- C.F.W. Walther
What is also true is that, of all the church bodies, the Lutheran Church, despite appearances, is the only one which thoroughly rejects the works-righteous system of salvation to which the papacy adheres. This is indeed ironic, considering that the Protestants who criticize Lutherans for being "too (Roman) Catholic" actually differ little from Rome in understanding how sinners are saved, also adhering to a works-righteous system of salvation, which requires man's cooperation. For both Rome and Protestants, Jesus has done His part, but it's up to man to do his part if he is going to be saved. Lutherans alone completely reject man's role in his salvation, giving all credit to Jesus Christ, who lived the perfect life in our stead and paid the full price for our sins with His atoning Blood on the Cross. Protestants think that, by ridding themselves of the liturgy and vestments and ceremonies and lectionaries, etc., they have completed what Lutherans have only done in part, i.e. finished the Reformation and cleansed itself completely from the abuses of the papacy. But, they are wrong, and the only reason they believe this is because, as Walther states, they know neither what the papacy is nor what the Bible teaches.
But, sadder than this is the fact that even many who call themselves Lutheran today fall under the same delusion that has kept the Protestants from understanding what the Reformation was really all about. Like the Protestants, these Lutherans falsely believe that the way to cleanse ourselves of the abuses of the papacy is to rid ourselves of the historic liturgy, priestly clothing, church ornamentation, altars, crucifixes, private confession and absolution, making the sign of the cross, and so forth. They, too, are wrong and know neither what the papacy is nor what the Bible teaches.
Thus, does the saying ecclesia semper reformanda est ever remain relevant among us. The Church must always be reforming. Lutherans of every generation need to continuously revisit and be catechized to understand what it means when we confess that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, the chief doctrine which was rediscovered by Dr. Luther and stood at the heart of the Lutheran Reformation. It is precisely for the sake of that chief article of the faith that our Lutheran forefathers did not abolish the Mass or the usual ceremonies and customs that long found a home within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, but simply corrected some of the abuses that had crept in under the papacy. To think that they wished to rid themselves of any and all things Roman Catholic is to completely misunderstand their theology and intent, as Karlstadt and other radicals learned from Dr. Luther himself.
Would that more Lutherans had the desire to study, learn, and understand their own heritage. Not only would this benefit them greatly, but it would be a great blessing to Lutheran pastors today, who have studied and do understand our heritage, and eagerly desire to share it and pass it on to those they serve. As it is, many Lutherans are content with maintaining their limited understanding, which is often filled with false assumptions and presumptions, especially if some well-loved pastor of yesteryear had misinformed them, whether knowingly or not. But, this is not a new problem we face today. Walther faced it in his day. So did Luther. And, so will Lutherans 100 years from now, should our Lord tarry. Thus, does the Church do well always to pray: Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.