THE LUTHERAN ALTERNATIVE

A Truly Biblical Theology

 

By Gary Ray Branscome

 

          In his book, “THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTS,” author, and former Campus Crusade for Christ missionary, Craig A. Parton, explains what he found lacking in the theology of American Evangelicalism, and how he came to embrace Lutheran Theology.

          In his forward to that book, Dr. John Warwick Montgomery writes, “Parton recognizes its [Evangelicalism’s] strength: an active, dynamic presentation of the “simple gospel” of salvation through Christ’s shed blood. That message saved the author—and, in remarkable parallel fashion, the writer of this forward.… But, like Parton, I was not too long in discovering the lack of depth in Evangelicalism. I, too, found my way to Lutheranism—by comparing the doctrinal positions of Lutheranism, Calvinism, Arminianism, and Roman Catholicism against the teachings of the Greek New Testament. Lutheranism came out ahead at every point.… Parton rightly shows the Evangelical the way to a Theology far more powerful than anything the television evangelists have ever offered. And he helps them to see that the theological options are not limited (as virtually all Evangelicals believe) to Calvinism. Arminian Methodism, and Dispensationalism.” (Pages 5 and 6).

          Concerning what he found lacking in Evangelicalism, the author [Craig A. Parton] says, "After many years as a zealous Evangelical and full-time missionary, I realized how little actual preaching of the pure Gospel I was engaging in and how little confidence I had in the power of God’s Word to crush human pride and to create saving faith… Not until I came to the Lutheran Reformation some 20 years later, did I understand that my Christian life had come to center around my life, my obedience, my yielding, my Bible verse memorization, my prayers, my zeal, my witnessing, and my sermon application… The “evangel” in Evangelicalism was missing. My Evangelical training had me on a treadmill of merit.” (Pages 9, 10 and 18). (“THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTS”, Published by Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO.)

 

What Sets Lutherans Apart?

 

          The papal bull of 1521 which excommunicated Luther from the official church applied the name “Lutheran” to Luther’s adherents to stigmatize them as heretics. Luther protested against the use of his name in that way, and during his lifetime (and for years afterwards) those who embraced the gospel which Luther championed were known as Evangelicals. It was not until after the end of the Thirty Years War (over a century later) that the name Lutheran was in general use. So what distinguishes Lutheran theology from other theologies that claim to be evangelical? I believe that the answer to that question lies in doctrine of the clarity of Scripture. In saying this I realize that those who hold to other theologies may claim to believe in the clarity of Scripture. However, in making that claim they do not mean the same thing.

          For example: Because Lutherans believe in the clarity of Scripture, when the Bible says that Christ, “is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Lutherans conclude that God wants us to believe and teach that Christ, “is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world,” (1John 2:2). In contrast, Calvinists who claim to believe in the clarity of Scripture, will, when explaining 1John 2:2, explain away the words, “the whole world”. They may come up with lengthy arguments to justify explaining those words away, but that only proves that they do not share the Lutheran understanding of the clarity of Scripture.

 

A Truly Biblical Theology

 

In 1536 Martin Luther prepared a statement of faith known today as the “Smalcald Articles”. In the first article of that statement we read:

 

The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, “was put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). He alone is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “God has laid upon him the iniquities of us all (Isa. 53:6). Moreover, “all have sinned,” and “they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, by his blood” (Rom. 3:23-25).

          Inasmuch as this must be believed and cannot be obtained or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that such faith alone justifies us, as St. Paul says in Romans 3, “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28), and again, “that he [God] himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).

          Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised, even if heaven and earth and things temporal should be destroyed. For as St. Peter says, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “And with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).

          On this article rests all that we teach and practice… The Mass in the papacy must be regarded as the greatest and most horrible abomination because it runs into direct and violent conflict with this fundamental article. (“The Book of Concord”, Tappert edition, pages 292- 293.)

 

          As you read the preceding paragraphs I hope you noticed the fact that each doctrinal truth set forth by Luther was quoted from Scripture. In Lutheran theology the doctrine to be taught is what the Bible says, not what theologians think. Or as John Theodore Mueller put it, “| The Christian Church accepts and believes only such doctrines as are unmistakably taught in Holy Scripture… The question is not: Is this or that doctrine clearly stated in the Confessions? But: Is this or that doctrine set forth in God’s Word? If it is set forth in Holy Writ, it is for this reason a church dogma, even though not a word is said about it in the Confessions of the church. The reason for this is not difficult to perceive. The Christian Church is not the lord of God’s doctrine, but only its servant. Its paramount purpose is not to create new doctrines but to preach the doctrines which its Lord has revealed… The dogmatician who draws his teachings from any other source than Holy Scriptures perpetrates an inexcusable fraud upon the Church and deserves excommunication from the Church as a false prophet, Rom. 16,17; 2 John 10, 11; 1 Tim. 4, 16. God’s earnest and persistent demand is: “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God,” 1 Pet. 4, 11. This applies to all ministers and teachers who have been called to instruct the Christian people in general. Christian ministers, teachers, and missionaries must proclaim to their hearers God’s Word, not their own, so that the whole Christian Church, in its schools and colleges, in its churches and homes, not one doctrine is taught that is not in agreement with Holy Scripture. |” (Christian Dogmatics, pages 59, 62 and 63.)

 

          The Lutheran emphasis on the clarity of Scripture also determines how they deal with those passages that some find difficult to reconcile. For example:

 

In Romans 8:38-39 we read, “I am convinced, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In contrast 1Corinthians 9:27 says, “I buffet my body, and bring it under my control: lest there be any way that I, after having preached to others, might be rejected.”

 

Read those two statements carefully, because on the surface they appear to contradict each other. Because of that seeming contradiction those who lack the Lutheran understanding of the clarity of Scripture will affirm one while explaining away the other.

Those who claim that once a person is saved he can live in sin and still be saved emphasize Romans 8:38-39, while explaining away 1Corinthians 9:27.

 Those who claim that once a person is saved he must keep himself saved by keeping the law emphasize 1Corinthians 9:27, while explaining away Romans 8:38-39. And, the controversy has gone on for centuries.

 

In contrast, Lutheran theology holds that since both statements are the Word of God both must be accepted as true. For that reason, instead of affirming one while explaining away the other, Lutherans realize that 1Corinthians 9:27 is Law, while Romans 8:38-39 is Gospel. That being understood, the words, “The law is not meant for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious,” tell us that the warning of 1Corinthians 9:27 is not meant for those who have a tender conscience before God, but for those who are toying with sin and hardening their heart (Hebrews 10:26). On the other hand, the words of Romans 8:38-39 are meant for those who are righteous through faith in Christ (Romans 10:4), those who want to do God’s will, but need to be assured that God will not allow them to lose their salvation (1Peter 1:5).


In Lutheran theology, baptism is God's promise of forgiveness to all who trust in Christ, and the Lord's Supper is Christ's promise of forgiveness to all who believe that His body was given for them on the cross, and that His blood was shed for them on the cross for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 22:19-20, Galatians 3:22).

 

Lutheran Worship

         

          Modern Evangelicals tend to regard the formal Lutheran worship service as a holdover from Roman Catholicism. What they fail to understand is that formal worship services go back to the early-church and beyond. The first Christians were Jews who accepted Christ as the messiah, the Jews who threw palms in His path on Palm Sunday, the Jews who were baptized by the thousands following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the Jews to whom the epistle of James was addressed, and many more (Acts 17:10-11). And, their worship services were formal and traditional, consisting of group prayers (some of which were sung or chanted) Bible readings, and the Jewish creed known as the Shema (the section of Scripture beginning with the words, “Hear O Israel” Deut. 6:4). That creed was replaced in Christian worship by the Apostles Creed, and little by little changes were made to the liturgy. Instead of rejecting that liturgy because of unscriptural changes made by the Church of Rome, Lutherans simply removed the unscriptural elements and continued in the tradition of the Apostles.

          Far from being an invention of the Catholic Church, the box (commonly called “the altar”) in the front of Lutheran churches was in the earliest Christian churches, and before that in the synagogues where it represented the Ark of the Covenant. Just as the Ten Commandments were kept in the original Ark of the Covenant, in Jewish worship that box held the scrolls.  

 

The Lutheran Hermeneutic

 

          The only meaning that Lutheran Theology allows to be placed on the words of Scripture, is the same meaning that you are placing on my words as you read this, the plain grammatical meaning of the words (2Corinthians 1:13). Lutheran Theology does not allow men to invent “hermeneutics” at will as a way of getting around what the Bible plainly says. Nor does it let them invent figures of speech that are not an established part of Greek or Hebrew grammar. “The interpretation of Scripture must be grammatical (no one has the right to twist its grammar in setting forth its meaning). (“Lutheran Cyclopedia”, Erwin L. Lueker editor, page 463.)

 

Conclusion

 

          As much as I love the Biblical Theology that I have just described, much of present day Lutheranism is in shambles, and in need of a major reformation.

Because the Bible is clear Lutherans are expected to learn what it says, “since it is their duty to supervise the ministry of their teachers (Col. 4:17), to avoid all false prophets (Rom. 16:17, Matt. 7:15), and to spread the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ by personal evangelism (Col. 3:16, 1Pet. 2:9). (Christian Dogmatics, by J. T. Mueller, page 125.) Nevertheless, many today rarely read their Bible outside of church, know little about what it says, and think of the Bible as a dark book that can only be understood by those who know Hebrew and Greek. Instead of searching the Scriptures like those at Berea, many take the lukewarm attitude of, “I just believe whatever my pastor says”. At the same time, many of these same people will argue and complain over indifferent matters, causing unnecessary controversy.

Because of worldly influence the anti-Christian secular culture is making deeper and deeper inroads into the church. As a result, many who call themselves Lutheran are Lutheran in name only, and many “Lutheran” seminaries allow professors to teach the atheist doctrines of human nature, the Bible’s origin, and the origin of the universe. To all such teachers, Jesus says. “O fools, and slow of heart to believe everything the prophets have said” (Luke 24:25). Return unto me, and I will return unto you, says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 3:7).



[Note: In quoting J. T. Mueller I used this punctuation “|   |” to set my quotation marks apart from his. This was done as a way to keep from changing his quotation marks to single quotes.]