What's so special about that guy Martin Luther that you follow his teachings? Shouldn't you just follow what Jesus teaches? These are two questions that I get asked from time to time. The short answer is that we follow the teachings of Martin Luther because they are the teachings of Jesus.
There was a blog post that did an excellent job of explaining this much better than I did. Unfortunately, it's no longer available for me to link to it. I'm copying it here and will update the blog if I'm ever able to find it on-line again. The originally was posted here.
Are Lutherans no different than Mormons following Joseph Smith or Seventh Day Adventists following Ellen G. White or Pentecostals following the imagination of the latest charismatic preacher or Roman Catholics following the Pope? Absolutely not! First of all, while Martin Luther is a very important teacher and pastor in the history of the church and was used by God to help restore very important things to the church, Luther was not restoring anything to the church that was not already the possession of the Christian Church not only in Scripture but also in better times among the early church fathers, as many quotations from them could readily prove. Lutherans find the source of what they teach in Holy Scripture, God’s written Word, and we also find the continuity, or continued teaching, of God’s Word in various times and places throughout the history of the Church, including the time before the Lutheran Reformation among the church fathers of the early church and the medieval church. Jesus promised that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the Church. God preserves His faithful remnant until the end, though it is not always easy or happy. So because of this we do value church history and what treasures God has preserved among us throughout the centuries. Lutherans believe that what they teach is nothing new – the Lutheran reformation was a restoration, not a revolution or a start of a new religion, but a restoration in repentance.
But what about the Creeds and the Book of Concord, are these being “added on” to the Bible? Absolutely not. The Creeds and the Book of Concord are simply echoing the teachings of Scripture to help address doctrinal issues which have arisen in the history of the Church so that we have a faithful test and roadmap to Scripture. They are a standard of teaching and practice that is in full agreement with the Bible, but which also do not add to Scripture but find their source in the Bible. The very words of the Creeds and the Lutheran Confessions demonstrate this clearly. We hold to the Creeds and Confessions of the Church because they are in full agreement with Scripture, God’s inspired and authoritative Word. Our Creeds and Confessions continue in Peter’s faithful confession of Christ, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Upon the rock of the confessing Christ faithfully, through that ministry the Church is built by Jesus. So we rightfully hold to the Creeds and the Confessions without compromise because they are faithful. In this sense Lutherans are in substance evangelical and catholic.
Lutherans hold their teaching to be “catholic” in the original sense of that word. The word catholic originally meant, “according to the whole or entirety.” We hold that what we confess is fully in agreement with Scripture, is identical to the apostolic faith, and does not add to or take away from the Word of God, and therefore is universal and should be believed by all. Upon that certainty the Church teaches, engages is evangelism and mission work, knowing she has a priceless treasure given to her from the Lord Jesus Christ. It gives peace that surpasses understanding, peace that the world cannot give. This is what enables us to say, “This is most certainly true.” Our Confessions, hymns, liturgy, Catechism, prayers, all confess this openly. There is no gap, no daylight between our doctrine and the doctrine of Scripture. To be a Lutheran is no less being Christian, in fact it is the fullest teaching of Christianity on earth. Otherwise, why be Lutheran at all? That is no cause for arrogance, it is a cause for humility before God, who gave this to us without any merit or worthiness on our part. It is a pure gift to us – grace alone! We have a treasure to tell the world about! We have a unique treasure in the world.
We are not Lutherans simply because our parents or grandparents were. We are not Lutherans simply because we might enjoy a Garrison Keillor story from Lake Wobegon or because we like potlucks. We are Lutherans because what goes under that nickname (which we did not choose for ourselves) confesses Christ most faithfully, purely and completely from Holy Scripture. Because it is the one true faith that we can die into with confidence knowing that we have a gracious God with us who declared us holy in Christ, the crucified and risen One. In teaching and practice, we remain Lutheran because among us we see the Word preached faithfully and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, even when others lean in the wind and water things down to entice the sinful nature. In the time of the Reformation, one Lutheran territorial prince put it well. George the Margrave of Brandenburg wrote:
I am not baptized in the name of Luther; he is not my God and Savior; I do not trust in him and am not saved by him."Therefore, in such a sense I am not a Lutheran." But when I am asked, if with heart and mouth I profess the doctrine which God has restored to me through His blessed instrument, Dr. Luther, then I entertain no scruples about calling myself a Lutheran, nor do I fear to do so; and in that sense I am and will remain a Lutheran all my life.
When Lutherans fall into the trap of relying on “official positions” rather than confessing the faith, it runs the risk of jumping both feet into sectarianism. No synod can claim to be “the official interpreter” of the Lutheran Confessions anymore than any individual can claim to have a monopoly on biblical teaching or interpretation. The Lutheran Confessions are not simply “what we as Lutherans believe” or worse, “what Lutherans once believed” (as museum pieces), but are manifestations of the catholic faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), apostolic doctrine in the sense of Acts 2:42.
The preservation or reclamation of a synod cannot therefore fall into the realm of simply repristination of its founding or early days or some “glory days” nor even to reassert the influence or writings of an individual theologian. That is simply refighting previous wars and ignoring the real issues of the day. Church history keeps moving forward to the Last Day. Doctrine remains the same, though its articulation always comes forth into new controversies and battles. The devil does not relent and the world continues to send its erosive forces against the Church, seeking to push her off the foundation of Christ and the unchanging marks of the Church. Lutherans, of all Christians, ought to have a keen awareness of the church militant, the theology of the cross, and the eschatological (end times) nature of the Church on earth and in heaven. We are not waiting for the end times to begin (Hebrews 1).
There is much more at stake among us than buildings, nostalgia, and benefit plans. The Church is a pilgrim people that has no permanent city of residence in this world, no incorporated 501c3 or left hand organization that cannot be taken away by the Lord. The Church in this world is in her state of humiliation as was her Lord until His bodily resurrection from the dead. We cannot expect to always have an “ecclesiastical Mount of Transfiguration” before our eyes, since we live now in the time of hearing rather than seeing. To be sure, we do not evaporate the church on earth into mere invisibility (as if the church is ontologically invisible), but the Church is certainly hidden under battle, strife, shed blood, argument, slander, and a cloud of dust all around her. Where this is not, we wonder if the devil sees a reason to attack, any threat against him?
We do not simply follow Martin Luther alone, nor any one individual alone, except Christ Himself. But our path is not a new trail to be blazed in the wilderness, but a well-worn path, dare we say even a “rut,” that includes Christ, the apostles, the early church fathers, many medieval fathers, Luther, Chemnitz, Paul Gerhardt, and so many others. And we would be remiss to point out men, women, children, and those who are not famous on that Holy Way as well. We do not blindly follow ruts of those who slipped off the road here and there (many of them driving back up on the road, but some not). But the test of the true way, the road, is Christ and His Word. That’s what makes a real synod, a genuine walking together, not just with each other, but with the Lord who speaks and provides those who speak in His name according to the rule of faith, the apostolic doctrine.