me, what it means to be a Lutheran is mostly about the way you see God. While Lutheranism can be gathered up into a tidy set of doctrines, I think it's more about a sort of intuitive feel that you develop toward Christianity. I suspect that a lot of Lutherans can't (or at least don't) even articulate precisely what this means, but when you hear something said about God, you can respond "No, that's not right!" or "Yes, that's the Gospel!" I think this is why I came back to Lutheranism. It's where I recognized the Gospel.

So what is this "je ne sais quoi" of Lutheranism? I think it's about seeing Christ as one who sets us free. We can make definitions about Law and Gospel or about Justification by Faith Alone or what have you, but if we don't see that Christ is setting us free, we aren't Lutheran.

I'm a theology geek, and I'd love to add something about the Theology of the Cross and God always coming down to us and so forth. And I think those are requisite elements of Lutheran theology, but I don't think all Lutherans are theology geeks (there's a chance I'm wrong about that), and I think the essence of Lutheranism is simpler than that.

I think there's something to the German nomenclature of Lutherans calling themselves "evangelische." Lutheranism, at its heart, is nothing more than a deep-seated passion for the Gospel, the good news that Christ sets us free.


Thomas Adams said...

Melancthon -- I like what you said about Lutheranism being "something that gets into your blood and stays there." My story is very similar to yours: raised in a half-hearted Lutheran home, drifted away during college, and then returned to the church as a committed Christian. Like you, I browsed around for a denomination, but found the Lutheran Church to be the best fit. This was initially surprising to me, because I had always thought that very little of my Lutheran upbringing had really seeped in. But I was wrong. Apparently, I was always a Lutheran, even though it had lain dormant for a time.

I also agree with you statement that Lutheranism is not necessarily synonymous with Lutheran theology - a truth that I often forget. To put it dialectically, Lutheranism is both simpler and more complex than its theology.

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

I find that the older I get, the more "restful" my faith and theology becomes. I don't have to worry about understanding or getting the details right because the theology doesn't save me, God does. That is a freeing thought!

Andy said...

And a quote from Mark Allan Powell (which you've probably heard from LutheranChik before), "No matter how much you love theology, it will never love you back."

Tom in Ontario said...

Article IV, Article IV, Article IV.

I'm no theology geek. I'm a pastor but can't say things about the church and our theology as well as, say, you or LutheranChik. But I think what makes Lutherans what they/we are comes down to Article IV of the Augsburg Confession. That's where you hear the whole freedom thing, the whole gospel-centred thing, all the good stuff you said about being Lutheran. To me it boils down to Article IV.

"It is also taught among us that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ's sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness, as Paul says in Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5."

No I admit, that can sound a little dry but as it simmers and percolates it's really life-giving news.