Is it wrong to use the name “Lutheran”?
Does using this title make our church a sect, as we are named after a particular man, Martin Luther?
First, it is important to remember that Lutherans were first given their name by their opponents. Dr. Eck, a Roman Catholic theologian who debated Luther, was the first to call those who followed Luther’s teaching “Lutherans” as a derogatory title.
Luther himself did not want his name to be attached to those who followed his teaching (because he was firmly convinced, as all confessional Lutherans are, that the confessional Lutheran Church’s teachings are the teachings of the Holy Scriptures). As Luther said, “along with the Church I have one general teaching of Christ who alone is our master.”
True Lutherans have never desired to separate themselves from orthodox (true, right, correct) teachers by retaining the name “Lutheran”. Martin Luther is not a sect leader, He is a witness to the Truth, just as John the Baptist, Augustine, and all faithful teachers of the faith have been.
We are not called “Lutherans” because we believe in Luther. He is not our pope. We don’t simply accept something because Luther wrote it. Everything that Luther wrote is judged by the Holy Scriptures, the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. The Scriptures are our sole rule and norm.
We do not believe that Luther preached a “new” doctrine. Rather, we believe that Luther preached and taught the ancient doctrine of the eternal gospel.
So what do we mean when we use the title “Lutheran” and why have we kept it?
We retain the title “Lutheran” because we believe and confess that the doctrine that Luther preached and taught is a correct exhibition and exposition of the eternal gospel that has been present since the foundations of the world. We are Christians, but who would know what we believe if we simply say we are “Christians”. One recent tally counted more than 45,000 denominations in the world, therefore, holding the “Lutheran” name distinguishes our confession. Finally, if we were to rid ourselves of the name “Lutheran” it would be seen as an act of shame over the teachings of Luther, which is not the case.
As C.F.W. Walther, one of the founding fathers of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, put it:
I am not baptized unto Dr. Luther; He is not my God and Savior. I do not believe
in him and will not be saved through him. Therefore, in this sense I am not a Lutheran.
when I am asked however whether I confess with heart and mouth the doctrine which
God has again given to me through his instrument Dr. Luther, then I do not hesitate nor
am I timid to call myself Lutheran. And in this sense, I am and may I remain a Lutheran
all my life.
So embrace the name “Lutheran”, knowing and believing you hold to not a man, but to God’s Word.