This month of October brings with it the recognition of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation that started on October 31, 1517, as Dr Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic monk and professor posted 95 theses for debate. These theses (or arguments) attacked the Roman Catholic practice of selling Indulgences, paper certificates that granted forgiveness and the hope of releasing a loved one from the false concept of “Purgatory.”
Although Luther was trying to improve a corrupted Christian Church at the time, inadvertently he caused Protestant churches to spit from Roman Catholicism and spring up all over. One of those Protestant church bodies became known as Lutherans. It seems to me that many Lutherans seem to have no idea why it is important to be a Lutheran. Or they don't understand why. Or they are just Lutheran because they were brought up that way. Those of us who are life-long Lutherans, especially, often take for granted what a Gospel-rich blessing it is to be a Lutheran. There are numerous reasons why it is good to be a Lutheran, (that is belong to a Lutheran church while being part of the greater Christian Church). Here are just a few:
Christ Always at the Center
Confessional Lutherans are clear that the test of our worship is, "Is it Christ-driven?" Though it is so common to the point of being cliché for Christians to speak of being "Christ-centered," Lutheran theology makes a careful distinction that I find to be absent in most other Christian churches. Lutherans distinguish between being faith-centered and being Christ-centered. Much of what passes for Christ-centered is really faith-centered. What Christ will do for us is often said to depend on the greatness of our faith. When talk of assurance of salvation ultimately comes to focus on the question “How do I know I have faith?" or "What is the evidence in my Christian living that I am saved?" one can be sure that the power of one's faith has become the center and taken priority over Christ. This is wrong.
We don’t gather together to celebrate our faith but to celebrate Christ as the object of our faith and to receive the grace he gives to renew and increase our faith.
Liturgy, sacraments, and absolution, and the preached Word all come together in Lutheran worship to more highly exalt Christ and his power.
Perhaps more significant than any other part of Lutheran theology is having a scriptural view of the sacraments. If we are to point to a single reason why we are Lutheran, it would be the sacraments. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are where God has chosen to reveal to us his grace and forgiveness. We need what the sacraments give. In the sacraments we have "forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation." In preaching, baptism, and the Lord's Supper, the Word of God comes to us. It is here that Christ is present and given for us. This is certainly the most difficult pill of Lutheran doctrine for other Protestants to swallow. Yet, the theology of the sacraments is far too vital for the life of Lutheran churches to be downplayed. The sacraments are means of grace (the ways in which God chooses to give us what he has to give) by which the work of Christ is further given to us.
When we reject those means of grace which God has identified, or we confuse the mystery of Christ and therefore make God fit into our reason, we substitute the sacraments with makeshift sacraments of our own device.
To be Christ-centered is to be sacrament-centered (though the reverse is not necessarily true). That’s why it is so important to receive all sinners to the Lord’s Table, yet teach why it is careful to know what you believe because many people may not acknowledge the same faith and understanding of the sacraments. If we want Christ alone, then we must seek him in those means which God has chosen.
A church without a structure or liturgy is too dependent on the preaching of one person. In the liturgy a Divine Service unifies each person who comes to church. Here we confess our sins, pray for each other, hear God’s word, sing, and confess our faith. Where preaching is clear, biblical, and instructional, a high dependence on one person's preaching is, of course, less problematic. But preaching that fits this description is far too uncommon in churches, and even the best preachers are prone to idiosyncrasies, tangents and weaknesses. Liturgy can guard us against all of this. Where liturgy is present, it guarantees that people will hear and confess the Word of God even when preaching is unsound and weak.
Traditional liturgy unifies the Church, present and past. Traditional liturgy keeps us from an individualistic, “my needs/my feelings first” spirituality that thinks only of a vertical relationship between us and God. Liturgy connects us to the heavenly worship of saints and angels. This is most clearly seen in confession/absolution, the Sanctus, and service of the sacraments. Liturgy also connects us to each other in worship. It's true that liturgy can become repetitious and lifeless, but that's no reason to fault the liturgy. Any activity in the church has this potential. Still, even in cases where the recitation loses its passion, liturgy is still advantaged, since what is confessed in the liturgy remains true and calls us to rejoice in the truth.
Though liturgy is closely related to creeds and historic confessions, liturgy may, however, be modern and does not necessarily indicate the confession of a historic expression of faith. For this reason, confessional Lutheran churches place a great deal of importance on historic creeds and celebrating theological heritage. The Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed are all included in the Lutheran confessional documents known collectively as The Book of Concord. These historic documents along with the rest of the Lutheran confessions (Augsburg Confession, Small/Large Catechisms, Smalcald Articles, Formula of Concord), identify the theology of Lutheranism and unite confessing Lutherans around more than simply a particular view..
Though there are numerous aspects to Christian liberty, I'll look only at one matter that relates to this subject. Some church bodies for risk of being un-Christian become too legalistic and tell people that they cannot do things, for which Christ has set free. The role of women in worship, praying with other Christians, and namely the practice of the prohibition of alcoholic beverages. Today, Lutherans likewise see that we may rightly enjoy all gifts of God, but that we must not abuse them. Despising the good things of life and naming them as a sin is an attack on God’s grace. It is not only true that one is free to be a Christian, but it is also true that we are not to despise what God has called good (Psalm 104:15).
For further explanation on what it means to be Lutheran, I recommend checking out the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod website: www.LCMS.org, or the book: Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord.