Are Lutherans Protestants?
I remember having an e-mail discussion with Pr. Paul McCain about this once. Yes, I know that we were the original "Protestants." But I- like Glen- remain convinced that the word as commonly used today simply does not accurately describe us. In fact, in some ways, I think that this is finally what the intermural battle in the Missouri Synod these days is all about: President Kieschnick and his supporters want us to be just another Protestant denomination, while we Confessionals see ourselves as another animal entirely- one with a unique witness the culture badly needs, but which the Kieschnick approach effectively negates.
At Immanuel, we routinely made the sign of the cross at the Trinitarian invocation, the phrase "...and the life everlasting" at the conclusion of the Apostles' Creed, and at other places in the liturgy. My ex-roommate, Mike, who was raised in a rather low-church LCMS environment in Ohio, was shocked at my mention of this. He was unfamiliar with the practice of Lutherans making the sign of the cross , despite Luther's specific endorsement of the practice in the Small Catechism. Mike's memory is short; the practice was by no means unknown at Concordia, River Forest during mutual time as students there.
But his reaction is not unusual. "Das ist Katolisch!" is the instinctive reaction of may LCMS Lutherans to the making of the sign of the cross, even though it's as Lutheran as the chorale. It's nothing more or less, after all, than the tracing of the cross the pastor made upon us at Baptism!
American Lutheranism has been heavily watered down over the years by the influence of our Protestant culture. A sacramental church finally has no comfortable place in the constellation of rationalistic, neo-Platonic American Protestant denominations. Identifying with them cannot help but distort everything we are- and indeed, so it has done. Combine it with the corrosive internal heritage of Pietism, and the result is that Lutheranism has become progressively less Lutheran the longer the time it's spent in America. Shallow "contemporary services" and actual belief systems among the laity virtually indistinguishable from those of the average "Evangelical" are really the inevitable consequences of our long-standing desire to fit in, and our consequent refusal to be who we really are.
My TALC internship (vicarage) superviser never failed to point out that a survey several years ago showed that while most ELCA pastors would want to be Catholic or Episcopal if they couldn't be Lutheran, most LCMS pastors would want to be Southern Baptists. Personally, I find all of the options chosen in that survey to be unacceptable. I suppose if I absolutely had to choose a theological identity other than Lutheran, I'd become a conservative Presbyterian or some other kind of more-or-less traditional Calvinist. The conservative branches of Anglicanism would also provide an option. But justification by grace, for Christ's sake, through faith is, if anything, even less something I'd be willing to do without than the sacramental approach to the Christian faith which is finally utterly essential to it. I would be a Lutheran no matter what label I bore, for the simple reason that I regard confessional Lutheranism as identical with genuine, biblical Christianity. I don't think those who are so willing to compromise the essence of Lutheranism in either direction really do. "Lutheran substance" is finally inseperable from "Lutheran style."
We are Evangelical Catholics. We are neither "Evangelicals" (in the contemporary sense), or Roman Catholics. The genius and heart of Lutheranism is its refusal to compromise the Gospel by sacrificing it on the altars of either Plato or Aristotle, and one cannot be truly Protestant (or Roman Catholic, for that matter) without doing one or the other.
We are the via media. We are a third thing. And we are no more
"Protestant," as the term is commonly understood these days, than we are "Catholic-" again, as that term is commonly understood. On the other hand, as both terms are correctly understood, we are both- and uniquely so. We are the contemporary form of the Christianity of the Apostles, and we dare compromise in the direction of neither of its great historical distortions.