The Lutheran Difference
Dear brothers and sisters,
Our Sunday morning Bible class, ably led by Pastor Holtzen, is working its way through a study of the various kinds of churches we find in America. With some denominations, we find that we share much in common. With others, very little. A vital question is whether the differences matter. Paradoxically, many people believe, as a basic truth, that it is impossible to establish any spiritual truth with any degree of certainty. As Lutherans, however, we believe that truth is revealed to us through the Holy Scriptures, which we confess to be the very Word of God. Against this confession, others would say that they, too, use the Bible as a guide, and yet they come up with different “truths” than do we as Lutherans. How do we sort this all out?
First, let me assert that as confessional Lutherans, we treat the Scriptures as completely holy. We believe that the words of Jesus are true: “Scripture can not be broken.” (John 10:35) We believe that “all Scripture is breathed out by God.” (2 Timothy 3: 16). We believe that “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 2: 21). While pastors, laypeople, and even congregations in other denominations may agree with us on the divine inspiration of Scripture (and when they do, we rejoice!), most other denominations, in practice, have abandoned such confidence in Scripture. They pick and choose which parts they like, and deny the inspiration of the rest. They go beyond what Scripture says in giving emphasis to the traditions of their churches. They go beyond what Scripture says by claiming new and even contradictory revelations from God. In all these things, they differ from us in denying the principle that Scripture alone guides us into all truth.
Second, as confessional Lutherans, we believe that Scripture reveals the pure Gospel to us: that we are saved from eternal death through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. He saves us by His grace. His atoning blood sets us free from the power of sin, death, and devil. These are the principles of Faith alone and Grace alone. Again, pastors, laypeople, and even congregations in other denominations may confess this truth as well (and, again, we rejoice when they do!). In practice, however, most other denominations can’t help but add certain conditions to the Gospel, if they don’t deny the Gospel all together. Faith, of course—but you also must do certain works besides faith or in addition to faith. Faith itself may become a good work by which you are saved, rather than a gracious gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit. We are rightly wary of any teaching that would add any human contribution to salvation. It’s all grace—divinely bestowed gift—without any merit or worthiness on our part.
Third, as confessional Lutherans, we believe that Scripture centers on Christ alone as our only Savior. He is the Person of the Trinity through which we have access to our Triune God. He reveals the mind and will of God to us. He alone is the source of our salvation. Again, other pastors, laypeople, and even congregations in other denominations may agree with us here, at least in part. But do you ever notice how much “God-talk” is present in other churches, while they forget or omit to talk much about Jesus Christ—who He is and what He has done (and still does) for us? Perhaps this is because in other denominations we often find teachings that deny the divinity of Christ and deny His atoning work. It’s no wonder they neglect to follow St. Paul’s injunction that we “preach Christ crucified.” (1 Corinthians 1: 23) We, on the other hand, pointedly maintain that we have access to the God the Father only through Christ, and the Holy Spirit’s job is to reveal Christ and His gifts to us—His Word and Sacraments. We are at all times Trinitarians—confessing that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—but we keep our eyes fixed always on Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12: 2)
Brothers and sisters, there is a difference between true Lutherans (beware of LINO’s—Lutherans in name only!) and most other Christians. We rejoice when we share the truths of Holy Scripture. We grieve when we encounter false and deceptive teachings. We pray for the future unity of all Christians—but it must be a true unity, founded on the Word of God. Jesus prays to His Father on our behalf, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.” (John 17: 17) We pray that we would be preserved from error and always be led into the ways of truth and holiness.
And remember—we are never to be smug or conceited as Lutherans. All truth is a gift from heaven to be received humbly and gratefully. Nor do we take the gifts we receive for granted, but faithfully commit ourselves to worship, prayer, and devotion. Remember, “faith comes by hearing—and hearing through the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10: 17).
Our constant prayer is this: Almighty God, grant to Your Church Your Holy Spirit and the wisdom that comes down from above, that Your Word may not be bound but have free course and be preached to the joy and edification of Christ’s holy people, that in steadfast faith we may serve You and, in the confession of Your name, abide unto the end; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.