I’m currently leading a (very) small group of adults at my church called “Living Lutheran”. The purpose of the group is to talk about what it means to be Lutheran and how our Lutheran heritage impacts our daily experiences. We started last week by trying to come up with a definition of “Lutheran”. What we ended up with was a list of descriptors, but not a definition. Some of the things we came up with included:
- Believe in Martin Luther’s theology
- Good musicians
- Express their faith privately
- Liturgy is important
- Saved by grace
As we worked on our definition of what it means to be Lutheran, we were confronted with many examples that did not fit into our narrow view; thus making it nearly impossible to cast a wide enough net to include exceptions to the rule. A few hurdles that came our way:
- Luther didn’t want the “new” church to be named after him…so why did we keep the title?
- There are over 30 different Lutheran denominations; many of which our group didn’t consider to be our kind of “Lutheran”…so do you include or exclude “those Lutherans” in our definition?
- If a Lutheran is someone who follows the teachings of Martin Luther, what about some of his rather unpleasant views (on Jews, for example) that the church has since apologized for?
- Even within our own denominational brand (ELCA), there are lots of different expressions carried out in local congregations. If there’s no uniformity of practice, theology, etc. how can we come up with a definition?
We left the discussion where most Lutherans spend their time – living in the tension of the unknown. Most of the group left frustrated (though I quite enjoyed the theological exercise). It also prompted me to look on-line to see what other people had to say about Lutherans.
The best thing I found was written by Dr. Kit Kleinhans, one of my professors at Wartburg College. She wrote an excellent feature article for The Lutheran magazine in June 2006 called “Lutheranism 101“. It’s definitely worth a read (free registration required). Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.