Our son was Baptized when he was three weeks old. My Southern Baptist relatives were shocked. But only one of them had any real response. One of my sisters asked me, “You are having your baby Baptized? Into *what* religion?” My reply was, “Christianity, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod”. Not long after that I began adult Catechism and I was confirmed the next year.
If you’ve spent any amount of time visiting with an Evangelical Protestant you will know what I am talking about. I was raised Southern Baptist so when I became Lutheran I surprised my parents and my sisters. They thought I was straying from what they believed to be the one true faith. They thought I was nearly Roman Catholic! I think some of them may still be somewhat horrified.
This attitude is not uncommon among Evangelical Protestants. It can be attributed to their unfamiliarity with and misunderstanding of the Lutheran theology as a whole. I speak from the perspective of a former Southern Baptist. To Evangelical Protestants, there is no difference between the Lutheran Church and Roman Catholicism. And I was no different. Not understanding the difference, I felt uneasy about the Liturgical Worship of the Lutheran Church. It seemed too Roman Catholic. And I was further horrified as I read the last paragraph of the Athanasian Creed: “This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved”. I thought the word “catholic” meant Roman Catholic. But in truth, it refers to the Universal Church, the Body of True Believers. This seems to be a common misconception widely shared by non-Lutherans. It makes me wonder if anyone really knows and understands the difference between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, except themselves.
A lot of the misunderstanding of Lutheranism can largely be contributed to how we appear: our clerical vestments, Liturgical worship, holding to and administration of the Sacraments, and other things that might be adiaphoric in nature like Crucifixes, processionals, chanting, incense, placement of the Baptismal font, choir and organ. It makes sense that any unknowing observer would think us to be the same as Roman Catholic. But the difference is theological and goes much deeper than that.
Martin Luther never wanted people to call themselves “Lutherans”. Initially, we did not choose to be called Lutherans, but that’s the name we were given and over the centuries, we have become distinguished so for our beliefs. But why do some Anabaptists insist on being called Baptists? It’s ironic. Especially so because by withholding Baptism from those who need it, particularly infants, they are in contempt of Baptism. They despise Baptism by denying God’s work in it and by re-baptizing those who have already been Baptized. This in no way, nullifies God’s work in Baptism because we know that God continues to work salvation in Baptism even if it is administered by the Anabaptist, as long as it is done in the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost.
It is interesting that although most Evangelical Protestants believe the Lutheran faith to be synonymous with Roman Catholicism, it is indeed the other way around. Evangelical Protestantism is very nearly equal to Roman Catholicism in its core theological beliefs. For both practice a works-equals-righteousness-equals-salvation-equals-heaven theology. And neither believes they wear the Robe of Christ’s righteousness without some doing of their own. We Lutherans wear the Robe of Christ’s righteousness without doing anything in return. It is a gift of God free and clear. Any good works that are a product thereof, are the works of God, not ourselves, because we are not capable of doing an good works. There is nothing we can do to be righteous before God. Isaiah 64:6 says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (ESV) Any righteousness we have is not our own, but it is from God. In Philippians 3:9 Paul writes, “… not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith -…”. (ESV)
Lutheran theology can be a hard concept to grasp because everywhere we go in this world and everything we do, we are required to do something in exchange for something else. We may even find ourselves hesitating to received good things from other people for fear that we will “owe” them something in return. Likewise, people want to feel like they have a responsibility in God’s plan of salvation for mankind. This is where Lutherans differ from all other Christians. Lutherans DO absolutely nothing to receive God’s salvation. We don’t have to make a “choice”, we don’t pray the “sinner’s prayer”, we don’t do penance, we don’t have to speak in tongues, we don’t have to fear purgatory or work to pray those we love out of purgatory. We don’t have to do anything in exchange for God’s gift of salvation. It is ours free and clear. We know how to receive. We receive in Baptism, we receive in Communion, we receive in Worship. And, we don’t do any of these things for God. But God does everything for us. He gives us His Holy Spirit, He gives us faith, He gives us forgiveness and we do not have to DO anything in order to receive it. Some may argue that Lutheran Baptism is a work toward righteousness. It is not. It is the pure and simple act of receiving alone. Likewise, Communion is purely and simply receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord for forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith alone.
Being Lutheran means living under Christ Alone, Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone.