Some people of a certain age tell me that when they were growing up they were taught that being Lutheran meant not being Roman Catholic.
They were taught that being Lutheran meant we rejected transubstantiation (whatever that was), we did not have saints, and our priests (pastors) could marry.
Some people of another age tell me that growing up they were taught that being Lutheran meant not being an Evangelical (like the Baptists).
They were taught that being Lutheran meant we did not have altar calls, sing revival hymns or take the Bible literally.
Actually, to be Lutheran means to be both evangelical and catholic. To be evangelical means to preach the good news. We do not have altar calls because we are saved by grace through faith, not works. But we can sing some of those good-old gospel hymns, and we do believe the Bible to be God’s inspired word, the rule and norm for all our teaching.
To be catholic means to follow the universal traditions of the church. We do believe in the real presence of Christ in the Holy Communion (although we do not call it transubstantiation), and we do call all Christian believers saints. And yes, thank God, our pastors can marry, as they did in the early years of the church.
Reformation Sunday is October 30. It is a day both to mourn the fractures in the one holy catholic and apostolic church as it exists in its earthly expression and to celebrate the triumph of the gospel over the forces that would silence it in this world.
Martin Luther and the sixteenth century German reformers never wanted to break away from the Roman Catholic Church. However, there were certain issues they needed to press so that the church could freely preach the gospel.
Separation was a tragic necessity. As a result, Lutheran worship tends to be very catholic and traditional in nature, while the essence of our preaching is the good news of salvation in Christ.
In the meantime, as we wait for Jesus’ return, we pray for the unity of all Christians everywhere.
Eric Ash is the former pastor of The Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Monroeville, Pa. He is a graduate of the Lutheran seminaries at Gettysburg and Philadelphia. He and his wife of 29 years, Melanie, have two adult children.