Mark Menacher, PhD
What is "Genuinely Lutheran"?
The term "Lutheran" sparks many and various associations. Being Lutheran generally refers to membership in a Lutheran church. For some, being Lutheran also implies being of German or Scandinavian extraction. For others, being Lutheran means having liturgical worship, like the Roman Catholics or Anglican or Orthodox churches. Theologically, being Lutheran is often synonymous with the Reformation of the church through the Doctrine of Justification by Faith. In relation to other churches, being Lutheran denotes adhering to written statements of faith (confessions) which serve as accurate expositions of Scripture.
Martin Luder (original spelling) was an Augustinian friar and professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. He sought to live a holy life and thereby to make himself right before God. All his efforts to this end failed. No matter how hard he tried to follow the laws of the church, he could not rid himself of his sinfulness and guilt.
Then, through his study of the Bible, Luther discovered that God made sinners right (justification) by faith alone in Jesus Christ and not by works prescribed by the church. God's righteousness is a promise freely given to sinners alone through faith. This insight gave Luther the certainty of forgiveness of sins. This certainty not only freed Luther from his guilt, but it also freed him from the church's legalistic system of penance.
To reflect his newly found freedom, the young monk Martin changed the spelling of his surname from Luder to Luther to reflect the Latin name Eleutherius. Eleutherius is a cognate of the Greek word eleutheros (ελευθερος) which means "free." Thus, being Lutheran means being set free from the power of sin, death, and the devil. This freedom is given by God's grace alone which comes through God's word alone which evokes faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
In his Gospel, John reminds us that if we remain in Jesus' word we will know the truth, and the truth will make us free (eleutheros - Jn. 8: 31-32). Jesus' word (his gospel) makes us truly free because Jesus is the way and the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6). Luther could not stress this enough. In fact, Luther staked his life on the truth of the gospel Jesus Christ and on those truths congruent with his gospel. In so doing, Luther with this truth changed the world.
Luther's name change reminds us very simply of the essence of being Lutheran. Lutherans are those who belong to a Lutheran church and who live by the truth which comes alone in Jesus Christ. Equally, those who do not live by the truth, even if they belong to a Lutheran church, are not Lutheran.
In this vein, St. Luke's Lutheran Church has embarked on a programme of becoming "genuinely Lutheran." If the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ holds primary importance in your life, or if you would like that to be the case, then perhaps you should consider serving the gospel of Jesus Christ through the ministries at St. Luke's.
Be free to follow the way and the truth and the life - Jesus Christ!