Lutheranism is


Lutheranism is not straining gnats to swallow camels let alone doctrines made by men. In fact, all Confessional Lutherans bind themselves to this statement: "we have introduced nothing, either in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Holy Scripture or the universal Christian Church."[1] And no, Confessional Lutherans don't make the claim to being Christians first and Lutherans second any more than Native Texans claim to be Americans first and Texans second. If you do, you're saying there is something in being a Lutheran that is not Christian[2] or in being a Texan that is not American.

Lutheranism is as old as the Law and the Prophets. Paul says, "Now apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been manifested being witnessed to by the Law the and Prophets." God's way of saving apart from keeping the law is as old as the Old Testament. That's what Paul refers to when he says "the Law and the Prophets." Already in the Old Testament the righteousness of God through faith was displayed. Paul proves this in the next chapter using the lives of Abraham and David.

And this is the faith of Lutheranism. A German Lutheran pastor said around 1817 that if "our church were only 300 years old we would hasten to leave it."[3] Today true Lutherans say, "If our church were only 500 years old we would hasten to leave it." The faith we confess, indeed celebrate here today, is not 500 years old, not 1,000, not 2,000. No, it dates to the first Gospel promise in Eden passed on by Adam, Abraham, Moses, and David. It was witnessed to by all the prophets, fulfilled by the Christ, and sent into the world through His Apostles.

True Lutheranism maintains this Faith once and for all delivered to the saints against two big errors. The first is Roman Catholicism which officially curses the Gospel saying, "If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ's sake...let him be accursed."[4] And we maintain the Faith against the Reformed who believe the Body and Blood of Jesus can't be on earth today for anyone to eat and drink for forgiveness, life, and salvation. Here's what they confess in their Geneva Catechism, "We must lift up our hearts on high to heaven where Christ is.and that it is improper and vain to seek him in these earthly elements."[5]

Does this mean Lutheranism is a cult that believes only Lutherans go to heaven? No, we believe the same thing about other Christians as we do about those who eat at greasy spoon restaurants. A "greasy spoon" is where the food is not stored well, cooked well, or served well. This is any church that has the Gospel as the Reformed and Catholic churches do but mixes it with teachings that take away from the Gospel because they aren't taken from Scripture. The person eating at the greasy spoon will not necessarily die or even get sick. It's possible to get a meal there that will nourish you, but the nourishment comes not from the mold in the ice machine or the roach droppings on the counter tops but from good nutrients in the food that still exist there.[6]

Lutheranism is as old as the Old Testament and Lutheranism is about the faith of Jesus. Notice I said the faith of Jesus not faith in Jesus. Yes, all our translations have Paul saying that the righteousness of God is "though faith in Jesus" and that God is the justifier "of the one who has faith in Jesus." And don't get me wrong; this text does conclude "that a man is justified by faith," but that's not where it begins. Paul begins by saying the righteousness of God is through the faith of Jesus.

What glorious good news this is! My justification, my going to heaven is based on the fact that Jesus had faith. He never, ever doubted as I do. He kept perfect faith with God. After living a perfect life that pleased His heavenly Father, He believed His Father knew best when He gave Him the cup of woe and pain that our sins deserve. Even after being forsaken by His Father on the cross because He was so completely covered with the sins of the world, still Jesus believed and commended His Spirit to His heavenly Father in death.

Coming to faith that Jesus lived, believed, and died for us is like falling in love. No one makes a choice to fall in love. That happens to them. And when it does they begin to speak in a strange way. They say "it must be fate" or their marriage "was made in heaven" or "written in the stars." Granted these are all pagan-type expressions, but they mirror what happens to us when we fall in faith. We realize we've been grasped by something that is beyond us that has produced something in us that we could never produce on our own. In faith, as in love we are caught up, transformed, and the whole world is made new to us.[7]

True Lutheranism is keeping faith in its proper place. It doesn't do anything; it receives what Christ did for it. True Lutherans don't focus on their faith but on the faith of Jesus. When you focus on your faith, it shrivels do I believe enough, strong enough, long enough. Luther said that faith is not a quality in the heart apart from Christ. Faith "is a constant gaze that looks at nothing except Christ, the Victor over sin and death and the dispenser of righteousness, salvation, and eternal life."[8]

"Faith in Christ" was understood by the Catholic Church of Luther's day and by many churches in our day as "doing your part." It was a human act, performed by a man using his natural abilities.[9] Faith was "The Little Engine that Could." As long as it keeps telling itself "I think I can be saved; I think I can saved," it will eventually get to "I know I can; I know I can be saved." Luther broke with all that. Rather than looking for a thing called faith' in his heart he saw Christ there. Christ who saved him apart from his keeping the law; Christ who was there not by anything he had done but by the Waters of Baptism, by the Words of Absolution, and by the Bread that is Christ's Body and the Wine that is Christ's Blood.

Lutheranism is as old as the Old Testament; is based on the faith of Jesus; and Lutheranism is centered on the forgiveness of sins. This is not true of other denominations. I've been to 9 different churches recently. In only one of them not a Lutheran one by the way was the Gospel preached. In the rest, I found "how to" sermons. "How to be a Christian parent, student, citizen, etc." I found out how Christ came to help me with life's problems, give me courage, hope, power. purpose. But the forgiveness of sins was not the focus and sometimes not even mentioned.

Contrast this with Luther. He had only one phrase in the entire German Bible typeset in capital letters: forgiveness of sins.[10] Everyone knows about Luther's famous 95 Theses, but virtually no one knows that for the last verse of our text "we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law" Luther wrote five series of theses.[11]

True Lutheranism is centered on the forgiveness of sins not on making your marriage better, your family closer, you psychologically better adjusted, or giving you financial peace through better money management skills. True Lutheranism is centered on the forgiveness of sins because Scripture itself is. Paul tells Pastor Timothy that the first thing Scriptures were given for was to make us wise unto salvation.[12]

And for there to be forgiveness of your sins two things had to take place redemption and propitiation. We needed to be redeemed from sin, from death, and from the devil. We didn't need redeeming from sadness, bad relationships, acne, age, or anxiety, but from the Sin that we were enslaved to in our mother's womb, from the Death that stalks us regardless of age, and from the Devil of whom we sing "on earth is not his equal."

But we needed more than redemption we needed propitiation. Propitiation is not a 5-dollar word where a 50-cent one would do. Propitiation means that someone was mad at you and something occurred so that they're no longer mad. And make no mistakes God was mad. God needed to be propitiated, appeased, satisfied. It always strikes me as strange that while we all know how mad we can become when someone wrongs us we think God is different. We can sin with immunity; we can hear "the wrath of God is revealed against all godlessness" and somehow think that our unbelief, greed, grudges, or godlessness aren't included. O God can't be mad at little old me. My sin and sinfulness can't be that great. O yes it is, great enough to sink you into hell for all eternity.

For our sins to be forgiven, we needed to be redeemed and God needed to be propitiated and only the God who is Man could do both. Redemption is in Christ Jesus Paul trumpets. God the Son took on our flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He was born under the law to redeem us that were under the Law. How did He do that? By living the perfect life. In every way that you fail every day, Jesus did not. It is useless for you to beat yourself up over how bad of a mother, father, sister, brother, child or church member you are. It is useless because God handed over His only beloved Son to have the hell beat into Him. Yes, that's what was going on at the cross. There every sin, of everybody, and of your body in particular, was punished, damned and finished, so that Death and Devil could not find one sin to point to that proved they had a claim on you.

And what Jesus did on the cross satisfied God's wrath against sin. In Christ, God is propitiated, God is not angry at the world, at your neighbor, at you. In Christ, the tender mercies of God are over all His works; in Christ, the mercy of God endures forever. In Christ where sins abound, there much more does grace. In Christ, God is only pleased, delighted, happy with you.

True Lutheranism is not about being right, but about being right with God for Jesus' sake by means of the Words and Sacraments He left us. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Reformation Sunday (20161030); Romans 3: 21-28

[1] AC, Conclusion, 5.

[2] Schurb, K. "'Christian First, Lutheran Second': Is it True?" Christian News, 10/19/92, 6.

[3] Loehe, Three Books on the Church, 56.

[4] Canon 12, Council of Trent.

[5] Question 355M

[6] Schurb, K. 19.

[7] Forde, G. Where God Meets Man. 65-66.

[8] LW, 26, 356

[9] McGrath, A. Luther's Theology of the Cross, 134.

[10] Bayer, O. Martin Luther's Theology, 78.

[11] Ibid., 155.

[12] 2 Timothy 3:15.