What is a Lutheran?
I grew up in Michigan as the son of a Lutheran pastor and school teacher. My early memories of church involve our congregation singing hymns in four-part harmony, church luncheons overflowing with food, and a rich and traditional worship style.
None of those things, though, are what it means to be a Lutheran.
Lutherans take their name from Dr. Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, priest and professor who lived in Germany in the 1500s. Even though he’s been ranked as the third most important influential person of the last 1000 years, and the Reformation that he started has been ranked as more important than the discovery of the New World, we remember him for one simple reason. At a time when the Church taught that mankind’s relationship with God was based on the works we do – or worse than that, the money we give – Luther took people back to the simple truth of God’s Word. He showed that God loves us and saves us because of his grace alone.
What does it mean to confess to be a Lutheran? I think of the man who once bounced from church to church and faith to faith, never sure or certain of what truth was or whether he was right with God. He would answer that being a Lutheran means not putting our trust in human reason or man-made traditions, but finding certainty and confidence in the unchanging Word of God.
I think of the young mother of three who was facing death after a terrible battle with cancer. Everything it means to be a Lutheran was there when she said, “I’m not afraid to die, because I know that when I close my eyes in death, I’ll open them again in heaven to see my Savior.” She didn’t give that answer because she had lived a perfect life, but because she believed God’s promise, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). And I think of her husband and children, who through their tears on the day of her funeral expressed their confidence that they would see her again, because they believed Jesus’ words, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25,26).
I think of countless sisters and brothers in the faith, who gave of their time and their gifts to serve in their churches and to share their faith with others, because they knew good news that they wanted the world to hear. And I think of the way they went home after serving at church, knowing that God was just as delighted in the lives of thanksgiving they offered to him as they served as faithful mothers and fathers, husbands and wives.
And there’s always more. The couples who come in for counseling after hurting each other, yet find the strength to admit their faults and forgive each other, because they know the love of their Savior. Young people and elderly gathered for Bible study because they find that the more they study God’s Word, the stronger they are and the more they want to grow.
All of those things and more define what it means to be a Lutheran. While I still cherish our loving church family, our rich and vibrant worship, and yes, the potlucks, being a Lutheran is far more than that. It’s the confidence that comes when we look to God’s Word as the only source of our teachings and find there Jesus, the only Savior God has given. It’s the peace that comes from knowing that we are sinners, but we have a gracious God who gave his Son to forgive our sins.
You’re welcome to visit us and learn more. You can also find more information about our church body and beliefs by visiting www.wels.net.