My church newsletter column for St. Peter Lutheran Church, Greene, Iowa, for October, 2017.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
As we commemorate the 500th anniversary this month of the Reformation and the beginnings of the Lutheran movement, it is worth considering what makes Lutheranism distinct from other branches of the Christian tradition. What do Lutherans believe?
First and foremost, God’s grace is at the heart of Lutheranism. We believe with Luther and with Paul that eternal salvation comes through God’s grace. We don’t get to heaven by doing good works; God has already done all the work in Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection on Easter. All we can do is believe in what God has already done for us. All of our very best efforts contribute nothing to salvation. Everything is a gift from God, even faith itself!
It’s good and necessary that our salvation doesn’t depend on us but on God, because Lutherans also have a pretty low opinion of our own abilities. We believe, as we confess in worship, that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. Where some traditions believe sin can be overcome with enough effort and faith, Lutherans acknowledge that our whole lives are tainted by sin, from the cradle to the grave.
But even though we acknowledge we are sinners, we are also saints, beloved children of God, redeemed by the work of Jesus Christ and claimed in the waters of Holy Baptism. This understanding that each of us is simultaneously saint and sinner is a uniquely Lutheran insight. God is at work in flawed, broken, normal people like you and me!
In fact, we believe God works primarily through the normal, everyday things of life. God doesn’t need special, sacred people to work through; the Holy Spirit is active in all of us. Our faith is sacramental, because we believe God’s grace is given to us through ordinary means like the bread and wine of communion, the water of baptism, and through ordinary people proclaiming the Word of God. In these ordinary rituals, Jesus has promised to meet us.
There are many more Lutheran accents to talk about, like our understanding of vocation, the way we read the entire Bible as both law and gospel revealing Christ, and the priesthood of all believers, but the key for Lutherans is that it’s all about grace. Everything we do is in response to what God has already done for us.
This month, we’re celebrating God’s work through Martin Luther as he called the church back to its proper focus on God’s grace in the Reformation. Be sure to join us for a special festival worship service, activities for everyone, and a church potluck on Reformation Sunday, October 29th – you can find more information later in this newsletter. See you there!
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Daniel Flucke