This is the last article on the name of our Congregation. To recap – the full name of the congregation is: The United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peace. I have taken each of those words and written a brief meditation on them. They have appeared in Peace newsletters and can be found posted on my blog (see below for the URL). The last word is Lutheran. This word defines our denominational affiliation, but it means more than that. It is, of course, derived from Martin Luther, who was the 16th century reformer who challenged the Medieval church and laid out the theological foundation for all of Protestantism. Luther himself didn’t think much of having his followers use his name. He understood himself as a Christian and, at least at first, was not looking to replace the established church of the time. It was only when the Medieval church proved to be completely unwilling to even debate issues and went as far as to condemn him as a heretic that he accepted the inevitable. I might mention that soon other reformers began to emerge and one of the reasons we have so many denominations today is that Luther was fairly antagonistic towards many of them – the Anabaptists, Henry VIII, Zwingli and Calvin in particular.
While it is interesting to delve into all the historical background the most important thing for us is that by calling ourselves Lutheran we trace the roots of our faith understanding back to Luther and accept his interpretation of the Gospel. I hasten to add that Luther based his interpretation on Paul and Augustine (primarily the former). The three legged stool of Lutheran theology is contained in these Latin phrases: Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura:
We are saved by the grace of God alone -- not by anything we do;
Our salvation is through faith alone -- we only need to believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who died to redeem us;
The Bible is the only norm of doctrine and life -- the only true standard by which teachings and doctrines are to be judged.
Also, for Luther, the Word of God was Jesus Christ himself (John 1) and all of scripture needed to be read through the filter of the Gospel of Jesus.
Are Lutherans the only ones who believe of this? By no means! It is probably unfair and untrue to call this Lutheran theology. It is Christian theology. But, it is the focus or the foundation for what we as Lutherans believe. Other Christians hold to these beliefs as well. The differences between us and other Christians have not so much to do with the substance or the content of the beliefs as much as it has to do with the priority and ordering of the various parts of Christian belief. Lutherans place sola gracia at the foundation. Others believe in this as well but may not have it as central a belief as Lutherans do. It is important that we understand that the days of seeing other Christians as not as good as us because of these differences are now over. We can learn from others and we can participate in ministry with other Christians.
For me personally I was drawn to Lutheranism as a young man because of this emphasis on Grace. The legalism and judgmentalism which I felt were a part of other Christian groups of which I had been a part just seemed wrong and not in keeping with the Gospel. Grace makes sense to me and is very, very meaningful to me. We are saved by Grace; we experience God’s gracious presence in all that we do; and God’s grace calls for a response of service. This is what we believe as Lutherans and it is an important witness to our culture which is not always so gracious.
Finally, in seminary I had a professor who suggested that we needed to see Lutheran theology in general – and justification by grace in particular – not as just a theological doctrine – but as a way of life. Grace is a way of life. It is the way that Jesus related to the world and it is the way that we are called to relate to others and to our communities. Amen!
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