XXIX: The “Lutheran” Church

Q: I have heard that “Lutheran” is not the proper name for our Church. Is this true?

A:   Yes! The term “Lutheran” to describe the followers of the doctrines and practices of what would become the Church of the Augsburg Confession first appeared around 1520 and originated with Luther's enemies. Their intent was derisive, suggesting that those who followed Luther's teachings had abandoned Christ for him. In separate treatises, Luther responded by writing:

 “…I ask that men make no difference to my name; let them call themselves Christians, not Lutherans. What is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine. Neither was I crucified for anyone. St. Paul …would not allow the Christians to call themselves Pauline, or Petrine, but Christian. How then should I - poor stinking maggot fodder that I am – come to have men call the children of Christ by my wretched name? Not so my dear friends; let us abolish all party names and call ourselves Christians; after Him whose teaching we hold.” [LW 45:70-71]

“True, by any consideration of body or soul you should never say: I am Lutheran or Papist. For neither of them died for you or is your master. Christ alone died for you. He alone is your master and you should confess yourself a Christian.” [LW 36:265]

Sadly, Luther's hope for the abandonment of “party” names was never realized and, subsequently, denominational labels persist. However, in accord with his intention, more accurate designations for Lutheranism would include:

THE CHURCH OF THE AUGSBURG CONFESSION. The oldest name for our Communion of the Catholic Church, it was used in the Augsburg Confession (1530) to designate those congregations which accepted the teachings of that document.

THE AUGUSTANA EVANGELICAL CATHOLIC CHURCH. Probably the most appropriate name for Lutherans since it describes exactly who and what we are. “Augustana” is Latin for Augsburg (where our Confession was presented). “Evangelical” denotes that our teaching is centered on the Gospel of Christ's saving sacrifice on the cross for our justification and redemption. “Catholic” which means “universal” emphasizes that we are not a Church in a vacuum - a sect - but that we continue the worship, teachings, and traditions of the “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” [Jude 3].

Adapted from About Being Lutheran © Lutheran Liturgical Renewal 1991. Used by permission.