Jan 2, 2015

Would a (Lutheran) By Any Other Name Smell As Sweet?

By Anna Ilona Mussmann

Blogger biographies hold a wealth of loaded lingo. “Crunchy,” “Semi-crunchy,” “Christian,” “confessional Lutheran,” “Liturgical,” “Green,” “Attachment parenting,” “Gluten-free,” “Progressive,” “Libertarian.” I know people who attach themselves to each of these labels. Some of them are delightful people, and others are a pain in the neck.

I think the difference often lies in how these people define themselves. Does “crunchy” mean “reveling in the joy of making wholesome products for myself and living close to nature,” or does it mean “not being like those decadent, chemical-glugging, vaccinating idiots who eat GMO food”? Does “Confessional Lutheran” mean “rejoicing in the blessings of doctrine and liturgy that reflect the purity of Scripture,” or does it mean “not being like those liberal idiots who are ruining the church, one electric guitar at a time?”

I am reminded of a song from an episode of the Donut Hole Man that I saw in childhood. In reference to Luke 18:10-14, a sanctimonious Pharisee (represented by a puppet) goes to the temple and sings,

“I thank God that I am not like other men
So full of greed and every other evil sin
Perfect in every way
That is why I pray
I thank God that I am not like other men.”

Of course it is a good thing that we have not (yet?) committed other people's sins. Of course it is good that we reject false ideas. Yet not all ways of talking about other people’s sins and errors are helpful to anyone, or even to our own souls.

Sometimes we end up thinking, “I thank God that I am not like other men,” not because we are consciously proud, but because we are worn-out from living on the defensive. Our energies are directed exclusively towards combating those who are in error, instead of also focusing on what is true. We spend more time and energy being angry, annoyed, and cynical about our opponents than we do enjoying what we have been given. This makes us rather angry, annoying, and cynical people.

Often the attitude comes from hurt. Many confessional Lutherans, especially those on the front lines of church work, frequently witnesses the harm caused by erroneous theology. Often it comes from weariness. It is part of some people’s job to explain over and over again why praise songs with bad theology are genuinely harmful, and that is exhausting. Sometimes it even comes from the dark human desire for exclusivity: the cold comfort of belonging to an elite little band with superior understanding.

Yet regardless of why we are slipping into this misguided focus, we mustn’t define ourselves only through negatives. We aren’t “Not-Baptists” or “Not-Methodists” or “Non-Pietists,” but something far more solid, real, and wonderful: We are Lutheran Christians.

We rejoice in Law and Gospel, we receive the Sacraments through which our God has promised to work, and we join with Christians throughout history in Confessions that reflect the truths of Scripture. We are blessed.

Part of that blessing is the knowledge that our faith comes from God, not us. It helps to remember that we Lutherans aren’t supposed to focus on ourselves (not even on how masterfully we destroyed the Pietists in our latest Facebook argument). The spotlight is on Christ. Christ is the light. As John 1:5 tells us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Let us pray, in the words of the Litany, that God would “put an end to all schisms and causes of offense.” The darkness of the errors around us will not triumph. For that, let us rejoice.        


Anna writes as often as she can, although sometimes it is with only one hand because her baby son requires the other. After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin she taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania. Anna's personal blog is Don't Forget the Avocados and her work can also be found in The Federalist.

Title Image: "Portrait of a girl with a book" by Angelo Bronzino, 1545


  1. This is great. We have such a strong identiy of who we are as Lutherans it is a shame that we often spend so much energy talking about who we are not. Very insightful.


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