A Freudian psychologist is one who adheres to the teachings of Sigmund Freud, the most famous of all psychologists. Some might define Lutheran in a similar way: someone who follows the teachings of Martin Luther. Yes, but there are two things wrong with that definition. First, some who claim to be Lutheran follow teachings inconsistent with those of Martin Luther. Second, and more important, Martin Luther would never have wanted people to blindly follow his teachings.
Luther lived at a time when the gospel was all but lost. The church of his day taught that sins were paid for by doing penance, that is, good works that supposedly erased bad deeds. If you couldn’t do enough good works to pay for all your sins, you could buy the good works of others. This purchase was known as an indulgence. Jesus was never portrayed as the Savior, only as a merciless judge.
Many people accepted these false teachings without question, because they had no way to hear the truths of God’s Word. The few Bibles that existed were locked up in the monasteries and churches. And those Bibles were generally Latin translations, a language few understood.
When Martin Luther heard these teachings, he feared he would never be able to do enough good to win God’s favor. He dreaded that he had no chance of going to heaven. He became a monk to earn God’s love. But when Luther became a monk, he gained access to the Bible. As he read and studied the Bible, he learned that humans of all time have been granted forgiveness of sins, full and free, because of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.
From that point on, Luther realized how dangerous it is to blindly follow the religious teachings of others. He understood that only God’s Word can unlock the mystery of salvation. So Luther translated the entire Bible into German so that people could read it for themselves.
What is a Lutheran? A Lutheran is not someone who blindly follows the teachings of Martin Luther. How Luther would have hated that! Luther once wrote, “Nothing better could be wished than that all books would be put aside and nothing else stay in all the world, especially among Christians, but simply the pure Scripture or Bible” (What Luther Says, p. 112).
A Lutheran is someone who, like Luther, understands that only God’s Word can dictate our conscience. A Lutheran is someone who, like Luther, understands how important God’s Word is to our salvation. Simply put, being Lutheran means being like Luther when it comes to God’s Word. We love it more than anything. We study it all we can. We defend it courageously. We proclaim it boldly. Just like Martin Luther.
For more on what we believe as Lutherans visit the Belief & Practice page of our national church body the LCMS.