BEING LUTHERAN: What does this mean? by Pr Kurt Hering

“What does this mean?” This question is as old as the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Now in her 6th Century of existence, every one of her tens of millions of members have confronted and been confronted by this question as it pertains to the Symbols of the Holy Christian Church enumerated in Luther’s Small Catechism:

1. The Ten Commandments

2. The Creed

3. The Lord’s Prayer

4. The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

5. Confession/Absolution (The Keys)

6. The Sacrament of the Altar

These Symbols are the outward marks by which one might know Christ’s Church, those basic teachings of Holy Scripture by which we can “test the spirits” and upon which our faith is built – the very “Rock” of our Salvation.

How about the term “Lutheran” itself? What does this mean?

In the simplest and widest sense, to be Lutheran means to belong to a church that believes, teaches and confesses that we are saved by Christ’s grace alone, through faith alone, which is made known in God’s Word alone. These are known in the Latin terms of Lutheran theology as the three “solas,” which you have probably seen in various works of Lutheran literature, artistry (see graphic on this page) and architecture like– “Sola Gracia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura.”

More specifically and in the narrow sense — i.e. in terms of what we, as Lutherans, believe, teach and practice — to be Lutheran means to subscribe and abide by the Lutheran Confessions as presented in the Book of Concord because, “they are a correct exposition of the Word of God” and in agreement with [the] one scriptural faith.

These Confessions include:

+ The Three Ecumenical Creeds (Apostolic, Nicene and Athanasian)

+ The Unaltered Augsburg Confession

+ Apology of the Augsburg Confession

+ The Smalcald Articles

+ Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope

+ Luther s Small Catechism

+ Luther s Large Catechism

+ The Formula of Concord

Every truly Lutheran pastor bespeaks a belief in and promises to perform their duties in accordance with these Confessions. Every truly Lutheran congregation unalterably acknowledges, accepts and functions in conformity these Confessional standards in “all forms used for the rites of the sacraments, all orders of worship used in divine public worship, and all text books used for religious instruction.”

“What does this mean” for members of the Lutheran Church-Misasouri Synod? There is a proverb within Lutherdom roughly translated form the Latin as, “what we believe, we practice and what we practice we believe.” What we believe is that we are sinners and enemies of God, unworthy to come into His presence apart from His grace in Christ Jesus. This is the heart, the very foundation of all the previously mentioned Marks of the Church, and is known within Lutherdom as “justification by faith.”

If we truly do believe what we practice and practice what we believe, everything we do in the LC-MS as pastors and congregations of The Lutheran Confessions will be in conformity with, reflective of, and built upon this foundation and no other. Simply put, everything that happens at LC-MS churches– from Sunday worship services to day-school curriculum; from Bible studies to newsletter; from Stewardship program to Youth Program; from funerals to weddings — everything should be based upon what God has done for us in Christ rather than what we think or feel we should be doing for Him or each other.

According to Romans 12:2, as members of the body of Christ we, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but [are] transformed by the renewing of [our] mind. Then [we] will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Now I realize this will not always be comfortable for us. We all yearn to be accepted by our peers, we all want the family and friends we invite to our church to enjoy their experience with us and we all have our individual preferences and tastes. But if we base our church practice in general, and our worship in particular, upon the acceptance of our peers we become a mere social club; if we base them upon enjoying the experience we become just another form of escapist entertainment; if we base them upon individual preferences and tastes we become a theme park attractive to some but repulsive to others.

This discomfort is expressed well as one lady and pillar of her congregation once said to her pastor, “Pastor, the liturgy doesn’t say what I mean.” To which her pastor responded, “Madam, you must learn to mean what the liturgy says.”

And we must also learn to mean what the Scriptures and our Lutheran Confessions teach. In so doing we will be protected from the wiles of the devil, the ways of the world, and the whims of our flesh that weaken faith and lead away from Christ. In so doing we can “be faithful even unto death” that we may receive “the crown of life” from our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Lord, let it be so among us members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Amen!


An English translation of The Lutheran Confessions according to The Book of Concord can be found online at


The following article, “Worship Wars,” by The Rev. Paul Gregory Alms, Catawba, NC was published by “Consensus” and reprinted with their permission in my original publication of “being Lutheran.”.

Worship Wars? Issues in the Church #5

Worship wars…what a sad phrase. How sad that liturgy and worship should become a source of division. How can we solve this destructive battle?

This conflict is often portrayed as a battle of styles. Those advocating a certain style are said to be opposed to those of another style. But we must get past the divisive opposites like “traditional” versus “contemporary” or “variety” versus “monotony” and the like. That which is often termed contemporary is frequently monotonous just as so called traditional worship is very often contemporary and dynamic. The conflict is not about styles but faith and its expression. What is needed in this discussion is a truly Lutheran perspective, to step back from rhetoric and passions and see worship with eyes not clouded over by our likes or dislikes but in a framework that is Scriptural and Lutheran.

We can gain that perspective from our Lutheran confessions. Some say the Confessions have nothing to say about worship other than to grant complete freedom but that is far from the truth. It is easy to identify four characteristics in the Lutheran Confessions that distinguish Lutheran worship. Let’s take a look at these characteristics and see what kind of worship they describe.

“In worship, God works” Too often we see worship mostly as what we do and are tempted to change it to suit our whims or desires. But worship according to the Scriptures and Confessions is first and foremost what God does. Our Lutheran liturgy springs from God’s actions of grace and mercy to us in Christ, the preaching of the Gospel and the sacraments. Our true worship is to receive God’s gifts. We receive them with thanksgiving and praise but the center and source are God’s actions. Worship can easily be distorted into “us” centered activity where the focus and emphasis is on our praise or our preferences.

“Unity” A second important characteristic of Lutheran worship is the principle of unity of belief and worship, that what we believe and how we worship are closely related. One could say it this way: how you worship expresses what you what you believe and what you believe shapes how you worship. If you believe that the fact that God the Son has become man and is present in the Supper for forgiveness is the core of worship, your service will take a certain shape. If you believe that our feelings and self made expressions of praise are the center, then a different worship will appear. One of the most destructive notions concerning worship is that the style of worship is independent of the substance of belief. This idea is absent from and repugnant to the Lutheran confessions, which recognize that what you believe is necessarily expressed in how you worship.

“Continuity” Another characteristic of Lutheran worship in the Lutheran confessions is continuity, the idea that all worship practices from the past are to be retained unless they offend against the Gospel. The Confessions forthrightly declare that “we do not abolish the Mass” but reverently keep and defend that which has been handed down. The Lutheran church has always insisted that it is one with the church of all ages, that it is not sect or a group which scorns the traditions of the past. Rather what is good and expresses the Gospel clearly is received with thanksgiving and used for the sake of the Gospel.

“Adiaphora” Adiaphora is one of the most disputed topics in worship and is often presented as though it were permission for all liturgical innovation or change. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. What this principle maintains is that no ceremonies are absolutely necessary except in times of confession or persecution. Ceremonies are those things which have not been commanded or forbidden by Scripture and are not necessary since they do not give salvation. This may include processions, candles, the details of what kind of vestments the pastor wears, and perhaps how much of the service is spoken or sung. However, ceremonies are not empty of meaning and thus subject to change at the whim of a pastor or congregation. No, such ceremonies exist to express and point to the Gospel. Ceremonies are important because they express the faith and if they are changed in such a way as to indicate agreement to that which harms the Gospel, then the Gospel is compromised.

If we take all four of these Confessional characteristics together, what sort of worship emerges? What emerges is worship which looks very much like the Lutheran Liturgy we know in our own [Lutheran Service Book]*, Lutheran Worship, The Lutheran Hymnal and Hymnal Supplement 98!

*Blogger’s addition

Insofar as this sermon is a true proclamation of the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, it belongs to Him and His Church. Therefore its use is free to all who deem it worthy and beneficial.

Send Rev. Kurt Hering an email.

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