What is a Lutheran?
Being Lutheran does not mean believing nor trusting in Martin Luther for salvation and eternal life. Luther was just a man, not the Savior. Luther believed in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, and so do we. Luther believed all that the Bible has to say, and so do we. For these reasons, and not because of some hero-worship of the man Martin Luther, we are happy to call ourselves “Lutheran.”
These two things–believing in Jesus alone for forgiveness, and trusting all the Bible to be the absolute truth and source of what we should believe and do–goes a long way toward explaining what it means to be a Lutheran. We never want to get away from these basics.
But being a Lutheran is not defined by looking at what Martin Luther believed, per se. To find the definition of a Lutheran, you have to look at the founding documents of the Lutheran Church. Just as America is defined by her foundational writings [Declaration of Independence, Constitution] so the Lutheran Church has some writings which identify, characterize and provide a norm for what she confesses, teaches and practices, that is, what she is. Those documents are to be found in the Book of Concord of 1580.
This “book” (also called “The Lutheran Confessions” or “The Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church”) is a collection of a number of written works, which correctly explain and summarize what the Bible teaches. Those who authored and collated these works did not do so in order to provide a new source of truth, nor to bring out doctrines never before revealed by God. Throughout the Book of Concord the reader/hearer is at all times directed back to the Bible as the only source for faith and life.
But they did understand the importance of confessing the faith taught in the word of God. Just as Christians of old summarized and taught this faith in creeds (which are included, by the way, in the Book of Concord) so they needed to confess the same faith at the time of the Reformation during the 1500’s. They did so for a number of reasons, not the least of which was to contrast the Bible’s doctrine with the false teaching promoted by many within the Church. But the main reason was to bring comfort and the certainty of forgiveness through Jesus to sinners.
Their confessions, now known as the Book of Concord, stand as the definition of what it means to be a Lutheran. Our congregation stands by this Book as our confession. It is named in our congregation’s constitution, after the Holy Scriptures themselves, as the standard for what we are and do. It is the best place to go to know what a Lutheran is.
You are encouraged to find out more about the Book of Concord by contacting our pastor, or by visiting websites which offer free electronic versions of it, e.g. http://www.bookofconcord.org/