What was the Lutheran Reformation all about? Was it merely that we Lutherans don’t pray to Mary and our clergy can get married? What does it mean to be truly Lutheran? Is it all about having a German or Scandinavian background and enjoying potlucks?
While the Reformation changed the way most people view the church, Luther was not interested in starting something new. He only wanted to bring the church back to its origins. Yes, we certainly may enjoy our potluck suppers, but that’s not what it means to be truly Lutheran. What made the Lutheran Reformation different from many other efforts to reform the church and what distinguishes true Lutherans today is doctrine—what we believe, teach, and confess.
It starts with the source of what we believe, teach, and confess. Unlike Roman Catholicism and other churches which rely on the Bible and tradition, other writings, or the decisions of church leaders, true Lutherans look to Scripture alone where God reveals what we are to know, believe, and do.
The introduction to the Formula of Concord, one of the Lutheran Confessions, states:
We believe, teach, and confess that the only rule and guiding principle according to which all teachings and teachers are to be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments alone, as it is written, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Ps. 119[:105]), and Saint Paul: ‘If . . . an angel from heaven should proclaim to you something contrary, . . . let that one be accursed!’ (Gal. 1[:8]).
Unlike many churches that try to adjust the Bible to human thinking, true Lutherans accept what God reveals in his Word, even if it doesn’t make logical or reasonable sense. The Formula of Concord also states: “Although these answers are contrary to reason and philosophy in all their arrogance, nonetheless, we know that ‘the wisdom of this ‘perverted’ world is only foolishness in God’s sight’ [cf. 1 Cor. 3:19] and that only on the basis of God’s Word can judgments on articles of faith be made” (Article II:8).
This is comforting for us. In Scripture alone God himself reveals to us what he wants us to believe and proclaim. We are not at the whim of changing interpretations or newly discovered traditions. The Word of God endures forever (Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:25). It is the truth (John 17:17). God does not, cannot, and would not lie to us (Numbers 23:19). Therefore, we subject our faulty human reason to the Word of God (2 Corinthians 10:5; Colossians 2:2-8). And we confidently trust that what we believe, teach and confess is divine and powerful truth (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2 Timothy 3:15,16).
This is the first article in a 14-part series on key doctrinal emphases that Luther brought back to light through his Reformation.
Author: Joel Otto
Volume 103, Number 10
Issue: October 2016