The Lutheran sound byte
Lutheranism has a powerful message. It’s really pretty simple.
A Lutheran churchman has memorably said, “Mormons have brilliant marketing and a dreadful product; Lutherans have a brilliant product and dreadful marketing.”
Just 10 years shy of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses, the Lutheran faith community seems burdened with a treasure with which it seems not to know exactly what to do. Otherwise, how shall we account for the fact that Martin Luther’s movement appears to be on the wane?
Let’s be clear. The heart of Lutheran theology, which can almost be reduced to a sound byte, really is brilliant. Or, to quote another church leader, “Lutherans arguably possess the most powerful theological system ever created.” Here’s the sound byte:
God’s love is unconditional and it changes lives for good.
Believing and communicating that truth is what Lutherans do best of all. Celebrating this promise was Luther’s passion. He was adamant in teaching that whatever places a condition on God’s embrace of human beings is to be rejected. That’s why Lutherans and Roman Catholics have had such a battle coming to an agreement about the doctrine of justification (how human beings are made right with God). After the Roman Church officially admitted Luther was right (God’s love is unconditional), then-cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) issued a “clarifying document” full of qualifying footnotes. Uncondi-tional grace is hard to swallow.
Since Lutherans have this dynamite, life-changing message, why is our marketing — and our growth trajectory — so flawed? Do we need to learn from the Mormons?
Perhaps not. The Mormon Church appeals to individualism and self-interest. (“Join us and you’ll receive a payoff — including a chance to rule your own planet one day.”)
An approach with more integrity would be, simply, to believe the promise and to let it do what it promises. Unconditional love changes people. Lutherans need to embrace that. Then, through them — through us — the Spirit of God can and will change the world.