Why I am Still a Lutheran
I participate on an on-line site where people pose questions to me about faith, especially the Lutheran faith. Recently, a questioner asked me, “The Catholic Church reportedly is inviting Protestants to return. Please provide your opinion regarding a few primary reasons to remain Protestant.”
In honor of the Reformation month, I share my answer (with the name changed):
Thank you for your question. Why would someone choose to stay within the Protestant fold of Christianity? Obviously, there are many, personal reasons one might choose on either side. I will share my reasons.
First, I appreciate our emphasis of God's unmerited grace that is given to us as a gift in Jesus Christ. Protestants, and here I especially mean, Lutheran Protestants, are not the only ones who teach this, but we Lutherans choose to make this our major emphasis. Grace, God's gift of acceptance, love and forgiveness, is something I can never earn, no matter how pious or religious I become. It comes to me in the person and the work of Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection on my behalf, and on behalf of all sinners. By making this our first priority, we ground our theology and practice in God's actions, not ours. We make the center of all we do Jesus' work, and not my attainment of God's. This is most certainly true and certainly the chief of all reasons I remain Protestant.
Second, I appreciate that fact that God comes to me as an individual, while at the same time God comes to us through the church community. I love that my prayers are directly heard by God, and that my confessions are heard and favorably responded to by God, without needing to go through a church mediator. At the same time, I also appreciate that I can also hear that forgiveness through the witness and proclamation of both a pastor as well as another Christians. Sometimes, it is very helpful to physically hear from another baptized Christian, "In the name of Jesus, your sins are forgiven."
I also appreciate that my baptism is both God's promise to me, ("You are my child, I am your God) and my introduction into the Christian community. It is the only credential I need to be a full member of God's family, since it is based on God's Word and not mine. Baptism is the original equalizer, making all our vacations (from the Latin. "to call") equally important and holy. My call as a pastor is no more holy or important than my wife's call as a teacher, or my father's as a welder, or my mother's as a homemaker. We are all called to vocations as baptized children of God. We are all bearers of God's promise and presence in what we do. We are all "little Christs" to one another and to and for the world in which we live. There is no hierarchy in God's family. No one is more holy. No one is more loved than another.
I appreciate that while we honor tradition and reason, we hold in a primary place God's Word revealed to us through Jesus Christ and expressed in the written words of the Bible. Martin Luther once said, "All we need to know about God is found with Jesus on the cross." That focus on Christ crucified for us is important. Our human traditions are important, since they contain the wisdom of the community over many years, but they can never supersede the revealed grace we have in Jesus Christ. Humans and institutions will fail us; Jesus will not.
Finally, I revel in the freedom God has given me in Jesus Christ. I am freed from the guilt and shame of not measuring up to God's demands. The Law of God assures me that I can never measure up; the Gospel/Good News of God proclaims to me that the One who could and did (Jesus) took care of this demand. The sins of the past are gone. All my failures and ungodliness: forgiven. Each day, I am reminded that God's grace and love surrounds me and empowers me. I will most likely fail to measure up to perfection today, but I am still a Child of God. Each day, I am called to live out that marvelous freedom because God already loves me. I live out my vocation/ occupation, and my roles as father, husband, child etc. as a freed-in-Christ Child of God. Liberated from the weight of any guilt or shame, I can strive to be a faithful steward of God's gifts and God's Creation, to be gracious and forgiving to those around me, and be a witness to the power of a heart set free in love.
Bill, I hope that this is helpful. I would never denigrate our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers, or what they believe. Obviously, Jesus lives and works with them as well and they honor God through their lives and worship. I can only answer why I am glad to be a Lutheran Protestant, and why I am excited to remain in that camp. I pray for your own journey in faith. May God lead you to where God wants you to be.