I have become increasingly interested in Lutheranism over the past year. It started when I read ‘Hammer of God’ by Bo Giertz and developed when I read ‘Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy’ by Eric Metaxas and Bonhoeffer’s own ‘Life Together.’ Soon after I ordered a copy of ‘Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions’ and my Amazon wishlist includes ‘The Lutheran Study Bible,’ ‘The Lutheran Service Book,’ Giertz’s ‘The Knights of Rhodes’ and Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship.’
My normal is non-denominational Christian churches. It is what I grew up with. It is what I know. My early perception of Lutheranism, if I thought about it at all, was that it was obsolete and a little strange. I had encountered a co-worker who identified her family as “We’re Lutheran,” in a cultural sense, and it struck me that she did not identify herself as a “Christian.” Also, the fact that I piously / pridefully perceived no fruit one would expect from a Christ-devoted life.
The problem with non-denominational churches is that there is absolutely no uniformity – by default. I had deep respect for the church I was raised in, but when I visited other non-denominational churches, their quality ran the gamut. There were large, multi-campus and multi-service productions catering to all ages with generic, conservative Christianity. There was a medium-sized one that advertised their “authentic” relational connections, using buzzy language like “community of faith” instead of church. There was an awesome charismatic church that met on a university campus, full of life and energy. The only way to find out the theology of these churches was to attend for several weeks; the website blurbs gave you little to go on.
Enter Lutheranism. Factious synods aside, I sense the potential for temporal and geographical connectedness in the Lutheran tradition. It is a historically rooted apostolic church. I feel that I could walk into a Lutheran church in Finland and say, “Hey! These guys accept the same confessional documents!” Presbyterians are tied together in part by their subordinate standards found in the ‘Westminster Confession of Faith’ and Catechisms. Anglicans and Episcopalians share their ‘Book of Common Prayer.’ Well, Lutherans have their own “symbolic books” that have been deemed authoritative interpretations of the faith since 1580 – the Book of Concord or Concordia. This counterbalances many non-denominational churches where the theology is “a mild wide and an inch deep” or other denominations, which shall remain nameless, which are perceived as being anti-intellectual and pastored by twangy country bumpkins.
With my increased interest in theology, the idea of having an entire, international church body versed in a unified and deeper explanation of their faith appeals to me. This is, of course, on paper. I do not have widespread knowledge of how this plays out in real Lutheran congregations. Even the idea of confirmation, which was foreign to me, is appealing in theory. I like the piety of kneeling during certain portions of the service, and of saying “The word of the Lord” after a passage of scripture is read. I like the cultural acceptance of real wine during communion, as opposed to the tee-totaling human tradition of Southern Baptists.
Another plus, I particularly enjoy how the LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) has published position statements on a variety of modern issues. I have always believed that things such as acupuncture and masonic lodges are incompatible with Christianity, but often feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. The LCMS actually has semi-official positions on these matters! Read them here and here, respectively. You can’t be a member of the Lutheran Church if you are a mason!
There are several reasons that I do not want to be a Lutheran, despite my growing interest and appreciation. For starters, I hesitate to label myself as a particular denomination as that will inevitably create barriers between myself and others. The Apostle Paul said that he sought to become “all things to all men” so that he might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Also, labeling myself as a follower of Luther, a single human being, is like saying “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos,” behavior condemned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3. The New Testament pretty universally denounces factions and divisions, and yet in our world today we find new splinter groups on every corner. I can recall a Catholic friend of mine sarcastically saying, “A church dispute? Time to go hang up a new shingle! Everybody does what is right in their own eyes.”
Another reason is that I have not embraced every aspect of Lutheran doctrine and practice. Infant baptism? Not for me. Amillennialism? Nope. Sacramentalism? I could take it or leave it. Funny looking robes? Hmmm… An acquaintance who had attended a Lutheran church for many years with his wife told me of a new pastor who was Spirit-filled and led small group studies, encouraging people to be born again. My acquaintance loved it. It didn’t take long before older, more traditional congregants of German heritage had him sacked. Hearing that story took a lot of wind out of my Lutheran-leaning sails.
I think that I will not become a Lutheran. Not now. Maybe not ever. In all likelihood I will continue to draw inspiration from the history and resources of the Lutheran tradition, and may even attend a few services. Who knows? I might even pursue a doctorate from a Lutheran seminary at some point in the far off future. But, for now, I will simply remain a “Christian.”