Imagine you are getting on to an airplane for a very long flight. The plane has a single column of seats, two wide. Every row has one of your fathers in it. The seat next to him is empty. You get to choose where to sit for the flight, but you won’t be allowed to move once you choose. You get to spend a very long, uncomfortable time in the company of one man, but only him. Your wife and children, parents, best friend from grade school, etc., are not on the plane.
On my plane, there would be rows of philosophers, theologians, saints, and authors. Socrates and Aristotle would be on the plane. So would Aquinas. Tolkien, Lewis, Shakespeare, and Burns. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson would be there, as would Thomas Paine and George Washington, so would Leonidas, Aesop, Cicero, and Caesar. St. Mary would be on the plane, as would all the holy apostles, prophets, and evangelists. The western and eastern fathers, including Augustine and John of Damascus would be there. Thomas A’Kempis, Ephrem of Syria, Bede, and Polycarp would have their own section. John Lightfoot and Alfred Edersheim would be there. There would even be some Lutherans. David Chrytaeus, both Gerhards, Chemnitz, and Melanchthon would be there. Walther, Pieper, Sasse, Bonhoeffer, Giertz, Franzmann, Robert Preus, David Scaer, and Nagel would be there. And there would be others, all those who have taught and fed and delighted me.
But I wouldn’t sit with any of those listed so far. I would sit with Luther.
Fr. Curtis’ criticisms of Luther, as posted here on Gottesdienst Online over the last couple of years, are spot on, in my estimation. I don’t doubt that gouty, old Luther would fart and belch, be rude to me, gossip, insult my family and education, and even blaspheme from time to time. But even though I know that, I would still sit with him. There would be nicer people on the plane, better conversationalists, and a few that might even be smarter or better spoken. But if I could sit with anyone, I would sit with Luther.
I would sit with Luther because Luther has taught me more than any other writer. I would choose that seat over the seats next to the Apostles and St. Mary even because without Luther I fear I would never have known their work. Luther frustrates and annoys me at times, even, occasionally, embarrasses me. But even in translation, he speaks to me. The Small Catechism and his hymns alone are enough for him to win the contest for my first choice, but there is more to Luther than that. I will sit with Luther. I will stand with Luther. If God demands it, I will die with Luther.
Yet, that is not why I am Lutheran. To be sure, it has something to do with it. So also, I was born to Lutheranism. I can hardly say that has nothing to do with it either. But I wouldn’t say those things have made me, or kept me, a Lutheran. I am Lutheran because of the Book of Concord. I love Luther, but I don’t confess Luther. I confess Christ. And I confess Christ as declared in the Creeds and the Book of Concord. But I’d still choose Luther over Melanchthon on that plane.