Moving Forward

When you became a Lutheran, what were some misconceptions and reactions from folks on both sides (Evangelical friends and Lutheran friends)?

Lutherans and evangelicals don’t cross paths much and that results in quite a bit of misunderstanding on both sides. When I first started having conversations about Lutheranism with my evangelical friends — all of whom were seminary educated — most of them didn’t really know what Lutherans believed. The attitude seemed to be mostly that they were slightly better than Roman Catholics but not by much. There was also an assumption that later Lutheran doctrine must have departed quite a bit from what Luther taught. I think some think this because Reformed Evangelicals resonate with a lot of Luther’s writings and think that he sounds more like them than he sounds like the little bit that they know of Lutheranism. What I found as I was moving toward Lutheranism is that the picture of Luther I had been given from the Reformed was quite a selective picture and one that was rather inaccurate to the Luther of history. Luther looked much more like a Roman Catholic than I had thought. Roman Catholicism was the vocabulary he spoke and the world in which he lived. Luther didn’t start from a position of scrapping it all and starting over. He wanted to retain what was not contrary to the Word of God and restore what was commanded by the Word of God. This approach meant that he actually leaves quite a bit in place.

You can see the hold over of Calvin’s and Zwingli’s approach to tradition in the mindset of most of today’s Evangelicals: if it’s Roman Catholic, it’s bad. Sometimes if it even looks Roman Catholic, it becomes a reason to exclude a practice.

So the misconception on the Evangelical side was that I was moving to Lutheranism because I was attracted to all of the bells and smells of Roman Catholicism but was too afraid to swim the Tiber. Once I had communicated my decision to move into the Lutheran church, a professor at the Baptist seminary I attended — a man who was also an elder in the Baptist church where I was a member — emailed me to express his grave concern that I was on a slippery slope to the Roman Catholic church, as though every Lutheran is just someone who has thus far managed to fight against the greased slide to Rome. What’s I find ironic is how often I’m objecting the Lutherans who say things like “That’s too Catholic!” I have to remind them that we are Catholic (and I refuse to give the capital letter to the Romans!). We’re just not Roman. But just because it’s Roman doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

In any case, living on the inside of the Lutheran church now, I can assure anyone that it’s no slippery slope to Roman Catholicism.

On the Lutheran side, I have found that Lutherans tend to think of Evangelicals as anti-intellectual. There may have been a time when that accusation stuck, but it doesn’t really today. These days, I think have something of a complex about having an anti-intellectual reputation, and they’ve worked hard to overcome it. There’s also an opinion among Lutherans that Evangelicals don’t take Scripture seriously, which is used to explain how Evangelicals reach their interpretations that are so contrary to the way Scripture has been interpreted historically. It’s a misconception. Whatever Evangelical scholarship is guilty of, it does take Scripture seriously. From my experience in Evangelical scholarship, they are deeply concerned with having a right interpretation of Scripture. One could, however, wish that they didn’t look so kindly on novel exegesis as they do. Occasionally, I run into Lutherans who are suspect of my credentials having come from an Evangelical background. On the whole, however, most don’t regard it to be a detracting factor.

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