“What’s in a name?” Juliet asks, bemoaning Romeo’s last name of Montague. “’Tis but thy name that is my enemy”! Some today may surmise the Evangelical Lutheran Synod could also declare that its name is an enemy and prevents us properly to fulfill Jesus’ great commission.
An opinion piece in the New York Times on Oct. 26 suggests “Evangelical” is synonymous with one political party in the United States. Should the ELS drop that part of its name to avoid such association, excluding about 50% of our neighbors? In the minds of many of our fellow citizens in America that name conjures up a certain religious brand, which in truth does not include our use of it in our name. “Evangelical” in itself simply means we focus upon the Gospel (evangel) of our Lord Jesus Christ. Lutherans were the first Evangelicals in the 16th Century because the Gospel was the heart and center of the Lutheran Reformation. Evangelicalism made popular in the 20th Century in the U.S. does not reflect that flavor.
In addition, the name “Lutheran” has a history which carries even more baggage to this day, so much so, that some Lutheran churches and institutions in the U.S. desire to drop it lest it prohibits outsiders in their spiritual pursuits from visiting. When the Pope in 1521 excommunicated Martin Luther, he pronounced a curse on the evangelical party with the derogatory use of the name “Lutheran” with the result that it became a confession of faith. Dr. Erling Teigen made this observation in a paper delivered to the ELS General Pastoral Conference:
“Some have dropped the name from their church signs, thinking that may make them more inviting. Early on Luther objected to the use of ‘Lutheran’ as the name of Reformation confession. In 1522, … he wrote: ‘I ask that men make no reference to my name; let them call themselves Christians, not Lutherans.’ Later, however, he came to see that the papal decree made ‘Lutheran’ an evangelical confession, even if unintended, the papal decree in effect shifted the focus away from Luther’s person to the biblical doctrine which was condemned by the pope. Hence, five-hundred years later, we confess our biblical faith as it is taught by Luther and expressed in the entire Book of Concord by identifying ourselves as Evangelical Lutherans.”
We could even label the word “Synod” as another enemy, since most people do not know its meaning. It emphasizes that we are Christians organized to walk together on the same road of our Evangelical Lutheran confession. Our enemy is not our name. To be sure, that is what our real enemy would love us to conclude. Satan and his kingdom and all his allies hate Jesus and would love to distract us from the real threats, his many diabolical lies, which tempt us sinners to trust in ourselves instead of our only Savior.
These feigned threats should not fool us. For confessional reasons we in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod will retain all three words in our name. If you have been tempted in this manner and succumbed to compromise to make your mission tasks easier in this world, know that all such sins of denial, like that of St. Peter, are forgiven by Jesus’ holy precious blood. Pray that the Holy Spirit will fortify you in your confession of His truth, which alone sets sinners like us free.
 Why ‘Evangelical’ Is Becoming Another Word for ‘Republican’, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/26/opinion/evangelical-republican.html, Oct. 26, 2021.
 “Thrice Excommunicated: The Trial and Excommunication(s) of Martin Luther, delivered at the 2021 ELS General Pastoral Conference, by Dr. Erling Teigen, p. 15.)