How did Lutherans come to be called Lutherans?
Luther did not want to create his own church — and would be horrified that we are called “Lutherans” today — but rather wanted to reform the Church he loved, purge it of corruption, and focus it back on proclaiming God’s love and forgiveness. When Luther raised his concerns with the Church hierarchy he was largely rebuffed, and eventually excommunicated. But the God of love that people had discovered through his preaching and teaching could not be put back in the box, and the reform movement Luther began within the Roman Catholic Church became its own church body.
The grief of this 500-year-old wound in the unity of the Church is still felt today, and in the last century, great strides have been made in Lutheran-Catholic relations. In fact, if you visit our congregation, and you were raised Catholic, you will find the Mass to be very familiar — perhaps identical — to what you already know. Lutherans had no desire to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and have held on to beautiful traditions and rituals that come from the wisdom of our ancestors in faith. We share the liturgy, sacraments, and heritage of the Western catholic tradition.
The differences today are more in emphasis and practice. Lutherans have a distinct emphasis on God’s free gift of grace. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love, or a place in the Christian community. God has already accepted us just as we are. We believe that God’s gift of grace is received by faith. That doesn’t mean we don’t believe in the importance of doing good in the world! It simply means that good works are the fruit of faith, not a kind of barter system for heavenly favors. And while we celebrate the great traditions of the Church, our ultimate authority is scripture, interpreted in the context of the community. There is no tradition so sacred that it cannot be changed for the sake of the gospel. And sometimes change is necessary for God’s love to be known in a changing world.