Lutherans within Christianity

Many times people do not understand what it means to be Lutheran, especially in light of the Reformation, the gulf between Lutheranism and Catholicism and between Lutheranism and Protestantism. Sometimes we look like Roman Catholics, but sound like Protestants. Liturgically Lutherans and Roman Catholics are similar in format and style. One can easily move liturgically between them. The gulf in many ways is greater between Lutherans and Protestants.sasse01

The following quote from Hermann Sasse shows how he regards the situation in 1938. I think the last two sentences are excellent.

This explains why the differences and contradictions within Protestantism means so little in the eyes of the Reformed Churches. From their point of view, all the churches which arose out of the Reformation were essentially one in their opposition to this false church of the Middle Ages. The more recent concept of “Catholicism” as an antonym of “Protestantism” is a typical product of Reformed thought. The Lutheran Church has not the slightest theological interest in this antithesis between Catholicism and Protestantism. It does not know to which side it belongs. If only there were a clear-cut contradiction between true and false doctrine in the antithesis! But this does not happen to be the case. For there are heresies in Protestantism which are just as dangerous as those of Catholicism. Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in that it lays great emphasis on the fact that the evangelical [Lutheran] church is none other than the medieval Catholic Church purged of certain heresies and abuses. The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Athanasius and Irenaeus once belonged. The orthodox evangelical [Lutheran] church is the legitimate continuation of the medieval Catholic Church, not the church of the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council which renounced evangelical truth when it rejected the Reformation. (Hermann Sasse, Here We Stand, Augsburg Publishing House, 1938 orig., p. 102)

Author: exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian

7 thoughts on “Lutherans within Christianity”

  1. Does Sasse go on to contrast Lutherans with Protestants? Can you share that part with us too?
    This is very well explained. My professors at a Lutheran College always made the point that Lutherans were not Protestants and I have repeated that occasionally but never had a good explanation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, he spends quite a bit of time on the differences. Chapter 2 (pp. 85-109) covers “Lutheran Confessionalism” which addresses the larger issues with both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Then Chapter 3 (pp. 110-152) covers “The Doctrinal Differences.” The entire book is worth reading, and surprisingly applicable in the current environment of Christianity.

      Keep in mind that Sasse is addressing the problems of the Protestant response in Germany in the 1930’s, specifically the Barmen Declaration sponsored by Karl Barth.


  2. I suppose I still think in terms of Lutherans as Protestants, and other Protestant traditions are variations based on differing scriptural interpretations. Since the early churches throughout the known world eventually were forcibly centralized under Rome, the seat of global power, the “Bishop of Rome” eventually succeeded the eastern and North African competition and set up the rules in all areas under Papal dominion. The “Protest” half of the word ‘Protestant” simply reflects the peeling away of believers from the false doctrines of the Popes, before as well as after Martin Luther, and the times were awash in the blood of the martyrs who defied the corruption they saw in Rome. I know Lutherans came through the Catholic tradition to establish their own doctrines, and vestiges of Catholicism remain, but we must focus on the Bible, not on the similarities and differences of the Roman Church, which was corrupted by power, influence, and politics, and should not be viewed other than as a formerly and presently apostate body. You can merely view the beliefs and teachings of Catholicism in all its false and unbiblical traditions to see that you must, as a follower of Jesus, separate yourself from it. I am first and last simply a Christian, and a Lutheran (LCMS), and yes, a Protestant.


    1. Protest in the 16th century had as a primary sense of “confess.” That ultimately is where the conglomeration known as “Protestantism” falls apart, because there was no common confession of the faith, in 1530 nor any time after that. The larger segments of what is known as Reformed (in the most inclusive sense) would acknowledge differences but would not see that as much of a reason not to be united. Interestingly, that is what makes it easier for people to move between Methodist, Baptist, Reformed, etc., without ever changing their position on doctrine.

      That was what Sasse and Bonhöffer saw regarding the Barmen Confession in the mid 1930’s and how far it drifted away from the Bethel Confession earlier. The Barmen Confession became nothing more than Karl Barth’s view of the Reformed Confessions.

      So often I hear people say, “I am Christian first and Lutheran second.” But that really is not accurate. I explain that we are “Christians who confess the faith as Lutherans.”


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