The take on confessional Lutherans is best described in a poor choice of terms I have heard too many times in my 20+ years as a pastor. When talking about confessional Lutheran churches, the word “strict” is the incorrect word used to describe them.
Having started my pastoral career in Iowa, and first heard the term used of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (Capital T with endash) there, I find it interesting how relative such a judgment is. In Iowa, it was Missouri Synod Lutherans who were the “strict” Lutherans. I always found this humorous having grown up in Wisconsin, where families have divided on the fault lines of the LC-MS and the WELS. Here in WI, the accusation is that the LC-MS is not nearly so “strict” as the WELS. Indeed, that divide often suggests that the LC-MS is liberal, positively permissive in its theology and stance. In Iowa, no one had heard of the WELS, at least not in Battle Creek.
This relativity in the use of the term “strict” belies just how poor of a word it is to describe what really is going on. Regardless of church bodies, we Lutherans of a confessional stoutheartedness do not adhere to the Scriptures, the three ecumenical creeds, and the Lutheran Confessions to the high degree we do because we are “strict.” We Lutherans do not avoid cavorting at the altars of churches who do not share our confession because we are “strict.” We do not practice closed communion and church discipline because we are “strict.” No, such a term is one giant fail in describing what we are really doing.
A much better word to describe what non-Lutherans view as our very peculiar “strict” behavior is actually love. We Lutherans adhere to the Scriptures, the Creeds, and the Confessions because they are the truth, and love always rejoices in the truth. There is no truth apart from the words and teachings of God’s holy Word. We love people enough to hold to this Word and tell them the truth.
We love our brothers and sisters of other confessions enough to hold not only them, but ourselves, to the highest standards of truth. If this means we cannot practice altar and pulpit fellowship with them, we will at least love them enough to say so, even as we pray that the Holy Spirit would increase unity among us until Christ comes again and such differences will no longer exist.
We love unrepentant sinners enough to withhold the Body and Blood of Christ from them until they repent because the Scriptures are truth and they tell us that an unworthy recipient of the Sacrament eats and drinks to their detriment. For the unrepentant sinner to partake of the gifts of forgiveness and life only perpetuates the lie and grants the horrifyingly wrong idea that sin is OK and that grace is cheap. As long as other Christians wish to have a cheap Lord’s Supper, the question comes back to love. The loving parent doesn’t let the toddler drink the household poisons. The rather crass practice of open communion gives strength to the lie and is, ultimately, unloving. The failure to confront public sins in the congregation commits the same lie.
You cannot love someone and lie to them. What the world derides as “strict,” only reveals how little the world really knows. Lutherans are serial truthtellers. Yes. The truth often hurts. The truth of God’s Word, however, is the only thing that can truly heal after it puts our sinful natures to death. “Love,” Paul wrote, “always rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6).
So today we celebrate 500 years of truth. That truth may not make the Lutherans the largest or most successful confession within Christianity, but Jesus didn’t necessarily die a very popular person either. This is precisely because He never failed to tell the truth.
This is why I am a Lutheran. Here is where I can love people enough to tell the truth, proclaim it, and let the Holy Spirit use it in their lives as He wills.
We’re not strict. We just love people enough to tell them the truth. Given the degree the world has bought into the lie these days, no apologies will be coming forth from us. We have been given the truth in God’s Word and, as Jesus said, it will set you free.
Praying that the truth will open the cold, dead ears of our present world,