Faith musings in an exciting world

I'm a Lutheran. You're a what now?!

08/01/2014 13:14

That would be a likely response in Flanders, even when denoting myself more generally as 'Protestant'.

Protestantism to most, though admittedly a dwindling majority, is a 'foreign' religion, often German, mostly Dutch, or sometimes even those crazy people in America who talk funny about sex and guns. A home-grown Flemish Protestant is a rare thing indeed.
Never mind that during the Reformation era, most of Flanders was in fact Protestant; was, the Spanish Habsburgs saw to that rather quickly and viciously (Duke of Alva).
Most Protestants, 1 à 1,5 % of the Belgian population, are of Calvinist or Evangelical stock. There are only a handful Anglicans and Lutherans around. Apart from the expat Scandinavian Seamen's Churches, Flanders only has one -1!- 'native' Flemish-speaking Lutheran congregation, in Antwerp. I reside in Ghent, so that's why the Anglicans in that city get my custom, among other reasons, but I digress.

So why Lutheran? Because as a Lutheran I belong to that great human family and faith called Christianity, albeit in a specific and organised way.
No, the Lutheran Church was not founded by Luther in the 16th century, neither were the RCC and Orthodox founded by Christ Himself! In fact, Luther discouraged the use of the name 'Luther(i)an', given by his opponents, instead he preferred 'Christian' or in German 'evangelisch' (which translates in English as 'evangelical', which I realise just confuses people). If Christians of a certain -let's say- 'style' call themselves Lutheran it is in fact because they are wearing a swear-word as a badge of honour.
But because people like labels, and because of practical theological reasons, I shall stick to the denominational classification.

Lutheranism has always declared itself an heir of the Early Church, hence the Ecumenical Creeds; it's connected to millennia of Christian witness. It is not something new, it is something renewed. True, there are the Lutheran Confessions that specifically lay out the interpretation of Scripture and Faith as seen through Lutheran eyes, but even they build on earlier writings and traditions.

I love Christianity and the way of expressing that love and belonging according to the Lutheran 'style' comes most natural to me. The RCC and the Orthodox have too much bagage for my taste and although I feel very much at home in Anglicanism, Lutheranism is my home.
Just to clarify, I belong to a majority branch of the Lutheran 'tradition', a LWF-Lutheranism if you will. It is a very down-to-earth, Continental European 'brand' of Lutheranism with for example female ordination and a few of the other 'hot taboos' (but I'll keep those for possible future blogs).

It is the deep reverence and love for Scripture that draws me to Lutheranism; the study, the exegesis, the exciting adventure that is the Bible. The Bible as our guide, the Bible as... God's prayer to His world.

It is also an attitude towards faith, religion and by extension the world we live in, that I find fascinating, logical and applicable and to which I feel most akin; every single day we get the reaffirmed truth of God's love and grace for His creation, and every single day we as Christians look at how we experience and express this. We cannot take it for granted, we cannot take anything for granted! To me it is a 'type' of Christianity engaged in a constant return into the past, a constant affirmation of trust for the present, and constant renewal towards the future. Ecclesia semper reformanda.

This is most visible in the variety of Lutheran expressions; after all, in many ways Lutherans don't believe what they pray, but pray what they believe. Any half-decent Lutheran liturgy book should -ideally!- at the very least include the Small Catechism, the basics of Lutheranism 1-0-1, if you will, even if that same liturgy book contains half a dozen different settings for the same religious service. As such we might call Holy Communion 'eucharist' or 'mass' or just plain 'communion', fact is all Lutherans believe -at least in theory- in the Real Presence of our Lord in the Elements, i.e. that Baby Jesus is really in the bread and wine. That's of course just one example of many.
This makes for a colourful array of being Church, while standing and building on the shared faith and heritage the 16th century Reformers traced back even further to the Patristics and Apostles.

Whether you're the official State Religion or just a minority within a minority, that international and historical connection, through that shared faith and doctrine, that mutual recognition of theological jargon, the shared hymns, that insider debate on the Confessions and ministry, the differences in hierarchy with or without bishops/superintendents, the Bible studies, all based on the same solas, that makes me -and proudly so- a Lutheran!

ps: The Ecumenical Creeds are the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed; The Lutheran Confessions are collected in the Book of Concord (1580); Ecclesia semper reformanda: "the Church need constant renewal/ the Church needs to be reformed constantly"; The Small Catechism was written by Luther and published in 1529; 'Eucharist' comes from the Greek 'eucharisto', 'to give thanks'; 'Mass' comes from the final blessing in the Latin service "ite, missa est", "go, it has been completed"; The 3 basic solas are: sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide (by Scripture, grace and faith alone).