Lutherans, according to Reuters, “bristle” at the idea that the Catholic Church might offer a group for converts from Lutheranism who want to keep aspects of their tradition, as Anglicans wee offered an “ordinariate” in Benedict’s Anglicanorum Coetibus .

Rev Martin Junge, the Chilean-born secretary general of the World Lutheran Federation (WLF), said in a statement that the suggestion caused great concern and would “send wrong signals to LWF member churches around the world.”

“Bishop Friedrich Weber, the German Lutheran liaison with the Catholic Church, said the idea was unthinkable and amounted to ”an unecumenical incitement to switch sides.”

. . . This Vatican welcome has raised suspicions among some Protestants that the huge Catholic Church, which makes up half the world’s 2.2 billion Christians, now wants to woo away believers from smaller churches torn by internal debate.


I think, from the Vatican’s point of view, the better metaphor than wooing is sending a lifeboat out to a ship that’s sinking. But in any case, the Lutheran leaders’ indignation avoids the painful fact of ecumenical relations: that even with all the mutual respect and fellow-feeling in the world, the two sides disagree about where the Christian ought to be. If the Catholic Church thinks that — ideally — they ought be Catholics, the Lutherans think they ought not to be, at least for now. Both would be derelict in their duties did they not invite in those who were interested.

Weber, says the story, “said subjugation to papal authority was alien to the Lutheran view of religious freedom, which Martin Luther set out after he challenged the corrupt papacy in 1517 with the 95 Theses that led to the Protestant Reformation.” I’d be curious to know whether he actually said “subjugation” rather than “submission,” but more interesting is his (or the reporter’s) idea of what Luther was up to. As a conservative Lutheran I know wrote:

What drivel. Dr Luther had no interest in, or patience with, “religious freedom.”  How could it be otherwise for a man who famously said “my conscience is captive to the Word of God”?  Of course, freedom of religion with respect to the State is good, true, and important; but that is perfectly consistent with orthodox Roman Catholicism, classic Lutheranism, or with any “Lutheran Ordinariate” that might come to pass in the future.

Our problem as Lutherans with Papal authority is not that it violates the modern notion of “religious freedom” (a notion which owes nothing to Luther).  Lutherans have no problem with the expectation of obedience to proper religious authority.  The problem with the Papacy is (a) that its authority as conceived by Catholicism is an innovation that cannot be supported from Scripture and the Tradition rightly read; and (b) the Papacy has used its authority to teach and enforce heterodox doctrine.  I don’t bring those up to debate them, but only to indicate that a modern and generalized notion of religious freedom has nothing to do with Lutheranism.


There’s a Lutheran with whom the Catholic an actually talk. It’s easier to talk with someone who says “Oh, you’re quite wrong” than one who says (in effect) “You’re cheating” or “That’s unfair.”

Articles by David Mills

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