Lutheranism in a Nutshell

October 11th, 2012 Post by

If you want your ideological movement to really take off, one great way to do it is to boil it down for popular consumption. Now if you’re an ideological purist (which I tend to be), you know that there’s a danger in doing this because in the boiling-down process, complex ideas can easily be misrepresented. But there is something valuable about summary, and if it’s done well, it can be very effective. For example, say what you will about Calvinism, but it wouldn’t be nearly as popular without the whole TULIP thing. Stroke of marketing genius, that was.

Because I am a convert to the Lutheran faith, I am often asked by Evangelicals who don’t know much about it (which happens to be most of them) to explain what the Lutheran faith is, and what makes it different from, say, the Baptist faith. I’ve found that people are easily confused about what they don’t already know. So I’ve found that I have to boil it down. It’s not easy to do. Take almost any subject and you’ll find that narrowing it down to the essentials while also communicating in an understandable way is exceedingly difficult. So at great risk of oversimplifying, I want to state what the Lutheran faith is in a nutshell — a very, very tiny nutshell. The following five points are my attempt to spell out the defining and distinguishing characteristics of the Lutheran faith.

Regeneration by grace in Baptism (sola gratia)
– God initiates faith by baptism
Only through faith (sola fide)
-Only faith justifies a person
Scriptural authority (sola scriptura)
– Teaches Gospel and Law
Economic church polity
– Church polities are largely chosen according to practical needs
Substantial and real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine of Holy Communion
– Nurtures a believer’s faith and forgives sin

Though Calvinists may have tulips, we have roses. And who doesn’t like roses more than tulips?

So there it is. Lutheranism in a nutshell.

Of course, these all need a little more explanation.

 

Regeneration by grace in Baptism (sola gratia)

Baptism is something God does. It is not our work. It is a free gift that God gives us out of his mercy and grace – we do not and cannot earn it. Because it is God’s work and because Scripture declares that Baptism saves, we rightly say that we are saved through baptism.

This doctrine is similar (but by no means identical) to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican/Episcopal church, and a few Reformed/Presbyterian churches.

This doctrine is greatly different from the teaching of Evangelicals, Baptists, Methodists, most Reformed/Presbyterian churches, and the rest of the Protestant Church.

 

Only through faith (sola fide)

The work of Christ works faith in us. Any trust in ourselves to reconcile us to God is to deny Jesus Christ. Unless we trust in God’s work through Jesus Christ alone, we are eternally condemned as God’s enemies.

This doctrine is similar (but by no means identical) to the historic teaching of the Anglican/Episcopal church, Baptists, Wesleyan/Methodists, Reformed/Presbyterian churches, and the rest of the Protestant Church.

This doctrine is different from the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church.

 

Scriptural authority (sola scriptura)

We are to look to God’s word alone as the highest authority for matters of faith and practice. This doctrine does not mean that there are no other authorities in our lives. Rather, Scripture is the highest and final authority when it comes to what we are to confess about God, ourselves, and all creation. This means that we must put our own human judgments under the authority of Scripture. In any conflict between what we believe and what Scripture clearly teaches, we must declare that Scripture is true and that our ideas are false. It is important to note that this doctrine does not mean that we can never accept scientific discoveries, historical facts, or human reason. Rather, it means that where God’s Word speaks on a matter, what it says takes priority over any other source. Since there are many matters about which Scripture is silent, we are free to accept other the word of authorities on those matters. Also, we may use the word of other authorities to help us in understanding Scripture and to support the claims of Scripture but never to undermine Scripture.

Scripture carries out it’s authority over us in two distinct ways: law and gospel — God’s demand and God’s gift, respectively. Both the word of the law and the word of the gospel are to believed above what others tell us and above what our own hearts tell us.

This doctrine is similar (but by no means identical) to Baptists, Reformed/Presbyterian churches, and much of the Protestant Church.

This doctrine is exceedingly different from the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, much of the Anglican/Episcopal Church, and Wesleyans/Methodists, the Pentecostal/Charismatic church.

 

Economic church polity

How the government of the church is to be structured is – in many respects – a practical matter. Scripture gives us some direction on how the church should be structured, and where it is clear, we should follow it. Since, however, Scripture does not offer us a definite, refined structure of church authority, there is some flexibility on the matter. Thus, we are free to form committees, and elect district presidents, circuit counselors, and synodical presidents. Furthermore, Lutherans do not believe that an ecclesiastical body must have a particular governing authority structure such as a pope or some bishop over the church in order to be the true church. It is possible in some cases for two churches to have differing church structures and both churches be properly identified as Christian churches.

This doctrine is similar (but by no means identical) to the teaching of various Protestants.

This doctrine is exceedingly different from the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, most of the Anglican/Episcopal Church, and many Reformed/Presbyterian churches, and many Baptist churches.

 

Substantial and real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine of Holy Communion

Two points are made here about the presence of Christ’s body and blood and the presence of the bread and wine in the Supper: (1) that they are substantially present and (2) that they are a real presence. What do these terms mean? First, to say that these things are substantially present is to say that they are present as a substance – not just spiritually present but present as the substance of human flesh, the substance of human blood, the substance of bread, and the substance of wine. Second, to say that these things are real is to say that they are not a symbol or a representation of Christ’s body and blood.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Christ’s body and blood is present, but not the bread and wine. Most Protestants teach that the bread and wine is present but not Christ’s body and blood.

Thus, this doctrine is similar (but by no means identical) to the teaching of the Eastern Orthodox Church, some in the Anglican/Episcopal church

This doctrine is exceedingly different from the teaching of most of the Anglican/Episcopal Church, Presbyterian/Reformed Churches, Baptists, Methodists, and the rest of Protestantism. On the matter of the presence of bread and wine, this doctrine is exceedingly different than the Roman Catholic church.

 

Conclusion

I recognize that almost any knowledgeable Lutheran who reads this list will have some adjustment to make. I am under no illusion that it is perfect, but I do think it’s nonetheless valuable as a tool for a shorthand understanding where Lutheranism fits in the religious landscape.  Quite clearly there is a lot more to Lutheran doctrine than this, but if you make it this far in understanding the Lutheran faith, you’ve understood more than most (and that includes Lutherans, I fear).






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  1. Johan Bergfest
    October 15th, 2012 at 20:19 | #1

    Ted Crandall :That is not sufficient because you define words differently — even very basic words crucial to this discussion, like “Lutheran” and “unqualified.”

    As I have suggested several times in this and the other conversation, once again you have subordinated the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church to the doctrine of the LCMS. Yet, you are among those who seem to think it is important to distinguish the real Lutherans from others. Curious.

    Ted Crandall :You’re hardly in a position to charge anyone with false piety. Are you actually going to deny that you think your religion of “confessing Jesus as Lord” is far “superior” to any other?

    As I have confessed, I believe the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. I do not believe that my faith is superior to anyone else’s and I have not made any comments that could be construed as contrary to that.

  2. Carl Vehse
    October 15th, 2012 at 20:49 | #2

    @Pastor John Fraiser #49,

    In response to the nine points of your position:

    Pt. 1: What your laypeople think they are subscribing to is not necessarily what the question asked of the confirmand, or what the church’s constitution states communicant members are subscribing to. Unfortunately, the LCMS has been lax (a diplomatic 3-letter word for a more accurate 4-letter word) in following its own Guidelines when reviewing/approving church constitutions.

    Pt. 2: I agree that, while the SC does cover implicitly or explicity many of the articles of Lutheran doctrine, it does not cover them all, nor does the pastor, during his instruction of the catechumens, necessarily cover all of the articles of Lutheran doctrine.

    Pt. 3 & Pt. 4: I disagree with these points (though not with the part about Scripture). First, the catechumen has, in fact, read part of the BoC, mainly the SC, and so has some understanding of the doctrine to which he is asked to affirm his unconditional subscription. And in the Explanation, the catechumen does get some addition doctrinal instruction present other Symbols.

    Secondly, while a congregation, which has become a member of the Missouri Synod, should use the Confessions to judge doctrinal disputes and assure conformity of all instruction, at the beginning when they joined the Missouri Synod, the congregation (men, women, children, and infants) publicly declared that they accept without reservation the Book of Concord as the true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God, and they put that confessional standard into their church constitution, along with the (apparently unenforced) requirement that the communicant members agree they also affirm when they join the church. Having a congregation publicly declare in unison a quia BoC subscription and, at the same time, having the same members individually waffling with one or another quatenus subscriptions is not Lutheran (does no one else have a little spit-up in their mouth picturing this being advocated or condoned?!?)

    Pt. 5. So what would be needed in order for it to be acceptable (to the pastor?) for a Lutheran layperson to voluntarily subscribe without reservation to the BoC? Is it required for a valid unconditional subscription that an individual member of a quia-confessing Lutheran congregation read all of the BoC, in the original German, and not some English translation? And is it required that an individual member of a quia-confessing congregation have compared the doctrine contained in the German Book of Concord with all of the original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old and New Testaments before affirming such an unconditional subscription? Does each member of a quia-confessing congregation need to provide an affirmation that they have read and compared all of these documents before they dare to publicly subscribe without reservation to the BoC and have their subscription acknowledged as valid? I seem to recall reading about some of Jesus’ disciples complaining to Him at one time about trying to stop other people, who weren’t part of their own group, from doing wonderful works in His name… but maybe that dealt with something else.

    When a person pledges allegiance to the United States, does he first have to read every law and regulation that is in effect, which he must obey before he makes such a pledge? Or does a person, especially a grade school student, grow in his learning and education at school, if not his whole life, concerning the laws and regulations of the U.S. form of government, in which he (as the government) has agreed to be (also) the governed?

    Pt. 6. In Pt. 4 you noted, “It is largely the pastor’s job to see that the BoC is followed.” If the wording of the question to the confirmand and to the prospective communicant member is what I have previously noted, then it would be a dismal failure on the part of the pastor, and misfeasance of his duty, not to have explained to the confirmand and to the communicant member what their affirmation actually means regarding the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is in the BoC.

    If a parent tells her child the iron is hot, should the child accept her word and believe the iron is really hot, and that he would burn his fingers if he touches the iron? Or should the child be required to actually burn his fingers on the iron before he is allowed to publicly affirm he accepts without reservation that the iron is really hot?

    Pt. 7. A person who is a Christian, but does not hold a quia subscription to the BoC is not a true Lutheran. The person may be a Lutheran-in-training (unless they have rejected a subscription to the BoC). In the same sense, a seminarian is not a true pastor, even if he wears a collar and delivers sermons during his vicarage, until he accepts a Divine Call to be a pastor. Once he rejects or leaves the Call, the seminarian, even if he has been subsequently ordained, is not a pastor. Even true Lutherans, who hold a quia subscription, should be willing to admit they are still in training as Lutherans, until the day they see face-to-face the Divine Teacher.

    Pt. 8. Historically I will refer to the Preface to the BoC where one can see the names of the theologians and laity whose signatures affirmed their unconditional subscription to the Book of Concord.

    Pt. 9. If an unconditional subscription to the Lutheran Confessions is not necessary in order for a person to claim to be a “true Lutheran” (is this different from a “Lutheran”?), then what is the criterion for which a person could legitimately be identified and recognized as a “true Lutheran” by other members of a congregation who have collectively, if not individually, publicly affirmed their quia BoC subscription?

    I am aware that prior to the Book of Concord of 1580 there were Lutherans, including one important Lutheran, and Lutheran martyrs, but definitions change with contexts, and since 1580, the BoC context has existed.

    I also realize that a Christian who studies and even affirms the Small Catechism is well on his way to, and should be encouraged toward, becoming a Lutheran. But a person who includes in his vitae, “Ph.D. (ABD),” does not have a Ph.D. Perhaps a similar label, “Lutheran (ABQ)” [All but quia], is needed.

    A person who calls himself Lutheran and who has not subscribed without reservation to the BoC, is like a person who has an honorary degree and goes around introducing himself as “Dr. So-and-so.” He has his name on some sheet of paper or a list, but it doesn’t really mean what he says it means. Words get diluted in meaning today; “Lutheran” is one of those words. I don’t expect my efforts will stop it or even measurably slow the dilution, but I can and do state what the solid meaning of “Lutheran” supported by various LCMS documents previously referenced. It is not my own definition, but one based on the Lutheran Confessions, such that a Lutheran is a person who holds an unconditional subscription to those Lutheran Confessions.

  3. John Rixe
    October 16th, 2012 at 02:04 | #3

    This is also very good and helpful. Thanks Dr Strickert.

  4. October 16th, 2012 at 05:18 | #4

    @Johan Bergfest #1

    “As I have confessed, I believe the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.”

    And how would you define “the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church”?

    “I do not believe that my faith is superior to anyone else’s and I have not made any comments that could be construed as contrary to that.”

    Yet you’ve repeatedly mocked our faith.

    [I must rush off to my day job, so anyone who would like to collect a few samples of his mockery is welcome to help me out here.]

  5. Pr. Don Kirchner
    October 16th, 2012 at 06:34 | #5

    You ask us to do this for you for…what beneficial purpose, Rev. Crandall?

    I agree. The summaries are a nice way to bring the discussion to a close. Did you have something substantive to add to the respective summaries? Otherwise, the thread seems to have run its course.

    Pr. Don Kirchner
    “Heaven’s OK, but it’s not the end of the world.” Jeff Gibbs

  6. Carl Vehse
    October 16th, 2012 at 09:05 | #6

    Now that concerns of who personally attack whom are fading, the thread’s progress on substantive discussions about “Lutheranism in a Nutshell” seems to have an increasing number of “Nothing to see here, folks, so just move along” posts. One wonders if there are any sacred cows down the road that the discussion should be aware of.

    But, continuing the discussion of “Lutheranism in a Nutshell,” here’s some excerpts from What is a Lutheran? (Unfortunately the author of that article is not identified. Perhaps BJS’s Norm Fisher, who did the programming and text conversion for that website, will be able to identify the author.)

    While there are a variety of ways one could answer this question, one very important answer is simply this, “A Lutheran is a person who believes, teaches and confesses the truths of God’s Word as they are summarized and confessed in the Book of Concord.” The Book of Concord contains the Lutheran confessions of faith.

    The word “confession” is used in a variety of ways, but when we speak of a “confessional” Lutheran we mean a Lutheran who declares to the world his faith and most deeply held belief and conviction, in harmony with the documents contained in the Book of Concord. You will catch the spirit of confessional Lutheranism in these, the last words written in the Book of Concord:

    Therefore, it is our intent to give witness before God and all Christendom, among those who are alive today and those who will come after us, that the explanation here set forth regarding all the controversial articles of faith which we have addressed and explained–and no other explanation–is our teaching, faith, and confession. In it we shall appear before the judgment throne of Jesus Christ, by God’s grace, with fearless hearts and thus give account of our faith, and we will neither secretly nor publicly speak or write anything contrary to it. Instead, on the strength of God’s grace, we intend to abide by this confession (FC SD, XII, 40).

    So what is it to be a Lutheran?

    Being a Lutheran is being a person who believes the truths of God’s Word, the Holy Bible, as they are correctly explained and taught in the Book of Concord. To do so is to confess the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Genuine Lutherans, confessional Lutherans, dare to insist that “All doctrines should conform to the standards [the Lutheran Confessions] set forth above. Whatever is contrary to them should be rejected and condemned as opposed to the unanimous declaration of our faith” (FC Ep. RN, 6).

    ——————————————–
    Lutheranism in a Nutshell: “Lutheranism is the unconditional subscription to the Book of Concord of 1580.”

  7. Johan Bergfest
    October 16th, 2012 at 09:31 | #7

    Pastor Ted Crandall :
    And how would you define “the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church”?

    The doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is spelled out in the documents contained in the Book of Concord and as typically instructed with Luther’s Small Catechism.

    Pastor Ted Crandall :Yet you’ve repeatedly mocked our faith.

    I don’t think that statement is correct. I have not repeatedly mocked your faith.

    I have repeatedly called into question whether the manner in which you (plural) mock the faith of others who do not align with your idea of what it means to be a confessional Lutheran. I also note, that when I have done so in this and the other thread, I began by pointing out what appeared to be inconsistencies between what I believe are core Lutheran teachings and references to other believers, using Carl’s term, as Lufauxferans (is that term mocking?). I also have noted that you and Carl have consistently deflected from the issues that I have raised in my initial posts in this and the other thread.

  8. Johan Bergfest
    October 16th, 2012 at 13:13 | #8

    Carl Vehse :
    So what is it to be a Lutheran?
    Being a Lutheran is being a person who believes the truths of God’s Word, the Holy Bible, as they are correctly explained and taught in the Book of Concord.

    I agree with that definition. But, I note that this definition is sufficient to embrace lots of folks whom you would dismiss as Lufauxerans.

  9. October 16th, 2012 at 14:12 | #9

    @Johan Bergfest #8
    Silence! Pastor Kirchner said to chill.
    (@Pr. Don Kirchner #5 Did you have something substantive to add to the respective summaries?)

  10. Carl Vehse
    October 16th, 2012 at 14:15 | #10

    In the introduction to his translation of a 1930 essay, “Ecumenical Lutheranism,” by Franz Pieper, in his book, At Home in the House of My Fathers, President Matthew Harrison stated:

    “Now is the moment for the Missouri Synod to humbly but decisively hold forth her vision of an “ecumenical Lutheranism” that is committed to the classic interpretation of the Scriptures and the quia subscription to the Book of Concord. . . . Now is the moment for ‘ecumenical Lutheranism’ as Pieper understood it, a Lutheranism that simply desires to be Lutheran.” (p. 668)

    (taken from a June, 4, 2010, BJS article, At Home in the House of Pieper: Now is the Moment for “Ecumenical Lutheranism,” by Pr. Charles Henrickson)

    ______________________________
    (Ecumenical) Lutheranism in a Nutshell: “Lutheranism is the quia subscription to the Book of Concord of 1580.”

  11. Carl Vehse
    October 16th, 2012 at 14:21 | #11

    Excerpted from Confessional Subscription, by Robert Preus, Ph.D., D. Theol., Faithful Confessional Life in the Church, from the Lutheran Congress, August 31 – September 2, 1970:

    “What is a Lutheran? What is the nature of subscription to the Lutheran Confessions? These two questions which are often considered together and which are as inseparably related as Siamese twins have become increasingly important in our day when Lutheranism is fighting for its identity and life.”

    “What then is the nature of confessional subscription?”

    “Confessional subscription is a solemn act of confessing in which I willingly (AC, Conclusion: FC SD XII,40) and in the fear of God (FC Epit. XII,13; SD Source and Norm,20) confess my faith and declare to the world what is my belief, teaching and confession. This I do by pledging myself with my whole heart (bekennen wir uns; amplectimur; toto pectore amplectmur; FC SD Rule and Norm, 4-7) to certain definite, formulated confessions. I do this in complete assurance that these confessions are true and are correct expositions of Scripture (aus und nach Gottes Wort; weil sic aus Gottes Wort genommen und darin fest und wohl gegrundet ist; ibid.5,10). These symbolical writings become for me permanent confessions and patterns of doctrine (Begriff und Form; forma et typus. ibid. 1; einhellige, gewisse, all gemeine Form der Lehre; ibid.10) according to which I judge all other writings and teachers (wofern sie dem jetzt gemeldeten Vorbild der Lehre gemaezz. ibid. 10).”

    _________________________________________________
    Lutheranism in a Nutshell: “Lutheranism is the unconditional subscription to the Book of Concord of 1580.”

  12. Pr. Don Kirchner
    October 16th, 2012 at 14:39 | #12

    @Ted Crandall #9

    I already agreed that the summaries are a nice way to bring the discussion to a close.

    But thanks for asking.

  13. Carl Vehse
    October 17th, 2012 at 09:49 | #13

    In his article, “The Future of Confessional Lutheranism in the World” (Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol 42, No. 3, July 1978, 221), Dr. Samuel Nafzger wrote:

    In this paper the term “Confessional Lutheranism” refers to commitment to the Book of Concord “as a witness to the truth and as exhibiting the unanimous and correct understanding of our predecessors who remained steadfast in the pure doctrine” (FC, SD, Rule and Norm, 13) “because it is drawn from the word of God” (FC, SD, Rule and Norm, 10). The members of a “Confessional Lutheran Church,” therefore, accept “without reservation … all the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God.”… Such an understanding of “confessional Lutheranism” necessarily implies that all forms of conditional subscription to the Lutheran Symbols are incompatible with and actually contradictory to it.

    ______________________________________________________
    Lutheranism in a Nutshell: “Lutheranism is the unconditional subscription to the Book of Concord of 1580.”

  14. William Tice
    June 23rd, 2013 at 19:44 | #14

    With the upmost respect to Lutherism, I ask the following question. In regards to solo gratia are you espousing baptismal regeneration? I.e. a form of federalism? Please clarify! Thanks for the post.

  15. helen
    June 24th, 2013 at 07:28 | #15

    @William Tice #14
    With the upmost respect to Lutherism, I ask the following question. In regards to solo gratia are you espousing baptismal regeneration? I.e. a form of federalism? Please clarify! Thanks for the post.

    You are reading old news! You’ve found us, “warts and all” in this one.

    Yes, we are born again… baptismal regeneration… by grace alone…solo gratia. We do nothing to achieve it.

    From the Small Catechism [Lutheran Service Book, pg.325]
    What benefits does Baptism give?
    It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
    Which are these words and promises of God?
    Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16

    You’ll have to clarify “a form of federalism”. I have no idea what you mean by that.

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