“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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.