My friend Edward Oleander recently asked me a rather straightforward question: "Tom, tell me, briefly, what separates Christianity from the rest of the religions. What makes it special and unique?" It is a common understanding of many people that all religions want their followers to act righteously, and not to hurt others. And the impression of this viewpoint is that God is primarily concerned with how we act – He wants us to act kindly, and to stay away from doing evil.
But is this the core of Christianity? Let me answer this question by reviewing recent events at the church my family and I belong to – Hosanna Lutheran Church in Lakeville, Minnesota. Our church recently voted to start the process to leave the governing denomination it belongs to, the ELCA. The ELCA is the largest Lutheran denomination in America. There was strong unity at Hosanna in the vote to leave the ELCA with over 90% of the members wanting to leave. Although there are a number of reasons for Hosanna's decision, the most recent lightning rod for the vote was this past summer's decision by the ELCA to allow the ordaining of homosexual Pastors and the blessing of homosexual unions.
But why do I bring Hosanna's decision to leave the ELCA up? I am told that one of the members at Hosanna asked Pastor Bohline the following question: Will Hosanna still be Lutheran if we leave the ELCA? And this was a good question, because it highlights that except for the denomination, it is often difficult to know what the core beliefs of a church are. Despite Pastor Bohline's assurance that Hosanna will remain "Lutheran" even after leaving the ELCA, it is hard to know what now exactly makes us a "Lutheran" church.
And so, let me spell out my understanding of what it means to be a "Lutheran". And by this, I hope to also answer Ed's question of what sets Christianity apart from other religions.
What Makes Someone Lutheran / What Separates Christianity from Other Religions?
Sin and Redemption
All people are sinners unable to do anything to save themselves. All of our actions are so selfish, and so vile, that if God judged us this day, we would receive the ultimate penalty – loss of our life. Yet, God the Son was sacrificed and took this death punishment upon Himself, to save us, and to redeem us that we might individually have relationship with God, through God's Grace and by faith.
Justification is only by God's Grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Scripture is the primary authority. I really like Luther's summary of the importance of Scripture: Luther himself regarded the Bible to be "so much like himself [God], that the Godhead is wholly in it, and he who has the word has the whole Godhead."(from Pelikan and Lehman's "Luther's Works') The summary of these 'sola's" is by these wonderful Latin phrases:
sola fide (faith alone)
sola gratia (grace alone)
sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)
soli Christo (Christ alone)
Baptism, including infant baptism (see my previous post on this topic)
Christians will mission to those who do not call Jesus their Savior, give freely their service, and use of gifts provided by God, the Holy Spirit, out of gratitude/thankfulness, and not as a way to obtain salvation.
Faith in Jesus' return and Judgment
A complete rejection of Global Warming.
OK, I'm JOKING on the last one. And so, I see God as more interested in saving people through the Crucifixion of God the Son, and through this faith, changing people through the work of the Holy Spirit, rather than having people try their best to act righteously. This is not meant as a listing of all of the foundations of Christianity. Instead, this is my attempt to show the different important doctrines that separate Lutherans from other religions. I hope this provides you with a good starting for our discussion. /s/Tom