So, an Australian Lutheran Seminarian decide to be an Internet Troll, and recently attacked a facebook group connected with my denomination, asking the question: “Why does the ELCA have Luther in their name when he was a racist and sexist bigot?” From what I can gather from his responses to people’s earnest answers to his question, he mainly wanted to tell folk that his version of Lutheranism follows Luther warts and all, unlike those sissies in the ELCA who ordain women and apologized for Luther’s anti-Jewish writings.
Now, his question got me thinking about names. Of course, Luther wanted Lutherans to be called “Evangelicals” but like so many other groups (for example Methodists, Mormons, and Quakers), Lutherans didn’t get to name ourselves. Instead, people hurled the term “Lutheran” at us as an insult, and it stuck.
And I wonder how that name Lutheran, has shaped who we are as a church?
A few counter-factuals:
What if we’d managed to have the name we wanted, Evangelical. Evangelical comes from the Greek word for Good News. Would we have been more diligent in telling people about God’s grace if we’d been known as Evangelicals? Would more people have heard that God loved them even before they loved themselves, if we’d had that name?
For that matter, what if we’d named ourselves after the documents that best describe what we believe, the Confession of Augsburg or the Book of Concord? What if we were Concordians or Augsburgers? Would this decenter the personality of Luther and a corporate identity focused on protesting and “Here I Stand” moments and re-center on celebrating moments of unity?
Or, what would have happened if Luther’s Roman Catholic Order became the descriptor of our faith, what if we identified as “Austere Augustinians”? Would that point us back to the first four centuries of Christianity more than our current identity? Would scripture AND tradition be a watch word for us instead of “Scripture Alone”?
Finally, what if we’d called ourselves Catechismers? That is, what if the commonality we clung to was Luther’s Small Catechism? How might that empower lay folk to explore their many Christian callings? After all, if you are identified with Luther, you probably need to be familiar with his whole history and the giant corpus of his works. If you identify with the confessions, it is fraught with background and a great deal of study is required. But, if that little book, read by parents to children, is the center of it all, wouldn’t more people think “Eh, sure, I can do that!”