In today's non-denominational world, where Christianity is whittled down to "essentials" and "non-essentials", we Lutherans usually are misunderstood by our Protestant brethren. Most don't understand why we place such high esteem on the Sacraments, why we won't commune non-Lutherans (although there are pastoral discretion exceptions), and why we will only commune at Lutheran Altars. There are some, such as the WELS Lutherans, who will only pray with Lutherans of whom they share fellowship. (This was also Missouri's position for a while as well, although not recently.)
Of course the above is considered harsh, unloving, divisive, etc.
So what follows is simply an attempt to help our Protestant brethren *understand* us; hopefully it will aid them in understanding *why* we believe what we believe and *the reasons* why we do what we do in our fellowship practices.
HOW DO LUTHERANS SEE OTHER CHRISTIANS?
1. First and foremost, Lutherans consider *all* those who have been Baptized into the Name of the Holy Trinity to be our brethren in the Lord. This includes Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Trinitarian Pentecostals, the Churches of Christ, Baptists, Methodists, even many of the "liberal" assemblies that still have a valid Trinitarian Baptism.
Because we have a very high view of the Words of Institution of Holy Baptism: "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." When the intention is to Baptize, and water is used with these added Words, we believe God's Word does what it says. If the Words retain the very meaning of the Most Holy Trinity, then they have a valid Baptism.
This *excludes* those who use the words but change their meaning, such as Mormons, who do not believe in the Trinity.
Simply put, if the Words with the meaning are used, it is a valid Baptism.
2. As you can see, therefore, we do not try to "read the heart" of other Christians. Lutheranism opposes trying to "figure out" who is "truly saved." This leads to pastoral problems, such as doubting one's salvation, never knowing whether one is "of the elect", whether one has done enough good works to "prove" they are saved, etc. We oppose this not only against our Protestant brethren, but also the works-oriented approach of our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brethren. Which leads to our next point.
3. Lutherans are all about the Gospel. We are Evangelical Catholics. Usually the misconceptions of our Protestant brethren about us come in here. They expect us to think and act like them. In fact, they think of us as just "one of many" valid denominations (and they exclude Rome and the East!).
But nothing could be further from the truth.
Lutherans have always seen themselves as creating nothing new. We were part of what has been called the "conservative Reformation."
A lot of folks look at the Reformation as "the reformed wing and the Lutheran wing," with the Anabaptists as "the radicals."
But from our perspective, the reformed wing is just as much part of *the radicals* as the Anabaptists. The reformed wing started from scratch, and introduced doctrines that had never been held in the whole history of the Church.
The Lutheran Confessions (summarized in the Book of Concord) appeal to both the Scriptures and the Fathers.
We believe that Rome is the one that started creating new doctrines, and this can be proven from the history of the Roman Catholic Church--and now, especially from the innovations at the Second Vatican Council.
But what is most important to us is the *Gospel.* Which leads to the next point.
4. All doctrines Lutherans believe are *essential*, because they are all related to the Gospel. We don't think in terms of "non-essentials." We see all doctrine as touching upon the Gospel, and as interwoven, and we see all false doctrine as dangerous and deadly spiritually.
*Infant Baptism is Gospel because it shows how helpless we are before God, and God gives faith in Holy Baptism.
*Our "free will" is dead, and *no one* is capable of believing in Christ. It is not in our nature.
*The Holy Spirit willingly unites Himself to Word and Sacrament.
*The Sacraments are Gospel because they deliver the Gospel, especially in Baptism, Absolution, and the Eucharist.
5. Lutherans are all about keeping justification and the forgiveness of sins as central, at all times. Lutherans recognize that, in the real world, we sin every day. In fact, we are always sinning, because we are *never* loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and we are *never* loving our neighbor as ourselves. But Christ did. And He has freed us to look away from ourselves, and to rest in the Good News of His forgiveness poured out on the Cross and delivered in the Gospel Sacraments.
6. Lutherans believe in good works that serve our neighbor. Lutherans have been accused of not caring about good works, but nothing could be further from the truth. We believe in *truly* good works, because we have been freed to be passive and restful toward God through constant forgiveness, and we cannot then help but respond *spontaneously* through good works in serving our neighbor.
7. Lutherans believe in the Great Commission, to Baptize and disciple all nations. Usually our Protestant brethren complain to us here. But we have missionaries all over the world. And Baptism saves, so not only do we Baptize babies, but we also catechize them, "teaching them everything I [Jesus] have commanded you." This includes *doctrine*.
8. Lutherans consider true churches to be those where the Gospel is purely taught, and the Sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. This means that we believe there are true churches, there are heterodox assemblies, and there are heretical assemblies. We don't try and "figure out" where to find a "pure church." We believe that is the error of our Baptist brethren.
Here usually our Protestant brethren desire us to recognize their assemblies as "true churches." Again, we do not think in those terms. But we do consider it a very serious error to not Baptize babies. We consider it a very serious error to deny that Christ is in the Eucharist Bodily, giving Himself to us for the forgiveness of sins. So, we are simply not interested in those assemblies.
But let us take heed as well, because there are plenty of "Lutheran" "churches" that are no better, having compromised with the world.
Heterodoxy and heresy are always a temptation for everyone. So we should pray that God keep His Church.
So how do we Lutherans view other Christians? As Baptized Christians. What do we think of their doctrine? We believe they are in error. Do we look at ourselves as "better" than them? Of course not. Everything is by God's mercy. And God knows how to save people, even in spite of false doctrine and poor theology.
But we also consider all of our beliefs to be related to the Gospel, so we will not compromise, by God's mercy, on our beliefs. These doctrines matter. We don't believe in the non-denominational, pick-and-choose spirit of the day. We reject it.
Here we stand. We can do no other.
God help us.