Why the name "Lutheran"?

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Why Lutheran? Why not just Christian? This question is often asked. How should we answer? Is it right to use the name Lutheran? Who is entitled to use it?

The Bible contains names based on people. These names are often used to designate believers.

Those who are of faith are called "sons of Abraham". They are permitted to call themselves by this name because they have the same faith as Abraham had. Jesus, however, did not give those Jews who rejected the Truth the right to call themselves sons of Abraham. He said: "If you are Abraham's children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do" (John 8:39,40).

We too may call ourselves Lutheran if we adhere to the Church Reformer, Martin Luther's doctrine. If we did not confess Luther's doctrine, we would not be honest were we to use his name. The name Lutheran serves a good practical purpose. If we confess that we are Lutherans, everyone can know what we believe by studying the Lutheran Confessional Books. If we say that we are Christians, this does not yet reveal what we teach. At first the name Christian was sufficient because everyone believed in Jesus Christ in the same way. But as soon as doctrinal differences arose, more specific and detailed confessions were needed. If we confess a faith, everyone, in the name of honesty, has a right to know what faith we confess.

The name Lutheran is, of course, used wrongly, but this is not the fault of the name.

What has Luther himself said about the use of his name? He writes: "There are some who want to avoid danger by saying: I am not a follower of Luther or of anyone else; I am a follower of the Gospel. Truly this type of a confession does not help them, and it is the same as denying Christ. It is true that when speaking about your soul's salvation, you should not say: I am a Lutheran or I am a Papist, for neither one has died for you or is your master. Christ alone has died for you and is your Master. You must confess that you are a Christian. Now if you believe Luther's doctrine to be evangelical and the doctrine of the Pope to be unevangelical, you cannot reject Luther just like that. If you do, you reject his doctrine along with him, although you know that it is the doctrine of Christ. This is what you must say: Luther may be a fool or a saint; this does not resolve the matter, but his doctrine is not his own, but Christ's. For you can see that those in control do not want to destroy only Luther, but they want to destroy his doctrine. It is because of this doctrine that they harrass you and ask, are you a Lutheran?"

In Luther's day if someone claimed to be a supporter of Luther's doctrine, he had to confess that he was a Lutheran. It is the same today. A name does not harm a person, if a person does not harm the name. But let a person also live up to his name.