How to Be Lutheran Without Worshiping A Tradition

So, I'm a life-long multigenerational Lutheran. What that means is I can trace my North Carolina Lutheran ancestry in Caldwell and Catawba County back six generations to the time when white settlers arrived on the occupied lands of the Cherokee and Catawba.  Knowing that my ancestors were a part of the movement of Europeans into Western Carolina that displaced native people is not something I'm particularly proud of, but knowing that I stand in the line of over two hundred years of Lutheran presence in North Carolina gives me great joy. For ours is a rich and important story of the arrival of the gospel of Jesus Christ to American soil.

As a person springing from a traditional North Carolina Lutheran tree, there have been times in my journey when I have given in to pride over my tradition.  After all, wasn't it this tradition that set off the Reformation? Wasn't it this tradition that brought hymnody in the language of the common people to worship? Wasn't it this tradition that brought the historic catholic mass into participatory reach of the laity? Wasn't it this tradition that challenged the over-reach of ecclesiastical authority with regard to limits placed on access to the most sacred aspects of the faith? What's not to be proud about?

And yet, I realize, there should be limits placed around pride with most things, especially ecclesiastical things.  As rich as the Lutheran tradition is with regard to being a time tested witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, there stands the risk for life-long Lutherans like myself to worship the tradition instead of worshiping that to which the tradition has been pointing for nearly 600 years, namely Jesus Christ.  Worshiping an ecclesiastical tradition like worship of anything other than the Trinity is clearly idolatry by biblical standards. Thus, the scripture teaches us to beware of pride in all things, as pride carries the swell of idolatry in its underbelly.

So how can we be truly Lutheran while avoiding the idolatry of tradition worship? First, recognize that Lutheran is not a style, a sacrosanct monolithic way of being or even a way of praying or practicing the faith.  Even proud Lutherans sport diversity of style, being and approach. There is not just one way to look like a Lutheran, sing like a Lutheran or be a Lutheran.

Amidst our diversity, we simply need to affirm and practice three core beliefs - to be Lutheran:
Sola Fide (By Faith Alone): “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (Romans 1:17). Faith is much more than simple belief. It is trust and love, a relationship with Jesus. Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed points out: “I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith…”
Sola Gratia (By Grace Alone): “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from ourselves; it is God’s gift…” (Ephesians 2:8). Grace is being reconciled with God and neighbor, not by what we have done, but by what God has done for all of us through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone): “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The belief that the Bible contains what we need to be reconciled to God and live righteously was important to the reformers. Scripture is above all other authorities, including the Church and tradition. Ultimately, for Martin Luther, the Bible was the ‘cradle’ of Christ.  

Hopefully, this provides a brief insight into how to be Lutheran without worshiping our tradition. This rich heritage in the three Lutheran commitments, courtesy of the Reformation provide the secret sauce for what makes us identifiable as a people.


Pastor Frank

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1 Comment

Heather Lussier - November 6th, 2022 at 6:08am

Amen! As someone who has not been a life-long Lutheran, this is one aspect of Lutheran church life that has sometimes troubled me. Your writing articulates some of my thoughts about worshiping Christ rather than tradition. Thank you for this article.