Why Lutherans? Why Now?
Recently, I read an article by a Lutheran pastor from another Lutheran church body about the decline in membership in his synod. During the last ten years, the decline has been about 11.2%, based on his statistics. In checking our Synod Report, I found out that the decline in our own synod’s membership over the same period is exactly the same: 11.2%. The pastor writing the article noted that a major reason for the decline is the loss of young people to the church and adult members leaving to attend other churches. He estimated that the church loses 75% of its young people from the time they are baptized until they reach age 21. I imagine that statistic would be the same in our synod, too.
When people discuss the decline in membership in churches they give many different reasons, but the pastor who wrote the article mentioned above is more insightful than many people. He believes a main reason we are losing members is that we have failed to teach important doctrines of the Scriptures to our people so they understand them clearly. He gave two examples of such doctrines: original sin and the efficacy of God’s Word.
The teaching of original sin is important because it shows us we are not inherently good creatures who can gain God’s approval by our own doing. People who think this way believe they can save themselves and see no need for a Savior. The Bible clearly teaches that the human nature is sinful and we are corrupt from the moment of conception. This is taught in the Psalms, where it is written, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (51:5). It was taught by our Lord Jesus when He said, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to Spirit” (John 3:5-6). It is also taught by the Apostle Paul: “By one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
The only remedy for original sin is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel reveals that Jesus came to this world to live a life without sin. Jesus did this because He was born without original sin. This was the case because He was conceived in the womb of His mother by the power of the Holy Spirit. He did not have a human father. He is true God, so He had a perfect nature. He was able to live a perfect life on earth, obeying every one of God’s laws all the time. Jesus offered His sinless life on the cross as the perfect sacrifice to pay for the sins of the world. On account of His work God forgives our sins.
The power of forgiveness is greater than the power of sin. Through Christ we have the remedy to original and actual sins. As in the medical world, we need to have the diagnosis before we can receive the cure. This is why it is so important to understand the scriptural teaching of original sin correctly. No one likes to hear that he or she is a sinner, but we need to know this in order to believe in the Savior. Our church body needs to teach this doctrine clearly so our members recognize the importance of belonging to a church that teaches the truths of God’s Word.
The Scriptures give us a grim diagnosis when it states that we are conceived and born in sin (Psalm 51:5). There is only one remedy for that condition and that is faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who cleansed us from the stain of sin and won forgiveness for us by His perfect life and death on the cross. The benefits of Christ’s work become ours through faith in Jesus as our Savior.
It is important to know that we are sinners so we will see our need for the Savior. It is just as important to know how God brings us to faith and keeps us in the faith so we receive our eternal inheritance in heaven. God brings people to faith through the Sacrament of Baptism and through the Word of the Gospel. He keeps people in the faith through the Word of the Gospel and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The Gospel and the Sacraments are called the Means of Grace because the Holy Spirit works through them to bestow God’s grace (forgiveness) upon us. God’s power is working through these means to change our hearts from sin and death to faith and life. He also works through these means to strengthen our faith and help us in our fight against sin and the devil.
The power of God’s Word to accomplish its work in us is taught in the Scriptures in such passages as: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16) and “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11). The purpose for which God sent His Word is to bring us to faith and keep us in the faith.
If we want God’s power working in our lives to keep us in the faith, we must be regular in our use of Word and Sacrament. I don’t know how many times I have heard people say, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” That is a lie and deception of the devil. God’s law requires regular church attendance (3rd Commandment), but more importantly the one who absents himself or herself from Word and Sacrament forfeits God’s power in the Word to remain strong in the faith.
Most churches deny the power of God’s Word. They teach that the Bible is a religious instruction manual (like all other religious books) and that people decide to believe and follow God by free will. This will never happen. People who are dead in trespasses and sins cannot decide to believe in God. God is the only One who can turn a heart from unbelief to faith. He is the only One who keeps us in the faith. He does this through His powerful Word.
It does make a difference which church you go to. Most churches do not teach the doctrines of Original Sin and the Efficacy of God’s Word correctly and thus deprive their members of understanding their true malady (sin) and the remedy God provides (Word and Sacrament). Our church teaches these scriptural truths correctly “so your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:5).Matthew Luttman is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Vero Beach, Florida.