What is a Lutheran?

I went to camp as a child. A religious camp. A Lutheran Camp. My older siblings went to the same camp and I sent my children there as well. One year my daughter made an interesting comment. She loved going to camp because it was the only place she didn’t have to explain what a Lutheran was. Through the years I have often had to explain my religious background as well. It is quite amazing how little people actually know about religion in general. Especially Catholics. I married one of those. An interesting group. So here is a very high level personal viewpoint about religion in general and Lutheranism specifically.

No one can really agree on the definition of Religion. My old friend the dictionary, states Religion is believing in a higher power. But it is so much more. It is the belief in something or someone beyond our world and our understanding who ultimately rules life as we know it. It is the act of having a relationship with God. God, who from a Christian standpoint is all knowing. Obviously the definition would vary for different religions. Throughout history Scholars have failed to capture the true meaning or essence of the word. It is illusive. My personal favourite are the words of Alfred North Whitehead, an English modern day Philosopher. He stated ” Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind, and within the passing flux of immediate things; something that is real and yet waiting to be realized; something that is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach; something that is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest.” That being said, Whitehead had a rather dim view of Christianity.

The history of religion is quite fascinating and when you sit down and talk to people about their own religion it opens up your world. Just from an academic standpoint, religion is just as important historically as science, mathematics, philosophy and language. It truly should be taught in schools. When seen from a secular viewpoint it is completely interwoven with all other areas of study. To exclude this entire piece of history from modern curriculums is a disservice to our children. No one knows when religious thought came into being but some form was surely always a part of prehistoric man. Things happened around him that were awe inspiring and unexplainable. He surely must have wondered who was directing this world he lived in. However, historians believe it all started with the Neanderthals. Mainly because their graves showed signs of the dead being buried ceremonially. The Cro-Magnum guys drew cave paintings depicting religious ceremonies. Neolithic evidence is also found through burial digs. People buried with carvings of Gods and Goddesses. Eventually this all led to so called primitive forms of religion which are still in evidence around the world today. Mainly in Africa and Asia these forms are ritual and myth based. Stories and acts passed down through thousands of years without the benefit of the written word. Eventually religion was cultural as with the Ancient Greeks, Rome, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Mainly based on astrology, weather, fertility and other unexplainable events. There were lots of Gods and back then with everyone conquering or merging with neighbouring societies there was certainly overlap and eventually it all died out. In time, Iran, Israel, India and China all were experiencing change and movement towards our current major religions began. This was in the thousand years before the birth of Christ. Zoroaster from Iran, Gautama (Buddha) and Mahavira from India and Confucious and Lao-tzu from China. All major players resulting in religions which are still practiced throughout the world. Roroastrianism, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucionism and Taoism. The Greeks had Socrates and his buddies Plato and Aristotle but their work, although inspiring was less religious and more scientific. Finally Israel. Amos. A little known fellow who had visions of impending disasters. He travelled far and wide preaching about Gods ultimate power and social justice for all. First Hebrew to have a book in the bile named for him. Pretty cool.

Now we get in the beginning of the Lutheran thing. Judaism is said to be 5000 years old by the Jews but others would place the age at closer to 4000 years based on Abraham. Abraham was chosen by God and a covenant was formed. Basically Abraham was the first Jew and his descendants would be the chosen people. God told him to pack up and head out to Cannan. His name means Father of many nations but his wife was barren and he eventually had a son with his wife’s servant. I mean really, how can your go out and multiply if you don’t have any children. He was 87 at that time. Everyone in his household was circumcised because God said that would be the sign of the people. Eventually when he was one hundred years old, God blessed Abraham and his wife with a son. And they were off. A couple of thousand years go by and the Jewish people are waiting for the messiah. The chosen one, a human person who will descend from the house of David who will unite all Jews in Israel. They believe he will come when most needed because things are so bad or when we are most deserving because the world is so good. The Christians on the other hand believe Jesus Christ was that Messiah. His mother Mary was a virgin and God was made man through the birth of Jesus. The Jews never saw the messiah as a son of God literally. That is a huge difference. So the Jews of the day that believed Jesus birth and death actually fulfilled the prophecies regarding the messiah, are those we call Christians. As they follow the teachings of Christ. In this respect Abraham is also the father of Christianity. The new testament of the bible follows all that happened after Christ whereas the old testament of the bible is a shared history of Jews and Christians alike. Christians await the second coming of Christ whereas the Jews await the first. For us it is all poof and gone. For the Jews it will be all roses and sunshine. Before I continue on my peronal history I need to insert a side bar for purely interests sake. Muhammad was born six hundred years after Jesus and the beginning of Christianity. Some think this was the start of the Islam faith but Muslims trace their faith to the original prophets and Abraham in particular. He was Muslim which translates as “one who submits to God”. As such, Muslims are also circumcised. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all are descended from Abraham and as such are called Abramic religions. Christians are the only ones who don’t circumcise for religious reasons. Oddly enough neither Jews nor Muslims are allowed to eat pork as commanded by God. Again that is where Christians stray. Muslims believe Muhammad is the last prophet of God. Adam, Moses, Abraham, Jesus etc… All are prophets in Islam. Muhammad was visited by Gabriel, an Angel and like Jesus set forth to spread the word of God. Basically the word is submission to God and I guess we can all agree, no matter how many messengers God sends, we as people will always fall short. Muslims do believe Jesus will come again and gather all Muslims together. They don’t think he was crucified though. They think he was miraculously snatched up to be with God and awaits his next time on earth. The huge common denominator is this. One God! That sums it up really. Since time immortal man has tried to convince others that there is only one God. As such, Jews and Muslims both consider Christians to be polytheistic as we Christians believe in the holy trinity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe it is one God in three persons. I think Muslims believe Jesus will come to our defense when the end comes but the Jews think we are completely out of it I am sure.

My own history starts with Christianity. Although there are those who believe it started with the Ancient philosophers I am going with the birth of Christ. Things were going pretty smoothly and the movement gradually grew. They broke away from the Jewish faith and eventually Christianity moved to the roman empire. After 300 years things Christianity was legalized and before that century had played out it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. What is now the accepted Bible was agreed upon around the same time. The term catholic means universal and was adopted as the new religion spread far and wide. We are all one, so to speak. Except those who were of other religions. Divides grew even then between the Roman Christians and the Eastern Orthodox Church. They excommunicated each other after fighting about who was the leader of the Church. Christians who didn’t ascribe to the holy trinity were heretics. And treated as such. Shit basically hit the fan for years. In the meantime the Roman Catholic church grew richer and richer and sent missionaries here there and everywhere. The power throughout the ages grew. In time monasteries became under the Churches rule and in turn schools, libraries and eventually universities.

We now arrive in the 1500’s. Within the Catholic community worldwide there was unease regarding the practices of the church. Now Simon was one of Jesus’s apostles who Jesus called Peter. He headed to Rome to spread the word and became the first pope. He was buried there and a shrine was built over his grave. Within time a Basilica was built over his tomb. Time went by and the large cathedral wasn’t being kept up so Pope Pius decided to do a little reno. Bring it up to code so to speak. Eventually it was decided to tear it down and do a total rebuild. It is impressive I give you that. Anyways, Pius died and his successor Pope Leo was an excessively wasteful man both with his own money and that of the Church. He spent like a drunken fool. Indulgences were a way of lessening your punishment for sin when you met the big guy. Pope Pius had decided to finance the rebuild with special indulgences with a pay for your sins one time only option. The wording was misleading and when they sent the salespeople out to promote the new indulgences, it met with disfavour in Germany. Not for what it stood for but because the Germans didn’t want anymore money heading out to Rome. So the indulgences were banned in Germany and people had to cross borders to buy them.

Around this time some folks went to a Monk called Martin Luther to see what he thought about this whole wacky idea. Martin was born in the late 1400’s and was well educated. Although his father wished him to pursue a life in Law, circumstances led him to a life dedicated to God. In time he rose in the ranks of the church and was known to be quite a thinker. His views on the indulgences were pretty negative and he wrote his opinions down and sent them to his boss Bishop Albrecht Von Brandenberg. These were his famous 95 Theses. Basically points of discussion. Some say that he nailed them to the door of the church but since they were in Latin nobody would be able to read it anyways. Eventually, the 95 Theses were translated into German and his views were spread far and wide. The Pope tried various ways of dealing with Luther and in the end it came down to a “take that back” attitude to which Luther said “No!” Luther was excommunicated and basically the Church put a price on his head. He was hidden by Frederic the third in Wartburg Castle where he continued his study of the bible and translating it into German so that the word of God could be read by all. Until then Roman Catholics used the Greek translation so only Clerics and those educated in the language had first hand access to the word. All of this went down between the years 1915 and 1921. In time he would set about organizing a new church after seeing the people revolt due in large part to his words. He felt they were not receiving instruction in faith and that the priests of the day were ill equipped. He wrote a small catechism and large catechism to be used to teach the masses. He was especially clear on bringing children to God and he wished for them to be led and instructed rather than bullied or threatened. Lutherans today receive two years instruction before being confirmed into the church and receiving communion. One year is dedicated to the study of the bible and the other is learning and studying Martin Luther’s small catechism. I did it. My children did it. It is quite an in depth look at our relationship with God and his expectations for us. My family is from Denmark which borders Germany. Lutheranism spread throughout Scandinavia and is today the state Church in Germany, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Voila. We are Danish thus by extension, my family is Lutheran.

Martin Luther is often given the distinction of being the father of the reformation of the Catholic Church. There were others before him who also charged the Roman Catholic Church with abuse of power and amassing riches at the detriment of their poorest followers. Alas most were deemed heretics and were first excommunicated and either hung or burned at the stake. Those that took their limited followers and slunk away were left alone. Eventually Luther was left alone as well. In England the reformation fever was also spreading and aided in part by King Henry VIII. His wife was barren and he wanted out of the marriage. He had a new lady on the side who he wanted to marry. He was always getting new gals on the side. The Church had the power to grant an annulment yet refused. He made a good case but it was rejected. Eventually he married the girlfriend Anne and they were kicked out. Excommunicated like all those before them who were uncontrollable. That did lead to the Church being led and controlled by the Monarchy. Changes were afoot all over Europe and it would spread throughout the world in the years to come.

My husband was baptised a Catholic where as I was baptised Lutheran. We are both Christian. When we were young, the Pastor at the church we started to attend when we moved, came to visit. He asked a startling question. Did we find trouble in a mixed marriage. I was confused at first. I was young and rather naïve. In my mind I thought to myself “Is he blind? We are the same colour.” Many people think we are the same. Since Rene’ wasn’t raised going to church we were married Lutheran, our children were baptised Lutheran and we attended the Lutheran church. It was his call as I told him if I switched to Catholicism he would have to attend church every Sunday for the rest of his life. If I was to attend alone it would be the church in which I was raised. My exposure to the Catholic church was limited and I did not yet fully realize the extent of our differences. Lutherans believe the Bible alone is the authority over Christians. Catholics believe the Pope has ultimate authority and is infallible. Lutherans believe no man is infallible. Lutherans pray directly to God. Catholics call upon Mary and the saints to intercede on their behalf. That is a big no no for protestants. There are no statues of Mary in Lutheran Churches. The Catholics believe in Justification by good works whereas Lutherans believe we are made one with God through faith alone. Our faith ensures us Gods grace. There is no act so great that it provides the merit to enter heaven. We just can’t buy our way in. Besides, if we could then the whole Concept of Jesus dying for all our sins is diminished. Nope. Faith alone. That is us. Finally, when Catholics die they go to purgatory when their earthly sins aren’t quite atoned and from there they are cleansed. Lutherans? We believe that we go straight to heaven Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. Again, really? Why did Jesus die again? Oh yeah. FOR OUR SINS! So huge differences. Huge. Rene’ and I do completely disagree about the good works. Big drawn out discussions with no winners as we continue to disagree. Our beliefs in holy communion are different as well so when we attend a Catholic service non Catholics are not invited to come on down so to speak. A Lutheran Pastor will extend an invitation to partake in the Lords Supper to all who are baptized usually. It has to do with whether or not you believe the blood and wine are truly Jesus body and blood. We believe the wine unites with his blood and the bread with his body as the bread and wine are blessed so technically he is there. For Catholics when the bread and wine are consecrated, they cease to be bread and wine but become the body and blood of Christ. Seems small to the outside world but it truly is a huge difference. I receive communion no matter what church I happen to be in. It would take a big man to deny me. In case you are wondering why the Catholics don’t distribute the wine along with the bread its because they are afraid you will spill. Seriously. This stuff is holy Bread can be picked up when dropped Not the wine. Plus anything blessed has to be consumed. Can be poured back in the bottle. Or wafer box as the case may be. Interestingly enough when we attend a Catholic service the liturgy is almost identical. The big differences are basically those of ceremony and other man made traditions and doctrines. As for heresy, the Catholic church does not condemn us outright as heretics because our forefathers were heretics. However the Roman catholic church believes every Lutheran is obligated to learn and know that their church was started by a heretic and promotes incorrect doctrine. We are then urged to study these false teachings in order to see the error of our ways. Once we see we are not in the true path we must convert to Catholicism. If we do not take these actions we are personally condemned as heretics. So that is me. I’ve read about it. I’ve thought about it. And in the words of Nancy Reagan I just say no. I am good with the whole heretical Lutheran way.

I have a few side bars to add. It has been noted that Martin Luther was an anti-Semite. Hated Jews. Seems Germanys issues weren’t all that new. He didn’t seem to have a problem with Muslims though. Other than he felt they were misguided. But then again they feel the same way about Christians. Martin may have been a truly devout man but lets also keep in mind he was a man. Not infallible. I am sure he screwed up more than history would tell us. Apart from the whole bust apart the Catholic church thing. I would also like to add that Catholics do not seem to know their own history. They know very little about the reformation as a whole and really aren’t interested in what protestants think. I remember attending a church service in Brooks where my daughter lives. It was reformation Sunday, a day protestants reflect on the history of the Christian church. My mother in law is Catholic and she was quite surprised by the tone of the service. It is not something that the Roman Catholic church commemorates. When my granddaughter was baptised, Lutheran of course, my Catholic niece was asked to be the Godmother. She was thrilled by the honour. I had to ruin it all by telling her that she needed to reflect deeply on committing to this state as the child would be taught doctrine that did not coincide with her own belief system. She was in fact going against the teachings of her own church. It didn’t really bother her much. I can compare that to the relationship between Canadians and Americans. Canadians have a chip on their shoulder and think and talk a little too much about how the Americans really don’t bother about us. And the Americans? They just don’t think about us at all. Its the same with Lutherans and Catholics. Pretty much all protestants really. Anglicans in particular didn’t really want to break away so they are a little more in line with the Catholics. The United church goes the other way. More in line with my thought process. Many Catholics I know are raised with fear and fire and brimstone. My experiences as a child and as I grew older were happy, loving and wonderful. Roses and sunshine. God loved me. I am special in his eyes. Maybe it was my church. Maybe it was my parents. In the end I believe it all comes down to a personal relationship with God. We know what he expects. Chose your actions and words wisely. More than anything though, don’t judge. That’s Gods department. That is the biggest lesson I learned from parents. Like the lyrics from a Mongomery Gentry song, “Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you, ’cause we all get judged in the end.”


One last thing. Martin Luther King Junior? His father was born Michael King and he was named Michael King Junior. King senior was a Baptist minister and in 1934 he went to Germany to attend a Baptist conference. He was deeply affected by his visit there and the historical teachings of Martin Luther. On his return home he changed his own name to Martin Luther King and his son’s birth certificate was changed as well. The black civil rights guy from Georgia and the white catholic shit disturber from Germany were born four hundred years apart. Nothing to do with Lutherans at all. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people who think I attend a church started by a southern Baptist who was born ninety years ago. Geez.

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