Vol. X — No. 25 June 22, 1969


Why Are We Lutherans? Or Why Do We Treasure Our Lutheran Church?

Psalm 137:5-7

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

We are Lutherans. We are members of the Church of the Lutheran Confession, and by the grace and with the help of God we want to remain members until death, or so long as she abides by the Word of God. Why? Are there not other Lutheran churches all around us? What is so special about the Church of the Lutheran Confession? Are we not a small and despised group? We are called a splinter-group, the word ‘splinter’ being used in the bad sense. But we have no reason to be ashamed of our Church, and we are not ashamed. As the believing children of Israel in a strange land could not forget Jerusalem, so we cannot forget our Lutheran Zion. And why not? Why do we cling so firmly to our Church? That we would answer this day.

Why Are We Lutherans? Or Why Do We Treasure Our Lutheran Church?

Our Lutheran Church Abides by the Word of God in Doctrine and in Practice. Our text is a solemn vow of the believing Israelites in the land of their captivity. They sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept when they remembered Zion, “By the river of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion,” They hung their harps upon the willows by the river side. “We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereofo.” Their captors and tormentors asked them to sing songs of mirth for them and to forget Jerusalem. They tried to brainwash them so that they would forget Jerusalem. But the believing children of Israel answered, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” And then, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouths if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” Rather have right hand wither and tongue be dumb (hence unable to play and sing), than to forget Jerusalem. Why? What made Jerusalem so dear to them? Under the Sinaitic Covenant Jerusalem (also called Zion) was the place God had chosen as His dwelling-place. There stood the Temple, the place where God’s honor dwelt, the place where all the wonderous works of God were proclaimed with the singing of thanksgiving. There Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms were read and heard, there the many sacrifices were offered which reminded them of the Savior who was to come. No wonder they could not forget Jerusalem. And why can we not forget our Lutheran Zion? Because our church is the church of the pure Word, the true Bible-church; because her doctrines are the doctrines of the Prophets and Apostles; because she abides by the Word of God in doctrine and in practice. We sing songs of thanksgiving and praise to our God.

In this respect our church follows Dr. Luther, the Reformer of the Christian Church. After he had been led by the Spirit of God to see and understand and believe the Word, he took his stand upon that Word. In 1521 he was ordered to appear before the Diet of Worms where the dignitaries of the church and state were assembled. Luther’s writings had been placed on a table. He was asked, “Are these your writings?” Luther answered, “Yes.” Then he was commanded to retract them without any reservations. But Luther answered, “Unless I am convinced by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments, I am conquered by the Holy Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive in God’s Word; I cannot and will not retract anything. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise; so help me God. Amen.” Luther was accustomed to saying: “Every passage of Scripture makes the world too narrow for me.” “I am bound by the Word of God, I cannot escape; the Text stands too mightily,” The Word of God was to Luther worth more than heaven and earth. Similarly, he wrote songs and sang daily.

And our Church that bears his name follows him in this. Her watchword is, “It is written,” “Thus saith the Lord,” In the Smalcald Articles we confess with Luther: “The Word of God shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel.” Examine our teachings. Examine Luther’s Small Catechism, this precious gem of our church, and you will find that it is a clear confession of God’s Word. As in doctrine, so our Lutheran Church also abides by the Word of God in practice. We are faulted because we do not have confessional fellowship with other church bodies. But are we not thereby showing our faithfulness to God’s Word? Does not our Savior say, “Beware of false prophets”? Does not the apostle admonish us: “Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them”? We are faulted because we do not engage in politics in our church; do not try to legislate the world into a better place in which to live. But are we not abiding by the Word of God in this also? Does not the Savior say, “My kingdom is not of this world”? Yes, that is the honor and glory and crown of our church that she abides by the Word of God in all things. That is why we cannot forget her, why we set her above our highest joy.

She Teaches the True Way to Heaven. We cannot forget our Church because she teaches the true way to heaven. To know the way to heaven—what could be more necessary and more important? And what is that Way? It is the Way that God made, the Way revealed in the Holy Gospel, the Way by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me,” John 14:6. “Jesus cried and said. He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” John 12:44-48. St. Peter declares: “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12. And this way our Lutheran Church teaches. The sinner is justified before God by faith, without the deeds of the Law. If the sinner asks: Is there hope and deliverance for me? The answer is: Christ is the blood-covering for your sins. “For he is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” 2 Cor. 5:19. “The blood of Jesus Christ, (God’s) Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7. If the sinner asks: Can I be sure of my redemption and salvation? The answer is: The Word is nigh thee. Cling to the Word, hear the preaching of the Gospel. Be baptized and wash away thy sins. Come to the Lord’s Supper and receive the pledge and seal of the forgiveness of all your sins. And if the sinner asks: May I come just as I am and find comfort in the Savior? The answer is: Most certainly. Jesus receives sinners. For that purpose the Gospel is preached to you. Come to the Savior just as you are and rejoice and find comfort in Him. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Mark 16:16.

Because our Lutheran Church abides by the Word of God in all things and teaches the true, simple way to heaven, we cannot forget her; and will cling to her in life and in death. We will pray, work, and if necessary die for her—so long as she abides by God’s Word.

Lord, be with us and help us! Amen.

—Missionary Fred Tiefel

Hachiman-Dori Lutheran Church
Tokyo, Japan

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