Why do I continue to be a Lutheran in a place where most are Baptists or hold to some other flavor of Reformed or Arminian theology and at a time when so many who use the name Lutheran have departed entirely or, at least in part, from the Lutheran Faith?
The historic Lutheran Faith is Biblical. It teaches the truth about my sinfulness and God’s judgment upon sin and it teaches the truth about God’s eternal plan of salvation (John 3:14-18; Gal. 4:4-5; Eph. 1:3-14; etc.) — His love for us lost sinners and His desire to save us from the condemnation of His holy law which we justly deserve; His sending His only-begotten Son to redeem us by becoming true man, fulfilling the righteous demands of the law for us and then bearing on the cross the full punishment for the sins of the entire world. It teaches the truth about God’s working to save us — sending men to preach the Law, which points out our sinfulness, and His Gospel, which reveals to us how to receive mercy and forgiveness and be counted righteous and holy in God’s eyes through faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice on the cross. And it teaches the truth about the working of God’s Holy Spirit through His Word (and His Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) to create and preserve in us saving faith in Christ Jesus (cf. Eph. 2:1-10).
Yes, I’ve studied and compared, at great length. I’ve listened to the arguments of Calvinists, Arminians, and just about every Christian denomination and non-denomination out there. Sad to say, in the end, the teaching of these other churches just does not agree fully with the Bible, leaving me no choice but to regard such teachings as “good words and fair speeches” which “deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:17-18).
And, I have to say that other faiths and churches do not meet my needs. How is that so? Well, as the Bible teaches (Eccl. 7:20; Ezek. 18:20; Matt. 5:20, 48; Rom. 3:23; 6:23; Gal. 3:10), I am a sinner and cannot measure up to God’s holy commandments, and the just punishment for sinners is death — temporal and eternal. To go to a church which only urges me to try harder and be more committed to Jesus and tells me how to live my life as a Christian, or worse yet, tells me that Christ only died for the elect and that I may or may not be among the elect, leaves me in despair over my sins and failures to live up to what God expects and requires of me.
In a truly Lutheran church (and there aren’t many of them left because Satan fights hard against them), the first thing I do in the church service is to confess my sins and sinfulness and look to God for mercy for the sake of the perfect righteousness and innocent sufferings and death of His Son, Jesus Christ. I’m like the tax collector in Luke 18:9ff. who would not even lift up his eyes toward heaven but beat upon his breast and said, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” And then the minister of God assures me, in the name of Christ, that my sins are forgiven because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world (cf. John 20:21-23; Matt. 16:19; 18:18; Luke 24:46-47).
It is then that we come before the holy God as His forgiven people with our prayers and praises. God ministers to us and teaches us through the reading of the Holy Scriptures and through the exposition and application of those Scriptures by His called minister of the Gospel. We hear and learn the truth of our lost and sinful condition, but we are comforted in hearing that Christ died for all our sins and rose again on the third day that we might have God’s pardon and forgiveness and everlasting life — all through faith alone in Christ Jesus.
We offer up to God our gifts of thanksgiving and bring our prayers before Him. And then, before we go, God serves us yet again in the Lord’s Supper, the Sacrament of the Altar, by giving us to partake of the sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ. As the children of Israel partook of the Passover lamb, whose blood had been shed and was smeared on the doorposts and lintels of their homes in Egypt that the angel of judgment who struck down the firstborn among the Egyptians might pass over their homes (Exodus 12), so we are given to partake of Christ’s very body and blood which were given and shed for us on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins that God’s judgment upon this sinful world might pass over us and that we might be assured of eternal life through faith in our Savior who died for us and rose again (Matt. 26:26-28; 1 Cor. 11:23-29).
And while I neglected to mention it earlier, it is in the Lutheran Church where Baptism is administered in accord with the teaching of God’s Word. As St. Paul teaches in Romans 6, in Baptism we are joined to Christ in His death and in His resurrection and are brought under God’s new covenant which was established by the shedding of Christ’s blood for the sins of the world (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8-10). All our sins are laid upon Jesus, the Lamb of God who atoned for the sins of all; and, as Jesus was raised up again on the third day, we are raised up to new life in Christ Jesus as a new creation of God. Our sins are washed away and forgiven in Jesus’ shed blood, and we are children of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Acts. 22:16; Gal. 3:26ff.).
Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples for Him by going out into world, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and by teaching them to observe all that He taught and commanded (Matt. 28:18-20; cf. Mark 16:15-16). Since baptism is done in the name of the Triune God, it is God’s work and not ours. He works through Baptism to wash away our sins and to make us His redeemed children (Eph. 5:25-27; Tit. 3:4-7).
And, since little children are certainly included in the words “all nations,” “every one of you,” and “unto you, and to your children” (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38-39), as well as in the whole households which were baptized, and since Baptism is called “the circumcision made without hands” (Col. 2:11-15), the Lutheran Church does not exclude little children from Baptism and the covenant blessings of forgiveness of sins and eternal life won for them by Christ Jesus but welcomes them as did Jesus, who even spoke of infants with the words, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16; cf. v. 15-17).
But, getting back to the Lutheran Church service, it concludes with the blessing God commanded Moses to speak over His people, recorded in Numbers 6:24-26 : “The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: the LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” And the blessing includes the promise: “And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them” (v. 27).
We leave the service with God’s blessing upon us. And, indeed, we are blessed, for we have forgiveness for all our sins in Christ Jesus and we have the certainty of eternal life for Jesus’ sake! God’s face shines upon us in grace and mercy. He looks upon us in favor as His redeemed children and sends us forth in the peace of sins forgiven! We are sent out into the world — to our jobs, our schools, our stations in life — with God’s blessings and we cannot help but show forth the praises of Him who has called us out of the darkness of our sin and into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9)!
[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]