In discussion and dialogue with my Protestant friends and family (this includes reformed and evangelicals in general), there has rarely been progress in understanding. More and more I continue to come to the conclusion that dialogue may not be beneficial.
Having said that, however, I do think it is possible to clarify what Lutherans believe and clear up common misunderstandings.
My hope is that this will at least help folks to understand.
Misunderstanding: "You Lutherans are just like Roman Catholics."
This is probably one of the most common misunderstandings. We will grant that our liturgy *looks* and *smells* at least like *traditional* Roman Catholic liturgy, but there are several differences.
We have purged anything that does not reflect the pure Gospel. As an example, particularly in our liturgy of the Eucharist, we have dropped all references to "merit" and "may our sacrifice." We confess that the Eucharist is a sacrifice of praise.
The movement is downward, God toward us.
It is the worship of the Gospel. Not the worship of the Law.
Further, our understanding of the Sacraments is completely different from Rome. We view the Sacraments as the pure Gospel applied. For weak and weary beggars and sinners. Not something we do for God. Something God does for us and to us. Giving us Christ through them.
Lutherans have a unique view of the Sacraments. It is not like Rome's view.
Misunderstanding: "You Lutherans stifle the Holy Spirit and you have a dead religion."
No, we have a different *understanding* of *how* the Holy Spirit operates. We believe that there is no such thing as a Spiritless Word or a Wordless Spirit. In other words, the Spirit attaches Himself willingly to the Word and Sacraments, and He is always there graciously, applying the gracious universal Gospel. The difference is in *man*, not in the Sacraments. The Sacraments are *always* effectual.
Faith does not make a Sacrament valid.
God's Word makes the Sacrament valid.
Misunderstanding: "You Lutherans are idolatrous."
This charge is to be expected from those who are iconoclastic. This also shows the immense difference, from our perspective, between Protestants and Lutherans. Our faith is a *physical* faith, an *Incarnational* faith. God became Man. The Finite contains the Infinite.
We don't seek to explain *how* that is possible. We believe it because God's Word says it.
We don't subject the Word of God to fallen human reason, as the Calvinists do.
And we do not worship statues or icons. We believe they are helpful aids. And as Luther pointed out in his "Against the Heavenly Prophets", it is impossible to think of Jesus without thinking of a *man* in my mind. I am not being idolatrous in doing so.
The Commandment is not against any images, because even in the Old Testament there were many images God commanded the Israelites to create and make in the Temple and the Tabernacle.
The Commandment is against creating images in the likeness of created things and calling it "god" and bowing down to it and worshiping it. The pagans make idols of created things such as birds and crawling reptiles, bow down to it and worship it.
God is not in the image of birds and reptiles.
But God *is*, however, Man.
His Name is Jesus Christ, the Revealed God.
The Crucifix says it all.
Misunderstanding: You Lutherans are really just Arminians.
So many people think the only options are Calvinism or Arminianism. And some think we are "in between" the two.
The reality is, we are neither.
We affirm total depravity 100%. But we also believe it in a deeper sense than the Calvinists. Especially when it comes to our view of sanctification.
We affirm unconditional election but reject reprobation. We are comfortable with this paradox.
We reject limited atonement. But we don't hold to universal atonement the way the Arminians do. Instead, we affirm universal objective justification, believing that God in Christ actually *justified* the entire world on the Cross, and that that is delivered *subjectively* in the Word of the Gospel and the Sacraments, where Christ the Revealed God is present as for us.
We reject irresistible grace. We see it as hidden G-d, and we are not interested in God's decrees. We believe God's grace can be resisted.
We reject perseverance of the saints. However, we affirm that we are always *secure* **in Christ.** The Calvinist "P" does not bring comfort, because in Calvinism folks are always left wondering if they are really of the saints. They have to go inward to find out, or look at their "fruit."
God always stands ready to forgive and calls us home to where Christ is, in the Gospel proclaimed and in the Sacraments.
This is why outside Holy Mother Church there is no salvation.
Misunderstanding: You Lutherans place all of your hope in a priest, when only God forgives sins.
Yes, only God forgives sins. And He always does so in Christ and Christ alone. Yet God does not want us to "guess" about whether we truly have our sins forgiven, and He doesn't want us to look inward to find out. So He gives us real, physical, objective and tangible things, like Water, Body, Blood, Spoken Words. And He tells His disciples in John 20 that if they forgive sins of others, they are forgiven. And if they retain sins of others, they are retained. We cannot overlook that important fact.
The priest is simply Christ's representative.
When the Secretary of State visits a country, they know he is the representative of the President himself. And they treat him so.
When the priest speaks and gives Absolution and celebrates the Sacrament, we know He is Christ's ordained representative. He stands in Christ's stead. In Persona Christi.
He has been ordained to speak Gracious Words to us.
Words of Comfort for the broken.
Words of Warning for those who flirt with sin.
God's Two Words: Law and Gospel.
Misconceptions abound. Here is the heart of the matter.
The heart of the matter is that Protestants are iconoclastic and the Incarnation takes a back seat for them. We are thankful for where they are inconsistent. But we also see all false doctrine as deadly and dangerous. The common call for "unity" can only be answered when there is unity in Gospel doctrine.
We Lutherans dare not bow the knee to this false call for "unity."
Nothing less than the Gospel is at stake.
We must contend for it.