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Lutheran or Christian: Is There a Difference?

John 8:31

Pastor James F. Wright

Reformation Sunday
St John Lutheran Church  
Champaign, IL

Sun, Oct 29, 2000 

In the name of Jesus,

Here it is the Sunday of the Reformation and the people of God have gathered as Christ's disciples to hear his voice and receive his testament. The fact that Christians still come together in this way after two thousand years testifies to the power of God's truth. Every human group changes over time. Organizations come and go. The church of Jesus Christ shall remain forever. That is because Jesus Christ is actively calling people to be his disciples in every age and generation. The Church remains because it holds to Christ's teaching above all other things.

Reformation is not a time for boasting about ourselves. It is not about how Lutherans got it right and everyone else got it wrong. Reformation is a time to look back and ask ourselves, how did we get here, and how are we going to remain here? Sometimes we hear people say, "I'm a Christian first and a Lutheran second." Perhaps what they mean is that they follow Christ above all other things. But be careful. Is there a difference between being a Christian and being a Lutheran? Let us examine this for a moment.

You know what makes a person a Christian. A Christian is someone God has led to believe that sin separates them from their creator, and that the Son of God has brought salvation to the world through the sacrifice of his own body for the sins of the world. This faith is what makes someone a Christian. God plants this faith in his people wherever and whenever he wishes through the message of the scriptures. Their sins are forgiven and they are united with God. Jesus expects his people to remain in this teaching.

You also know enough about church history to be aware that Christians have often compromised the teaching of Jesus. They have not always remained in the Lord's teaching as they should. Today there are Christians who repent of their sin and receive God's forgiveness, but at the same time do not accept all of the Lord's teaching. For instance, some Christians are unwilling to remain in Christ's teaching in how they live their lives. Their relationships are immoral, and they refuse to be guided by God's word. I am speaking about the sexually immoral, those who run after sex without the blessing of marriage, those who teach that homosexuality is an option for disciples of Christ.

There are Christians who believe that killing human beings because they are unwanted or unproductive, even taking one's own life, is an acceptable option before God. These people know the commandments which say Thou shalt not commit adultery and Thou shalt not kill, but they say these are outdated and must be understood by the times in which God gave them. These people call themselves Christians, but they have not remained in the teaching of Jesus Christ. The Lutheran role is to call for reform. We promote a call back to the clear understanding of God's word with no compromises.

Even more tragically, there are Christians who do not believe the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was totally sufficient to forgive the sins of the world. For them Christ on the cross is not enough. They teach that we must complete the sacrifice by adding to it our obedience to God and whatever else we can offer. They know that the last words of Jesus were before he died, It is finished, but they continue to teach a salvation which comes not only by faith in the work of Jesus, but that we must obey God in order be saved.

At times we ourselves may confess this false hope. For instance, if we are asked why we believe God will accept us into heaven on our last day, we may have answered saying something like, "I'm a good person, I go to church, I read the Bible," or claiming for ourselves some other good deed. Even Lutherans need reforming from time to time.

Perhaps an illustration would clarify the seriousness of this situation. If you won a sweepstakes which gave you a bran new home, you would certainly be elated. But if after you moved in you got a bill in the mail saying the home was yours, but the ground had to be rented for $1,000 a month, you would quickly perceive that the house you were given was not really free. You had been lied to.

Everyone who is sorry for their sins and calls out to Jesus, "Lord, have mercy on me," is a Christian and will be saved if they continue in that confession. But because there are Christians who have not remained in the teaching of Jesus and teach false things as these, who have compromised the Christian faith in order to keep peace with the world, there are Lutherans who are call for reform. As Lutherans we recognize that works will never save us. It is by God's grace we are saved, not by works. We call for all Christians to continue in the teaching God gave to us in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, and in the words of Jesus himself recorded for us in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Lutherans confess that we can know the will of God not by putting our heads together, by traditions that imply that God would never let us make a mistake, or by our inner feelings as if we had a compass inside us that always points to the truth. If that were the case, we would have no need for a Bible. Lutherans point to Scripture alone as the judge of what God's will is for us. Lutherans know that faith in the mercy of God given in Jesus Christ is the answer for all that ails us. Grace alone, faith alone, as revealed in scripture alone. Lutherans have been saying this for 500 years.

Lutherans have never said that only they enjoy the favor of God. But Lutherans have always pointed out to the world what the clear teaching of Jesus is, and expected all Christians to receive it openly. If they have other teachings which conflict with God's word, those teachings must be removed, for it is revealed to be false teaching. There is to be no false teaching in the Church of Jesus Christ.

What is at stake here is not who's right and who's wrong. It is about the little ones. Jesus said, It

Lutherans not only reform the church around them, but they must always reform themselves. We must daily examine our lives in light of Christ's teachings. Where we sin against God and his word we must repent. That means to stop doing wrong and seek God's forgiveness. And what work there is to do here! O that the Lord would send his Spirit to us to reform our lives!

It is such a blessing to know that we can be forgiven. For without forgiveness heaven would be an empty place. But forgiveness should never be an excuse to compromise the faith delivered to us by Jesus Christ. God keep us from doing this!

God calls us to be different. Just as the salmon swims upstream in the lakes and the rivers to return to the brook where it first spawned, Jesus calls every one of his disciples to walk against the flow of worldly traffic, allowing no compromise in his teaching. There are many perils and dangers along the way, but the promise of Jesus is that he will be with us always, even to the end of the age. God's truth makes true disciples. And the truth will set us free.

People of God, we are so accustomed to making compromises in everyday life. A husband and wife have to compromise their personal plans in order to build a life together. An employee must compromise his freedom and submit to his employer in order to hold a job. These are fair and right. But with God's word there is to be no compromise whatsoever. Jesus said, "The heavens and the earth will pass away, but the word of God will never pass away." Only as we remain in Christ's teachings, we will remain his true disciples, and we will endure when all things fail.

It is true that all who call on the name of Jesus will be saved. That is precisely what we must uphold. This is how gracious God is. but at the same time, the believer in Jesus will honor his words, "If you remain in my teaching, you will be my true disciples." The Christian is to remain in the teaching of Jesus above all things.

Are you a Lutheran or a Christian? This is the wrong question. It is better to say, "I am a Christian, but because Christians have not always remained in the teaching of Christ, I am a Lutheran." This is the role of being a Lutheran in the world today.

Copyright 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.

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