30 May 2012

When Did You Realize You Were Lutheran?

I enrolled at Luther Seminary in August 1999.  I'd love to say that, upon discerning my call to ministry, I was a Lutheran through and through.  I certainly thought of myself as Lutheran.  I was born and raised in this tradition.  My ancestors come from Sweden and Germany, staunch Lutherans all (even if my parents' marriage was "mixed" between Augustana and Missouri Synod families).  I planned to follow my vocational calling in the ELCA, and aside from briefly investigating the groups breaking out after the passage of Called to Common Mission, I've never wavered from that plan.  But these things meant I was a person of faith by circumstance, not conviction.  That came later.

In my classes with Jim Nestingen and Gerhard Forde, I began to understand what it meant to be Lutheran by conviction.  Upon reading Forde's article "Caught in the Act," and then his book On Being a Theologian of the Cross, a whole new theological world was opened to me.  It was in those months of study in spring 2000 that I became Lutheran by conviction.  I realized that not only was I Lutheran because my parents had raised me that way, but the teachings of our church and the theological viewpoints of Luther, Melanchthon and other reformers made sense to me.  When I really started to dig into Lutheran theology, I discovered an interpretation of God's creation and our place in it that seemed to fit what I saw all around me.  This is how and when I realized I had been fortunate enough to be raised in the faith tradition that closely reflected the way the Spirit was showing me the world as it was.  I felt swept up into an understanding of faith and life that included
  • Our utter dependence on God for life and faith.  
  • A fresh understanding of "I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me with the gospel, enlightened me with its gifts, sanctifies and keeps me in the Christian faith..."  
  • When God says "You shall have no other gods before me," it's as much a promise and statement of fact as it is a demand (possibly more promise than demand).
  • We live in dialectical tension all of our lives:
    • simultaneously sinners and saints
    • God's kingdom already/not yet here
    • Christian freedom, in which we are perfectly free lords of all, subject to none/perfectly dutiful slaves of all, subject to all
    • being saved by grace by faith, apart from works of the law / faith without works not being true faith
  • Baptism drowning the old sinner in us, putting us to death in our sins, that God might raise a new saint to live and serve daily in Christ's name
This is the Lutheranism with which I fell in love in those heady years.  It is the way I continue to interpret the world God has created, the lens through which I see my life and the lives of the people I serve as pastor. It is more than a label, more than a construct or group.  It is, at its core, who I am.

This is not to say that everything fell into place in those times.  I still struggle with what this all means.  And there are a plethora of Lutheran lenses through which we can look at the world - within our own ELCA, we have some serious disagreements on a host of issues, to say nothing of the breaches between this branch of the Lutheran tree and other branches like the LCMS, WELS, LCMC, NALC and all the other bodies out there.

So I'll ask the same question of you:  when did you realize that "Lutheran" was more than the name on the sign outside your church building?  Who or what helped you realize that "Lutheran" made more sense than any other faith?  Or, are you still figuring out that part of your faith?  (Note:  this does not mean you're not welcome at any Lutheran church, particularly the one I happen to serve.  By all means, come with questions.  If you're not asking questions, you're not growing in your faith, either!)  If you're reading this from another faith perspective, when did that one start to make sense to you? 

We are all called to be proclaimers of the good news, by whatever means we have at our disposal.  But this means we're called to understand at least a little bit about what that good news is for us, where we are, in our own lives.  Take a moment and think about what it is that has made you the person of faith that you are - and share a bit about it if you will.  The better we are at telling our own stories, the better we will be able to see where God has been weaving us into the Story that is creation itself.

Blessings to you all,
Pastor Scott


  1. Well, I'm not Lutheran but United Methodist, but this post was uplifting for me. It's good to hear someone who is settled and confident in his denomination.

  2. Pastor Scott,
    Raised RC, walked away from "church" altogether for ~10 years, returned to the Lutheran church, initially because they had the latest worship times on Sunday mornings (meant I didn't have to get up early). I recall very clearly a woman from the Lutheran congregation we joined asking why we chose to come there. At that point, your observation that "its what makes the most sense to me" is the identical response I had. The congregation had a pastor unlike any clergy person I had ever encountered, who was a wonderful role model of lived faith for me, and who opened up a number of perspectives and opportunities for me.
    Now, on the backside of a seminary education, I am confidently Lutheran, but a different Lutheran than when I was first asked the question. I am grateful for our Lutheran history, even if it does seem we chase our tails in circles in fashions similar to those of our predecessors. I am also grateful for a God who makes me feel like I am useful in service to the gospel.

  3. I was a church musician from a varied denominational background---most recent at that time, an Anabaptist. Being church organist and choir director at this Lutheran congregation was my job after worshiping at my own church with my family. Then, after a year or two of listening and watching, after beginning seminary in Gettysburg in their church music program, one Sunday I got it! The pastor put the bread in my hands, like he had many times before, and said "The body of Christ, given for you." And suddenly I knew, really knew that Christ by grace was really present in my hands, in and through me. The rest is history. O magnum mysterium. Now I am a Lutheran pastor.

  4. I was raised LCMS. I moved to New York and next door to an ELCA church, but couldn't pass by one Lutheran church door to go to another (LCMS) Lutheran church.

    However the moment I realized I was truly a Lutheran is the moment I stopped worshiping in any Lutheran Church; when I realized that the Evangelical Catholic Church which I knew and loved was on more; when catholic tradition was abandoned for a cranberry book; when the ELCA became Non-Denominational, and LCMS became Baptist.

    I'm currently a Lutheran worshiping in an Anglo Catholic congregation where I hear more "lutheran music" and Lutheran doctorine preached than I did in my last ten years of worshiping at a Lutheran church.