Tuesday, March 20, 2007

On the Title "Lutheran" / My Respect For Lutherans


Lutheran pastor Paul T. McCain asked on a Lutheran blog:
So, let's open another reflection discussion: concerning the name Lutheran. Why do we use it? What does it mean? Would we be better served to use names such as "Catholic" or "Evangelical" or "Orthodox" or use those terms in lower-case? The name Lutheran nowhere appears in our Book of Concord, but other terms or phrases, such as, "The churches of the Augsburg Confession." Here is what one pastor recently said to me:
The Lutheran Church is the Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical Church and that these realities - all three - only meet in her. That that is why the name Lutheran is worth fighting for - because it is the conjunction of these other aspects.
Lutheran pastor William M. Cwirla commented:
I would say that Lutheran churches, as they confess, teach, and practice according to the Book of Concord are rightly "evangelical," "catholic," and "orthodox" churches, whether lower or upper case, I care not. They are also "apostolic," in the right sense of that word too.
And Mike Baker, in the same discussion thread, cited noted Lutheran figure C.F.W. Walther:
1 - it was Luther and no other through whom God in these last times has brought the pure clear doctrine of the Word of God together with the right use of the Sacraments again into the day and onto the plain and,

2 - the communion of those who have confessed this pure doctrine of the Word of God with heart and mouth is therefore named and known by every Lutheran by this name; we can only confess the faith which is in our hearts purely and completely with the name Lutheran.

If we would get rid of the name Lutheran the highest suspicion would be aroused that either we are ashamed of the old Lutheran doctrine, or that we no longer consider it to be the only true doctrine agreeing with God's clear Word and that a new false doctrine is in our hearts. As dear, therefore, as the truth is to us, as dear as God's honor and the salvation of our souls is to us, so little can we, especially in this time of widespread error, give up the name Lutheran. By this name we separate ourselves from all the unorthodox of all times and publicly confess the right faith of all time.
This is how I would reply, as a Catholic:

I basically agree with Mike Baker (and Walther); i.e., looking at it from what I perceive as a consistently Lutheran perspective.

It is true that Lutheranism derives historically from Luther ("it was Luther and no other through whom God . . ."), and also through the Confessions. It's always pointed out to me (quite needlessly) that Lutherans in their present dogmatic teaching follow the Confessions and not Luther, but nevertheless, in terms of historical descent, no one can deny that the movement now known as Lutheranism began as a result of Martin Luther.

Therefore, I think Lutheran is an apt and accurate description. And this is true regardless of the extent to which some of Luther's views were modified or rejected in the Lutheran Confessions.

Also (here's the controversial part), I would deny that many (if not all) Lutheran distinctives (over against traditional Catholic doctrines) can be properly traced back to the apostolic or even patristic era (I've had many debates with Lutherans about this), just as Lutherans would deny that many Catholic beliefs can be so traced. This is one of our fundamental disagreements.

I also deny (as one would expect) that there is a consistent and comprehensive Lutheran historical continuity with the Church previous to Luther, and would contend that this casts into doubt the accuracy of the terms apostolic, orthodox, or catholic applied to Lutheranism. There is, of course, in those considerable areas where Lutherans agreed with previous Tradition, but not in other areas where (I contend) radical innovations were introduced.

Therefore (with all due respect: and I have a great deal for traditionalist Lutherans), to apply the terms orthodox or catholic or apostolic as historically understood, to Lutheranism (especially if meant in a sense that is consciously opposed to historic Catholicism) would be literally a misnomer.

Thus again, Lutheran is the most accurate term, just as Calvinist (more so than the question-begging Reformed) is for those whose views clearly derive from Calvin. I don't have a problem with "evangelical" because I think that all Christians believe in the Gospel, and that is not at issue (in that sense, I am quite enthusiastically evangelical myself, though I recognize how the term is usually used in reference to Protestants). The difficulty there would be that this term has become so fluid today that it is on the way -- sadly -- to becoming almost meaningless.

"Evangelical" as applied to Lutherans would make more sense in, e.g., Germany, where the term has been historically understood as a synonym of what we call "Lutheran".

* * * * *

Lutherans, are, in my estimation, the most respectable and intellectually cogent Protestant denomination. I say that after years of interaction with all sorts of Protestants (and being an evangelical Protestant myself, from 1977-1990).

I've enjoyed my dialogues with Lutherans through the years. I disagree with many things, of course, but it is with a lot of respect and thankfulness for all that Lutherans and Lutheranism
have brought to Christianity, historically and in the present era.

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