“What Does it Mean to be a Lutheran?”

SasseIntro: The following citation is from Rev. Sasse’s Here We Stand (translated by Theodore G. Tappert), published in 1937 when the armies of the night were marshalling in both Church and State as “light” (cf. Matthew 6: 23 and 2 Corinthians 11: 14).  This is from the end of the first chapter entitled, “What Does it Mean to be a Lutheran?”  Already in Germany, the unionization and fusion of Church and State had occurred after the “National Socialist Revolution”.  This was a continuance of the unionization of Reformed and Confessional Lutheran churches in Germany in the previous centuries.  Germany’s history of doing such played right into the hands of the National Socialists (Nazis).   The professor warns the Lutheran Church in America:


In other countries, too, the Lutheran Church will be questioned as to the ground for, and the right of, its existence. And then, in the spirit of the confessors at Augsburg, it will have to stand up before the principalities and powers of this world with the joyful and forthright confession of its faith: “I will also speak of Thy testimonies before kings, and shall not be put to shame.” (Psalm 119: 46; quoted on the first page of The Augsburg Confession—Pr. Schroeder)

May Lutheran Christians in other lands, where they still enjoy the peaceful possession of their church, profit from the experience of their sister churches which are in the midst of a stern struggle for existence. It is for this purpose that we have sketched the development of the conflict in Germany. Parallel illustrations could be drawn from many another European nation. As far as America is concerned, it would seem from the vantage point of Germany that the right of the Lutheran Church to existence will not be called into question by the state, but rather by the other Christian churches. The movement toward church union, which will probably make mighty strides of progress during the next generation, will oblige the Lutheran churches more and more to explain why they will not give up their independent confessional existence. How often, in the course of four centuries, has our church had to answer this question!  How often has it been reproached for unbrotherliness, for having a sectarian spirit, for fostering uncharitable separatism! Whenever the occasion demands, may we be enabled to defend our position with that same courage of faith which distinguished our Fathers in the Reformation. If we stand up for the doctrine of the sinner’s justification sola gratia, sola fide, (grace alone, faith alone) it is not the dogmatic idiosyncrasy of a denomination which is at stake, but the article of which “nothing can be yielded or surrendered, even if heaven and earth and all things sink to ruin.” Not only the church  heaven and earth and all things sink to ruin. Not only the church of our Confession, but the whole church of Christ, lives by this article. Hence we cannot possibly render a better service to the whole Christian church on earth, or even to the Christians of other communions who do not quite understand us today, than by preaching this doctrine in all purity and clarity. Indeed, it is the greatest contribution which can be made toward the true unity of divided Christendom, as the Formula of Concord says, quoting Luther: “If only this article is kept pure, the Christian church also remains pure, and is harmonious and without all sects; but if it does not remain pure, it is not possible to resist any error or fanatical spirit.” [endnote 1]

The hour will come when it will be necessary for the Lutherans of the whole world to have learned the full depth of these words. That hour will come when they are required to answer the question of the world, the question of the other communions, “What does it mean to be Lutheran?”

Post-Script:  Beloved in the Lord, the Lord did not baptize us into a “confessing movement within the Catholic Church”, nor a cultural revolution, nor a Protestant denomination, nor an “ism”, even ‘Lutheranism’.  The Lord baptized us into the holy, catholic and apostolic Church, His own Body, in His crucifixion and resurrection (see Romans 6: 1ff). The Lutheran Church is the continuation of the catholic Church reformed by the Gospel. “What does it mean to be a Lutheran?” The pastor and professor begins to answer his question in the first chapter. We understand being a Lutheran by understanding the Lutheran Church.  The Lutheran Church keeps the pure doctrine of the Scriptures and Confessions.  I am witness to a church body (ELCA) which did not, “…remain pure” and so could not, “…resist any error or fanatical spirit.”  When my wife and I returned to the LCMS, I knew things were amiss in the Synod but I did not know how amiss. It pains me to see this happening in the LCMS.  We are in a confessional battle between those who would remake the Church into their own image, so losing the Gospel by using the Word as their tool, and those who know it is the Lord alone, who remade us into His image, the image of His Son through His ‘tools’, that is, His means of grace, Word and Sacrament.

1 Timothy 6: 12


Endnotes —

[1] Jacobs’ Translation (1885),  Formula of Concord, Part II, Solid Declaration, Chapter III

About Pastor Mark Schroeder

I am currently the Pastor at Concordia Lutheran Mission, authorized by Good Shepherd Lutheran, Roanoke, Virginia. I have been an AELC then an ELCA pastor since my Ordination April 24, 1983 until leaving the ELCA and being accepted by Colloquy, June 1, 2010. My wife is Natalie and we have three children, Luke, Talitha and Abraham.


“What Does it Mean to be a Lutheran?” — 11 Comments

  1. Thank you for this excellent quote from Sasse, good one to keep in my files.

    I wonder what you mean when you say: “When my wife and I returned to the LCMS, I knew things were amiss in the Synod but I did not know how amiss. It pains me to see this happening in the LCMS.”

    Could you explain what these things are?


  2.  I knew things were amiss in the Synod but I did not know how amiss.

    Really?  What about the LCMS during the 1960-70’s?  How about the last couple of decades?  Are things more amiss in 2013?

    Blessings on your ministry.

  3. “The movement toward church union, which will probably make mighty strides of progress during the next generation, will oblige the Lutheran churches more and more to explain why they will not give up their independent confessional existence.”
    A prescient observation, coming true in America today. Apple had an advertising campaign a while back of “Think Different”; Lutherans need to boldly “Believe Different”. (Or, “differently”, for you grammar sticklers.)

  4. @John Rixe #2
    The LCMS today is picking up where the ELCA took off in the 1960’s-70’s, but with a unionistic/syncretistic confession instead of one which denies the inerrancy of Scripture.

  5. @LW #2

    Could you please reference some examples, other than the most recent on the East Coast?
    If this charge is leveled at the whole LCMS, what are some specific examples?

  6. Joel:

    “Believe Different” how? If you mean to believe differently than the emergent church, church growthers, and confessions other than orthodox Lutheran, then I agree. But if you mean that Lutherans should grab hold of a “New Confession” then I adamantly disagree. Orthodox Lutheranism believes the inspired, inerrant, revealed Word of God to be the norm and rule for all doctrine. Furthermore, there is no exposistion that can exceed the Lutheran Confessions regarding God’s Word of Holy Scripture. “Believe Different,” that’s what too many are trying to do within the LCMS today.

  7. @wineonthevines #5
    Aside from the practice of unionistic prayer much of our synod has affirmed after national tragedies I think the whole worship war and practice of open communion in the LCMS ultimately comes down to a practice of syncretism. Based on the way many of our congregations worship I conclude they have melded their beliefs with other confessions. I am a member of an LCMS congregation, so as long as I remain connected to these congregations through the synod I was born into I consider myself guilty of this charge by association. I pray that we will repent as a synod, but if we as a synod forsake our first love I pray I will have the wisdom to know when it is time to leave.

  8. Sorry, I don’t see that much amiss.  I see dedicated church workers and volunteers doing amazing work in our neighborhood congregations and schools.  If everything is amiss around here, what denomination would be a better choice?  Thanks.

  9. @John Rixe #8
    There are many faithful members of the LCMS, but sadly I also see many who are losing their way. The LCMS is the best choice if she returns to the Lutheran confession of her youth. There may be more confessional Lutheran micro synod congregations in America, but they are few and far between. WELS has problems of her own, but there appear to be a strong group of confessional Lutherans among her as well.

  10. @wineonthevines #1

    @John Rixe #2

    When I was still in the ELCA, I started frequent visits to BJS because of their confessional witness and their concern about CoWo. My “amiss” comment reflects the other concern expressed here and in many places on BJS regarding the syncretistic worship practices of CoWo, etc. I started looking at congregational websites to see how many had the choice of contemporary worship, etc; and I was disheartened. John, I too see many faithful pastors and laity. For years I have attended the Symposia in Ft. Wayne…and so do many an ELCA pastor go to Indiana in January. I have heard at least 3 seminary profs give continuing ed courses and have been solidly edified. But when, for instance, I read a DP write on a blog, “I think one of the greatest problems is that there is a contingent so dedicated to talking about the doctrine that it basically prevents productive strategizing about increasing congregational capacity”, I have head this before…in the ELCA. I still think the LCMS is faithful…but growing up in the LCMS, yes, the trends toward the zeitgeist broke out in ’73-’74 and still are with us. fwiw: see https://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=11833

  11. @Rev. Toby Byrd #6
    Rev. Byrd,
    I indeed support Lutherans boldly believing differently in comparison to the emergent, enthusiastic, “modern” churches, which I think is the context of the Sasse quote. Orthodox Lutheran beliefs and practices are by their nature different from those churches, and I think we should be different by being orthodox and confessional. I came from a WELS background, and saw firsthand Wisconsin’s schizophrenic efforts to be both secluded and open. It has led to a quieting of Lutheranism and an exploration, if not outright embracing, of CGM-type enthusiastic practices. By being true to Confessional, Orthodox Lutheranism, we “believe differently.”
    Thanks for the opportunity to clarify!
    With respect to the LCMS-WELS-ELCA comparisons in other comments here, for sure these human institutions will be beset by human sin and attacked by the Deceiver. Orthodox Lutheranism provides a great guideline for relying on the Word for all our doctrine and practice. ELCA, as a body, is too far gone to be considered Lutheran, and WELS does not allow dissenting opinions unless within Synod-approved symposiums or other authorized venue. I appreciate that LCMS, while it has its issues, “allows” discussion, dissent, and autonomy within the congregational structure, especially when it is done to further the Gospel of Christ.

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