03 January 2009

Are Lutherans Protestants?

The question surely strikes most people as utterly nonsensical, for if Lutherans AREN'T Protestants, then who is? But it is a useful question for clarifying what is meant by "Protestant." And I'd suggest that - setting aside for the moment the Western Rite Orthodox - the simplest answer is this: Protestants are Western Christians who reject the claims of the Bishop of Rome to be the universal bishop of the Church, the divinely-appointed head of all Christians. If THAT is the definition, then, indeed Lutherans are Protestants, and we can wear the name without any sense of dishonor, for it does not imply in any way the revocation of our catholic heritage.

Sadly, though, in most folks ears I suspect that "Protestant" equates rather to something else, of which the Reformed (of whatever stripe) tend to be the epitome. Lutherans, to their eyes, seem to be but quasi-Reformed. Almost, but not quite there. Luther they pay homage to, but honestly believe that his conservative tendencies got in the way of a thorough-going Reformation and in fact ended up tragically and needlessly splintering the Reformation movement.

The key is always to ask how a person understands the term. Lutherans most certainly ARE Protestants vis a vis the papal claims. But we see that position of protest in no way as undercutting our commitment to a truly catholic heritage; rather, it is mandated BY that heritage. Dr. Secker relates how when Dr. Piepkorn heard of some Lutherans converting to Rome, he remarked that he would march to the gates of Rome and plant his banner. He was convinced, utterly convinced, that the key to fidelity to the catholic heritage was embracing the Lutheran Reformation. For here he found the faith of the Fathers and a catholicity whose supreme mark was adherence to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the only Savior of sinners, as witnessed by the infallible Word of God, the Sacred Scriptures.

If anyone asks me if I'm a Protestant, I don't hesitate anymore to answer: "Indeed I am. But maybe a Protestant is something different than what you are thinking! For I am an original Protestant. That means, I am one who believes that Baptism is for infants and adults and through it the Blessed Trinity saves us; I am a Protestant who believes that in the Eucharist Christ gives me to eat and drink His most holy body and blood beneath the appearance of bread and wine; I am a Protestant who believes that the words of Christ's called servants release me from sin, forgive me, and open wide the gates of heaven; I am a Protestant who believes that the Eucharist is the beating heart of the Church's life; I am a Protestant who rejoices in the liturgy of the Mass and the Daily Office; I am a Protestant who acknowledges the Office of the Holy Ministry as divinely established and ordained for the salvation of our souls. Please don't call me 'high church' or 'hyper confessional.' Just call me Lutheran. For that's what I am."


Dennis said...


Very well said. I always liken it to not throwing the baby out with the bath water. We protest what is wrong and cling to the Truth.

TruthQuestioner said...

Thanks for this post. I've been having mental carwheels using/not using the Protestant label.

Mike Keith said...

While I think the term protestant can be rightly used - it seems to me that most use the term and associate it with the reformed as you mention but also with generic evangelicalism. I prefer not to use the term to avoid confusion. There is the Roman church, the Reformed, and then us Lutherans - catholic and evangelical. We are other :-)

William Weedon said...

Some terms are worth fighting for. Catholic is one. Orthodox is another. Protestant is yet another. The conjunction of the three is Lutheran. :)

Father Hollywood said...

The big problem with the term "Protestant" is that it is a meaningless catch-all, a non-sequitor.

For the sake of classification, we divide Christendom up into 1) Roman Catholic, 2) Orthodox, and, 3) well, uh, everybody else. We put a label on the "none of the above" option and call it "Protestant."

But there is no "Protestant Church," nor "Protestant confession," nor "Protestant theology." Again, it is a catch-all word that only says what we are not - and that is a pretty pathetic way to define what something is. We could define a green cold-blooded critter that lives in a shell as "not a mammal" - but why not call it a "turtle" instead?

For Protestants do all sorts of things that Catholic Christians bound by the Lutheran confessions don't, such as: forbid the little children to come to Christ through baptism, deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and see the pastoral office as a man-made option. Protestants ordain women, believe there are errors in the Bible, speak in gibberish and call it "tongues," perform homosexual marriage rituals, address God as "Mother," disallow crucifixes and the sign of the cross, etc.

Within Protestantism, you will find everything from Gnosticism and Montanism to Pelagianism and Modalism.

For a Lutheran to describe himself as a "Protestant" is an imprecise as an American describing his nationality as "Not Chinese."

Personally, I think it is a meaningless and unhelpful term that is best avoided.

William Weedon said...

I will respectfully disagree with the beloved Dean of the Society of St. Polycarp. I think it can be a useful term in the parameters I mentioned. Like many terms, its proper usage can be taught, and through distinctions it can be made clear in what sense Lutherans are Protestants and in what sense the popular use of the term does not adequately describe who we are as a jurisdiction within the Church Catholic.

Jon Townsend said...

It is a term that is a victim of those who want to claim it, even those who claimed it soon as it was coined in Speyer.

I have been to Speyer several times and you would be hard pressed to find anything there that the German Princes who wrote the "Protestation" to Charles V would recognize as the term "Protestant" as they knew it.

The term belongs to us, rightly, but I am not sure we want it anymore.

Gay means happy, joyful, fun - but does anyone use it that way anymore?

Pr. Lehmann said...

Among the original Protestants (protesters of the 2nd Diet of Speyer) there were some who disagreed strongly with our sacramental theology.

Notably the cities of Strassburg and St. Gall which were Zwinglian.

So, on this basis, I would say that claiming to be an original Protestant isn't much of an improvement.

Anonymous said...

Will Weedon has one, great, insightful post after another.

Thanks for always giving us another way of thinking about things. Your posts always are rich.

BTW, I've heard rumors that Superman wears Will Weedon pajamas.

Chris said...

Fr. Weedon wrote: "I will respectfully disagree with the beloved Dean of the Society of St. Polycarp."

Disagreeing with the head of a religious order? What's next? Disagreeing with the Pope? (sarcasm intended throughout, Fr.)

Father Hollywood said...

Weedon is not likely to recant from his embrace of Protestantism. ;-)

Lutherans are like what quote from William Faulkner:

“For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand..."

Similarly, for us Lutherans, it is always April 18, 1521 in Worms, and the strains of Ein' Feste Burg well up in the background, and we all dream of defiantly saying: "Hier stehe ich!"

William Weedon said...

Right idea, Reverend Dean, but wrong year. Picture instead 1530 and the Confessor bearing his neck to the emperor for him to remove his head rather than renounce the Confession. :)

Past Elder said...

Terms are troublesome. Catholic is worth fighting for. It's in the creed. Protestant isn't. It's not in the BOC either. Nor, in identifying oneself as Protestant, would the other person say Oh, I SO protest that Second Diet of Speyer too!

It's their term for us, not ours, and hasn't meant us in centuries.

I'd rather take the time needed to explain what I mean in saying I'm Protestant and use it to explain why I am catholic as distinct from Catholic.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

In the final analysis, I'm with you, Past Elder, with one proviso. Rather than explaining why I am catholic instead of Catholic, I prefer to show how I am Catholic instead of Catholic. I see no need to give up the upper case.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that if you subscribe to "sola scriptura", you are a Protestant.

William Weedon said...

Oh, dear. Don't tell that to St. Thomas Aquinas!

Malacandra said...

Lutherans are the original Protestants and the genuine catholics.

Father Hollywood said...

Or, perhaps they were at one time protestants, but have always been Catholics?