We Are Lutherans. What Does This Mean?  

by Jordan McKinley

On Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. This is a significant day in Church history, which we often think of as the beginning of the Reformation. Those bearing the name Lutheran and some Protestant congregations commemorated this day at the end of October. So, what was the Reformation, and why is it so significant?

Ultimately, the Reformation came down to a single issue: how sinners were to be forgiven and obtain eternal life. On the one hand,  Rome claimed that sinners needed to earn forgiveness of sins by their doing: praying certain prayers, paying for church services, buying indulgences, making pilgrimages and more. .

The Reformation wasn’t about making a new church. It wasn’t about how statues, crucifixes, liturgy, vestments and sacraments were “too Catholic.” It wasn’t about personal preferences. The Reformation was about how God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the flesh in order to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world in order to bring us eternal life. That’s what the Reformation really is about. That’s what being Lutheran is really all about.

And that’s why Lutherans do what we do. We baptize babies because they need the work of Jesus that gives them the forgiveness of sins. We confess our sins at the beginning of the Divine Service because we need the forgiveness given in the absolution. We cry out to God for mercy, because we know that we deserve to be punished instead. We hear the Law condemn us, because our flesh needs to be put to death. We hear the Gospel, because we need the comfort and forgiveness it brings us. We receive Christ’s body and blood, because apart from Christ, we have no life in our flesh.  But don’t be fooled: These things are not about what we are doing; they are about God doing something for you, namely bringing you the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation.

We’re not disgruntled, but we are sinners who need the forgiveness Christ brings. We are Lutherans.

The Rev. Jordan McKinley is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Bennett, Iowa, and St. Paul Lutheran Church, Stanwood, Iowa.

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