What does a Lutheran look like?

by jpserrano on May 3, 2016 · 1 comment

When I first became Lutheran I understood it to be a theological movement.  I was brought into a church by a pastor who said, “If you can mix your Catholic upbringing with your recent Evangelical faith, you will do well in the Lutheran Church.”  That pastor went on to mentor me in the Lutheran Confessions, teach me how to read scripture, show me how to think theologically, and bring me up in the Lutheran Christian faith.  I stayed Lutheran after he died because he showed me a way of being Christian that resonated with both my Catholic and Evangelical sides.

So, it came as a surprise to learn that some people have combined very specific ethnic traditions with their Lutheran faith.   I have now heard all kinds of ethnic insider language that was, and to a large extant still is, foreign to my experience of being Lutheran.  It seems like this language usage centers around Minnesotan, Scandinavian, and German identities, all cultures with which I am not familiar.

I remember hearing my first Olly and Lena joke and needing someone to break it down piece by piece because I didn’t understand.  
I remember my first St. Lucia festival at church thinking I’ve never even heard of this.  
I remember my first smorgasbord, needing to have someone explain lefse and smelling lutefisk for the first time.

All of these things were explained to me as Lutheran things, but I didn’t get it because it seemed very foreign to have Lutheran things that are not theological.  I didn’t comprehend why it was such a big deal for people to do this in a Lutheran Church.

I knew Lutheranism for something else—theology.  But, for some people it is a whole cultural identity.  

There has been a muddling of ethnic identity and the Lutheran theological movement. I get this.  My family often mistakes Mexican-American norms for Catholic norms.  But, they mostly understand what they’re doing.  They know that not every Catholic church has menudo after the liturgy. This seems to evade a large amount of Lutherans who equate the Scandinavian/German/Minnesotan cultural norms for Lutheran norms.

What has been a sense of pride among Lutheran churches is now divisive and exclusionary, rather than inclusionary.

The Lutheran church has grown outside of those cultural traditions for some time.  We have Lutherans on every continent in the world and they know Lutheran theology with their own culture.  Specific cultural jokes and insider language aren’t “Lutheran,” it just doesn’t make any sense to those outside that culture.

While we can uplift and celebrate different cultural traditions let us not equate them for our faith. 

So, what does a Lutheran look like?

A Lutheran is a person who….

1. believes in the 3 creeds of the church.
2. understands the Augsburg Confession to be a faithful witness to scripture.  
3. knows that Jesus is the lens through which we understand God.
4. reads scripture as both law and gospel.
5. receives baptism and communion as gifts of God’s grace. 

There are more I could add to this list, but this is a good start.  Notice that none of these are culturally based.

The #decolonizelutheran memes that are going around seek to expand on the Minnesotan, Scandinavian, and German cultural norms that are prominent in the Lutheran Church in America.

My hope is that we get rid of the cultural norms in the Lutheran church and focus on what we believe as Christians in the Lutheran tradition.  Our belief in Jesus as the savior of the world is what binds us together not any cultural marker.


Other voices on this topic:
#DecolonizeLutheranism by Tuhina Rasch

Mixed Race, Tortillas, and #DecolonizeLutheranism by Joshua Serrano

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Confession (February Newsletter)

by jpserrano on February 4, 2016 · 0 comments

The basis for our teachings at Good Shepherd and all Lutheran Churches is: the scriptures of the Old and New Testament; the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds; and the Book of Concord (The Lutheran Confessional Writings). These works provide the anchor points for everything we do. They act as aides in helping us enter into the mystery of God’s presence and clarify the faithful teaching of the Lutheran Church.  If one wants to dig deeper into what Lutherans believe these are the reference works.


I write all of this because we Lutherans have specific beliefs that our written down.  Often we think that what we grew up with in belief and practice is THE Lutheran way never realizing that there is a wider birth of practice in the church.


When I first became Lutheran I assumed that private confession was a Roman Catholic thing and for a while I paid little attention to it. I had heard from many people that Lutherans only confess directly to God on Sunday morning, nothing else is needed.  But then, in conversations with colleagues I learned that some of them not only went to private confession, but received private confession as well. They even showed me the parts in scripture and the confessions where they got this practice…GASP!


Article XXV. of the Augsburg Confession (in the book of Concord) says, “Confession has not been abolished in our churches.” Giving instructions on how confession should be viewed Luther wrote in the Large Catechism,  “[Confession is] voluntary, that we may confess without coercion or fear; that we are released from the torture of enumerating all sin in detail; that we have the advantage of knowing how to use confession beneficially for the comforting and strengthening of our conscious.” So for Lutherans we do confession and it’s voluntary, brief, and for our comfort.  The main purpose of confessing to the pastor is to unburden yourself of the shame, guilt, and troubled conscious that comes with sin and hear the grace, love, and forgiveness of God.  When our sins are brought from darkness into the light of another living soul there is freedom.  Every lent I now go to confession myself.  It is incredibly freeing and unburdening.


But, we also have two other types of confession; to God alone and to our neighbor alone.  We are really good at the first one as a community.  We practice confessing to God every Sunday and hopefully you find yourself throughout the week throwing up confessions here and there.  Our communal practice is exactly that, practice for the rest of the week, that you may quickly identify your sins, confess, and repent.  What we do on Sunday is the group training for when your on your own.  Hopefully that training leads you to confess when you have hurt your neighbor and sinned against them in either word or deed, by what you have done or left undone.  At the heart of Christian community is confessing our sins when we wrong others and having them absolve us of our transgressions.


So continue to confess to God on Sunday and throughout the week.  Call the neighbor you have wronged and confess and ask for forgiveness. It has not been the practice of Good Shepherd in recent memory for the pastor to offer private confession. However, during this lenten season (and all year if you desire) I will make myself available for private confession.  Call me in the church office and I will be happy to make a time for us to meet.  I hope you take me up on it.  You will hear God’s grace and forgiveness while at the same time unloading the weight on your soul.


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Preached @ Faith Lutheran Church of Castro Valley on May 25, 2014.

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The News Story Making the Internet rounds is the story of a 17-year old girl who was kicked out of a homeschool senior prom.  She was wearing a dress that was deemed inappropriate in length for the dance by the chaperones.  As someone who has seen some of the dresses and Halloween costumes that pass […]

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Intro When people speak about Thomas, especially from today’s Gospel reading, he is almost universally called what?  Doubting Thomas.  I am not sure that’s accurate.  I think that history hasn’t really understood Thomas.  But mostly, I think he gets a […]

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