Skip to content

Protestant? Or Not Really?


For the tribe of believers called “Lutheran” we take the Protestant Reformation very seriously. It is part of our heritage, our faith lineage, it is a nodal moment in our people’s story. Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 theses on the Castle Church Door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517 was the event that finally lit the spark that ignited the European faith community toward re-formation and re-newal. At stake was the infallibility of the papal office, the sale of indulgences to grant forgiveness and decreased time in purgatory, and the authority of the Word of God. Luther was not the first reformer, mind you, he just happened to be the one who got caught in the perfect storm of technology (printing press advances), politics, and social need for change.

Castle Church Door, Photo by Geoff Sinabaldo

Now all of this does not mean that all Lutherans know what this Reformation moment and movement was about. It also does not mean that we all hold dearly and tightly to the freedom in Christ that Luther was pointing believers to. . . but as we learn and grow our discipleship journey it becomes more and more important to us to understand just what it truly means to be “justified by grace through faith” and live out our baptismal calling as “the priesthood of all believers.”

We share this important moment with other European reform movements who took Luther’s basic teachings and ran with them, albeit sometimes in very different directions than Luther would have liked, but the the notion of semper reformanda (always reforming) was alive and well in the 16-18th centuries in Europe. Denominations such as Anglicans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Mennonites, Amish and other old-world rooted anabaptists, Reformed churches of the line of Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin all share the same reformation struggle as part of their history. They all protested the abuses of the church (Catholic Church of the Middle Ages) and sought religious freedom and protected the free gift of grace for all believers. This was the Protestant Movement. Protesters in the faith.

Now fast forward to the 21st Century in North America. The label “Protestant” has become a term meaning “anything other than Roman Catholic or Orthodox.” That megachurch down the street from your child’s school? The that they call “non-denominational?” It is really a “Protestant church?” My argument here on the Door is that it is NOT. You will not find the roots of the struggle within the liturgy, in fact there is no liturgy to speak of (liturgy is a form of worship that is mostly consistent each week because we are human beings who desire ritual and constancy in order to grow and it has a function of constantly connecting us to our roots.  And roots are important, wouldn’t you say?) They do not confess their faith using the Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian Creed (or even the Heidelberg or Augsburg confessions). What is their creed? What is their statement of belief that ties them to the church universal? They do not share the particular struggle that those whose tribes worked laboriously, dangerously, tirelessly for the faith. They may be protesting the Protestants, I don’t know. . . but they do not share the common struggle that happened to European and early American Christians in any direct sort of lineage that is held up and embraced. So Protestant? Or not really?

My proposal to the powers that be, whoever they are, is that when you make a survey that asks a person to check the proper box that would identify them as a certain flavor of Christian that it would look more like this instead of making Protestant the default “I don’t know what I am but I know I’m not Jewish, Catholic or Greek Orthodox.”











Let us embrace what it really means to be Protestant rather than watering it down to some run-of-the-mill flavorless tag we casually put on ourselves when asked. Read about the struggle. Get informed about what the Reformation was all about and how it changed Christian history (and world history for that matter!). Continue the protest when needed. . . as the church is always in need of re-form and re-newal and it happens through faithful, committed believers like you and me.

Have a blessed Reformation Day tomorrow!


14 Comments leave one →
  1. Jen Stephens permalink
    30October2012 09:40

    You touched on exactly why I returned to the Lutheran church after living in the predominantly Baptist south for 14 years, teaching in one of their schools for 7 years, and attending off and on. I missed the traditions and rituals and everything that makes up Lutheranism. I missed my heritage. So glad to be back!

    • 30October2012 10:21

      And so glad that the Spirit guided you to the place you landed with all of your giftedness and passion!

  2. Katie Suggitt permalink
    30October2012 11:48

    I am on a “semper reformanda” rampage right now and thus am slightly biased.

    However,I would contend that what we call ‘non-denominational’ churches have so absorbed the culture that they certainly could not be described as Protestant in the purest sense of the word. I would also contend that this generation of the descendants of the reformation are so threatened by the ‘success’ of the mega-churches and evidence of their own decline that they have failed to embrace and live into their own Protestant heritage.


    • 30October2012 17:19

      I agree with you fully Pastor Katie. One problem with the Protestant churches is that we have failed miserably at teaching our very important history. I am a cradle Lutheran and had to go to seminary to learn anything about the Reformation. Truly a sad situation. If I had one wish for pastors it would be to teach, teach, and teach some more about who we are, why we believe what we believe, and how we need to recover our Lutheran heritage and identity and forget about what the non-denominational denominations are doing. We have to be who we are, not who we are not! If we are true to ourselves in terms of living fully into our heritage, the church will grow stronger, more in tune with the Spirit and disciples will soon be filling our churches to be equipped to go out into the world and usher in the Kingdom of God. Semper Reformanda! And do it humbly!

  3. Rob Ludwig permalink
    30October2012 18:14

    We are called to be salt and light. For some reason(s) “Lutherans” and the “Lutheran Church” have taken for granted the struggles of The Reformation. Many of us leave the church because we no longer know who the church is and why we belong. Martin Luther would be shocked and appalled at the current state of the Protestant Church. We are disconnected from the significance of our reformers, biblically illiterate, and susceptible to the flavor of the day. It is time to re-reform and regain our Protestant flavor and Light the world with His Love.

  4. 31October2012 06:39

    Can you discuss your position on liturgy using the Bible and plain reason?

    • 1November2012 05:50

      I hope you do reply to my post. I am not intending to be antagonistic or negative. I honestly want to know if what I asked can be done. The Reformation principle is at stake, I think (though I could be wrong) that it’s scripture that ultimately rules. Perhaps you’d just like to message me instead of having the conversation out in the open, or perhaps you’d like to refer me to another post or some research somewhere. Sincerely yours, Steve Thorson, Cokato, MN

    • 4November2012 08:00

      Sure but I’m not exactly sure what you are asking for. The Lutheran liturgy comes straight from the bible and has a form that allows for consistency but also variation.

      • 4November2012 08:17

        In a parenthetical comment you defined liturgy and gave a psychological and historical basis for saying it’s important. What’s the biblical basis? I’m the pastor of a church that doesn’t use liturgy at present. Is there a way, from scripture, to say, “The Lord desires us to have liturgy as a regular part of our worship?” There are so many Christians today who are in churches where liturgical forms are unknown. Is there a way to tell them, and pastors like me, that we “ought” to have it or that God desires it that comes from a biblical basis instead of just a historical one? Saying that “liturgy is historical” isn’t the same thing as saying “liturgy is good” or “liturgy is commanded.” If that were true then Luther could not have stated that he would not recant without being convinced from the Bible and plain reason. He would have been content with the decisions of “councils” and “popes.”

      • 4November2012 08:20

        I just sent you a really long response and then it disappeared. Uggh. I am working on it again but I want you to know I’m here and interested in this dialogue. Okay? So hang tight.

      • 4November2012 08:33

        As Lutherans, liturgy is just a word that means “work of the people.” So the fact that your tradition has no liturgy is not really true; you have a liturgy (a form of worship) but it might not look like the Lutheran, Catholic or Episcopalian liturgy. So I think, first of all, that’s where we are speaking at cross purposes. The Lutheran liturgy is “traditional” in the sense that we inherited from the Roman Catholic Church which makes sense, right, because Luther was a Catholic priest. His argument was not that liturgy should be abolished. His argument was about grace being a free gift that was being sold to spring people out of purgatory. He wanted the people of faith to rely solely on God’s grace, not some convention of the human mind that gave them a false sense of security (if I pay this money then I will make it heaven quicker.)
        Your question does the Lord require us to have a liturgy? Probably not. But is it a bad thing? We would say no and here’s way: ritual is part of being human; it points us toward the holy when we know what to expect, it draws us deeper through the Holy Spirit to the heart of God. Is it the only way we might be drawn to the heart of God? Of course not. God works through what God’s going to work through. Is it problematic when we don’t understand “why” we do what we do? Absolutely! As a Lutheran pastor who is a cradle Lutheran, I grew up NOT knowing what it all meant and therefore it meant just about nothing to me. Now I know and it is rich and deep and comforting and exciting and spirit filled and I spend lots of time teaching it to my flock. And now they understand it and it serves to draw them deeper into the divine heart. It becomes a part of us as Lutherans. . . kind of like this, have you ever visited an Alzheimer’s patient who couldn’t remember her own children’s name but when you launched into the Lord’s Prayer she chimed right in with no struggle at all? It shapes us and forms us in very tangible ways, and it is biblical. All of it, but when we don’t know that then we have a serious problem. I could go on and on about the cycle of the church year and what that means, the festivals we celebrate like Reformation and how that affects us and keeps us grounded to the tradition but moreso to Christ and what it is all about. . . but I will let you respond. For now I have to go and lead worship and proclaim the good news: it is All Saints Sunday today, also a tradition but also very rich and meaningful.
        Yours in Christ,
        Amy Little

  5. 4November2012 08:42

    It seems that the basis, then, is in reason, and not in scripture itself. The question then becomes how to “move” people from non-liturgy to liturgy if that indeed is God’s will. Luther, it seems, did not anticipate that there would be Christians who do not use liturgy. I think he was saying “the scriptures allow for it” instead of saying “the scriptures (or God) commands it.” I think then it becomes adiaphora?

    • 4November2012 08:48

      Much of it could be called adiaphora which would allow for variances in it, yes. The essentials are Word and Sacrament and those cannot be left out. The command to have formal liturgy is not biblical as if Jesus said, “You must have a liturgy that includes gathering, hymnody, sermon, meal and sending.” However Jesus commanded us to share the Lord’s Supper. Hymn singing goes back to Israel. And of course, Luther was not opposed to human reason: If you cannot convince by scripture or REASON then I will not recant. Here I stand I can do no other. I think you are right, it was way beyond Luther’s purview to think there would be Christians who did not use a formal liturgy. You still have a liturgy though, the WAY you worship, see? Adiaphora becomes problematic when it moves us away from Christ, away from the central things.

      • 4November2012 08:57

        Yes, if anything we do in worship moves us away from Christ, THAT must be corrected. Amen!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: