Lessons from the Lutheran Tradition for 2024

Lessons from the Lutheran Tradition for 2024

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Lutheranism has much to offer the church catholic at this moment in time. Like all confessional Christianity, it is anchored in realities that transcend the political particularities of our day; and it also reminds us of the church’s true task and realistic expectations in a time such as this.

This week I had the privilege of speaking at a seminar for the Collegium Fellows of Doxology, a group of Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod pastors committed to spiritual care and counsel. There are serious theological differences between the Lutheran tradition and my own Reformed tradition, most obviously in the area of the Lord’s Supper. But there is an ethos that binds confessional Protestants together in a world where Catholics are in frequent turmoil over the actions of the present pope and where evangelicals are tearing themselves apart over attitudes to the current political malaise that has enveloped American public life.

Toward the end of the seminar, one pastor asked what I thought confessional Lutheranism could offer to the church catholic at this moment in time. My answer was threefold.

First, confessional Protestantism in general, when faithful to its defining documents, focuses the minds of believers upon the great truths of the Christian faith that take no account of the vicissitudes of the age. God, Trinity, Fall, Incarnation, redemption, and grace: These are truths that feed the mind and the soul, regardless of which side wins and which side loses elections. And they are the central concerns of the great confessional documents of Protestantism. Whether the Book of Concord for Lutherans; the Westminster Standards for Presbyterians; the Three Forms of Unity for the Reformed; or the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Homilies for Anglicans—all speak of the eternal weight of glory that is to come and thereby relativize the slings and arrows of this world as so many light, momentary afflictions. The implications of this are liturgical: The church goes about its ordinary work of proclaiming Christ in Word and Sacrament even as earthly regimes come and go. Thus it was in the time of Nero. So it is today.

I went on to say that confessional Lutheranism, more specifically, has two particularly important contributions for the church catholic today. First, the Lutheran distinction (echoing Augustine), between the heavenly kingdom and the earthly kingdom. This distinction is vital, especially in a time of deep political division and seductive political temptation. Much has been made of Christian nationalism as an “existential threat” to the nation and to democracy. Setting aside the rather fluid definitions of Christian nationalism, even in its most extreme form it is unlikely to pose a significant threat to society at large. But it may well prove to be a threat in the much smaller world of our congregations and denominations, where a confusion between church and world and between the power of the Word and the power of the sword would devastate the gospel.

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